Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Best of the 2000s: The Dark Knight

4.5 Stars

Of all the films on the Best of the 2000s list, The Dark Knight is probably the film that I have seen the most times. It is an exceptional film, one of the best comic book adaptations of all time and an excellent crime drama to boot. That said, The Dark Knight is not without its flaws, and despite its greater critical acclaim, its predecessor, Batman Begins remains a better movie.

The Dark Knight centers on the contest between Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and the Joker (Heath Ledger) for the future of the crime ridden Gotham City. It is most notable for Ledger’s career defining and Oscar winning performance as the Joker, and both Ledger and the film are rightly praised for it. Ledger found a character of bizarre and haunting depth. He disappears beneath the caked on make-up and greasy hair of his psychotic, anarchy obsessed, Clown Prince of Crime. The greatness of Ledger’s performance is both a positive and a negative of the film. The Joker overwhelms Batman in his own movie. He nearly crowds Bale right out of the picture, which is a shame. The Dark Knight could have been a thematic counterpoint to Batman Begins. Where Batman Begins artfully traced Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming Batman, The Dark Knight begins with Bruce Wayne practically begging to be released from his responsibilities as the Caped Crusader. If The Dark Knight had only spent a little bit more of its runtime bringing us to the point of understanding Batman’s desire to retire, the way Batman Begins spent its runtime making us understand Wayne’s desire to become Batman in the first place, The Dark Knight would have been a superior film.

The Dark Knight’s action sequences are the best in the entire genre. Whether we are discussing the opening gambit where a group of masked clowns rip off a bank, the skyhook sequence in Hong Kong, the car chases filmed on Lower Wacker Drive, or the final confrontation between Batman and the Joker, there is no other comic book film that seriously competes with The Dark Knight in terms of action adventure filmmaking.

The Dark Knight is also among the best looking comic book films ever made. Nolan and his cinematographer, Wally Pfister, made brilliant choices. The film is dark, but never hard to see. The lighting brings contrast, color, shadow, shade, and texture to well-chosen locations and even better designed sets. The Dark Knight came out in 2008, the year that Marvel launched its cinematic super franchise with Iron Man. In the intervening eight years, dozens of comic book films have been released, but The Dark Knight is the only one that has the layered and textured look of the great icons of cinema.

If The Dark Knight displays Nolan’s gift for crafting a gorgeous looking film, it also demonstrates some of his flaws as a filmmaker. The film’s climax appears to be cribbed from the footnotes of a Psych 101 course. It features a rushed, and half-baked, confrontation between Batman and Two Face, (Aaron Eckhart) in its final act. But perhaps the greatest sin The Dark Knight commits, is that for a movie that is so beautifully crafted visually, the script doesn’t feel nearly as polished.  Whether its Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) not remarking on the absurdity of a petty criminal with a history of mental illness having a park side apartment or Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) playing a seasoned prosecutor who specializes in organized crime prosecutions having to be reminded of the RICO statute, The Dark Knight is replete with tiny moments of dialogue that don’t quite ring true.

Nevertheless, despite these minor flaws, The Dark Knight’s action, Ledger’s singular performance, the powerful supporting turn by Gary Oldman, and Bale’s convincing portrayal of a reluctant savior power The Dark Knight to the very apex of its genre. I have little doubt that it deserves to be listed among the best films of the 2000s.

The Dark Knight finds itself on this list because seven critics share my enthusiasm for the film, including Gregory Ellwood of HitFix, who named it the number one film of the 2000s. My quest for a classic continues with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

From Out in the Void

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