The Dark Knight is many splendid things all at once, a tidal wave of epic proportions that floods the senses, changes you forever and leaves you out of breath, conflicted. It’s hard to define the feeling, too much in either direction and it might seem disingenuous; better thought of as affected if not entertained. Entertainment is the enormity of this film to be a franchise and an individual accomplishment, to illicit a response is accomplishment. This is Nolan’s second film of the franchise for which it serves, Nolan’s 3 picture deal to recapture and reinterpret one of the most cherished super hero characters of all time. The story is grand because it has to be, a workable assemblage of seventy years of history that spans movies, television series, animations, comic books, video games, etc., etc. The characters are richly detailed and troubled, as much percolating with today’s problems as historical ones, a mirror of issues that remind us we haven’t changed as much as we think we have. Nolan’s films are all about stories that begin in the belly, deep still as though he’s looking for souls or it’s just visceral because you can’t get at the bones without a lot of blood. At the same time the film is crowded, scattered as though Nolan truly wanted a fourth movie and had to settle for less, thus pancaking all those ideas into one film. The third and final installment is upon us as of the writing of this review, days and hours away for most, already washed over the select few early screeners who have generally favored the The Dark Knight Rises. Undeniably potent, powerful and pushy; the more you push this film the harder it pushes back. For all the other things that Christopher Nolan has done here or otherwise, he’s gotten inside us, poked about, struck nerves. That is the single most important thing about Nolan’s Batman, that he’s given us a way to own the myth as much as contribute to it, carry it around for a little while and wear it like armor.
Epic films are sometimes at odds with themselves and the viewer, struggling to compartmentalize so we don’t have to, to deal with history in seconds at a time instead of decades. In this case Nolan’s first film is ever-present but juggling over 70 years of history is difficult as much as it is dangerous. So much violence-driven calamity and explosive imaginations, everything we want and need is there even though we’re not sure what to do with it. Nolan’s export of comic book beginnings and a rich history of adaptations makes no room for comparison or criticism, as bull-headed as the auteur behind it, exacting with brutal honesty that drowns all chance you’ll ever think of Batman the same again. Good and bad cannot capture the enormity of Batman any more than we can resist the intersection of franchise and sequel waiting for us to crash into it.
The Dark Knight is undeniably entertaining. If it doesn’t make you laugh you might cringe instead; if you’re not cheering you’re cursing, fighting every frame to figure it out or get away from it. It is the way it gets at our guts that makes it blockbuster by definition, accomplishment by the numbers, equally everything that has ever been done before and new as well. Nolan breathes character driven impressionism’s, weaves a tapestry of comic book iconography and social commentary on the relationships we have with our dreams. Nolan set out to make the film he dreamed about visiting before he made his first one, of marrying the art of it with the commercial potential. Loved by most, endearing and inviting, it is also tragically flawed and inherently problematic – how does one capture the essence of all the Batman that has come before? For what it is and what it is not, people want more, not less; reviews run the gamut from idolatry to passionate praise, off-kilter pickings nearly muddied condemnation that has a place but won’t stay long. Nolan’s guaranteed success and celebration, ensured he’ll make another and he has (in theaters now!) and will make other films certainly. The Dark Knight has joined an elite collective of billion dollar box office earners, from Transformers: Dark of the Moon to Avatar, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, Titanic to Toy Story 3 and others. The Dark Knight is listed at $1.002 billion if you look. Any review that tries to side step the significance of this is either fruitless, foolish or missing the point. Good films don’t always make money, and bad films sometimes do. Great films make money as much for their impact as the receipts, praise and worship works too but mostly it’s how much we continue to write about them and talk about them. The Dark Knight gives as much as it receives and more but mostly it’s really simple – it’s just entertaining.
Christopher Nolan‘s calculated maneuverings are nothing short of original and striking, the mark of a visionary auteur with a signature aesthetic that feels limitless, unmatched by any now, or perhaps ever. His films are larger than life because they are not tethered to universal limitations of physics or common sense. If he reaches an impasse he simply zaps it into non-existence and keeps on building, like his film Inception – a film as much in contradiction to itself as anything, at odds in success (my review, Inception Blu-ray) and failure (my original review), as one unifying escape clause. He makes the impossible not only probable but familiar, rewarding you for your efforts to get there and stay there. Getting into The Dark Knight feels like you’re visiting with people you know or want to, like you’re living a life and times of Batman rather than simply about Batman. These films are commercial extravaganzas, poised spectacles of madman theatrics blurring the line between necessary evil (franchise building) and visionary filmmaking unchecked (see Nolan’s magnanimousness) about the well-loved anti-hero that has seen just about every form of media possible – comic books, television, animation, games, computer wallpapers, trading cards, Taro cards, etc., etc., etc. Taking on the mythos of such a beloved part of the last one hundred years (ok, since 1939 so that makes him 73) is ballsy enough, if not reckless, but that’s what we love about Nolan who shows little sign of slowing down or changing his take on films. Where we come in is just how far we’re willing to follow and where the man will take us. In the case of the second entry of his franchise, the film has garnered the love, hate and indifference of the world with a billion in box office receipts and who knows what else. Love him or leave him, Batman is here and he’s got something to say; gravely voice and all.
The Dark Knight returns us to the world of Gotham City and our troubled anti-hero Batman on his unending quest to rid the world of crime and himself. This is an interesting focal point for Nolan, pitting Batman against himself as much as the evil men do. Living just barely beneath his high-tech armor and brooding demeanor, tucked away in his secret lair is Bruce Wayne; introverted millionaire, industrialist burdened with an endless quest, empowered by his steward and ‘Joe Friday’, the mad scientist of sorts Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) who’s always there. Nolan’s films are as much about the externalized face of crime and crime fighters as it is the constant threat of our inherently self-destructive society. Layers in Nolan’s films are a lot like Batman’s armor, the hardened exterior that looks great and does the job to protect the fragile fleshy parts within, the heart and soul as much protected as it is a prisoner. This time Batman faces his greatest nemesis – the perfect blend of ridiculous and real, the perfect face of tragedy and comedy – the Joker. The fact that Heath Ledger committed suicide after finishing this film is the stuff of an entire article, hardly done justice in a movie review. Suffice it to say his last performance is so powerful as to command the entire film’s momentum, leaving us hanging on every frame that he absent, waiting for his return.
The Joker and Batman are on a collision course through out the film with the devastation and body counting rising at every turn. All of which makes the film too long for its own sake, often convoluted to the point of annoyance and far too many distractions from what we’re most interested in – that is Batman and Joker. There are far too many subplots as well, what with District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), the estranged love interest Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and how each of them play for their own good instead of for the center (that is the Batman/Joker stand-off). Like all of Nolan’s films, the elaborate action sequences are visionary, propelled forward by considerable attention to detail and a love of chaos let loose; there is a constant tug-o-war in The Dark Knight between dark and light, good and bad, tragedy and comedy. The fact that the Joker is hideous and ridiculous, horribly scarred and eerily cheerful and dastardly unkind speaks to Nolan’s obsession with opposites, fuel as much as fire charging undercurrents unrelenting on levels and shambles one and all.
The Dark Knight lives and breathes on violence and dismay, on the potential for justice and the inevitable collateral damage of life, death and consequences. It is many life lessons and none, comic tragedy and tragic indifference; Nolan’s films are all spectacle of varying dimensions, sometimes overt in bombs and explosions, other times in the most subtle, nearly indecipherable way characters live and die waiting to know answers to unanswerable questions. Christopher Nolan’s films are at odds with what they are and what he wants them to be, second only to our reactions, our willingness to embrace them for all the reasons to let go, turn away, or hold on forever.
Warner Home Video, a division of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc., invited me to join their exclusive Blu-ray Elite Movie Review Program and they sent me a complimentary copy of this movie for the purpose of review with special attention on the “Blu-ray Experience”. I received this video for free, but that does not sway this review or the reviews of other films that will follow.