Last night, I journeyed up to the Century in Evanston (in my mind, THE only place in town to see HUGE movies, thanks to it’s amazing sound system, bar in the movie theatre, and general all-around awesomeness) and became apparently the last person on earth to see “The Dark Knight.”
Seriously, the ticket vendor even told me I was the last person, and that most people are on their second or third times by now.
I’d heard all the hype, seen all the ads, read all the reviews, barely avoided things getting spoiled, and went into this latest Batman movie hoping it would live up to the hype, but (deep down) not really thinking it could.
It surpassed the hype.
It’s big and loud and full of explosions and amazing characters (heroes and villians) and one-liners and awesome shots, and it’s seriously… phenomenal.
Christopher Nolan might be a genius when it comes to a lot of things – but I think his strongest point in reinventing the tired Batman franchise was taking away some of the more cartoony aspects and making it, despite all the bells and whistles, a human story. These characters are all people – no aliens, no monsters, no ghosts – they are simply human beings playing a dark game in the darkest of cities. The original Batman movies, though anchored by the brilliance of Michael Keaton, too often descended into cartoon non-realism when it came to their villians and the portrayal of Gotham City. Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and Danny DeVito’s Penguin – despite all being wonderful and astonishing performances – were highly stylized and almost artsy (probably due to the directorship of Tim Burton, who loves all things dark and artsy.)
I enjoyed the Michael Keaton Batman and Batman Returns, but I’m in love with the Nolan reinvention of the franchise.
Nolan’s first good move was to get Christian Bale to be his Bruce Wayne/Batman. At turns charismatic, moody, bratty, funny, and always hot, Bale anchors “The Dark Knight” and is absolutely the best Batman ever, because he’s human and imperfect. Bruce Wayne can be an absolute shit, and Bale relishes those flawed moments as much – if not more – than his heroic moments. Bale is a powerful actor and a completely believable Batman. Replacing Katie Holmes for this film as Rachel Dawes is Maggie Gyllenhaal, and I have to say – Nothing against Holmes, but Gyllenhaal is a huge upgrade. She’s feisty, she’s witty, she’s strong, and you like Rachel a million times more in this movie than in “Batman Begins.” Also returning to the film are Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Michael Caine (Alfred), and Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon) – who should seriously just form their own League of Awesomeness. These three screen legends pretty much walk away with their moments onscreen without breaking a sweat – particularly Oldman, who gets the most play of any of the three in “The Dark Knight.” I love the reinvention of the Batman series, because it stays true to Batman canon, and the rise of Jim Gordon is a fascinating part of an already fascinating series. (And I smile every time they reference Gordon’s family, or when we see his young daughter – knowing that in about 15 years, my favorite superhero ever, Batgirl, will emerge from young Barbara Gordon.)
I’d heard both good and bad things about Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, but all of those melted away the second he stepped onscreen. Harvey Dent is a good guy forced to go bad, and Eckhart rocked it out. He also has the look of a Ken doll, all blonde hair and bright smile, which makes him perfect in the role of the White Knight of Gotham City.
Meanwhile, Chicago is all over Gotham City. The filmmakers don’t even try to hide it half the time. If you live in Chicago, you saw at least five things you recognized in the movie – most notably are LaSalle Street, the River, Lower Wacker Drive (once again, the setting for an awesome chase scene) and the Wrigley Building (which is sitting right outside the window of several shots.)
But you can’t talk about “The Dark Knight” without mentioning the sensation that is Heath Ledger as The Joker. Ledger was already a young actor on the verge of greatness when he died tragically before the movie was complete, and buzz spread that his was the performance of a lifetime. It is. It absolutely is, and not just in a “Wow, he’s good – It’s so sad he’s dead, Let’s give him a posthumus Oscar,” kind of way. Dead or alive, he deserves an Oscar for his Joker. Though he doesn’t have as much screen time as one would like, he’s mesmerizing. It’s a completely vanity-free, disgusting, funny, tortured portrayal – but Ledger’s greatest talent was creating characters that were people. And his Joker slips the bonds of being a cartoony figure and becomes simply, a complicated and twisted man. It’s genius. I can’t remember ever being as glued to a character in a movie before.
If you like superhero movies, see it.
If you like any of the aforementioned actors, see it.
If you like Chicago, see it.
If you like Batman, see it.
If you like great acting and good writing, see it.
If you like explosions, see it.
If you like movies… see it.
You won’t regret it.