I have been given the go ahead to review The Dark Knight, but this is the type of film that I need to see at least two or three times before attempting such a task. The film is so very expansive, so incredibly epic. I decided that instead of a full review, I will just share my first impressions. But lets first talk expectations. Going into 2008, I was looking forward to only a few films, The Dark Knight being one of them. As you probably already know, WALL-E was at the top of my list, and Pixar’s latest didn’t disappoint. I was very sure that WALL-E would end up being my favorite film of the year, and it is… errr WAS. That is until I saw The Dark Knight. I screened the film on Saturday night in Los Angeles, and now that I’ve had a few days to think about the film, I thought I would share my ten spoiler-free reasons why I believe that The Dark Knight is a masterpiece – an almost flawless comic book movie adaptation.
1. The Movie is Epic – The Dark Knight is not just a superhero movie. It is the first comic book adaptation to transcend the genre. Imagine one of the greatest crime thrillers of all time which just happens to have a guy who dresses in a bat costume and fights crime. Think Godfather 2 or Heat, with a insane terrorist who paints his face like a clown and goes around killing random people. It’s expansive in feel and tone. It’s the type of film which you make a point to refer to as a “film” instead of a “movie”.
2. Bigger, Better, Longer – I’ll admit that I wasn’t completely blown away by Batman Begins. Sure, it was the best Batman film to date, incorporating darker themes and a sense of realism that the franchise had never seen before. But Batman Begins is also not without its problems. I think even hardcore fans would agree that the film suffers from third act problems. The Dark Knight is bigger and better in every single way. The film is 152 minutes (two hours and thirty two minutes) long, and every second is gripping. Does it feel long? Yeah. But at the same time I wouldn’t have removed a thing. Every single second is necessary to tell this story. Nolan even keeps some plot developments off screen which resonate in various scenes throughout the film.
3. Heath Ledger – Some friends have expressed concern that the death of Heath Ledger will taint their Dark Knight viewing experience. It doesn’t, and here is why – Heath is amazing. From the first second he steps on screen you will forget that their is an actor behind the make-up. Heath doesn’t play The Joker, he IS the Joker. You will believe that a psychopath wearing clown makeup is terrorizing a whole city. The performance is Oscar worthy. What Anthony Hopkins did for Hannibal Lector, Ledger does for The Joker.
4. Two-Face – At the core this movie is not about Batman, or even The Joker, but instead about Harvey Dent, and his transformation into Two-face. In a way the story is almost a Shakespearean tragedy of a man who goes bad. The screenwriters play against the established conventions of Two-face’s origin story to give you something new, refreshing, and ultimately more authentic than the story presented in the comic books. You will believe that a hero becomes the villain. And you might also be shocked at how long the two-face character appears on screen. It’s not just a tease – you will get everything! His computer generated make-up is so gruesome and realistic looking, that I’m shocked the film was able to get a PG-13 rating.
5. The Empire Strikes Back – The Dark Knight is The Empire Strikes Back of comic book movies. It is dark, bleak, and realistic. Kids looking for a fun superhero movie need to look elsewhere. This is a multi-layered, authentic crime tale. There is more than one casualty, and it doesn’t exactly end on a high note. Fans will eat the ending up. After sitting in the theater for two and a half hours, it will leave you wanting more.
6. IMAX – If you don’t see this movie in IMAX than you haven’t seen the movie. A few of the action sequences and many of the establishing shots throughout the film were shot using IMAX cameras. The result is breathtaking. There is a sequence where Batman leaps off the top of a building (you’ve probably seen it in the trailers) and the camera pushes in. It’s so vivid and high resolution that it almost felt like it was part of one of those motion controlled theme park rides. Going into the screening, I thought the IMAX thing was probably more gimmick than anything else. Previous IMAX presentations involved up-converting the 35mm film image to fit on the IMAX screen. The footage shot with the IMAX camera is amazing. Even if you’ve seen a traditional IMAX movie in the past, you will be blown away by seeing a Hollywood action film on the big big screen. It makes you wonder why more Hollywood productions haven’t begun incorporating the IMAX camera. I wouldn’t be surprised if the inevitable third Batman movie wasn’t shot completely shot on IMAX cameras.
7. Gotham City – The extensive on location filming in Chicago adds to the authenticity of Gotham City. There is never a moment that you feel like you’re watching a bunch of actors on a Hollywood soundstage.
8. Characters – Every character that appears on screen has a history. Even when Nolan doesn’t show us this backstory – we see it. Even a corrupt cop that has two lines of dialogue has an extensive past, at least I’m convinced they do. The world is so full of rich three dimensional characters, some of which only appear on screen for brief moments. And some of the characters do have backstories which were provided in the extensive viral marketing campaigns. If you participated in the alternative reality game online, than you will get more out of the film as a whole.
9. The Bat-Pod – You will love how the Bat Pod is introduced in the film.
10. Nontraditional – The screenplay is both multi-layered and nontraditional. I was caught completely off guard at the many wonderful choices that Nolan and Goyer made in the script. You will wonder how they got Warner Bros to sign off on the screenplay, and I mean this in a good way. Characters that you expect to die might survive, and characters you expect to live will meet their ultimate demise. Even Two-Face’s origin is not exactly as you expect. That said, I advise you to stay as far away from spoilers as you can, because this is a film you want to experience for yourself in a packed IMAX theater on opening night.
To me, The Dark Knight is an almost flawless cinematic experience. Is The Dark Knight one of the best films of all time? No. Where does it fit in my top 100? I’ll have to digest it a couple more times before my mind finds a suitable placement. Rewatchability is an important factor to me. While I do think this film will hold up to multiple viewings, I’m not sure that the expansive IMAX sequences (which are part of the reason why I loved this film) will translate in a home movie viewing environment.
I do believe that The Dark Knight is the best comic book adaptation to date. For me it takes over the spot held by Spider-Man 2. For others it might replace Superman: The Movie, X-Men 2 or The Incredibles. And who knows, some people might be disappointed. Those expecting a fun movie filled with hope might come out sadly disappointed. I’m also not sure this film will play for younger audiences. And I’m not even going to pretend to know what women might think of it. I can only tell you my thoughts. I can’t wait for you guys to see the film so that we can have a discussion.