The second installment of the new Batman franchise, begun with Batman Begins, picks up our story not long after where we left off. But I’m not going to talk about the plot of The Dark Knight, other than to say it starts with a bang involving a powerful scene augmented by pervasive music.
All our favorites are back
Alfred, played deliciously by Michael Caine is a delight to see in this role again. Dry, acerbic, witty and caring, Michael Caine is one of our generation’s most dependable actors and again in this movie is a grounding influence on the young Master Bruce Wayne.
Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox plays his sagacious and insightful role as both guardian of Wayne Enterprises and modern day “Q” as co-inventor of many Bat-machines. Morgan Freeman has been doing a lot of work recently including the comedy Bucket List with Jack Nicholson and the current Wanted with Angelina Jolie.
Gary Oldman returns as Jim Gordon, now head of the Major Crimes Unit in a rather expanded role compared to the first Batman movie. He gets more room to work, and show off his “Gotham City” accent. How different from the proper British accent of Serious Black in the Harry Potter movies.
Aaron Eckhart is given a significant role as Harvey Dent, white knight District Attorney and new love interest of Rachel. He’s probably best known recently for his starring role in Thank You For Smoking.
Christian Bale is back as the Dark Knight Detective, and though he plays the self-centered billionaire playboy well, he best shines as the Batman. Because there is not the exposition of the origin story as in the previous movie, he seems eclipsed in this film by the villain.
Three new players
Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over from Katie Holmes in the role of Rachel Hawes. Not only is she beautiful, but she can act and is credible in the role. Katie Holmes had only personal pulchritude going for her, but not the acting chops, and she is not missed here. Katie came off as the “girl next door” who never matured. Here, with this film, Rachel is a mature woman, and the object of desire and conflict. You wished he had more to do in this movie.
The criminal Salvatori Maroni is played by Eric Roberts, who we haven’t seen much since his role in the TV series Heroes. He’s mature, smooth, attractive, and the perfect gangland gentleman.
But the real standout is Heath Ledger as the villain The Joker. He is virtually unrecognizable in this role, if you didn’t already know who was playing the role. As the original villain in the first Batman comic in 1940, here he is the quintessential maniacal anarchist. Played more as an amoral terrorist than a loony, he brings a very different feel to this role than Jack Nicholson did in the debut run of the previous Batman series. No one does crazy like Jack, but Heath goes a very different direction. Jack could be funny, saying of Batman “Where does he get those marvelous toys?” Heath brings a menace to the screen that is palpable. From his first scene he’s chilling, creepy.
He achieves his art with three things, beyond the makeup:
- His gait: he walks all spindly, like a marionette
- His tongue: he licks his lips nervously, like Jabba the Hut
- His voice: like many screen villains (think Darth Vader) he drops his voice into an almost gravelly monotone that seems like pure evil itself.
There is already talk of an Oscar for this performance, and indeed, it is the magnum opus of his career. Some may see this movie just to see the last performance of this amazing talent. It is incredible what he’s done with the part, making it all his own.
The filming venues are interesting. While Gotham City is supposed to represent Manhattan Island, it is obvious that several locales in Chicago were used in this film, and indeed, Illinois saw $40 million pumped into its economy by this movie. But numerous shots of Hong Kong were also used, including the top of its tallest building, Two International Finance Centre.
This film is an incremental level above the first: it’s taut, immersive, moody, exciting and scary, all at once. At times it is mind blowing in its intensity, and stunning in its inventiveness. It opens to midnight debuts tonight across 1,700 theaters in the US. Some believe this could be this summer’s first $100M opening weekend blockbuster.*
While the previous film had a confusing third act, this one has a series of smaller crescendos that build into a satisfying conclusion.
Get there early enough to see the previews, including the coming Terminator Salvation. You’ll be excited to learn who plays the adult John Connor.
This is a relentlessly intense movie. The fight scenes are more realistic, with less close in filming that would otherwise hide the martial arts. This is likely too intense for young viewers under 12.
You’ll like it if: you like comics, sci-fi, action, detective stories
You won’t like it if: excessive violence and rampant insanity aren’t your cup of tea
*UPDATE: At the close of the first weekend, the movie did $158.355 million, making it the biggest movie opening of all time at the North American box office.
*UPDATE 2: After 18 days, the movie has done over $400 million at the boxoffice, the biggest blockbuster movie of the summer, 4 weeks at #1 and ranks as all-time No. 2 behind Titanic. By the way, it really is better in IMAX.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood culturevulture