THE DARK KNIGHT: The Joker's Wild! -

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  • Movie: The Dark Knight
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine,
  • Written By: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan (Based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer)
  • Directed By: Christopher Nolan
  • Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Series: The Dark Knight

THE DARK KNIGHT: The Joker's Wild!

The Dark Knight shines.

By Scott Mantz     July 17, 2008

In case you haven't already noticed, 2008 has been an exceptional year for superhero movies. It started with Iron Man, inarguably one of the best movies ever made based on a comic book character. That was followed by the very entertaining reboot of The Incredible Hulk, Will Smith's peculiar, if uneven Hancock and the wildly inventive Hellboy II: The Golden Army.


That trend reaches its peak with The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan's visually stunning, super serious and, yes, very dark follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins. That film may have been the fifth to bear the Batman moniker since 1989, but it was actually the first to focus on the Caped Crusader. The others—particularly 1992's Batman Returns, 1995's Batman Forever and 1997's Batman & Robin—were more about the villains, which is why the franchise got progressively worse as it went along.


But under Nolan's watchful eye, the revamped Batman series just keeps getting better, although The Dark Knight arrives with already sky-high expectations. That, of course, has a lot to do with Heath Ledger, who plays Batman's most notorious archenemy, the Joker. When Ledger—an Oscar-nominee for 2005's Brokeback Mountain—died in January from an accidental drug overdose, his performance was elevated to mythic status before anyone had sent he movie.


Now that it's out there, it's safe to say that Ledger's fearless, disturbing take on the Joker makes Jack Nicholson's over-the-top turn from the first Batman look like a circus clown. But to be fair, if Ledger's intense performance is deemed Oscar-worthy, as some industry pundits have already boasted, then Robert Downey Jr's magnetic performance from Iron Man should be eligible too.


The Dark Knight finds Batman (Christian Bale), Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) working side-by-side in their efforts to wipe out organized crime in Gotham City. The arrival of the idealistic new D.A. couldn't have come at a better time for Bruce Wayne, who has grown weary of his brooding alter-ego. But when a ruthless sociopath called the Joker (Heath Ledger) begins terrorizing the city, Batman has no choice but to battle a foe who challenges his notion of what it means to be a hero.


Unlike Superman, Spider-Man or the X-Men, Batman has always been one of the more realistic comic book heroes, simply because he doesn't have any real super powers. His abilities aren't enhanced by radiation, he's not a mutant and he's not from another planet. He may have cool gadgets, but he's still vulnerable to physical harm. Think of him as a cross between Howard Hughes and James Bond, or better yet, as a darker version of Tony Stark from Iron Man.


Being grounded in reality is what makes The Dark Knight stand out from its cinematic peers. And director Christopher Nolan doesn't limit that realism to the characters. Save for a few CGI enhancements, all of the stunts, fights, car chases and explosions are real, and so is the city in which it all takes place—if the early Superman films used New York for Metropolis, then The Dark Knight takes full advantage of Chicago for Gotham City.


But things get tricky when it comes to the story, which is more challenging than the genre typically calls for. That shouldn't come as a surprise from Nolan, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan and whose previous films—like 2006's The Prestige and 2001's Memento—required multiple viewings in an effort to follow their dense structures. The Dark Knight is no exception, but as much as Nolan should be commended for making the story so involved, the resulting film is often convoluted and—at 2 hours and 32 minutes—exceedingly long.


The acting is strong, with intense performances from returning players Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine (as loyal butler Alfred) and Morgan Freeman (as right-hand man Lucius Fox). Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn't fare as well as Rachel Dawes, the love interest played by Katie Holmes in Batman Begins. But for better or worse, all the attention on Ledger's performance leaves room for the film's biggest surprise: Aaron Eckhart's terrific portrayal as Harvey Dent, who, about two-thirds of the way through, turns into the graphically-scarred Two-Face as a result of a trap set by the Joker.


The existential, psychological, intelligent approach of The Dark Knight makes it less of a superhero movie and more of an epic crime drama that puts Nolan in the same league as Brian de Palma, Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann. And despite all the attention surrounding the late Heath Ledger, this is not “The Joker Show” (the character comes and goes). The tragedy is that he won't be around to bask in the glow of his amazing performance, which is only part of a spectacular film that solidifies 2008 as an exceptional year for superhero movies.


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Redheaven 7/17/2008 12:15:37 AM
I like everyone else am too excited for this movie. The day is finally here and I haven't read a bad review yet. There's nothin' more left to say that hasn't already been said. I'm ready to see this thing and give a review of my own. This is already my favorite movie and I haven't even seen it yet.
TheLastCleric 7/17/2008 3:57:12 AM
I really don’t see a comparison between Downey’s performance and what Ledger has pulled off with TDK. Downey basically played himself, replete with quips and a certain smugness that he so often imbues into his roles. I think he did a great job but contrast his work with Ledger, who quite literally disappears into the character of the Joker. He literally is unrecognizable; his voice, his laugh, his ticks and mannerisms, all of these things suggest Ledger went incredibly deep into the role and channeled something sincere and dark, the kind of acting that so few are capable of. Iron Man is a great film but TDK looks to occupy an entirely different tier of quality.
hanso 7/17/2008 4:30:32 AM
The bad reviews for this movie are stuff along the lines of "it's not a masterpiece" so you already know it's going to own :)<BR itxtvisited="1" /><BR itxtvisited="1" />LastCleric - completely agree with your post, Downey shouldn't be mentioned when talkin Ledger's Joker. <BR itxtvisited="1" /><BR itxtvisited="1" />I obviously haven't seen the film, but most of the people that have seen it rave about Ledger's performance. A lot of people think it's because the guy passed away, but if I remember correctly, there were some(Nolan) who were already praising Ledger's work before he died. Whether he gets a nom or not remains to be seen but if he does, I think he would've gotten one regardless if he was dead or not because his performance seems to kick major ass. You guys will know before me, so you let me know. I'm staying clear of this thread until I finally see it. If he does get nominated he won't win,I don't see the voters rewarding a dead guy.<BR itxtvisited="1" /><BR itxtvisited="1" />Dark Knight owns son!!!!!!!!!
wolfmanX 7/17/2008 5:44:55 AM
Flint521466 7/17/2008 5:58:17 AM
15 HRS.
ponyboy76 7/17/2008 6:08:50 AM
I hate all of you!! No,but I`m just pissed I have to wait another freakin week! I agree with what you are saying Hanso, but it has to be said that Ledger`s tragic death has definitely shed more light onto this movie. Of course, we fanboys were raving about this as soon as we heard that TDK was coming out and were ready to see it, but this has turned from just a Batman movie, into a full on event. I mean, it is everywhere! And I`m not even talking about the viral stuff. I mean, the regular joe shmoe and Mary Rottencrotch are clamouring to see this movie. People who never saw the first one and would probably never even want to see a comic book movie are going to see this, because they want to see Ledger and see for themselves how good this is. Its crazy! I can't walk 5 blocks without seeing a TDK poster or commercial. Its a Beautiful thing! The IMAX theater in London had to add on 2:30 am showing and are thinking about playing it 24 hours for the next 3 weeks because of demand from the public and it doesn`t even come out until next Thursday.
RaithManan 7/17/2008 6:30:32 AM
Hanzo my friend....the day is here. When Scott Mantz mentions Downey's performance, what I think he's getting at is how Downey's timing and wit of playing Stark came off. Downey has this sharp, saracastically smart-alecky funny approach when in Stark mode and virtually had audiences laughing during much of IRONMAN...something that was sorely, and I mean SORELY missing from much, if not almost the entire Tobey McGuire run as SPIDERMAN (save the first film) because SPIDEY as we all know in comics and in cartoon variations comes off as a quippy smart-ass. As Peter Parker, Tobey nails it because Peter generally feels uncomfortable when he tries to stand-up for himself and just lets things roll off, but once Peter becomes SPIDERMAN, he's finds complete freedom of being ballsy and confident that Peter often fears of displaying. Tobey's (I FEEL LIKE I REALLY WANNA GO TO SLEEP EVERYTIME I DELIVER MY LINES APPROACH) has always annoyed me...and he sounds even worse when he done vocals in the videogame installments based off the films, which often times makes you wonder, if not question just how much dedication he puts into the character which is one of the main reasons why fans has never been totally crazy about Tobey as SPIDERMAN to begin with and why most are embracing the idea of recasting the role to another actor should Tobey not return. And you also noticed people groaned when he expressed interest (MORE LIKE DESIRED) to jump into the role of Rick Hunter should ROBOTECH make it off the drawing board. Not saying he's not a good actor...he is talented. But he can be a better performer if he didn't come off as giving you a feeling that he's half-assing his way through a movie, though he was solid in SEABISCUIT. Robert Downey, whose always been a solid actor, made his cult following of fans smile from ear to ear, as well as gained some new ones as IRONMAN and made Tony Stark, a lot more enjoyable and a hoot a lot more than he should because he played it as if he was the life of the party...something that not too many actors can pull off with clever ease. Downey can have great chemistry with a broom and a mop and make a performance out of it. Heath Ledger was always a good actor. Just it took BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN for people to finally take notice in what a deceptively sharp actor he was. And yeah its a shame he's not here to relish in what could have been his finest hour, but I'm sure he's smiling in glee with the man upstairs as DARK KNIGHT is just a few mere hours of being enjoyed. And I seen most of the reviews from various newspapers in print and on-line and its averaging from 3-1/2 to 4-stars from established critics, not from critic WANNABEES (PATRICULARLY THOSE FROM ROTTEN TOMATOES and I HAVEN'T SEEN WHAT THEY HAVE SAID YET NORMALLY BECAUSE MUCH OF THE TIME THAT SITE IN GENERAL AND THOSE WHO RUN IT SHOULD BE LOBOTOMIZED) with much of their butt-fucking insane reviews. But I know for a fact, I will enjoy every second of it.
rambis1979 7/17/2008 6:40:59 AM
I got my tickets for the IMAX at 10am on Saturday morning. The first 3 days here are completely sold out already.
evilbeagle 7/17/2008 7:24:16 AM
Tickets are still easy to get out here in KC, but there's a movie house every 10 miles you go, and most of them are big.<br /> <br /> I'm looking forward to the movie more now that I know Nolan built a crime drama in superhero's clothing. I think that will work exceptionally well for the Batman universe he has created. I don't mind long movies if the acting is good and the story is solid. So far I have not been turned off by any of Nolan's complex stories--in fact they tend to be a breath of fresh air compared to the multitude of predictable scripts out there (I'm not being a movie snob either. I'm okay with predictable action/revenge movies). The Prestige script could probably be considered underrated. Memento was fantastic, but it got the kudos it deserved.<br /> <br /> I've talked the wife into going with me tomorrow morning--looking forward to my 3.5 good superhero movie this summer (haven't seen HBII yet--maybe in a week or two when I can use my free pass) The .5 is for Hancock. To this day I cannot decide if I liked the movie or not. I think I liked the intentions of the movie, but not the execution of how it was delivered. I kind of liked the "twist" and attempted back story, Will was good as usual, I just think the movie was not put together well.<br /> <br /> BTW, RDJ was good as Stark, but I'm just not sure I can throw him in the Oscar mix just yet...I guess I want to watch the movie again before picking a side on that. Remember though, Johnny Depp paved the way for Fantasy/Sci Fi characters getting consideration, so I won't be surprised to see a nomination from this year's crop.
lazerman 7/17/2008 7:46:37 AM
Going to see this with a group of friends on Friday night at 10:30 pm, the final showing of the night, where the insane will bask in the glory that is TDK! I must say, comparing this film to IRONMAN is again cliche, but it is truly apples and oranges. Both are fruits, but totally different textures. But I still can't get over the look of the Joker, or as I am sure many of you noticed, "The Crow Joker" Then again, when I first saw pics of "The Tumbler" for Begins, I was unimpressed, but within the context of the film, that was the only logical choice for the new Batmobile! And I am quite sure I will get over my first impression of Crow Joker once I see Heath's performance. THE SAD news is that the IMAX where I live will NOT be getting TDK until freakin SEPTEMBER! GRRR!!!!!!!
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