Posted on August 5, 2008 by Monica Valentinelli
With sold out shows and talks of an Oscar, if you haven’t seen The Dark Knight you’re probably wondering if it lives up to all of the hype. Even within the body of countless movie reviews for the film there are a few who, believe it or not, don’t like The Dark Knight. Why? You see, the one thing this comic book movie has at its core (that other movies of a similar type don’t) is an atypical visibility to a broader audience. While it’s impossible to find a true statistic, could it be safe to assume that people unfamiliar with the darker Batman franchise went to see the movie just because it was Heath Ledger’s last role?
Heath Ledger’s Tragic Death and its Effects on The Dark Knight
The big question everyone is asking is: Would this film have been as successful if Heath Ledger hadn’t passed away? The notoriety that this film has received after the death of Heath Ledger has been way over-the-top. Beginning in January, we’ve read countless articles about how Jack Nicholson warned Heath Ledger on the ‘Joker’ role or how Heath Ledger’s Death is related to his role in Batman.
As a professional “method” actor, we’ve seen Heath Ledger act in other disturbing films like The Order or controversial films like Brokeback Mountain with co-star Jake Gyllenhaal; I remember Brokeback Mountain being banned from some theaters. Did Heath’s role of Joker affect him so greatly that he couldn’t sleep? Batman co-star Christian Bale didn’t think so. In fact, Christian Bale is on video saying that blaming Heath Ledger’s Death on the Joker role is rude.
I have to agree. Celebrities often deal with controversy, notoriety, and the press as part of their job. Making it as far as he did in his career proves that Heath Ledger was a professional. Is it remotely possible that Heath may have had other, more personal things that we as his adoring fans were not privy to? Yes. Could it be that the mystery surrounding those personal problems added to the hype of The Dark Knight? Absolutely.
There is no doubt in my mind that Heath Ledger’s death has added to the hype for this film; publicity that extended far beyond the borders of a fanbase already knowledgeable with superhero movies. For better or for worse, we can only hope that the side effect of the increased exposure to The Dark Knight will be a continuation of better superhero films and increased numbers of adult fans–both of which would push comic books into a more mainstream audience once again.
Chris Nolan’s Batman is at Home in a Darker Gotham
Since Batman‘s creation by Bob Kane in 1939, we’ve seen multiple re-imaginings of the man in the bat suit. From the kitschy Batman TV show starring Adam West to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns and the animated series Batman Beyond, we’ve seen all sides to this genius crime solver, escape artist, and millionaire.
Chris Nolan’s Batman breathes life into the icon by filling Batman’s character with shadows and cobwebs. Exploring the darker nature of Batman, The Dark Knight begs the question: Who is the true hero of this film? Is it Lieutenant Gordon, who pushes on in a police station inundated with crooked cops on the take? Is it Harvey Dent–the bright-eyed, idealistic District Attorney in love with Rachel Dawes and Gotham City’s brighter future? Supporting characters Lucius Fox and Alfred also make great candidates–endless, tirelessly supporting Bruce Wayne even if they disagree with him.
Simply, The Dark Knight isn’t a movie about heroes–it’s a film about what makes us heroic. Each character is complex and three-dimensional, forced to make choices that identify who they are. Rachel chooses Harvey over Batman, Lucius trusts Fate rather than giving in to blackmail over Batman’s true identity, and The Joker thrives on chaos instead of order.
The film opens with a well-timed scene, a bank robbery accented by a perfect soundtrack that staccatos and crescendos seamlessly with the action. Here is where we get the first glimpse of The Joker, played by Heath Ledger. This villain doesn’t wear brilliant white makeup; this Joker dons war paint.
This villain, as conceived by Nolan and his scriptwriter brother Jonathan and incarnated with chilling authority by Ledger, is not the elegant sadist of so many action films, nor the strutting showman played by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. He isn’t a father figure or a macho man. And though he invents several stories about how he got his (facial and psychic) scars, he’s not presented as the sum of injustices done to him. This Joker is simply one of the most twisted and mesmerizing creeps in movie history. Source–Time Magazine’s Review of The Dark knight
Sandwiching himself in between Gotham’s crime syndicate, this “one man show” nonchalantly takes over the mob because this Joker has no forethought or hesitation. This Joker simply creates anarchy, without care for morals or consequences, and succeeds by taking advantage of a lethargic society’s sluggishness. He is the true meaning of a terrorist, who exploits weakness–he even goes so far as to rob a bank and burns the money in front of the other criminals.
With a limp and a flick of his tongue, this disturbing Joker is brilliantly played. From the beginning, The Joker’s primary goal is to get Batman out in the open to kill him, using hostages (and Gotham’s love-hate relationship with the dark hero) as a way to bring Batman’s true identity to light. As The Joker becomes more and more of a threat, enter Harvey Dent played by Aaron Eckhart. Blond, bright-eyed and full of idealism, Harvey Dent is a man on a mission — to clean up Gotham using the Law.
Harvey isn’t alone in his quest for justice; Rachel Dawes returns with a new face, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. Her performances have been met with mixed reviews on the blogosphere because she has a different look than Katie Holmes, who was cast previously for Rachel. It’s always challenging for a new actress to step into the same character’s shoes, but Maggie does it with grace and dignity which is commendable for an actress new to comics.
I’m proud to be in this movie though. Someone was just asking me if I knew anything about comics and stuff before. I didn’t know anything. I was completely out of the loop.–Source: Canmag.com’s Interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal
I feel that she was perfectly cast for the role and she made the character more believable–especially when Batman has to choose between saving her and Harvey Dent. Maggie’s re-imagining of Rachel Dawes enhanced how we, the audience, feel about Bruce Wayne. She is the voice of the public torn between needing Batman to save her–or condemning him for acting above-the-law.
Christian Bale reprises his role as Batman in this film; his low, grating voice and athletic prowess are a boost to Batman, but a detriment to his alter-ego Bruce Wayne. Although Batman is what The Dark Knight is all about, the full range of characters support Bale and make this a much, richer movie than Batman Begins. Here, the point-of-view shifts back-and-forth between acting legends like Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Gary Oldman (Gordon), and Michael Caine (Alfred) so we can see all sides of this war on order in Gotham.
War is an appropriate description of this movie, because unlike Batman Begins, the plot of the film is more complicated than you might think. As I alluded to earlier, each character is faced with a personal choice that adds another, subtle subplot to the hostage of Batman’s identity. The movie turns with Harvey Dent, as his soul spins on a dime after tragedy strikes him. Here we see his weakness, an easy fall from his position on high–his vanity. This is not an insane Two-Face, like the one played by Tommy Lee Jones. A paladin-like character who sets his own rules with the flip of a coin, Two-Face lashes out and blames Gordon for his fate. Wholly believable and something we can all relate to, Two-Face’s supposed demise comes all too quickly as the movie draws to a close.
So who is the true hero of The Dark Knight? Is it Batman, forced to draw the public’s ire? Is it Detective Stephens (played by Keith Szarabajka who you may remember from Angel) who watched his friends die but still strives to do his duty? In this movie, the message seems to be that you–the individual–have more power to change the world than the masses. You can rise (or fall) based on the choices you make.
Not for the weak-of-heart, this is definitely not a “kid-friendly” movie. Although there’s no harsh language or steamy scenes (thankfully) the action is fast-paced and there’s a lot of violence. Even Batman ranks up the casualty count as he struggles to capture his arch-nemesis The Joker before it’s too late. If you’re even half-way considering going to see The Dark Knight, though, I recommend that you do because this is one of those experiences that is truly bigger-than-life, a cultural memory that will live on and be talked about well after it’s left the theaters.