Below are 3 of the top movie critics reviews for the Dark Knight movie
'Dark Knight' Enthralling, Satisfying
Having memorably explored the Caped Crusader's origins in "Batman Begins," director Christopher Nolan puts all of Gotham City under a microscope in "The Dark Knight," the enthralling second installment of his bold, bracing and altogether heroic reinvention of the iconic franchise. An ambitious, full-bodied crime epic of gratifying scope and moral complexity, this is seriously brainy pop entertainment that satisfies every expectation raised by its hit predecessor, and then some. That should also hold true at the box office, with Heath Ledger's justly anticipated turn as the Joker adding to the must-see excitement surrounding the Warner Bros. release.
With the Bruce Wayne/Batman backstory firmly established, "The Dark Knight" fans out to take a broader perspective on Gotham City -- portrayed as a seething cauldron of interlocking power structures and criminal factions in the densely layered but remarkably fleet screenplay by director Nolan and brother Jonathan (stepping in for "Batman Begins'" David S. Goyer, who gets a story credit).
Using five strongly developed characters to anchor a drama with life-or-death implications for the entire metropolis, the Nolans have taken Bob Kane's comic book template and crafted an anguished, eloquent meditation on ideas of justice and power, corruption and anarchy, and, of course, the need for heroes like Batman -- a question never in doubt for the viewer, but one posed rather often by the citizens of Gotham.
Indeed, with trusty Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, superbly restrained) and golden-boy District Attorney Harvey Dent (a cocksure Aaron Eckhart) successfully spearheading the city's crackdown on the mob, even Wayne himself (Christian Bale) figures his nights moonlighting as a leather-clad vigilante are numbered. The young billionaire hopes to hang up the Batsuit for good and renew his relationship with assistant DA Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, an immediate improvement over Katie Holmes), who has taken up with Dent in the meantime.
But Batman's stature as a radical symbol of good has invited a more sinister criminal presence to Gotham City -- and, as seen in the crackerjack bank-robbery sequence that opens the pic, one who operates in terrifyingly unpredictable ways. Utterly indifferent to simple criminal motivations like greed, Ledger's maniacally murderous Joker is as pure an embodiment of irrational evil as any in modern movies. He's a pitiless psychopath who revels in chaos and fears neither pain nor death, a demonic prankster for whom all the world's a punch line.
After Ledger's death in January, his penultimate performance (with Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" still to come) will be viewed with both tremendous excitement and unavoidable sadness. It's a tribute to Ledger's indelible work that he makes the viewer entirely forget the actor behind the cracked white makeup and blood-red rictus grin, so complete and frightening is his immersion in the role. With all due respect to the enjoyable camp buffoonery of past Jokers like Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson, Ledger makes them look like ... well, clowns.
The pic shrewdly positions the Joker as the superhero-movie equivalent of a modern terrorist (one of several post-9/11 signifiers), who threatens to target Gotham civilians until Batman reveals his identity. Batman, Gordon and Dent uneasily join forces, but the Joker seems to have the upper hand at every step, even from a jail cell; the city, turning against the hero it once looked to for hope, seems more fractious, vulnerable and dangerous than ever.
Though more linear than "Memento" and "The Prestige" (two fiendishly intricate thrillers also co-scripted by the Nolans), "The Dark Knight" pivots with similar ingenuity on a breathless series of twists and turns, culminating in a dramatic shift for Eckhart's Dent. While this subplot represents the film's weakest link, packing too much psychological motivation into too little screen time to be entirely credible, Eckhart vividly inhabits the character's sad trajectory, underscoring the film's point that even symbols of good can be all too easily tarnished.
From Wayne's playful debates with faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) about the public perception of Batman to the Joker's borderline-poetic musings on his own bottomless sadism, the characters almost seem to be carrying on a debate about the complicated realities of good vs. evil, and the heavy burden shouldered by those fighting for good. One of the few action filmmakers who's capable of satisfying audiences beyond the fanboy set, Nolan honors his serious themes to the end: He bravely closes the story with both Gotham City and the narrative in tatters, making this the rare sequel that genuinely deserves another.
Viewers who found "Batman Begins" too existentially weighty for its own good will be refreshed to know that "The Dark Knight" hits the ground running and rarely lets up over its swift 2½-hour running time. Nolan directs the action more confidently than he did the first time out, orchestrating all manner of vertiginous midair escapes and virtuosic highway set pieces (and unleashing Batman's latest ooh-aah contraption, the monster-truck-tire-equipped Bat-Pod). In a fresh innovation, six sequences were shot using Imax cameras, and will presumably look smashing in the giant-screen format (the pic was reviewed from a 35mm print).
Though not as obsessively detailed as "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight" shares with that film a robust physicality and a commitment to taking violence seriously; a brief shot of bruises and scrapes on Bale's torso conveys as much impact as any of the film's brutal confrontations. Bale himself is less central figure than ensemble player, but the commandingly charismatic actor continues to put his definitive stamp on the role, and also has devilish fun playing up Wayne's playboy persona.
The tech work is at the first entry's high standard, with many artists reprising their contributions here -- from Nathan Crowley's imposing production design, shown to flattering effect in Wally Pfister's gleaming widescreen compositions, to the propulsively moody score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Perhaps most impressive is Lee Smith's editing, confidently handling multiple lines of action and cutting for maximum impact.
Exteriors were filmed in Chicago aside from an early scenic detour to Hong Kong, which marks the first time a Batman film has ventured outside Gotham City.
It's difficult to separate the movie from its mystique.
Even under ordinary circumstances, "The Dark Knight" would have been one of the most hotly awaited movies of the summer blockbuster season. The loss of Heath Ledger to an accidental prescription-drug overdose in January has amplified the buzz around the film — and his crazed performance as the Joker — to extraordinary levels.
Nothing could possibly satisfy that kind of expectation. "The Dark Knight" comes pretty close.
Christopher Nolan's film is indeed an epic that will leave you staggering from the theater, stunned by its scope and complexity. It's also, thankfully, a vast improvement over his self-serious origin story, 2005's "Batman Begins."
As director and co-writer with his brother, Jonathan (David S. Goyer shares a story credit), Nolan has found a way to mix in some fun with his philosophizing. Ambitious, explosive set pieces share screen time with meaty debates about good vs. evil and the nature of — and need for — a hero.
Batman (Christian Bale) has been that guy. Now, he's not so sure he should be anymore. He's protected Gotham fiercely (and with some fierce toys), but the new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), seems to be putting a dent in organized crime with help from Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman). Perhaps Batman should return to his "normal" life as billionaire Bruce Wayne and leave the clean-up work to the professionals. Maybe he can even rekindle his romance with old flame Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, taking over more than capably for Katie Holmes, although she doesn't get much to do, either).
And so "The Dark Knight" presents an existential crisis — what comic-book hero doesn't suffer these? — but does so in a totally different way from its predecessor. Whereas "Batman Begins" felt too solemn and introspective, this installment might actually be too fast. Like the Caped Crusader himself, speeding through the streets of Gotham City on his tricked-out Bat-Pod motorcycle, Nolan moves breathlessly from one scene to the next.
Trouble is, he's got such great vision and is so adept at creating a compelling mood, it makes you wish he'd held some moments for a beat or two longer, just to savor them — and to let us do the same. A couple of scenes in Bruce's stark, crisply lit Bat-bunker come to mind, as does Batman's nighttime flight over a glittering Hong Kong. (Wally Pfister, a longtime Nolan collaborator who also shot "Batman Begins" and "Memento," returns as cinematographer. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard once again teamed up to compose the huge, sweeping score.)
Nolan was wise enough, however, to give Ledger plenty of room to shine — albeit in the actor's indelibly perverse, twisted way. There's nothing cartoony about his Joker. Ledger wrested the role from previous performers Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson and reinvented it completely.
Yes, he's funny, wringing laughs from both clever one-liners and maniacally grand schemes. He can be playful, finding unexpected avenues into the character: "You complete me," he purrs to Batman, mockingly borrowing Tom Cruise's classic line from "Jerry Maguire" and dashing all possibilities for the Caped One's imminent retirement.
But because there's no logic behind his mayhem, he's also truly terrifying. The terror he inflicts on Gotham is meticulously planned (the opening bank heist, shot with IMAX cameras, is a marvel of timing) and yet his sole inspiration is to create chaos, then watch the city squirm and burn.
That his attacks grow larger each time, regardless of the collateral damage, makes him so genuinely disturbing. Ledger seems to have understood that, and brings an appropriate — and riveting — unpredictability to the role. It's also a neat touch that his makeup, which looked like a slapdash effort from the start, steadily deteriorates, streaking, cracking and peeling away as the film progresses; it's an outward manifestation of his psychological spiral.
Back to Batman, though — because theoretically, it is his movie, right?
Bale seems more assured than ever, now that he has more facets of Batman/Bruce's personality to reveal than he did in the last film. He's consistently proven he's capable of going to dark, scary places for his characters (see: "American Psycho," "Rescue Dawn") and this is no exception.
Also returning are Michael Caine as Bruce's butler, Alfred, and Morgan Freeman as gadget guru Lucius Fox. Both veterans help anchor the movie with a wisdom and calmness that's crucial when everything (and everyone) is in a state of turmoil. As for Oldman, he disappears into the role of Lt. Gordon and makes it look so effortless, he makes you forget he's acting.
Eckhart, the snarky star of "Thank You for Smoking," may seem an unusual choice to play a law-and-order kind of guy. Here, he's subtle enough to keep us guessing until nearly the end as to where his morals and allegiances truly lie (though eventually he will become the villainous Two-Face, as we know).
But the key showdown, of course, is between Batman and the Joker. Theirs is a relationship that's strangely symbiotic — you could even call it codependent. Or as the Joker puts it, "You and I could do this forever."
The casting will no doubt have a lot to do with the strong reaction to the picture. Heath Ledger's sad passing gives his fearless performance - and in effect, the movie - a sense of importance that is hard to counter. For his part, the talented performer gives a full-on show each time he is on the screen. His approach to this anarchist embodiment of The Joker is something truly special to behold and easily one of the boldest portrayals in comic-to-screen history. Take him away and there's still plenty of A-game being brought to the screen, thanks to the talents of Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhall, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart, whose solid performance as Harvey Dent makes up the tragic backbone of the film. For his part, Christian Bale does a fine job at embodying the lonesome hero of his city; even if he persists in giving Batman's voice the same guttural growl that hurt his performance the first time around. Thankfully, the costume has been given an overhaul to address a bit of the "rubber suit" issues that have plagued the franchise since its Tim Burton days.
Yet just as Burton reshaped the character to fit his own gothic tastes, so does Christopher Nolan paint a picture all his own. By luring audiences in with a consistently light first half and then turning things bleaker as the movie progresses, the filmmaker has created a truly engrossing tale of modern decay. By the end, much has changed and no one is left unscathed. It's not an easy story to either tell or sit through. There are casualties - and this most certainly is not a crowd-pleaser in the typical sense of the word. By eschewing what many others in his field are doing with similar comic properties and seeking out his inspiration elsewhere, Nolan shows that mature thematic material can have new life when adapted for even the most beloved heroes of the printed page. Critically, he does overshoot things a bit by bringing in slightly heavy-handed messages into the final chunk of the film - and it seems that a few characters really got the short end of the stick (Scarecrow, anyone?). Perhaps the rumored 3-hour cut would iron out a few of the film's issues, including rushed character arcs and especially one seemingly needless late set piece. The action, while improved in this installment, also is a bit hampered by some confusing techno-gadgetry (in one of the only moments where the action is dictated by fantastic spectacle).
Still, with its virtuoso vision and near avant-garde score from James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer fueling the picture's ever-growing dread, The Dark Knight stands on its own in a world full of easy entertainment. Perhaps someday someone will be able to happily marriage the best that both Nolan and Burton brought to the screen -- until then, this remains an impressive feat of studio-backed artistry. Like it's own crime fighter, the movie is a symbol that aspires for greater things; where it will lead is anyone's guess.
~ Jeremy Wheeler, All Movie Guide