5 out of 5
Memento is a contender for my favourite film of all time. I keep changing my mind on which film is THE favourite, but Memento is always up there. Growing up in the ‘90s meant that Batman has been a part of my entertainment from very early on, from watching repeats of the ‘60s TV series starring Adam West, to the brilliant Batman: The Animated Series and of course the film franchise. So I was very interested in seeing what Christopher Nolan would do with it when it was rebooted.
Having such a vast and interesting rogues gallery than most and having a darker image than the glossier shiner superheroes, Batman is arguably the one that can be taken most seriously. But the great thing about Batman is that it works no matter what you do with it. It can be campy and brightly coloured like the ‘60s TV series and the Joel Schumacher films (even though Batman & Robin effectively killed off the last film franchise). It can also work as a gothic fantasy like the Tim Burton films. The Christopher Nolan incarnation is also going for a dark take, but trying to make it gritty and realistic, focusing on the grimy underbelly of a big city, organised crime and the struggles of law enforcement. Yet again, it somehow works.
The Dark Knight has been called the best Batman film and the best superhero movie ever among other accolades. Now what it the best is always a highly contentious issue, but is this film really worthy of all the praise heaped upon it? Well… yes! It’s a great film for many reasons.
One thing about it is that it is highly entertaining. We get plenty of action and high speed car chases. The film also has a sense of humour about itself, something which the first film in this new series, Batman Begins was a little lacking in. They are aware of how James Bondish some of Batman’s gadgets can get and there is plenty of black comedy, not least from The Joker. Heath Ledger’s performance is compelling as the insane twisted Joker, and he actually doesn’t appear all that much in the film, but he is one of the most memorable bits of the film, which shows just how strong a prescence he is. He’s violent and sadistic in some truly horrible ways and enjoys the pain of others, and even seems to enjoy pain that is inflicted on him. Like many incarnations what he wants to do is to drive others insane, forcing them to make horrible choices and manipulating others to do evil for him. They make clear that is motive is he is one of those who just wants to “watch the world burn”, he does it for the sake of it. He has conflicting stories as to how he got his scars, which just adds to the mystery, as we are no closer to knowing much about him, and as such he’s more threatening.
It is a bit of a shame that he overshadows Two Face so much, both from audience reaction and in the film itself, as while Harvey Dent is a constant prescence in the film Two Face doesn’t appear until near the end. The reason this is a shame is that the film does Two Face so brilliantly. In Batman Forever, while there was nothing offensively awful about Tommy Lee Jones’ version, it was more like he was playing The Joker. They never really tackled that Two Face has a split personality and is constantly battling between his good and evil side. In this film they establish that Harvey Dent is a good man who wants to do whatever it takes to destroy the criminal hold on the city, and we see him get utterley destroyed mentally and physically. The make-up and effects used when his face has burned is much better than any other adaptation I have seen. It is the most realistically like half a face has been burned off, which is what makes it all the more horrific.
The film isn’t perfect, as good as it is it’s a little long to sit through, and while Maggie Gyllenhaal is much better than Katie Holmes was in the same part, Rachel is very underdeveloped as a character. As such, her death isn’t as affective as it really should have been. But I highly recommend this film, not just as a film for a particular genre, but by any standards it is a great film. From a directing point of view, it’s action packed, showing the big picture, that is the scale of all the car chases and the city, and showing how it effects the characters on a personal level. The latter is also a credit to the very, very strong performances, particularly from Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Heath Ledger and Aaron Heckhart. All this and the film even has room for some laughs along the way.