The Dark Knight

The best Batman film ever made, the best Superhero movie ever made, and the best movie of the year to date. It’s a 5-star masterpiece that’ll leave you spinning!

By Clint Morris

Wed 29th August 1989. 14-year-old Clint Morris, clad in a freshly-ironed Batman promotional shirt, dashes down the cinema stairs after sitting through an advance screening of Tim Burton’s ”Batman” (the girl he asked to come with him was a little more unsure of what she’d just seen). He clearly loved what he just saw…. Or did he?

You see, young Morris had been invited to see the film, a night before release, after winning a radio competition (the T-Shirt came with the tickets, as did the soundtrack ‘album’ – everyone under the age of 20 need do a Wikipedia search to see what they are) and, as a consequence of being that darn excited about a big-screen Batman movie, and the fact that he’d been the ‘first caller through’ on the radio that day, he’d pretty much already made his mind up that this was going to be the movie to beat (Or at least come a close second to ”The Last Starfighter”). It didn’t much matter whether the film was too over-the-top, badly cast, or just plain dull…. he was in love with it before he even handed his ticket over to the usher. If he were running a website back then, he’d write a 5-star review of the film based on being invited to the screening alone (cash-for-comment doesn’t work anymore). The next day at school, he’d already decided to let everyone know just how great the movie was (and how they’re all scum because they weren’t invited).

But what did Morris really think? Did he really long to have Tim Burton’s babies? Did he really think it was better than, er, ”The Last Starfighter”?

The question is probably best answered by checking out the cinema security camera tapes from the day. If you can get your hands on them, you’ll see that by the time the youngster reaches the outer doors of the theater – before walking onto the street to catch his ride home – his smile slowly disappears like a joey inside a pouch. Slowly forward through the tapes, say for another 60 seconds or so, and you’ll see that the smile has clearly gone. Seems the novelty had worn off already. Though the highschooler had enjoyed the film enough – well, enough that all the cinema staff could catch his beaming smile on his way out of the screening – it was pretty clear that something hadn’t gone quite right.

And I think we all know exactly how he was feeling, right?

Though a fun film, with a terrific performance by Jack Nicholson (as The Joker), Tim Burton’s “Batman” wasn’t the film that many-a-kid, let alone many-a-Batman-fan, had been hoping for. It was, for lack of a better word, sluggish. More so, it had nothing in common with the source material – completely reinventing the wheel, much to the displeasure of many long-time Batman comic boffins. And looking back on it now, it’s tone was closer to an old Christopher Lee Dracula film than a Superhero film.

Still, the excitement of seeing a Batman film was quite real. That was genuine thrill on Morris’s face. He’d been drawing the Bat-Logo on the school desk all week, leading up to the screening, and would probably continue to do so – unless the teacher finally spotted him. But like most who attended that early screening on that cold August night, it was the idea of a Batman film that was more exciting than the film itself. The film didn’t even come close to playing like it had the day before in the head. And it never would. Like having sex for the first time, the idea of having ‘done the deed’ was much more exciting than the useless 30-seconds-of-fun that one would actually endure.

Many, Many (in my best “Lassard” voice) years later, that young Morris, without the LP under his arm, and with much more facial hair than he had back in 1989, starts to feel giddy about seeing another Batman movie. A day before the screening of “The Dark Knight”, Director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to the phenomenal “Batman Begins” (2005), a small smile – I’m a professional now, can’t be seen beaming, especially around peers ready to “rip-through” the film (and a few older reviewers, leaving the theater, were heard saying ridiculous comments like “Way too Long” or “Totally Ridiculous” about the movie, no time for fist-foyers in the foyer with fools – adorns his face. And though he wasn’t about to break out and do the Bat-Dance, did have his old Batman costume laid out on the bed, ready to wrap it around his 30-something frame, if this one delivered.

And did it? Or did Morris’s smile again disappear before he reached the illuminated exit sign of the Village theater foyer?

Check out the security tapes. You’ll clearly spot a smile….. and one that didn’t disappear any time that night. At all. Morris had just seen the Batman film he should’ve seen in 1989 – an exciting, moving, emotionally-rattling roller-coaster ride of thrills, spills and chills that Tim Burton wouldn’t even be able to fathom, let alone implement into a movie.

If you’ve seen ”Batman Begins”, you’ll know this isn’t Tim Burton’s ”Batman” movie (and definitely not Joel Schumacher’s – the glam king who helmed “Batman Forever” and – lest we forget – “Batman & Robin”). Filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s Caped Crusader lives in our world, in contrast to some colourful cartoon backdrop, and is no more a superhero – his gadgets are old leftovers from the army – than you, me, or Dupree.

“The Dark Knight” is chilling, moving, thrilling, depressing (very grim at times) and predominantly, real. Batman is a real guy with real feelings, real emotions and a not-so-great job- if you look at it from his perspective. He has made his choice to dash around a cape and save people at night, rather than spend them with a loved one, and it’s starting to tear him up. He wants a normal life, but it doesn’t look like that’ll ever happen.

Not unless someone else steps up to the plate and starts playing hero.

Enter Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a good-guy district attorney who’s hell-bent on putting Gotham’s criminals away for good. And with Batman (Christian Bale) and Sgt. Jim Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) help, he does. Unfortunately there’s one guy, a mysterious chap with a painted face named ‘The Joker’ (Heath Ledger), who has managed to escape their clutches. He’s a savvy son-of-a-gun – always managing to stay one-step ahead of the authorities… and the Bat.

The Joker has no real motive to speak of – let alone a back-story – he quite simply, just wants to see “the world burn”. He’ll stop at nothing to bring it, and his antagonist Dent, down.

It’s already been said – in a million-and-one places – but the late Heath Ledger (who died shortly after completion of the film) really does give the performance of his career as The Joker. It’s a tour-de-force turn that’ll stay with you for weeks. He’s creepy, menacing and extremely easy to watch. Every bit of dialogue he has is delivered like the finest mantra. Every bit of scenery chewed to the core. He’s over-the-top at times, sure, but he’s just as silently wicked at other times – and the profusion works a treat. This is an Oscar-caliber performance.

Aaron Eckhart, as the victimized Harvey Dent, is equally as powerful. This might also be Eckhart’s (“Thank You For Smoking”, “Erin Brockovich”) best on-screen performance to date. He’s extremely likeable, totally charming and, when the time calls for it, understandably disgruntled. In short, he takes a dump on Tommy Lee Jones’s hammy turn as Dent in “Batman Forever” and emerges with a sweet-scented human interpretation that really works for this emotionally-draining chapter. The man rocks.

Surprisingly, Christian Bale might be the weaker link of the movie – he’s still good, especially at playing Bruce Wayne, but as Batman, he loses his footing a bit. He adorns this ridiculously gruff voice whenever he pops on the costume, and at times, it’s cartoonish enough to take you out of the picture.

Thankfully, with such good performances by not just Ledger and Eckhart but from the likes of Michael Caine (as Alfred), Morgan Freeman (as Wayne Enterprises head-honcho Lucius Fox), Maggie Gyllenhaal (replacing Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Rachel Dawes), Gary Oldman (as Gordon) and forgotten 80s icon Eric Roberts (as a mobster), Bale’s wacky ‘Batman’ voice doesn’t deter enjoyment of the film in any great capacity.

This is an epic film. A very big film. A very long film (and definitely not one for the littlies – it gets very violent at times). Nolan approaches this film as if it were any other film (in some respects, he treats it as a gangster film), not a Superhero movie, and it completely works. It’s more reminiscent of a “Heat” – Michael Mann’s extremely popular cops-and-robbers flick starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino – than a “Superman” or “Incredible Hulk”. And while those films are good, this is very good – it goes that extra mile to supply more than just great car chases, nifty fist fights and funky gadgets.
For a superhero film to give you the biggest lump in the throat ever… you know it’s in a league of it’s own.

In short : “The Dark Knight” is the best Batman film ever made, the best Superhero movie ever made, and the best movie of the year to date. It’s a 5-star masterpiece that’ll leave you spinning!

Nolan’s crafted a film not just for all those disappointed radio contest winners of the 1980s – though they will be much happier this time around – but quite simply, for anyone and everyone that loves a good movie. Kids, when that fellow school student who was invited to an advance screening of “The Dark Knight” tells you all how “great” it was – believe him, he’s telling the truth.

“The Dark Knight” is one of the best cinematic experiences you’ll have. It might even top “The Last Starfighter”.

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