The Dark Knight (2008)
June 19, 2016 8:09 AM - Subscribe

When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, the caped crusader must come to terms with one of the greatest psychological tests of his ability to fight injustice.

Justin Chang, Variety: ...with trusty Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, superbly restrained) and golden-boy District Attorney Harvey Dent (a cocksure Aaron Eckhart) successfully spearheading the city’s crackdown on the mob, even Wayne himself (Christian Bale) figures his nights moonlighting as a leather-clad vigilante are numbered. The young billionaire hopes to hang up the Batsuit for good and renew his relationship with assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, an immediate improvement over Katie Holmes), who has taken up with Dent in the meantime.

But Batman’s stature as a radical symbol of good has invited a more sinister criminal presence to Gotham City — and, as seen in the crackerjack bank-robbery sequence that opens the pic, one who operates in terrifyingly unpredictable ways. Utterly indifferent to simple criminal motivations like greed, Ledger’s maniacally murderous Joker is as pure an embodiment of irrational evil as any in modern movies. He’s a pitiless psychopath who revels in chaos and fears neither pain nor death, a demonic prankster for whom all the world’s a punchline.

Let Us Nerd: Of course there are many contrivances in this opening scene.... Yes, the entire heist is so meticulously planned to a convoluted extreme. And you know what, that sums up the Joker perfectly.

Roger Ebert: The movie was shot on location in Chicago, but it avoids such familiar landmarks as Marina City, the Wrigley Building or the skyline. Chicagoans will recognize many places, notably La Salle Street and Lower Wacker Drive, but director Nolan is not making a travelogue. He presents the city as a wilderness of skyscrapers, and a key sequence is set in the still-uncompleted Trump Tower. Through these heights, the Batman moves at the end of strong wires, or sometimes actually flies, using his cape as a parasail.

The plot involves nothing more or less than the Joker’s attempts to humiliate the forces for good and expose Batman’ secret identity, showing him to be a poser and a fraud. He includes Gordon and Dent on his target list, and contrives cruel tricks to play with the fact that Bruce Wayne once loved, and Harvey Dent now loves, Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). The tricks are more cruel than he realizes, because the Joker doesn’t know Batman’s identity.

Manohla Dargis, New York TImes: In its grim intensity, “The Dark Knight” can feel closer to David Fincher’s “Zodiac” than Tim Burton’s playfully gothic “Batman,” which means it’s also closer to Bob Kane’s original comic and Frank Miller’s 1986 reinterpretation. That makes it heavy, at times almost pop-Wagnerian, but Mr. Ledger’s performance and the film’s visual beauty are transporting. (In Imax, it’s even more operatic.) No matter how cynical you feel about Hollywood, it is hard not to fall for a film that makes room for a shot of the Joker leaning out the window of a stolen police car and laughing into the wind, the city’s colored lights gleaming behind him like jewels. He’s just a clown in black velvet, but he’s also some kind of masterpiece.

Again Variety: Viewers who found “Batman Begins” too existentially weighty for its own good will be refreshed to know that “The Dark Knight” hits the ground running and rarely lets up over its swift 2½-hour running time. Nolan directs the action more confidently than he did the first time out, orchestrating all manner of vertiginous mid-air escapes and virtuosic highway setpieces (and unleashing Batman’s latest ooh-ah contraption, the monster-truck-tire-equipped Bat-Pod). In a fresh innovation, six sequences were shot using Imax cameras, and will presumably look smashing in the giant-screen format (pic was reviewed from a 35mm print).

Though not as obsessively detailed as “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” shares with that film a robust physicality and a commitment to taking violence seriously; a brief shot of bruises and scrapes on Bale’s torso conveys as much impact as any of the film’s brutal confrontations. Bale himself is less central figure than ensemble player, but the commandingly charismatic thesp continues to put his definitive stamp on the role, and also has devilish fun playing up Wayne’s playboy persona.

Tech work is at the first entry’s high standard, with many artists reprising their contributions here — from Nathan Crowley’s imposing production design, shown to flattering effect in Wally Pfister’s gleaming widescreen compositions, to the propulsively moody score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Perhaps most impressive is Lee Smith’s editing, confidently handling multiple lines of action and cutting for maximum impact.
posted by infinitewindow (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There are some things with this film that I struggle with, but Heath Ledger's Joker compels me to watch any time I have the chance.
posted by nubs at 10:00 AM on June 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think of this as the movie that perfected the "ponderous grimdark superhero" subgenre (after Batman Begins introduced it), and it really is a masterpiece. It's a shame that the pendulum swung so wildly out of control (lookin' at you, Batman v Superman).
posted by Itaxpica at 1:08 PM on June 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

It's a movie that looks good and has a great mood, until the third act. It willfully mires itself in superhero tropes and the movie is all the poorer for it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:13 PM on June 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've always wondered if there was something in the canon that required both the Joker and Two-Face to be in the same movie.

Also: textbook Fichtner
posted by rhizome at 12:40 AM on June 20, 2016

I enjoyed this so much when I saw it, though for me it has become a little retrospectively tainted by Nolan's limited emotional (And now that I think of it, literal) palette, tics and the hot mess that was Dark Knight Returns, which effectively pulled the curtain aside and revealed... nothing.

Still, that chase scene, and Ledger's performance. I actually think Nolan's bombastic throw-it-and-see-if-it-sticks marries very well with the joker.
posted by smoke at 1:40 AM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I feel like this is an almost great film. Ledger was just amazing and there are some terrific sequences, especially the opening but it's way too long and the third act is a mess. I wish that the Nolans could have had the wisdom to cut that whole prisoner's dilemma on a boat section. I guess that it's nice that they'd obviously read a book on game theory but it's such an unnecessary diversion from the central plot and helps drag out the ending way too far.
posted by octothorpe at 4:50 AM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Todd Alcott took a good 4-part look at this on his website: 1 2 3 4
posted by rmd1023 at 6:29 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

The interrogation scene was the highlight of the film for me.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:42 AM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

It would have been the perfect superhero movie if they'd resisted the Too Many Villains trend and left Two-Face out of it. Nevertheless, flawed pacing and all, it might be the best superhero movie.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:42 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

The interrogation scene was the highlight of the film for me.

What? No, I literally cannot... your words are not... I can't understand a thing you're saying. Ow!
posted by Naberius at 11:18 AM on June 20, 2016

I thought the editing of Ledger's performance was a bit too much, especially in the interrogation. Like they'd used too many shots of him, so the performance seemed over done. I guess that might have been because Bale gives so little, especially under the bat cowl.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:04 PM on June 20, 2016

It bugs me that so many viewers seem to take Joker at his word when he says he doesn't make plans. You just watched him pull off a heist that was planned with uncanny accuracy! Plus, he keeps changing the story about the scars, so maybe his word isn't really to be trusted.
posted by ckape at 4:00 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by rhizome at 5:30 PM on June 22, 2016

Yeah, the movie isn't aging well. It has a lot of great moments, especially the opening, but it doesn't hang together coherently. It never did, really, but there was a novelty factor at first. But a lot of the later superhero movies (Avengers, Winter Soldier, hell even Ant-Man, make it seem incredibly ridiculous.

Ledger's performance still shines though, even if the plot he was given doesn't make much sense.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:11 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ledger is the only reason to watch this movie. Sometimes I just watch his bits, especially the parts where he talks about his scars. The music during those scenes are great.
posted by Pendragon at 3:41 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

The 25 Best Movie Supervillains, Ranked
1. The Joker (Heath Ledger) — The Dark Knight
And as for Ledger, well, what can you say that hasn’t already been said? The man took all of those aforementioned elements and added in a mixture of menace and humor the likes of which is rarely seen in any genre. I vividly recall how my opening-night crowd nearly vomited with shock at the pencil trick, then burst out in awed laughter just two minutes later when one of the mobsters asks him, “You think you can just steal from us and walk away?” and the bomb-wielding Joker deadpans, “Yeah.” How on earth can an actor elicit those two responses in such close proximity — and in that order? Words fail.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:52 AM on February 21, 2018

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