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Movie Review: The Dark Knight

By Matthew Huntley

July 22, 2008

I never pictured him as a Harley Davidson guy.

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The plot finds The Joker wanting to rid Gotham City of Batman so he and his criminal cohorts can take back the streets. In a dynamic opening sequence, The Joker steals from a mob-owned bank as a way to catch the criminal underworld's attention. The mob boss is a weasel named Lau (Chin Han), who has taken the rest of their money for safekeeping and flown to Hong Kong. District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who's become Gotham City's golden boy and savior, advises Batman and Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) that catching Lau will be a big step towards ridding the city of its scum.

Batman knows the people of Gotham need a face they can trust and he's willing to help make Harvey Dent that hero. What's not so easy for Bruce Wayne is watching Dent date and woo Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Bruce's childhood sweetheart.

As it proceeds, the plot of The Dark Knight becomes quite layered, and while it's always interesting to watch, it's also exhausting. What helps buoy it are the stupendous action sequences, which are so amazing it looks like no CGI was involved in their execution. Nolan, whose action scenes in Batman Begins were too dark and incoherent, gives this film more room to move. He and director of photography Wall Pfister shoot in grandiose wide shots, mostly at night, and we get some magnificent aerial photography of Hong Kong as well as a virtuoso tunnel chase, climaxed by a stunt involving a semi. I've not yet seen this footage on IMAX, but The Dark Knight will go down as the first film in history to shoot using actual IMAX cameras, and I've little doubt it's even more breathtaking.

Where the story eventually takes its characters, I will not reveal, but any fan of the comic books or graphic novels, or even the earlier Batman films, will have some idea. The screenplay by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan is perhaps overly saturated with people and developments that go beyond their call of duty. At 152 minutes, The Dark Knight does slow down a bit in its final act, but it's never boring. I just think they could have saved some of what they have for the next installment, especially the side story involving Dent. Nolan wants this one movie to be an entire saga when it might have been tighter broken up.




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I also felt there was too little screen time for Bruce Wayne himself. Batman Begins was so good because it was finally a Batman movie about Batman, and it didn't solely focus on the villain. The Dark Knight seems more fascinated by the side players, and with good reason, since each is intriguing in his and her own right, but I wanted more Bruce Wayne. He's too distant and bland this time, which may be inevitable for such a dark character, but the movie still has to make him interesting outside of his alter ego. Only towards the end do we feel it going that way.

My other quibble was the way the screenplay handled the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy). Compared to Batman Begins, his appearance in this film is so brief that it's nothing short of a cameo. What's he even doing in the parking garage where we see him? This just seemed a little sloppy and lazy for a movie that's so exceptional on other levels. I wonder if the Scarecrow should have made an appearance at all. Why not save him for a story in which he could be better utilized?

Even with its minor flaws, if I were to compare The Dark Knight to Batman Begins, I would say it's just as good, and that's saying a lot. In some ways, especially with regards to the action scenes, it's better and more exciting. The villains, led by Ledger's indelible Joker, are also more dynamic, funny and infectious. But "Begins" remains a superior character piece for the titular hero.

Still, The Dark Knight is another outstanding manifestation of Bob Kane's original comic book. The filmmakers and cast truly believe in this material and approach it seriously and intelligently. When I reviewed Batman Begins, I wrote, "...they got it right." With The Dark Knight, they continue to get it right.


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