THE DARK KNIGHT had to score well to cover a price tag of $185,000,000, and whether this kind of superhero/supervillain mayhem is to your liking or not, you can’t say it didn’t deliver. Audiences forked over $1,004,558,444, the #1 profit-raker for 2008, currently #34 among all films ever released for the number of tickets sold. Critics raved, the Oscars awarded two wins and six more nominations.
Heard all the buzz, missed it in theaters. My first exposure was partial and inauspicious yet telling. On a 12-hour bus ride in The Philippines, catching choppy segments of it thanks to the 22-inch TV mounted over the drivers seat. Sound was terrible, picture lousy, ambient noises from the road, vehicle and passengers playing their atmospheric parts in the “presentation”. Yet even from an uncomfortable seat maybe forty feet from the screen, making out one word in three, I could tell that Heath Ledger’s inspired, literally lip-smacking lunacy as ‘The Joker’ was a Bad Guy For the Ages. The skipping disc stopped abruptly at mid-point and they changed over to some of the 1980s music from Journey, Foreigner and Guns N’ Roses that every long distance bus in the country plays at some point on every trip—twenty-five years after the fact, go figure. A man will endure a mountain of misery for an exotic love affair.
So, a mere decade after everyone else frothed, pulled their hair and wet their pants over how BRILLIANT! this was, I finally watched the whole 152 minutes, without the distraction of oncoming trucks, barfing kids and shouted cell-phone prattles. Great picture quality, though the damn 7.8 Dolby lathered sound effects and music could be heard as far off as Midway.
Verdict? Yes & No. Who can argue with the mob—and why bother? Mega-budget, effects-dependent, teeth-looseners nearly always wield laudable technical credits, and nowadays are mostly well-acted. As to concept and writing, and relative value to mankind: whether the “Serious Revisiting” of 5-cent comic book schlock originally designed to tease kids away from homework back in the 1940s is “invigorated” and “lifted” by making them death-camp G-R-I-M, sadism-laced, body-count frontal assaults into nihilism, viciousness and despair is smart & savvy or sick & sinister is a philosophical wankfest you can troll up justifications elsewhere on the Internet. I have no issue with punches and explosions, but it would be nice to see some fights and chases that aren’t edited into such a blur that you need a computer to keep track of the participants, and not have to recoil from sound levels torqued to out-blast Stalingrad. All flash, lots of fury (way too much savagery), no suspense, actual-human-being-drama left gasping like a surprised tuna.
Directed by Christopher Nolan, who came up with the story & screenplay with his brother Jonathan. Mostly done in Chicago with a quick trip Hong Kong, the Nolan’s Gotham isn’t the stylized art-deco, futurist city of comix tradition, but a brutish approximation of modern-day megapoleis. The caped hero’s ride looks dismally military, but he gets a snazzed-up motorcycle to rocket around on. A new, improved Batsuit.
Besides the dazzling nuttiness of Ledger, the cast are up to the mark, with an assured Aaron Eckhart quite good as the dynamic, doomed ‘Harvey Dent/Two-Face’. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman effortlessly provide customary authority. Christian Bale is handsome and dapper but heavy and dour as ‘Bruce Wayne’: the Bat-voice batted about when he’s geared-up for Bat-buttkicking sounds like Kurt Russell doing Clint Eastwood doing Jack Palance.
Dominating everyone, with the wildest character and best lines (the only good ones), Ledger’s frantic fury is funny, fearless and pretty much fantastic. Tragically, needlessly dying at 28, months before it was released, he was given a posthumous—and fully deserved— Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. Another of those statues went for Sound Editing, plus Nolan’s team accrued nominations for Cinematography, Film Editing, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing and Makeup.
With Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eric Roberts, Ng Chin Han, Richie Coster, Anthony Michael Hall, William Fichter, Ron Dean, Cillian Murphy, “Tiny” Lister. Music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Nolan crafted the film, but the movie belongs to Heath Ledger.