Is the summer of Batman over? Yes, but considering autumn and winter seem to create a better “feel” for Batmany things, I think it’s only fitting to continue. We’ve already talked about Batman Begins, so now lets talk about its sequel.
What if I told you that there is a film that has officially become a standard bearer for superhero movies? A film that is not only very entertaining, but also written with an incredible amount of thought and intelligence? Something to cater for practically everybody over the age of 12, who will all see something different as the film continues to change with time, and more things become evident in its display? Well, The Dark Knight is that film.
Set about 5 years after Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has moved his Bat Cave into a disclosed location, where the only access is through an elevator disguised as a shipping container, and he lives in a glamourous apartment that overlooks the city. His friend Rachel Dawes (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes) is now dating the fast-rising D.A. known as Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the various mobs are having trouble maintaining their income due to the Batman, and Scarecrow has been relegated to petty criminal. Meanwhile, a new figure in the dark underbelly has emerged. A man who was seemingly nobody, has all of a sudden come out of the woodwork, and is the talk of everybody. Nobody knows his name. Where he came from. How he got his connections. How he knows what he knows. And where he gets his supplies…The Joker (Heath Ledger) has made his presence publicly known in Gotham City (Though, he and Batman have met before). And what he is capable of now, is unlike anything Batman has ever experienced before.
The story to The Dark Knight is a full 3 course meal. We’re provided with scenes that show us what everybody is capable of, including Batman on a normal night’s scare-mongering, Joker’s approach to a bank robbery, Harvey Dent’s skill as a District Attorney, and James Gordon’s approach to being a good cop. Along with this, we see how every character changes throughout the film (change is good in stories, after all) from Batman/Bruce Wayne experiencing personal problems and sacrifices that bleed into both of his lives, to Joker going from rags to riches to becoming a unique type of final boss, to Harvey Dent, Gotham’s white knight, falling from grace (If you like comics, the animated series or saw Batman Forever, you saw this 1 coming), and lastly, James Gordon being challenged as a good cop, and reaping the reward of his actions, for better or worse. There is no denying that this story is fantastic. It’s multi-layered. It’s easy to figure out what’s going on, and at the same time, the dialogue is so intricate and deep that it will challenge how you perceive Gotham, and even the world around you. A process that will turn some of us into The Comedian from Watchmen, and for some, this might even do what Fahrenheit 9/11 did for me back when I was young and stupid. Others will simply say “It’s just a story.”
The acting in The Dark Knight is primarily top-notch, and this time they’ve balanced the cast out more in terms of Americans and British/Commonwealth Realm/International actors. Every returning actor, including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, continues to do an excellent job as their character from Batman Begins, meanwhile a few new faces, but particularly Aaron Eckhart and Heath Ledger, bring a whole new layer of interest into this movie’s universe. Aaron Eckhart plays easily 1 of the best interpretations of Harvey Dent you will ever see, if not the best. How he switches from a well-meaning D.A. to a man with dark ways to get answers, is fantastic. Meanwhile, Heath Ledger makes history. From teen-movie hunk to Ned Kelly to So-Cal Skater to Gay Cowboy to Casanova, Ledger came across as being as unlike Jack Nicholson (To many, the best actor to play Joker outside of Mark Hamill) as you could imagine, which made it difficult to know whether this would have worked for him. But…he proved us all wrong.
Kids who would be watching The Dark Knight today, will probably not realise the impact that real-life events had on this film when it came out. About 6-7 months before its release, the world experienced a modern-day James Dean moment, when Heath Ledger accidentally died by overdosing on sleeping pills (In fact, it was on a much bigger scale, because Dean only released 1 movie while he was still alive). After making for himself a very fine career as an actor, it was clear that his portrayal of the Joker in the Dark Knight could put him up there with the big sharks, and would have been the next big step for him. In the process, initial viewings of The Dark Knight felt bitter-sweet. But that performance…It is 1 for the ages.
We’ve mentioned acting, but what about characters? In general, it is all at least as strong as Batman Begins. But even though Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Gluh were excellent, they aren’t as iconic as Joker and Two-Face. Two-Face is amazing in this film. Not somebody you would want to share a car with. You can really feel the injustice that Dent feels. His anger. His loss. It’s hard to not to like this character, in fact, there is a surprising amount of sympathy. Meanwhile, The Joker brings out something in the audience, and possibly even shows us who we can be. Keep in mind, this is a character who doesn’t need money to take over Gotham. With a few guns, bullets and several cans of petrol, he makes an impact. It then makes us wonder how he truly gets around. Who are his friends/connections? We don’t really know. How does he know so much about the cops, the media, black market and politicians? We don’t really know. Was he a cop himself? We don’t know, because he isn’t on police database. And this plays on something in all of us…that what we fear most is what is unseen and unknown. Heath’s portrayal of The Joker comes across as being more like a Demon than a man. It’s almost as if he can vanish into thin air when he leaves a room, and everybody he talks to is somehow influenced, controlled or impacted by what he says. He knows all of the right words.
The music in The Dark Knight is as good as Batman Begins, as it is once again done by Hans Zimmer, and contains several trademark scores. The Joker’s theme is highly unsettling, as the ongoing sound of a violin gets higher and higher in pitch, like an elastic band being pulled that is eventually going to snap back. It’s perfect for the character.
Special effects-wise, The Dark Knight still holds up today, as they really did blow up buildings in some scenes, and CGI was used effectively throughout.
In terms of Art and Design, it might not be as gothic as Tim Burton’s Batman or even Batman Begins. But it does feel like it’s set in reality. When making what are effectively cartoon villains into realistic villains/monsters, they did an amazing job. From Two-Face’s insanely bad burns to Joker having a glaswegian smile under his angrily applied make-up. I also like how they upgraded the Batsuit, where Batman would have less armour, but it would give him an advantage in speed and agility (and the ability to tilt his head, something he had trouble with since 1989).
Cinematography-wise, The Dark Knight is phenomenally presented. The scale of the cities are epic (We also go to Hong Kong for a photo shoot) and the kinetic energy with each scene is felt considerably.
Would I recommend The Dark Knight? I would be an idiot not to. The Dark Knight is by far the best superhero movie ever done by DC comics, and it’s better than a majority of movies by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (with The Avengers and Guardians Of The Galaxy being very close contenders). With that said, DC’s movie quality hasn’t been anywhere near as consistent as Marvels (or as fun). Christopher Nolan created the definitive Batman movie, and 1 that I feel is officially the top of the mountain for this particular genre. It’s simple yet deep and complicated. It’s dark, and yet it’s also very humorous. It’s full of character, their challenges, their changes, and both their highs and lows. The problems are not only superhero/super villain problems, but also real life problems as well.
Special Effects: *****
Art/Design Choices: *****
Overall Rating: *****