Christopher Nolan not only crafts the perfect superhero film but also one of the best film’s ever. There isn’t a misstep in the two and half hour running time of his Batman movie. It works from the ground-up, from soundtrack to story to characters to the thrilling, teasing finale.
The biggest strength of the movie is the villain. Every superhero movie lives or dies on the protagonist and The Dark Knight has the best of them all, Heath Ledger’s Joker. From the first scene, making an explosive impact, to the the final moments for Ledger’s version of the character, he is intoxicating. Somehow Ledger and Nolan manage to balance that fine line between dark and funny. The first “proper” Joker scene has him make a pencil disappear by jamming it into a person’s eye; the audiences shocked giggles are the perfect reaction to this scene.
It would be very easy to then let Ledger steal every scene and run riot until Batman finds a way to stop him but The Dark Knight is not a simple “good versus evil” story. There is a complexity to the plot which takes in many different strands, a host of well-rounded and developed characters but never once loses the audiences. In the same movie there is a mob accountant’s capture, a Wayne employee trying to expose Batman, a love triangle, several high profile murders and at least three Joker plots and games to explain and play-through.
It is this complex but compelling plot which keeps the movie so engaging. You can break so much of what works in The Dark Knight down to the key set-pieces. Nolan already demonstrated that he can handle the action Batman requires but here he improves upon it, delivering an exhausting and thrilling chase through Gotham which includes The Tumbler and holds some great shocks and surprises.
Another notable set-piece is one of the games Joker plays. As Batman dispatches thugs in the “mock” finale for the movie, two groups of people decide whether they will save themselves to sacrifice others. It is a moral conundrum which some movies would take their full run-time to explore but in The Dark Knight it is effectively explored over twenty tense and exciting minutes.
As previously mentioned, the story isn’t just about The Joker terrorising Gotham. Ledger’s part is important but one of a larger story, which involves at least one other villain. The journey of Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent into becoming Two-Face is teased, tortured and slowly developed as the movie progresses. The way it occurs both scars Dent physically and mentally and makes for a great finale to the movie as Batman has to face a villain he himself may have created.
With all these darker tones and themes, it would feel like there is little room for humour but The Dark Knight balances this well too. Although never a comedy, there are some great, lighter moments delivered primarily by Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman once again. As Alfred and Lucius Fox, they don’t just get the better lines but some pretty cool moments of their own too.
This goes for Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon too. This is his story as much as Batman’s and there are some shocks in store. One story-line attempts to mislead the audience to the fate of Gordon, although never truly convincing, it does illicit some great performances and some heart-felt moments during the interim. The same can also be said for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s contribution as Rachel Dawes. Replacing Katie Holmes, The Dark Knight gives Gyllenhaal’s Rachel a larger part in the workings of the story and the contribution of this character has bigger, better effects for how the story unfolds.
Above all, this is a superhero movie though and on that front The Dark Knight does not disappoint. It has some great action sequences, still rooted firmly in the realism that Nolan laid the groundwork for in Batman Begins. Christian Bale is still a strong Batman and balances his role as Bruce Wayne ably, setting the benchmark for other actors trying to take the role on too.
Overall, The Dark Knight is both a lesson in how to deliver a superhero movie and how to make movies in general. A great plot, with many twists and developments, played out by a host of talented actors who each deliver at the top of their game. Heath Ledger’s Joker may steal the movie but with Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face and Christian Bale’s Batman, it is a close-run contest. Christopher Nolan’s best film, the greatest ever Batman film and my personal favourite film.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)