"The Dark Knight" Movie Reviews: Looks Great, No Joke!

Posted: Updated:

**UPDATED 7/18**

After an intensive marketing campaign that's been active for more than a year, The Dark Knight opens today to rave reviews, sold out cinemas and dizzying expectations. More reviews keep pouring in.

The New York Times calls it "darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-book kind" and goes on to say:

In its grim intensity, "The Dark Knight" can feel closer to David Fincher's "Zodiac" than Tim Burton's playfully gothic "Batman," which means it's also closer to Bob Kane's original comic and Frank Miller's 1986 reinterpretation. That makes it heavy, at times almost pop-Wagnerian, but Mr. Ledger's performance and the film's visual beauty are transporting.

The film's scored an astounding 94 percent at RottenTomatoes.com, which bases its scores on an aggregation of opinions by popular film critics. Most reviews extol Heath Ledger's last role as the Joker as Oscar worthy. The San Francisco Chronicle says, of Ledger:

He comes onscreen and electrifies the movie. With his smeared lipstick and painted white face, he is every clown who ever terrified a child. He speaks in a measured, Middle American accent, enunciating his words carefully, a voice that could tell bedtime stories in hell. (He seems, actually, to be imitating Al Franken.) His simplicity is fascinating, and as the movie goes on, that simplicity in itself becomes genuinely frightening.

Reviews have been positive for the rest of the cast as well, including Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, whom the Boston Globe describes as complex:

The character seems more than ever an extension of his high-tech toys (like the neat-o Bat-scooter that pops out of the Batmobile at one point, ecstatically rearing up like the Lone Ranger's Silver). He represents a citizen's darkest urges, though, and it eats at him. He's Dirty Harry crossed with Hamlet.

The New York Observer calls the film "insurmountable fun":

Compared with the summer's other action potboilers, it's a Coney Island roller coaster ride with some of the rails missing.


***

With the New York Times reporting that theaters have begun scheduling extra showings of "The Dark Knight" in anticipation of its release on July 17, the sequel to the rebooted Batman franchise is proving that a film can still generate as much buzz as the iPhone.

So far the reviews are two thumbs up, way up. Already, "The Dark Knight" boasts an 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (last week, before New York magazine gave it the first thumbs down, it had a perfect 100). "The Dark Knight" seems to be no mere action flick -- it's a superhero film noir.

"The Dark Knight" stars Christian Bale at Batman, the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, Michael Caine as Alfred, Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Maggie Gyllenhaal as, well, Katie Holmes's replacement.

Here's a taste of what the critics have to say:

Let's start with the praise. In its "The Dark Knight" movie review, Rolling Stone credits the movie for being more than the sum of its blockbuster action:

There's something raw and elemental at work in this artfully imagined universe. Striking out from his Batman origin story, Nolan cuts through to a deeper dimension. Huh? Wha? How can a conflicted guy in a bat suit and a villain with a cracked, painted-on clown smile speak to the essentials of the human condition? Just hang on for a shock to the system. The Dark Knight creates a place where good and evil -- expected to do battle -- decide instead to get it on and dance. "I don't want to kill you," Heath Ledger's psycho Joker tells Christian Bale's stalwart Batman. "You complete me." Don't buy the tease. He means it.

If you want something more effusive, try this chunk from Time's "The Dark Knight" movie review:

It's been one of the best summers in memory for flat-out blockbuster entertainment, and in the wow category, the Nolan film doesn't disappoint. True to format, it has a crusading hero, a sneering villain in Heath Ledger's Joker, spectacular chases -- including one with Batman on a stripped-down Batmobile that becomes a motorcycle with monster-truck wheels -- and lots of stuff blowing up. Even the tie-in action figures with Reese's Pieces suggest this is a fast-food movie.

But "The Dark Knight is not just some soothing superhero tale in the mold of last summer's "Transformers":

Nolan has a more subversive agenda. He wants viewers to stick their hands down the rat hole of evil and see if they get bitten. With little humor to break the tension, The Dark Knight is beyond dark. It's as black -- and teeming and toxic -- as the mind of the Joker. Batman Begins, the 2005 film that launched Nolan's series, was a mere five-finger exercise. This is the full symphony.

The "Dark Knight" review from People takes the praise to a whole new level of hyperbole:

Step aside, Spider-Man 2 and Superman II: The phenomenal The Dark Knight now reigns as the greatest superhero film of all time.

The movie, says the Miami Herald in its "The Dark Knight" review, is "aimed at grown-ups (or at least older kids)." There are no gags or amusing touches to lighten the mood:

Crucial to the film's success is Nolan's decision to make "The Dark Knight" a laugh-free zone: There are practically no light moments in this story, and what little uneasy humor exists comes courtesy of The Joker (the late Heath Ledger), who puts you on edge every time he enters a scene, even when he's wearing hospital-nurse drag. Ledger's take on the Joker is an extraordinary feat of acting: With his smeared grease paint, scarred face and yellow teeth, he looks like a clown left out in acid rain.

In its "The Dark Knight" movie review, The Hollywood Reporter warns:

No one will follow all the plot points at first glance. Not that the story with its double crosses and ingenious plans isn't clear, but to enjoy the full glory of these urban battlefield strategies, multiple viewings are required.

While Variety falls into line by lauding Christopher Nolan and his screenwriting brother, deputy editor Anne Thompson offers the first hints of dissent in a blog post with her own "The Dark Knight" movie review.

My instincts told me when I first saw The Dark Knight trailer: Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins follow-up would fall into the trap of the summer tentpole sequel. It's not entirely his fault. The studio gives him his marching orders: top the last one. Make it bigger, better, bolder, more FX, more action, more scale and scope and characters (read toys). What else should a poor boy to do with $180 million?

She also addresses the Oscar question head-on:

Clearly, Warners is making an Oscar push for the film. Ledger's acting nomination is inevitable.

So what could be wrong with this movie? A few cracks in the edifice are revealed by New York magazine's "The Dark Knight" movie review. David Edelstein accuses Nolan of having "no clue how to stage or shoot action" while at the same time trying to get all philosophical:

Nolan is grappling with the Big Themes of vigilantism (especially urban vigilantism), and he did pretty well in Batman Begins: The movie was a foundation on which to build a new series; even in the mouth of the ridiculously chirpy Katie Holmes (as Rachel Dawes, stalwart assistant D.A.), the thesis line, "Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about making yourself feel better," made an excellent superhero mantra. But the psychological twists in The Dark Knight--especially the transformation of Dent into "Two-Face"--are baffling as drama. They play as if they'd been penned by Oxford philosophy majors trying to tone up a piece of American pop--to turn it into an uncivil Shavian dialogue, Don Juan in Hell with mutilations and truck crashes.

Oh, the verbiage probably wouldn't matter if those truck crashes were any fun, but the tumult is spectacularly incoherent.

TimeOut New York echoes the sentiment in its "The Dark Knight" review:

Yes, it's visually impressive, but any hack can do a halfway decent job with trailer-ready tangents. Not everyone can push the genre forward, and the fact that Nolan's padded popcorn flick isn't the streamlined masterpiece it could have been is a real buzzkill.

Our neighbors to the North and across the pond have also started logging their impressions. Canada's National Post gives the movie 3.5 stars out of 4 and the London Times gives it 5 stars.