The Dark Knight
So we're talking hype galore. It's probably the most marketed film of all time, and it's reaping the rewards already. Now I'm sitting here minutes before the first public UK screening. Will it live up to the hype?
So here are some quick comments about The Dark Knight before I leap into the review. It's superb. The film is deserving of an Oscar, not Heath Ledger on his own. The writing, direction, editing and score are all fantastic. It's a thriller with the superhero threads woven deeply into the story.
The Dark Knight sees Bruce Wayne patrolling Gotham city and rising in popularity. Not only does he have to contend with organised crime, but there's also a growing number of copycats who are dressing up as him and tackling criminals.
Then there's the growing popularity of one driven and very honest District Attorney, one Mr Harvey Dent. He's on a one man mission to clean up the town, also somewhat inspired by Batman but determined to keep it all clean and legal. Gotham is beginning to stand up for itself.
That's where the Joker comes in. He arrives and plans to turn that all around, and this Joker is clever, very clever. His appearance is deceptive and he's as driven as any of the Gotham good guys, the only difference is, he has no rules.
Gotham has to take him down, and so Batman, Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent and Gordon all set out to capture him and the remaining organised crime members and bring them to justice.
This is not only the best Batman film to date, but it's also a stunning film and perhaps the best I've seen this year, and that's not just restricted to the superhero genre, I mean of all films.
The Dark Knight has done something that Hollywood has been struggling with for a long time, it's made a superhero film into a mainstream success. It doesn't neatly fit in the superhero genre bucket, this is a dark and complex thriller that happens to have some super-characters in it, and very real world, underplayed super-characters at that.
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan should be applauded for the work they've done on this film. The Dark Knight has been built on strong characters with a depth and reality to them, the film takes time to build and layer these characters without slowing down or losing the audience's attention.
It builds the relationships between them, making them feel very real and never as black and white as we'd expect in such a film. It gives them depth and back story, and many things that are never fully explained because life is like that.
Then it takes an extremely clever and intricate plot which is crafted superbly well with twists and turns and scenarios you wouldn't expect coming, and it makes no move to drop the clues of many Hollywood films.
Once the characters, relationships and the fantastic plot are in place, then they pull the superhero element through the middle, and it produces one of the richest, most fulfilling superhero films I've ever seen.
Although those superhero elements of a Batman film are there, the suits, equipment, the vehicles, the villain, they are given an amazingly strong and very real element to them all. A sub plot sees the secret of Batman threatened in a very realistic and modern way. Not through someone grabbing a photo of him leaving his bat lair, but of a Wayne Enterprises employee running across the vast expenditure into the R&D department.
That's just an example of what the Nolan's have done. They've written a superb thriller and it just so happens that it stars superheroes and supervillains, the concentration has been on building the character, story and relationships and that is why this is the greatest superhero film to date and perhaps the strongest thriller seen this year.
The Dark Knight could also be the first superhero film to really successfully handle two characters as the main supervillains. In fact there are actually three but one makes a fleeting appearance.
The plot is amazingly crafted. The surprises, twists and turns and the multiple levels add so much to the film and keep you one step behind the film, never quite ahead of what's going to happen. Most of all the Joker keeps you guessing right until the very end.
I loved what the film managed to do with the idea of Batman and what he stood for, how it twisted it into our reality and we saw vigilantes and copy-cats out of real people, and how the choices of Batman were forced onto others.
What was interesting is that despite the on screen time of the Joker, at the heart the film was more about Two Face and what it takes to make the difficult decisions to stay on your own moral and idealistic path.
There are a few flaws though, and I don't think it's the complete gem that everyone says it is, especially since the only flaw you tend to read about is that it is a bit too long, something that's followed by a quick apologetic statement of it didn't really matter though.
I do concur, it did feel a long time sitting there, and I'll add that apologetic statement afterwards to say that it didn't really matter because it was so good.
However I did find the whole mobile phone radar system strayed a little into the usual superhero world and pulled a little away from the way The Dark Knight had played out to that point. Part of me does wonder that it could have been toned down in scale just a little bit and another way found of tracking down the Joker rather than the fantastical scale of the system. However it did deliver an interesting plot device which tied up neatly with the narrative as Fox closed down the system.
I also had a little issue with the ending, and I just couldn't understand why the deaths were not placed at the door of the Joker. I'm not giving away anything when I say that and it'll mean little until you have seen the film, but that part did feel slightly contrived in order to achieve the final scene and the position of Batman at the end of the film.
It's not just the work done on the script and story though, Christopher Nolan has done a stunning job of bringing the world of Gotham to the screen and making it very real. Once again the hyper reality of a superhero world is either left out or is an added element. In the case of seeing the Batmobile or Batbike race through the city, it's done matter of factly without a reliance on explaining things or over complex gadgets. They just are.
When they are seen within the realistic setting of the city that these very real character inhabit, it doesn't feel like they stand out and become these huge fantastical elements any more, in fact it grounds them in the same reality.
The film looks fantastic as Nolan takes the camera and sweeps through the city, constantly moving through and around scenes and keeping the pace of the film going. There was a great use of lighting that added depth to scenes, and the score added masses to the tension and dramatic impact throughout.
Action was captured well on screen too, the same view that was applied to the story development was also applied to the action. As real as possible and nothing too over the top. What we get are some excellent fighting scenes and the action is short, punchy and makes a huge impact - just watch the explosion scene or the flipping truck to see exactly what I mean.
Now to a controversial point, the performances. Right up I'm happy to say that the marketing hype of Heath Ledger for an Oscar didn't work with me, I don't think he's Oscar material for his performance of Joker, no more than Aaron Eckhart is for his portrayal of Two Face, when he gets going.
When I watched the Joker on screen I did think that Ledger had delivered a powerful performance indeed, but watch everything around him and you'll realise that the performance is just part of it. During some of the more dramatic moments there are some very powerful moments running behind it, accentuating the tension. One such moment had what sounded like bagpipes building and building as the Joker teased out the time on screen before something happened. The score really played a powerful part there and in many other scenes.
Then there's the scripting. The Nolan brothers created the character and wrote the lines as well as building the intricate plot turns and reveals, all of which build the character up and up. Then there's the way he's filmed and the character presented on screen.
All in all it feels like the Oscar belongs to the film and all those that worked on the characters, not just to the actor behind Joker, Batman or Two Face, and I think that's very important to note.
However, don't get me wrong, the acting is superb from Heath Ledger and all the cast, I honestly can't say there was a performance I didn't enjoy or had me pulled into their character. Eckhart is particularly worthy of a mention too as his character change is fantastic and you feel a real anger and inner turmoil with his character in the latter half of the film.
The Dark Knight is utterly fantastic, the best superhero film I've ever seen because first and foremost it's a film, a superb thriller, and it's way down the list that it's categorised a superhero film. That's one of its key strengths.
The plot is wonderfully crafted to keep the audience on their toes and pulled along with the changes in the plot, it's multi-layered with well developed, real characters and strong relationships. It builds characters and gives them depth as well as delivering action and tension and, well, Batman.
The film is built on characters, relationships, story all over huge set pieces, gadgets, superheroes and supervillains.
This is how to make a comic book adaptation that works outside of the fanbase, or works full stop. It's not just a lesson in how to adapt a comic either, any fantasy based story should be developed in this way, that goes for videogames too.
Christopher Nolan and his team have delivered the best Batman and the best superhero film to date, in the process they may just have delivered the best film so far this year, and it doesn't face much competition for the rest of 2008.
You hear it and read it all the time, but I really mean this, you have to see this film. It's unmissable.
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