“Knight” vision . . . in IMAX

The Dark Knight one-sheet

All the summer movies I’ve seen so far this year (including “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” which I thoroughly enjoyed last week but did not review for this site) were just a warm-up to what has been my most anticipated movie for the last three years, Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to his 2005 film “Batman Begins.”? That movie swiftly reignited the franchise and helped cleanse my mind of the bitter aftertaste left over from the previous two Batman movies made in the ’90s.? The buzz surrounding this film, “The Dark Knight,” had been building for well over a year, and has been at a fever pitch ever since the tragic death of actor Heath Ledger (who plays The Joker) in January 2008.

“The Dark Knight” builds upon the final scene in “Begins” between Batman and Lt. Gordon.? In that movie Gordon explained that whenever do-gooders arrive with more skills and advanced technology than criminals, the latter will almost certainly up the ante.? “Escalation,” it’s called.? What moviegoers understood back then was that Batman’s job would only get more difficult going forward.? What we did not consider at the time is that while those who do good have a moral code or compass (indeed, you could argue that it’s a sense of morality that makes them good), criminals possess a compromised one at best.? And some may have no morality whatsoever.? When you combine that with high-tech weaponry and a fixed determination to do evil, you set the stage for catastrophic losses–not only in terms of human lives and property, but also in terms of morality.? If good people compromise their moral code “just once” to rid the world of brutality and evil, they gain the point only temporarily.? Evil will return, more organized and destructive than ever.? Bujt by sacrificing their morality, heroes lose the confidence of the people they protect, and become little more than criminals themselves.

Enter The Joker onto the stage.? Here is a man with no past, no explanation for his motives, and no aim higher than to destroy Gotham City from the inside out.? Turn the morality of a city and its leaders on its head, and you’ve won the war.? As written by Nolan (in collaboration with his brother Jonathan) and portrayed by Ledger, The Joker is a malevolent figure of pure evil, whose very presence ratchets up the intensity and dread felt in the minds of the audience as we try to predict and understand the next terrible thing he’ll do.? Attempting to do both is impossible, however: first, because he has a knack for changing the game at the last moment so that he wins; and second, because you cannot put reason to insanity.? How can you fight an evil that defies understanding?? You just keep going and going and going, enduring one blow after another, until one or both of you drops.? And then you hope that someone is there to pick up the baton and continue the struggle.

And so the movie keeps going and going, not only for its heroes but also for the audience.? Over the course of its 2-1/2 hour running time (which never felt overlong, by the way), we witness as evil breaks one barrier after another and no good deed goes unpunished.? You can’t do that in a movie, we think, and the movie responds, Oh yes I can, and I’ll add this for good measure, too.? Nolan takes us to the very brink of hopelessness–in humanity itself, it seems–and to the film’s great credit it is never clear how the final scenario in the film will play out, because we’ve seen the depths to which desperate men will sink to save the lives of themselves and their loved ones.

Is the movie entirely despairing?? That I cannot tell you; you must experience it for yourself.? To that end, I hope that if there is an IMAX theater near your location (or even an hour or two away) playing this movie you will see it in that venue.? Nolan filmed six sequences with IMAX cameras, and when the canvas opens up to fill the entire IMAX screen, the scope and detail are simply breathtaking.? (These scenes were cropped to fit the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the rest of the film for playing in conventional theaters, so you won’t notice any difference there.)? Oh, and 12,000 watts of surround sound is pretty great too.? At the moment there’s only one “Hollywood IMAX” screen in Atlanta, and my friend and I had to drive over an hour to get there AND pay $15.00 a ticket (this was for a 9:00am show) for the experience, but it was absolutely worth every penny spent.? If you have more than a casual interest in the film, or are looking for a change in scenery to take in a second viewing, I strongly urge you to seek out an IMAX screening.? Best theatrical experience of my life, and no way it can ever be replicated at home.

Also a word about the content.? This is one of the most intense PG-13 movies I’ve ever seen, and skirts just this side of a more restrictive rating.? This is not a film for kids, or anyone under 14 for that matter.? This is dark, intense stuff.? I won’t describe the acts of violence portrayed here–there are Web sites that do that type of thing if you’re interested–but it suffices me to say it more than earns its 7/10 rating for violence on Kids-in-Mind.com.? Is it dark like “Batman Returns,” which progressed to the point of total nihilism?? I would argue that it goes deeper than even that, but the total effect is much different.? I don’t know how else to explain it.? You’ll see.

The acting is phenomenal across the board.? Ledger’s performance is the focus of everyone’s attention of course, but don’t overlook Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, Christian Bale as Batman, or Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, or Maggie Gyllenhall (taking over for Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes).? There are no weak links here, no bad one-liners or cheesy “comic book” dialogue.? It’s interesting, isn’t it, how the term “comic book movie” was used to justify cheesy special effects, outrageous heroes and villains, Swiss-cheese storylines, and goofball dialog.? While the special effects got better and the heroes more interesting, none of the comic book-based movies produced to date have been able to transcend the genre, to be a truly great film instead of simply a good “comic book movie.”

This is the first one to do it.? If offers thrills and excitement, sure, but its primary intention is not to entertain.? This is a crime drama and morality play of the highest caliber.? (After you’ve seen the film and are thinking about it, which I hope you’ll do, it’s worth the effort to consider the multiple moral choices made by each character in the ensemble.? One of the final choices in the film brought to my mind none other than the Son of God, and I don’t mean that lightly.)? Best comic book movie ever made?? That’s too easy.? This is one of the best films of the decade.

10/10

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