By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
Though this film deserves a very long review, as I have so much to say about it, what more needs to be said than has already been mentioned by the nation's critics, who have contributed to The Dark Knight‘s whopping 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes? Some are saying it's better than Batman Begins, director Chris Nolan's first film in this new Batman series. I disagree, but only because I think that film is a lot better than some critics remember it. I do think, however, that The Dark Knight is just as masterful, and since I consider both to be nearly flawless enough to give them each five stars, it's high enough praise to say this new film is the rare sequel that lives up to the original.
Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker? Everything you've heard, all of the praise and hype? All true. His is a riveting, terrifying, and darkly hilarious portrayal of the ultimate villain, and it's a completely original take on the character. Everyone will be talking about his performance, as well they should be, but I hope they won't lose sight of how terrific the acting is across the board. Christian Bale continues to impress as the best Batman/Bruce Wayne ever. Since he was so well established last time, he's given slightly less screen time here, but he's equally compelling as a man pushed to his limits.
Michael Cain and Morgan Freeman have less to do, but every second they're on screen, they're terrific. Gary Oldman continues to show that he's just as compelling playing good guys as bad ones; his Commisioner Gordon is a pillar of virtue. Maggie Gyllenhall (Stranger Than Fiction) steps in for Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. While I'm one of the apparently few people who didn't mind Mrs. Cruise in the first film, Gyllenhall adds a bit more life to the character. Finally Aaron Eckhart gives a subtle and layered performance as Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent. If Ledger wasn't stealing the show, it'd be Eckhart's acting everyone would be talking about.
The action: terrific (a mid-movie chase scene stands out in my mind). The screenplay: just like Begins, it's full of fantastic moral investigations, fleshed-out characters, and plenty of surprises which I wouldn't dare reveal here. Like the first film, this is dark and scary, but with a lining of humanity and just a touch of humor. The direction is even better this time (thank you, Mr. Nolan, for allowing us to actually see the fights). Don't believe those reviews which say they don't know how this slipped by with a PG-13 rating; it is intense, and the Joker is brutal and horrific, but just like a great Hitchcock movie, the actual gruesome stuff occurs in your imagination, not on-screen. There's not any blood that I can remember, though there are some freaky images vis-a-vis the villains' physical appearance and the sight of some corpses.
That being said, this is not a movie to take kids to. Just because you don't see a lot of gore, doesn't mean it isn't terrifying. If you're afraid of clowns, buckle up. Pushed to his limits, Batman gets mean. I mean Jack Bauer mean! At any rate, this is a terrific film; a crime/morality drama first, an action thriller second, and a comic book movie third. It isn't flawless, but the minor complaints are so nit-picky that I've no need to mention them here. Sorry Wall-E, but you're gonna have to pass the crown of year's best film over. The Dark Knight is king, and his jester is chilling. ***** (out of five).
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.