The Dark Knight (Warner Bros., PG-13)

film_dark-knight_sm.jpgLet’s speak frankly here, and I assure you that I say this as honestly as I can without my judgment being clouded by Ledger’s death: Ledger’s Joker is probably the best and best-drawn villain in what is essentially a summer action movie, ever.

 

 

 

 

 

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At the beginning of the summer, box office analysts were making their predictions for the final domestic grosses of summer films, and on every list that I saw (made by professionals, mind you; I’m not talking about users on imdb.com or anything) they put The Dark Knight as grossing between $200-250 million, coming in fifth or so overall for the summer, behind stuff like Indiana Jones. Even back when I was reading those months ago, I was willing to put money on The Dark Knight as the box office winner of the summer, and now that I’ve seen it, I feel even more confident.

Of course, there is a mountain of hype and anticipation behind The Dark Knight as a result of Heath Ledger’s death. But let’s not forget that Batman Begins was a huge artistic and financial success (it grossed over $200 million in the United States and almost $400 million worldwide) without any outside factors like this bringing people in. Also, you know, it’s based on one of the most well-known and -loved superheroes of all time, and is rated PG-13 so anyone can see it. It’s going to be huge.

Let’s speak frankly here, and I assure you that I say this as honestly as I can without my judgment being clouded by Ledger’s death: Ledger’s Joker is probably the best and best-drawn villain in what is essentially a summer action movie, ever. But that’s actually a lot more interesting (and maybe misleading) than it sounds. What makes him better is that he is actually legitimately scary; the Joker of The Dark Knight is much more a horror movie villain than a Hollywood blockbuster action movie villain, and it’s going to freak a lot of people out, big time.

If you recall, Batman Begins was maybe a little scarier than you were expecting, wasn’t it? All those foggy shots of the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) wreaking havoc got to you a little bit, didn’t they? Well, they were effective, and I don’t mean to sell them short, but they were mostly a function of the way the film was shot; here, the Joker’s scariness is a result of characterization, and is much more disturbing. Everyone knows how incredibly grotesque and awesome his makeup is (I wish the first time I’d seen it had been in the context of this movie, and not in a magazine), but his nihilistic personality is what will really get to you. Also, remember how in The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter rarely blinked, and that little piece of business made watching his character exponentially more creepy? Well, here Ledger perfects a tick that always has him flicking out his tongue to take a quick swipe at the corners of his mouth, and it works in much the same way.

There’s a lot more to talk about here than just Heath Ledger and the Joker, of course. Yes, the plot is better than it was in Begins (whose plot was by no means bad). Yes, Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent is appropriately nice and reassuring and then scary and vengeful, much as you would want Two Face to be. While I have no problems with Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes is a vast improvement, as Maggie fits in the Bale/Eckhart/Ledger milieu of really talented young actors much better than Holmes does. Director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan’s script is better paced (it’ll have you from the opening scene, guaranteed; something that maybe couldn’t be said about Begins), and darker, darker, darker.

It’s also probably worth mentioning that the press screening of this film was in its Imax iteration; that is not recommended, and never is when seeing a film that isn’t shot specifically for it. Seeing a film in Imax is usually akin to watching a movie in full screen: it was shot and intended to be projected in a different aspect ratio, so the shot compositions are much uglier and sometimes you miss stuff. In The Dark Knight, specifically, the aspect ratio changes back and forth, so it is big and boxy and takes up the whole Imax screen for establishing shots, but most of the action takes place in a widescreen aspect ratio, leaving black bars at the top and bottom of the Imax screen. This switching back and forth is really a poor choice and is thoroughly distracting, so tell Warner to stick their dumb Imax cash-in up their ass, save the extra couple of bucks, and see the movie the way it was intended to be seen, in a non-Imax theater.

But back to what I was saying earlier regarding the scariness level: My point is that, being rated PG-13 and having a huge cloud of hype behind it, I think a lot of people will be taken by surprise by how truly scary it is. In other words, there will be a lot of upset little nightmare-having kids as a result of this movie. Looked at a different way, though, it will surely be a formative experience for many, just by virtue of the fact that it is unlike anything they’ve probably been allowed to see before, and will hopefully inspire some to look further into film as an art form—for example, if they just go back and watch some of Chris Nolan’s other films, or Christian Bale’s, or Maggie Gyllenhaal’s, or, of course, Heath Ledger’s, there’s a lot of meat there that can point them in the right direction of becoming a future hardcore film lover. | Pete Timmermann

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