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IN SHORT: Very close to perfect. [Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace. 150 minutes]
BEFORE WE BEGIN: Long time readers already know that Cranky is a couple of years away from the drooling fanboy years... well, a lot of years away but enough that we still collect comics. Sitting for comics-derived films like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight pushes our "we don't compare to source material" rule to the limit. All you need to know is that everything you may need to know has been covered in the former. The Dark Knight is a whole new mess o' movies. It is is packed with enough surprises that is that you can easily discern three separate movies within the whole. That being written, dear readers, should you know of certain personal internal biological needs, get 'em out of the way early. In plain English: no large sodas. Seriously.
The Dark Knight is only ten minutes longer than Batman Begins. But it is three movies in one. Lucky all of us. No sarcasm implied. Seeing it on an IMAX screen takes away concern about length, said Cranky-whose-bad-back-is-legend-unto-itself. OK, here we go . . .
The Batman is such an icon in American culture that it is one of the few fictional characters that just about everyone knows all about, even if they've never cracked open a DC Comics publication. Bob Kane gets his credit in the film as Creator. We'd add that writer Bill Finger developed the character. Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams rescued the franchise after the hideous television years. The Batman that Jonathan Nolan and his director brother Christopher pen is directly related to the reboot of twenty years ago by Frank Miller (300, Sin City and the forthcoming The Spirit.)
The Dark Knight, picks up where Batman Begins left off and wastes no time recapping what has gone before. Be glad for that. While we begin with a still-on-the-loose Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), Gotham City has bigger problems. Namely Batman wannabees and cooperating organized crime bosses. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) lives in a penthouse high rise. District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) keeps Gotham clean, even if he isn't sure which side of the law the Batman is really on. (usually, if he can't decide, Dent has this old "lucky" coin that he can flip to help make the decision. ) Dent pressures Batman's pal, police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), to set up a meeting with the Batman. He is told, in no uncertain terms, that the Batman will call that shot. In other matters, Dent is sure which side of the bed Bruce Wayne's ex, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is sleeping on. Despite being coworkers, sparks fly between Dent and Dawes. Together, these legal eagles take aim at the remaining bosses of crime.
Very quickly, now...
The Batman takes aim at the finances of the remaining gangster lords, flying to Hong Kong to apprehend fugitive financier Lau (Chin Han). Gotham's bosses, meeting to plan their business, are interrupted by the new clown in town, who offers to remove the bat-thorn in their side. This Joker (Heath Ledger), a flat out anarchist with clown-white painted face and purple suit, would have been laughed out of the building and killed, not necessarily in that order, except for the fact that the guy is totally off his gourd and scares the crap out of the big guns.
Regardless of whatever happens between them personally, the Joker will not stop until he has ruined or destroyed or killed or maimed or tossed invisible sloppy kisses at everyone who has ever crossed our hero's path. We may not be lying about that last bit. Joker kills and kills and kills again. Sometimes for business. Sometimes for fun. He makes a promise to the Gotham citizenry that the killing will continue until Batman takes off his mask.
Yeah, in his dreams.
Even if he manages to unmask Batman the Joker follows his own rule -- there are no rules -- and resets his villainy to turn one citizen of Gotham against another. Net result, everybody dies. Yeah, that's an X-Men thing but this Dark Knight is about as dark as you can get with Batman as hero. Wonder what happens if he ever becomes the bad guy. oops...
OK, seriously. Hard core fans are going to be spitting steam as co-writer and director Christopher Nolan veers away from comic book continuity as far as he can get. Tough. This fanboy was pleased that, even with different origins or motivations, each character is still faithful to general continuity. Yeah that's a comparison to Source Material. Get over it.
As The Dark Knight rolls on, friends will become enemies and some terrible things happen to some really nice people. The Dark Knight is the biggest soap opera of 'em all. Everyone loses. Not you guys, unless the relentless downer gets to you. Ledger's performance goes beyond anything anyone who doesn't read advance reviews could possibly expect. If you were expecting an origin story to explain the Crown Prince of Crime's madness. You won't get it. You will get an in-your-face lunatic whose desire to destroy the Batman is as great as his desire to mess up the lives of everyone in Gotham City. In the meantime, careers and relationships will be change or be destroyed -- Jim Gordon has a career and family. He will not be untouched on either front. Bruce Wayne realizes the horse is out of the barn, love-wise. Rachel Dawes realizes what she really wants in life and as for Harvey Dent, fans of comic history should be very pleased with the inevitable transformation of hero to villain. We can't speak for those who only know what Tommy Lee Jones did way back when. Ditto for comparing Jack Nicholson's Joker with Heath Ledger. Ledger's performance is better.
This film is the best of the lot.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Dark Knight, he would have paid . . .
If anything The Dark Knight is a great example of why the Batman needs a Robin. Yeah, that's heresy in the world as created by Nolan but, short of a three word respite exactly 90 minutes in, The Dark Knight is so damned dark and heavy that it is almost unbearably long. The fanboy in us loves dark and heavy. We also know that everyone needs a break now and then and Nolan doesn't allow for that. Every terrible situation has some glimmer of light in it. Christopher Nolan has yet to find it with his Batman. But, damn, it's a Batman the rest of us fanboys want.
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