“The Dark Knight” Review
The Dark Knight
– for intense sequences of violence and some menace.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart
Running Time: 2 hours, 32 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: July 18, 2008
With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman sets out to dismantle the remaining criminal organizations that plague the city streets. The partnership proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a reign of chaos unleashed by a rising criminal mastermind known to the terrified citizens of Gotham as The Joker.
In 2005, indie director Christopher Nolan – known best for making the cult backwards thriller Memento – brought a reimagining of the Batman franchise back to the big screen after an eight year hiatus. Batman Begins was a much more serious, grittier Batman film, grounding it in a new reality that was a lot less “Burton-esque” and thankfully neon-free. Nolan had raised the bar for superhero / comic book films and Batman Begins was arguably one of the best ones to date. Now three years later with all kinds of hype and excitement behind it, The Dark Knight is a continuation of Nolan’s Batman world, albeit somewhat taking the reimagination a bit further.
The buzz about The Dark Knight being a considerably more serious and violent installment are entirely true. The Dark Knight is even further from a family friendly environment than Tim Burton’s first outing in 1989 (simply titled Batman) or Nolan’s first installment, Batman Begins. In this film, which runs an impressive two and a half hours, the only things that distinguish Gotham City from any other city in the U.S. are its name, its winged protector, and its demented villains. The late Heath Ledger steps in as The Joker this time around, a casting choice that was seemingly a rather odd one at first, but ultimately a brilliant one in the end. Ledger is a fantastic actor who, in The Dark Knight, is able to completely create a new spin on the villain – one that is altogether creepy, disturbing, and even scary. Jack Nicholson was an intense but over-the-top if not slightly cartoony rendition, while Ledger feels entirely believable, existing in a world that no longer feels like an alternate comic book universe from our own — this Gotham City is real and tangible… and so are its villains.
The opening of The Dark Knight simultaneously wraps up any potential loose ends from the previous film while nicely introducing our new villain and the kind of unpredictable villainy he’s capable of. Batman Begins was a frequently sweeping action/adventure film with a superhero stamp on it, but The Dark Knight feels considerably more grounded. With our central characters already having been established in Begins, Nolan is able to get right into further developing these characters while at the same time introducing new ones and building those up as well. In some ways, having more characters to build up does take away screen time and development from our titular character – and those close to him – but The Dark Knight is easily just as much about Harvey Dent, The Joker, Lt. Gordon, and Rachel Dawes as it is about Bruce Wayne and Batman. And because Nolan chooses to give plenty of thrills and action as well as story and character development, The Dark Knight is able to succeed in more areas than just action or thrills — The Dark Knight oozes emotion as well.
But part of the intensity of The Dark Knight is the violence and the loose-cannon capabilities of the film’s central villains The Joker and the inevitable transformation of Dent into Two Face, the latter of which is a much more visually horrifying monster that dangerously pushes this film’s rating of PG-13 into “probably-could-have-been-R” type territory. When we first see The Joker outside of robbing a bank, he kills a mobster by ramming a pencil through his head (not shown graphically, but it’s enough to get the point… no pun intended). In fact, it’s this kind of unpredictability of The Joker’s quirky creepiness that makes his antics somewhat humorous – if not just because we the audience just don’t know what to make of him or what he might do next. He really could kill at any moment, and it could be something truly brutal or vicious. Not to delve into further spoiling information, but many moments where a character is threatened at gun or knife point are either not shown on screen or handled immediately off-camera. One instance involves The Joker telling a story of how he got his scars while holding a knife to the mouth of a mob boss – before apparently either shoving the knife into his mouth or cutting his face to kill him. While we don’t see exactly what he does (we see from behind the man as he dies, not what happens to him), it’s the music and the drama of the moment that makes the scene all the more horrifying. In another instance, we briefly see Bruce stitching up a wound on his arm, and another gruesome scene shows the stitching/scarring on a criminal’s belly after The Joker has apparently surgically implanted a bomb into the man’s stomach. Finally, the look of Two Face is a brutal, gruesome sight. It’s a sight that is horrifying and disturbing to say the least. If you don’t want to know, stop reading this paragraph here, but it’s important to warn those thinking a Batman film should be fun for the whole family that Nolan’s take on Two Face is far, far, far from the wild-haired, purple-scarred Tommy Lee Jones rendition. After Eckart’s face catches on fire and we later see his face after the bandages have been pulled off, we see that his skin is charred and pieces of his flesh are completely missing. We can see the bone of his chin and part of his jaw through open pieces of his skin, as well as the muscles of his face, his entire left eye and even some of the teeth through the side of his face. And after he’s revealed, there are very few times when we see Dent that we don’t see both sides of his face and it’s a difficult, disturbing image to look at because it’s executed so realistically and convincingly.
Aside from some graphic violence, there are many tense moments or tense, emotional scenes where life is threatened and the viewer is put through an emotional ringer. It’s to the point where I felt completely drained after the film because so many moments teetered on the edge and you never knew which way the film would go. The action scenes are wonderfully handled, with not too much having been lost in the many trailers and commercials that were shown for months. Aside from violence, there is some language, including a couple uses of “J-sus” and 1 “g*dd*mn.” While it overall could have been worse, given the nature of the film, it was unnecessary to even include that. Finally, there’s one brief suggestive sexual scene where Bruce runs through a room in an office building past a couple who were apparently fooling around. Nothing is seen apart from them adjusting their clothes, but it did feel random and entirely out of place (despite clearly played for laughs).
Aside from Ledger and the film’s heavy content, Aaron Eckhart turns in a strong performance as Gotham’s District Attorney Harvey Dent, making a wonderful addition to the cast. Christian Bale is as wonderful as ever as Batman and Bruce Wayne as he channels the struggles of such a role as the masked hero and the responsibilities that come with it. Although I was greatly concerned going into the film, Maggie Gyllenhaal actually plays the part of Rachel Dawes much like her predecessor Katie Holmes did, making it very easy to accept Holmes’ absence this time around. Many times, I felt like Gyllenhaal was imitating Holmes’ take on Dawes and it worked in favor of the actress switch. To round out the cast, Gary Oldman is even better this time around as Gordon – thankfully getting much more screen time, Michael Caine is still the best Alfred one could pick, and Morgan Freeman is always a joy to see on screen. With Nolan’s direction and a script he wrote with his brother, The Dark Knight adds up to a comic book adaptation like none that’s hit the screen to date. Despite some brutal content, The Dark Knight is a triumph in story telling and acting. It’s just a shame Nolan couldn’t have found a better way to execute some of it to make it a bit less intense or disturbing.
The Dark Knight deserves some stern warnings – even for viewers above the age of the young ones I usually intend the warning for. It’s an intense, dramatic thriller that isn’t for the faint of heart and certainly not for everyone. The Dark Knight is a heavy, vicious film that is much more violent than its predecessor, Batman Begins, and even darker. Thematically, the film does weigh heavily on the struggles against evil and making sacrifices in standing up for what is right. The story sort of plays out like a Greek tragedy or even a parable on different roads that can be taken in response to tragedies and trials in our lives. And lastly, who knows if all The Dark Knight‘s praise and accolades will get it much Oscar attention, but one thing can be said about the much talked about performance by Heath Ledger – gone or not, he deserves an Academy Award for his performance here. He electrifies the screen as The Joker, and it’s sad to think he’s since passed on. With that said, The Dark Knight is truly a Batman story unlike anything seen before, and it will be difficult to top should a third film be made.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/17/08)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: As Bruce runs through a building, we see him run past a couple who were apparently messing around. We see the man doing up his pants while the woman is fixing her dress; Bruce is often seen with fashion models in elegant gowns as part of maintaining his billionaire playboy image. In one sequence, we see him on a boat full of bikini-clad ballet dancers. Alfred makes a quip about them having to put their own suntan lotion on without his aid
Vulgarity/Language: 2 “s” words, 1 “S.O.B,” 1 “g*dd*mn,” 6 “h*ll” (2 in subtitles), 2 “d*mn,” 3 “J-sus,” 2 “a” words, 1 “swear to G-d,” 1 “oh my G-d,” 1 “balls”
Alcohol/Drugs: The commissioner comments that he usually handles something like a death threat with something besides running away, and puts out a bottle of alcohol and a glass. We then see him drinking some; We see a man drinking in a bar
Blood/Gore: Some of the violence is mostly implied. We see a man in a bank shot a few times and there’s a little bit of blood; After a fight where Batman is bitten by a dog, we see Bruce stitching up a wound on his arm – and we briefly see a close-up of this (as well as other scars or bruises on his back after that); The Joker wants to show off a “magic trick” and puts a pencil on a table (point down, eraser facing up), and then quickly grabs a mobster and slams his head onto the table where the pencil is (presumably with the pencil impaling his head), and the mobster falls to the floor. It’s done very quickly, so we don’t see any actual graphic details, but it’s pretty vicious; A body suddenly slams against a window and it’s a man in a Batman suit with his face painted like the joker. It’s possible some of the makeup on his face is actually blood as it gets on the window, but it’s not clear; Batman suspends a mob boss from a certain height that wouldn’t kill him – however, he drops the man who then falls to the ground, breaking his legs (we hear the loud crack); A man enters a jail cell and complains about his stomach and “insides” hurting. At one point, he falls over and the camera focuses on his belly. We see part of it (an arm of someone in the foreground obstructs our full view), showing what looks like scarred stitching, before a closer view a shot or so later shows a cell phone light under the skin (and from a distance we see the room explode); Harvey gets oil or gasoline on his face after falling over while tied to a chair. As he’s dragged out of the building, a spreading fire races up his body to his face where the gas was on his skin and his face ignites on one side. In a following scene, we see some bandages on his face with blood on them. In a fit of rage, he pulls them off, but it isn’t until he’s talking with someone, that he turns and we see his face in gory, graphic detail. His skin is charred and pieces of his flesh are completely missing. We can see the bone of his chin and part of his jaw through open pieces of his skin, as well as the muscles of his face, his entire left eye and even some of the teeth through the side of his face (we also see parts of his skull through the skin on his forehead and side of his head). From this point on, we see this grotesque view of him many, many times.
Violence: Spoilers within: The Joker and some hired guns rob a bank, but each guy shoots the other before the job is done. A bank manager tries to stop the robbery but is shot and falls to the ground. The Joker then puts a grenade in his mouth, which apparently is just a smoke grenade; A group of copycat Batmans are used to lure Batman, and there’s a fight, including dogs; We see Bruce stitching a wound up on his arm; The Joker slams a man’s head onto a table, causing a pencil to go into his head, killing him; The Joker holds a knife to a man’s mouth, sticks it in the man’s mouth, and kills him – but we only see the killing motion from behind, so we’re not shown exactly what he’s done. Other thugs are held at knife-point and The Joker breaks a pool stick and leaves two pointed halves on the ground for three thugs to fight to the death over to work for The Joker (which is not seen at all); Batman goes to Hong Kong and kidnaps a thug (there’s some hand-to-hand fighting there); A man is poisoned and we see them fall down, while a car containing another person blows up; The Joker holds a man at knife-point and is about to kill him but is stopped by Rachel, who The Joker then holds at knife-point before throwing her off the building, to be saved by Batman; A man is shot and presumably killed while trying to protect another man; Batman drops a mob boss from a building, breaking his legs; A car chase yields some wrecked vehicles, and The Joker threatens a knife on Batman after his vehicle crashes before being saved. When The Joker is taken into custody, he’s roughed up pretty brutally (but not graphically). He then instigates a fight with a guard who he then holds at knife-point. We see a criminal in custody with a stitched up stomach with a phone inside which blows up the prison; We see another building explode, killing someone inside; A man is dragged out of a building which then explodes and half of the man catches on fire; A car accident occurs to save a man from being murdered (though he is shot at); We see the gory looking scarred face of the man who was burned. All the skin around the eye is missing (showing the entire eye ball) as well as parts of the cheek and face to reveal muscle and bone and teeth underneath; A hospital explodes; A man is shot (scene cuts before showing it); The driver of a car is shot from behind (also not seen), which causes a car accident; Two Face holds a gun on a woman cop and hits her in the face; We see many hostages bound and gagged; We see two ferry boats of people with both boats rigged with explosives and both boats given detonators to the opposite boat’s bombs (to blow each other up by a certain time or for both to be blown up); Lots of hand-to-hand fighting between Batman and various thugs, etc; A man holds a gun on a woman and her two little children; A man shoots another man (but he is fine); A man falls to his death (and still some other violence in the movie)