Director Christopher Nolan's excellent reboot of the "Batman" franchise, "Batman Begins", was certainly a success - both critically and commercially. However, while the first film was an terrific return for the character, the sequel sees Nolan making improvements in just about every regard: the moodier, darker second film is far more confident, more powerful and more intense.
The film once again stars Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and this time around Batman has become a more controversial figure - some even call for his arrest. However, the city still needs Batman, especially when the Joker (the late Heath Ledger) makes his presence known with the daylight robbery of a bank loaded with mob money (the opening scene, one of several filmed in IMAX.)
Meanwhile, DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) has taken it upon himself to fight the criminal element of Gotham in the courts, but the task remains immense: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain", says Dent. While Dent and Batman each try to keep the peace, the Joker becomes an increasing threat, making demands of Batman in order to try and force his hand. In the midst of it is Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes who apparently decided she didn't want to continue the role), Bruce's childhood sweetheart, who is now seeing Dent.
Ledger's performance as the Joker gives the film its intensity; the late actor gives a truly frightening performance as the unhinged villain, completely becoming the crazed character. Making matters worse for Batman is the Joker's ability to slip in-and-out of the glass and concrete jungle, moving his forces like chess pieces, appearing wherever there's the potential for chaos. It's an incredibly haunting and fierce performance from the late actor, and one that stands as one of the best screen villains in recent memory. Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine offer strong supporting efforts, as well.
Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister (who the director has worked with on a few films now and grew up in Chicago, where the movie was filmed) once again do a marvelous job with the action sequences, providing slick, bold sequences with impressive stunts and effects that allow viewers to watch: there's not the quick edits of most films these days. Nolan once again also manages to make these sequences feel powerful and epic, despite the tight city streets.
Nolan's film also manages to never let the clouds up - this is a hard, haunted movie and while I suppose it doesn't technically warrant an R-rating (although the MPAA makes some baffling decisions), the sheer pitch-black darkness (there's no one-liners here) of the film's tone goes a long way towards making it feel like an R-rated film, even if by whatever measures the MPAA uses, it technically isn't. Long story short, the film expands on the gloom and dread of the prior film, and nothing is certain for Batman, who , in a thought-provoking sequence - goes further than Lucius (Freeman) is willing to go when he uses technology in an unexpected way in order to catch the Joker.
Engaging, inspired and often breathtaking in its force and power, "The Dark Knight" is certainly one of the year's best films - it also sets the bar quite high for future superhero flicks.
VIDEO: "The Dark Knight" is presented on Blu-Ray in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC). However, some scenes in the film that were filmed in the IMAX format are presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. I didn't find the changes in aspect ratio to be a distraction, but some may. The presentation quality wasn't without some minor problems, but the overall impression is quite good. Sharpness and detail are terrific, although the IMAX scenes do have a greater level of definition and depth to the image.
Still, as terrific as most of the transfer looks - and it does look quite good - there are a few minor concerns to be discussed, starting with infrequent instances of minor edge enhancement. A few tiny specks are also seen on the print used in a couple of scenes. On a positive note, no pixelation or other concerns were seen. Colors looked rich and bold, with superb saturation and no smearing or other faults. Black level remained solid throughout the show and flesh tones looked natural, as well.
SOUND: The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is simply an assault, remaining thunderous throughout the show. Surrounds are active almost constantly throughout the show, delivering both intense, dynamic sound effects during the action sequences and subtle, precise details during some of the quieter sequences. The rear speakers also provide mild reinforcement of the James Newton Howard/Hans Zimmer score, as well. Audio quality is terrific, with deep, powerful low bass and crisp, clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: The extras are presented in HD. A series of "Focus Point" featurettes can be accessed during the film or played back-to-back. These featurettes explore many different aspects of the production, from using the IMAX cameras to film certain sequences, building Batman's motorbike, filming major action sequences , filming in Chicago, visual effects and much more. I actually enjoyed watching this more back-to-back, as the pieces are fantastically informative. These pieces run a total of 65 minutes and are highly recommended viewing.
The second disc offers "Batman Tech", a 45-minute documentary that looks at Batman's gadgetry. It's fairly enjoyable, but it's the kind of piece that I think most will probably only watch once. The same goes for "Batman: Unmasked", a 45-minute discussion of the mind of Bruce Wayne. The second disc also offers still galleries, 6 TV spots, 3 trailers and Gotham newscast footage. The title also includes BD-Live capability, with a number of features, such as the ability to record a commentary for the film via webcam and have it play along with the film. The third disc offers a digital copy of the film.
Final Thoughts: Engaging, inspired and often breathtaking in its force and power, "The Dark Knight" is certainly one of the year's best films - it also sets the bar quite high for future superhero flicks.
The Film A