I like it
is a gigantic movie. Long, sprawling, and dense. Far more layered and complex than any comic book feature that has come before and obviously treated with extreme care by the creators, studio, and associated bean counters to ensure an experience that is both a mainstream piece of entertainment as well as a selection of finely tuned art that just happens to be a Comic Book Movie. Due to the critical and commercial success of Christopher Nolan's first Batman film as well as the considerable hype and press on the film due to the untimely death of Heath Ledger, this is one of the few unmissable films of 2008. It is being touted as a masterpiece and one of the rare sequels that not only surpasses the original but one of the great movies of its kind of all time.
It isn't. But it's still quite good. Very good in fact. A tweak in the editing room and the culling of fifteen or so minutes and The Dark Knight could very well be the benchmark for how to transcend the medium. In a summer with the gleefully mainstream classic Iron Man [which I have already seen five times in the theater] and the offbeat and wildly creative Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Dark Knight is yet another in a series of very strong and progressive adaptations doing their best to turn the corner from being large scale pulp adaptations to the Hollywood's most elite products.
As it stands, the film is quite special but where some films can weather extraneous or padded scenes, The Dark Knight has some distracting bloat to it which keeps it out of masterpiece territory.
The first film ended with a playing card showing up in the hands of the authorities, signaling the arrival of the dreaded Joker, a scheming maniac using Gotham City's underworld like so many small-time puppets. The new film arrives with the Batman established and his alter ego Bruce Wayne honing his craft and rebuilding his lair (which was burned in Begins) while alternating between the playboy lifestyle and taking out the trash. New on the scene is Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, the only man who should be considered to play Captain America), a District Attorney whose ideals and incorruptible spirit have the potential to do more for Gotham than Batman's vigilante ways. They represent possible salvation for the troubled city, but when the Joker sets his plan into motion all bets are off. What follows is a layered and rich comic book movie that dares to push the boundaries just enough to allow the gray area that makes these characters special a lot closer to black.
Batman is one of the great conflicted characters and more than any other before it this film revels in it. He loves to make a difference, enjoys the thrill of the chase and the combat that lends the mystique to the shadowy hero but also feels he's going about it the wrong way, adding to the problem rather than solving it. Additionally he's living the life of Bruce Wayne, trying to reconcile the two and keep his well funded and high tech secret in the best costumes and gadgetry his wealth can allow without jeopardizing the whole house of cards. When Harvey Dent begins to accomplish more with words and well-planned stings than Batman can with his tactics, the conflict becomes even greater. Even with his allies behind the scenes [Michael Caine's stately Alfred and Morgan Freeman's nerdy realist Lucius Fox] and on the city payroll [including a much better utilized Gary Oldman as Lt. Jim Gordon], the masked detective has nowhere near the range. Tugging further is Bruce Wayne's longing for a real life, who is single and longing to reconcile with longtime sweetheart Rachel Dawes [Maggie Gyllenhaal, quickly making us forget Katie Holmes' take on the character]. It's fun to watch the Batman struggle for an answer even though we know the outcome. A lot of the credit goes to Christian Bale, who treats the role like any other meaty acting opportunity rather than the commerce between real gigs. He's confident in the role, able to pull off any of the many quirks required to flesh out the intense hero as well as the billionaire playboy and the nuances in his quieter moments with Caine and Ledger do a lot of the film's heavy lifting for it. When in costume he's also extremely effective but his gruff vocal take on Batman comes off a little too forced and sometimes goofy to totally work. There are moments where he's nearly unintelligible, and the same sort of suspension of disbelief one needs to be watching a film like this in the first place needs to be in play regarding the voice of Batman. I understand that there's a secret identity to protect but I'd rather the audience split hairs over whether it sounds obviously like Bruce Wayne than make fun of his tough guy Batman voice. Still, Bale is the perfect Batman. Great at the physical work, terrific out of costume, and someone who allows other actors to really bring their best work out without having to carry what is essentially the straight man of the piece. Make no mistake, Batman is beginning to show some of the cracks in his sanity but in a universe populated with very colorful characters you need a Christian Bale keeping everybody honest.