Christopher Nolan has it down. The guy just makes good movies that nobody can balk at. And don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm saying that he plays it safe. The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Memento - these are FAR from safe films. But they are beautiful bastards (like the greatest of American films), love children created through the surprisingly holy one night stand where Miss High Art and Mister Crowd-Pleasing Entertainment did the deed for twelve hours straight. Christopher Nolan seems destined to make a Godfather, to give us a Chinatown. The Dark Knight sure is awfully damned close. Hell, people are already calling it The Godfather Part II of superhero movies. I'd agree with that, but it would be a disservice to the film. After all, what superhero movie would you even call The Godfather Part III of superhero movies?
Okay, so what is the crime geek doing talking about a superhero movie, you ask? If you have to ask, then you clearly haven't seen the film (and why not? It's already broken every box-office record ever, apparently, where were you on that one?). I'm reviewing this movie because it IS a crime movie. The opening bank robbery sequence? Easily one of the best heists we've seen in years. I'll bet Michael Mann pooped his pants when he watched it, it's so good. But that's not the only thing that makes it a crime movie.
The Joker may be costumed, he may be completely deranged, but you kind of love him. And it's not through knowing his origin (forget about getting any backstory right away), it's not about seeing him be sweet to his woman or some other shit. No, it's about the fact that, in a sick and terrible way, we almost understand him. After all, he is the inverse of Batman and therefore practically the same as Batman. A million things have already been said about Heath Ledger's performance, but a million and one is simply not enough: Heath Ledger's Joker is up there with Hopkins's Lector and Bardem's Chigurh, it is a performance both out of this known world and at the same time completely human. It is a further testament to how much of a loss to the film world his death really was.
So, great heist sequence? Check. Complex villains? Check. Convinced that this is appropriate for the site yet?
If not, then we'll get into !!!SPOILERS!!! territory. Procede to the bottom of the page if you haven't seen the movie yet.
The main thing that makes this into a noir film is the moral choices that are made. Batman doesn't kill. It's something that always bothers me about superhero movies, something that always makes me throw up my hands and shout at the screen: Fucking KILL that dude, already!!! But he has to make some terribly morally suspect choices in this film. He beats the living shit (AND BY THE WAY, IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT, WHY ARE YOU STILL READING??!!) out of the Joker like he's Bud White in L.A. Confidential only to find out that he has to choose whether to save Harvey Dent, the great white hope against crime, or Rachel Dawes, the only woman he loves. And, for the good of his city, he saves fucking Harvey Dent, the man who is currently fucking Rachel Dawes. It is absolutely heartbreaking. It is such a sick, demented scene that it could have been written by my man Allan Guthrie.
Then this leads to Dent becoming Two Face, the ultimate sympathetic villain. He's lost the woman he loves and, more importantly, faith in not only the judicial and executive system, but in humanity. He becomes a man who leaves everything up to the chance of a coin, and sometimes he'll keep flipping because he can't even let fate guide him. He is what Batman could have become after the murder of his parents. Once again, we have that scary duality, the thin line that separates Batman from the people he pursues. And, shit, when Dent holds the gun to Gordon's son's head, you're not entirely sure the kid will live. That is a tricky thing to pull off in a PG-13 blockbuster, to make people think that there are no rules. It just shows how dark Nolan's vision is, how he can make you forget that you're watching a superhero movie.
!!! END SPOILERS !!!
There is certainly superhero stuff going on, here. Batman gets in the Batmobile and has an amazing car chase with the Joker through the tunnels of Gotham (which is clearly Chicago, despite messing with geography). Batman still has amazing fighting skills and can take down a ton of badguys with guns simply with his karate moves. And thankfully, unlike Batman Begins, the action is actually intelligible while not being overly stylized like in The Matrix or V for Vendetta. There is a stark efficiency to the violence, much like the Bourne movies. And, yes, The Joker still looks like a super villain and Batman still looks like a guy in a costume and all those other trappings of a superhero movie. But the design on everything makes it seem a world apart from other superhero movies. Somehow, they've made an authentic feeling comic book world, they've created a superhero universe that reflects our own to a startling degree.
Are there flaws? Yeah, a few. It's a very long movie, a hair over two-and-a-half hours. That is fucking looooong. That being said, my attention only flagged for about five minutes toward the very end during a slightly overlong section of the climax (the part with the sonar shit, another slight problem for me). And, like I said, superheroes can't kill anyone and that always bothers me. But at the same time I'm glad it still works as a superhero movie. These quibbles aside, this movie still rocks.
Nolan and his brother Jonathan are masters of plot, and this one is a doozy. Like their previous films, it has a ton of twists and a strong focus (well, I didn't feel Batman Begins was focused enough, but everything else was incredibly strong) and it will satisfy any discerning crime movie fan as well as anybody just looking for the best, most challenging superhero movie ever made.
On imdb.com there is nothing listed for what Nolan has in the works. I'm sure there's another Batman movie coming up and I'll be first in line for sure (despite Heath's sad absence as the Joker), but here's hoping he makes a straight up noir film. He's already done a million variations on the theme (Insomnia could be called film blanc), but I think he's due for a James Ellroy adaptation or something totally his own. Either way, I'm sure it'll be a real bastard. The Dark Knight sure is.