Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 25: The Dark Knight

25. The Dark Knight (2008)
Action, Crime, Drama, 152 minutes
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart

I don't like superhero movies as a rule and only watched The Dark Knight so that I could confirm my belief that all the hype was unjustified. To my surprise, I ended up loving the experience.

There are a number of reasons why I don't usually watch the genre. The characters are often shallow and we don't know their true origin and motivations. Acting is cheesy and deliberately over the top. The need for humor means that I'm likely to be assaulted by childish jokes. The plot is there as an excuse for cool special effects and a lot of action. In short, I don't believe in the characters or the world in which they live.

The Dark Knight overcomes all of those problems and delivers something special.

The characters are far from shallow. After seeing the movie, I made a point of seeing Batman Begins, in which Nolan shows us how Bruce Wayne became Batman. We see the training that allows him to fight criminals. His wealth enables him to develop weapons, vehicles and protective clothing that could actually exist. The acting is superb and many of the cast are Oscar-winners or nominees. Instead of making The Joker an unbelievable character such as the one depicted by Jack Nicholson in 1989, Nolan and Ledger invent a character who could be walking around in New York or anywhere else. He's psychotic, but we understand his twisted logic. When he makes a threat, we believe that it's possible and that he could pull it off.

Nolan's world is totally logical and could easily exist in reality.

The Dark Knight has enough thrills and action to satisfy fans of the genre, but it's much more than that. It works as a character study and as a police procedural. It's also a thriller, with elements of romance.

If there's one movie that transcends the genre, The Dark Knight is it.

If you like The Dark Knight:

As I already mentioned, Batman Begins is the starting point for Nolan's Batman. While not quite as good as The Dark Knight, it's complexity and realism blow away any previous efforts in the superhero genre. Many of the actors star in both movies, and Liam Neeson is especially good as Wayne's trainer.

There are no other superhero movies in the same league, but the first half of The Incredible Hulk comes close. Unfortunately, the second half doesn't meet expectations.

If you enjoy the way in which the story was told, I would recommend any Christopher Nolan film. Inception is a blockbuster with plenty of thrills and special effects, but the script is excellent. Memento and The Prestige are also well worth a look. All three have complex plots with a few twists, so don't check them out if you prefer your stories to be completely linear with neat explanations. I don't mean that as an insult, I just want to make it clear what you would be letting yourself in for. Straightforward stories have plenty of value if they are told well.

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