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"The Dark Knight"

Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan.
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  7/21/08


Last week, I pulled out my DVD copy of the 1989 "Batman" film directed by Tim Burton, starring Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne, and Jack Nicholson as the Joker.  I wanted to watch this film again, because 1) I love it, and 2) I wanted to watch this to prep for the upcoming update, "The Dark Knight."

This is important, because I probably would have thought that "The Dark Knight" was much, much better than it really is had I not watched the '89 version so recently.  Granted, "The Dark Knight" is a good, solid action-adventure with great acting all around (not just the ill-fated Heath Ledger in his final film), but where it missed is as simple as 1, 2,...

"Where does he GET those wonderful toys?"

"Batman" (the '89 version) is still the best comic-book adaptation I've ever seen, and the reasons for that are plentiful but can be summarized this way:

  1. Nicholson as the Joker?  Still can't be topped.

  2. The set direction, costumes, soundtrack, and support/extras direction are still second-to-none in the "movie-as-comic-book" category.

  3. The action scenes, even 20 years later, still work.

  4. The lead character, Bruce Wayne, is a multi-layered, well-drawn profile that holds up well against the scenery and makes the non-villain scenes interesting.

It's this last point that makes "Batman" so different from most comic-book flicks these days; the bad guys are so much more interesting than the good guys, that you almost wish you could skip the good guy scenes.  Michael Keaton, never someone you would call a great actor but you might consider him a great movie star, still seems perfect for the Wayne role:  he plays aloof well, he's good-looking, modest from a physical perspective but someone you believe COULD NOT whoop your ass normally, he appears to take himself not-so-seriously.


I went to see where IMDB currently has "The Dark Knight"; it's #1, as of today, anyway.  It is a very good movie.  The drama behind Batman-as-public-nuisance begins to get interesting here, the Commissioner Gordon role is expanded, Ledger is great as a modern-day psychopath, and Aaron Eckhart plays the young Harvey Dent well here.  The action sequences are done very well, the BatCycle or BatPod or whatever it is called is cool, the film is appropriately violent, and funny, kitschy things like casting low-budget, B-level action stars Michael Jai White and Eric Roberts as low-budget crime bosses made me very happy throughout.

So, what was on my mind after sleeping on this flick yesterday?  These three problems take the whole thing down a notch for me, even if I still strongly recommend the movie (and why it's not Opening Weekend material):

  1. Christian Bale is the worst thing about the new Batman films.  I now sit somewhere between "he's too good an actor" and "his Wayne is written to be a total cocksucker."  The worst part about Bale?  Either his decision, or the producers' decision, to make his voice sound like he's choking on a chicken bone whenever he has the fucking suit on.  Honestly, there's a scene at the end of "The Dark Knight" where he says like three or four lines of dialogue in a row with the BatVoice, and I don't think I understood a single word that he said.  I honestly can't believe that no one is talking about this; this alone kills the Batman character for me.  Go ahead--sit at your desk/kitchen table/living room couch and say "I'd like to order the #6 and a Coke" in the lowest voice you can possibly muster.  See how funny that is?  And, see what a bad fucking idea it would be to have a superhero say anything in that same voice?

  2. Harvey Dent and the same movie.  I'm okay with 150 minutes for a movie of this type if there is stuff going on.  Still, I think it was un-wise to introduce us to the Dent character (the DA from the comics who locks up a ton of bad guys then has an accident that turns him from good guy to bad guy overnight) and then give us so much of Dent that he becomes the Two-Face character during this film.  As a result, we get a rise, fall, rise and fall of this character during this one movie, when he could have easily filled up a side plot of the third movie in this current series.  With all of the stuff we have going on here, I felt we had room for 15 more minutes of Joker instead of too much Dent in this movie.

  3. I like Comic-Book-World Gotham City, not Modern-Day-Chicago Ripoff Gotham City.  Call me weird, but I like comic movies that look like "Batman" or "Dick Tracy" or "Sin City."  The Gotham City of "The Dark Knight" looks like Chicago and NYC mixed together, so its atmosphere is very well grounded in reality...which I personally don't love with this type of movie.  This makes the Joker-as-modern-psychopath performance that much better (which everyone can agree on), but the sets look like real places in our modern world, which I don't like at all.  I still love the Axis Chemicals sets from "Batman"; to a degree, they are corny, but I like the big vats of green stuff, or the floats from "Batman" with the silly balloons...they look made up, kind of like...I dunno, a multibillionaire who moonlights as a flying bat crimefighter while driving a mobile tank.  (That's just me, though; you might know a guy like this, and if so, my bad.)

Overall, "The Dark Knight" continues the strong work of Christopher Nolan, the director of my fave film from 2000, "Memento."  The end of this film poses tricky issues for the next film in the series, as well as openly wondering which villain the producers will exploit in the next movie.  Penguin?  Catwoman?  Riddler?  Freeze?  (I would love to see anyone try to make audiences forget about the Schwarzenegger performance in "Batman & Robin."  Yikes!)

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09