Three years have past since the release of "Batman Begins", and now the long awaited sequel "The Dark Knight" is here. Carrie and I saw it on IMAX. We got to the theater an hour early...and there was already a long line. All of the shows for that day had sold out, and a few folks were disappointed. Fortunately, we had pre-ordered the tickets, so we got pretty good seats. We sat at somewhat of an angle, but it did not ruin the experience.
The screen was huge! During the IMAX scenes, it was even bigger! It was almost too big, as there were times when I found it difficult to see the entire screen - perhaps missing what was going on on the right side or left side. This is a minor complaint, but it could be a bit overwhelming on an 8-story screen. Maybe that's a good thing! The picture quality was superb, and the audio was rich and full. The film is about 2 and 1/2 hours long, so toward the end, that big bottle of water I had guzzled was starting to be a distraction!
The cinematography was amazing. There are breathtaking shots of Chicago (which was the stand-in city for Gotham) and Tokyo. The editing was fast paced in the action sequences, (which can be difficult to take in on such a huge screen) but it wasn't as choppy as certain scenes in "Batman Begins". Flow of the film was more consistent and seemed to follow the tone of each scene. Clearly, the filmmakers honed their craft.
The dialogue was an improvement over the previous film, and the actors from the first film seemed a bit more natural this time. There are a few corny lines at the very beginning, which felt a little artificial, but the rest of the film was stellar.
The acting was also fantastic. Christian Bale returns as the title character, who begins to question his mission and the effects that it has brought the city. Bale plays three different characters in a way: The public Bruce - a flamboyant care-free playboy, the real Bruce - quiet, caring and focused, and Batman - vicious and full of rage. Each aspect is handled well. There are times when Bruce and even Batman seem a little overshadowed by the main villain, but that's understandable as the villain is so iconic.
Gary Oldman returns as Lt Jim Gordon, and his performance is leaps above the previous film. This is mainly due to the writing, which sees the character face challenges and have emotions that have never been seen in previous film/TV incarnations. Unlike the 90's films, he is much more than a supporting character. He is a moral compass and a hero.
Aaron Eckhart plays newly elected D.A. Harvey Dent, a character strait from the comics. As Director Chris Nolan said, he's the backbone of the story. Eckhart does an excellent job, and is very convincing. Dent is a character that you want to "win" and his journey is a heavy one. I do feel that the role should have been expanded, and even two movies would really be needed to give the character the depth he has in the comics. Although this is my only real complaint, his story works well in the context.
Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Kate Holmes as Rachel Dawes. She also is a central character, and plays the role with a more believable maturity than her predecessor, who I felt was a bit annoying in the previous film. Dawes is an assistant D.A. after all, and such a character needs to be strong and confident. Gyllenhaal makes the character more three-dimensional and likeable. I don't mean to critisize Holmes, but in many ways, I wish Maggie Gyllenhaal had been cast in "Begins" not only for continuity purposes, but because I felt Kate Holmes was simply too young for the role.
Michael Caine returns as the ever faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, and brings a warmth and charm that I felt was missing in previous versions, even in the comics at times. He is very much a father figure to Bruce Wayne, and plays the role with a natural charisma.
Morgan Freeman also returns as Lucius Fox, CEO of Wayne Enterprises, and Bruces go-to guy for gadgets. Fox's role is small, but very important. Not only does he give Batman new toys, but he helps Batman understand an important lesson.
The late Heath Ledger plays one of the most well known and iconic villains of all time - the Joker. His version of the Joker is the most manic and unpredictable version of the character I've seen on screen. Obviously, there will be comparisons to Jack Nicholson, who played a dark, yet rather campy version of the character in 1989. Ledger's Joker is more realistic - but more volatile. He shifts from funny to terrifying in no time, and makes a viewer feel guilty for laughing at such horrible actions. He causes destruction simply because it's fun, but he also has bigger plans. Ledger steals the show as Joker, but then that's what Joker is supposed to do. He commands attention with the classic purple suit, green hair and huge smile -extended by unsettling facial scars. He also wears white makeup, which is change from the comics, where his skin was bleached chalk white in a chemical accident. Although some die-hard fans did not like this aesthetic change, it seems to fit this incarnation better. No back story or origin is given for the Joker. He simply shows up right at the beginning, and establishes himself as a force of chaos. It's truly sad that Ledger has left us, and we will never get to see his characterization again.
The story is tight and focused. It's also very dark. It is about moral decisions and the consequences that follow. Each main character faces a challenge and must overcome it. Some do, but others don't. This isn't the feel-good hit of the year, but it is such a mirror to our society: We all want to be safe from madmen, but how far should our protectors step into our lives? Are the protectors really making things better? What do we do when they fail? This is gritty, meaty and relevant stuff.
It is a "PG-13" film, but it feels like an "R" rated film. There is a lot of violence, but most of it is implied, leaving your imagination to fill in the gaps. The action sequences are very entertaining. Batman fights with the fury of a raging animal...and we can see it this time, due to less frantic editing. Stunt work is unbelievable, especially since very little CGI was used. They really did flip that truck!
The scoring and music is almost subliminal. It fits each scene well, and enhances the emotion. The special effects are really not noticeable, except for a particular gadget at the end, which is a direct homage to the comics.
This is more than a comic-book film. It's more than an action film. It's a crime drama, which happens to have costumed characters. Even if Batman and the Joker had been replaced with more conventional leads, it would still be a gripping story. As I said, there are things that could have been better, but that is pure fan-boy nitpicking. These things work well with the narrative and theme of the film. In my opinion, this is easily the best Batman film ever, even better than the Nicholson and Keaton film of 1989. It works better as an action film, and it is more true to the 40's 70's, 80's, and 90's Batman comics.
Just remember, this one is not for young children. There have been complaints from parents who apparently thought it was another campy, shallow superhero film. What can I say? Batman is a dark character, and he deals with homicidal maniacs, terrorists, and madmen in the comics, so why should a movie be any different?
I give it a 97% grade.