Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a sequel to Batman Begins, became a part of cinematic folklore before it was even released. The film had a unique aura and mystique about it after Heath Ledger delivered a chilling performance as The Joker but sadly passed away before the theatrical release of the film. The Dark Knight went on to smash box office records for its time and received universal praise from fans and critics alike for its quality. It’s easily my favourite super hero film of all time.
In The Dark Knight, we return to the troubled life of Bruce Wayne, playboy billionaire and the alter ego of the masked vigilante Batman. At the end of Batman Begins, Wayne was left by his childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes who tells him that as long as he wears the cloak, they cannot be together.
Bruce and Gotham both appear to find a second chance in the form of ambitious new district attorney Harvey Dent, Gotham’s white knight. Dent aggressively targets Gotham’s criminal underworld, roots out corruption in the police force and appears to be momentarily successful in tackling the mob. There is a complication for Wayne however: Dent also begins to court Rachel who is receptive to his charms.
Just when it seems that Dent might have the crime lords on the run, they are visited by a demented psychopath dressed as a clown, named The Joker. He convinces the criminals not to flee with their money but to pay him half in exchange for killing Batman. The Joker then kills one of the mob leaders, takes control of his men and begins a calculated killing spree designed to lead the good people of Gotham to the point of madness.
The Dark Knight is unashamedly lengthy and self indulgent, clocking in at a formidable 2 hours 25 minutes. For someone like myself who can wholy lose themselves in Nolan’s vision and Ledger’s performance, it is a thrilling ride from start to finish. For everyone else, this film probably feels a bit bloated. Ledger’s performance as The Joker deserves all the plaudits it gets though. He is absolutely mesmerizing and terrifying in this role and virtually unrecognizable from anything he has done before. Cleverly, The Joker’s intense screen prescense is accomplished with little onscreen blood-letting and without swearing. It is his utterly convincing portrayal of a mentally disturbed sociopath with zero empathy and craven delight at causing misery that makes you a captive audience.
The Joker’s near two hour rampage in this film is a Rube Goldberg chain of interconnected events. You might stop him from killing the Mayor but thats because he’s actually busy kidnapping the District Attorney. And if you save the District Attorney, then its at the expense of saving the love of your life. The Joker is constantly redefining his intentions and his origins to everyone he meets but almost all of it is a lie. He describes himself an ‘agent of chaos’ that has no plan and yet when he tells this to Harvey Dent, he absolutely has a plan to lead Harvey into committing a crime of passion. The Joker is single minded in his loathing of humanity, including the mob that he supposedly works for. It shows when we see his final line of defence against Batman – a pack of attack dogs. At least they are loyal.
The Dark Knight plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy. The ‘white knight’ Harvey Dent is of course destined to come up short, unable to live up to his perfect billing. The dark knight Bruce Wayne is tired of defending a thankless Gotham and yearns to be with Rachel. And yet he too is living a lie as unbeknownst to him, Rachel has moved on from him and has chosen Harvey. As for the citizens of Gotham, they are shown to have a mob mentality. Easy to scare and quick to anger. And yet when The Joker rigs explosives on two ferries and gives them the option of saving their own lives by killing the other, the people aboard both ferries refuse to submit to his level. Whichever way they are portrayed, I like that the collective residents of Gotham feel like their own character in this tale. After all, they are the very reason Batman exists. The whole cast of characters in The Dark Knight have their moments of greatness and lapses of weakness.
By the end of the film, many are dead and Bruce Wayne is left with no choice but to go along with the lie that Harvey Dent is still a white knight, leaving Batman to be hunted down in the shadows like an animal by the very people he tries to save. It’s great stuff.
This film is Christopher Nolan’s opus. It is easily his best work, or at least it will be until The Dark Knight Rises. It’s easy to see that he has struck gold with Heath Ledger who is a memorable villain. But the film is also his best action film, with the stuntwork and choreography excellent across the board from the chases in the Bat Mobile to the hand-to-hand combat in the various fight scenes. The score from Hans Zimmer fits the tone of the film perfectly as do the special effects which are effective without being distracting. It would be easy to get carried away with the makeup for The Joker and Two Face but they strike a nice balance between their comic book origins and something suitable for the silver screen. The script is wrought with melodrama, monologues and one liners and why not? This is a blockbuster movie after all. Everything just comes together perfectly in this film for me. I wouldn’t change a thing.