The Dark Knight is quite possibly the most hyped film of the year, and possibly the most eagerly awaited film since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Fortunately for all the Batfans out there, that’s the only thing The Dark Knight has in common with George Lucas’s terrible disappointment. The many teasers, the special websites, the leaked images… it served to build the Dark Knight fury to a steam even before Heath Ledger’s untimely death. I know a certain member of Den of Geek’s staff has been awaiting this movie for at least a year, if not longer (hi, Sarah!)
I went in just waiting for the movie to disappoint me. It couldn’t possibly live up to all the hype, could it? Well, I hate to say it, but not only does The Dark Knight live up to the lofty expectations I had for it, it exceeds my wildest dreams. In a year dominated by comic book films of all shapes and sizes, The Dark Knight has somehow managed to knock off Iron Man, Hellboy II, and everything else that’s come out this year. When I say this is probably the best film of the year, I mean it. I really don’t see anything on the release schedule that could even compare with this movie.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, in excellent form) continues his war on the organized crime syndicates of Gotham City in his guise as vigilante hero Batman. However, Batman isn’t alone now. Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Batman’s ally in the first film, is rising through the ranks of Gotham’s finest. Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, taking over for Katie Holmes) continues to fight the good fight, and hotshot new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) has put a public face to the war on crime, becoming Gotham’s white knight, their best hope for reclaiming their city thanks to his fearless and bold moves against the allied criminal elements. Between Batman on one side, and the few remaining good cops on the other, the mafia is getting desperate.
Enter The Joker (Heath Ledger). After a daring robbery on a mafia-controlled bank and a lot of shotgun-fu, the deformed mastermind puts himself on the maps of both the mob and the police, and he offers the syndicates a chance to stop the guy who is causing all the problems, Batman. And if, say, Gotham gets thrown into chaos and the criminal element can take advantage in the process, so much the better.
There is a lot of stuff going on in this movie. Director/writer Christopher Nolan and fellow screenwriter John Nolan (the same team who did the equally complex Memento) have constructed an incredible film here. There are a lot of threads playing their way through the film, tangling, ending, and intermingling with one another, but the plot never gets in the way of the story. Everything is handled superbly and in a way so that the viewer can follow along without having to think too much, which is a benefit in any movie with this much stuff happening.
Christopher Nolan has grown in the director’s chair as well. One of my few complaints about Batman Begins was the claustrophobic camerawork. With an actor as fit and imposing as Christian Bale, there’s the ability to pan the camera back a bit and take in more of the stunt work. To his credit, Nolan does that this time around, especially in the scenes involving The Joker. The film is very long, even by today’s blockbuster standards, but the pacing is crisp and the movie doesn’t lag a bit. There’s always something going on, and fortunately, the viewer is completely invested at all times.
Heath Ledger is getting a lot of buzz about a potential Oscar nomination, and quite frankly, he deserves it. From his first appearance to his final scene, Ledger’s menacing yet funny Joker absolutely dominates the screen. He presents a layered, nuanced performance swinging wildly from extremes in what had to be a taxing role. Unlike other actors who might chew the scenery, Ledger knew when to turn it on and when to dial it back to keep his take on the Joker from becoming overwhelming.
No less deserving of praise is Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent/Two Face. In some ways, his role is as hard as Ledger’s Joker, if only because Dent has to shift his role completely in the course of the film from hero to villain. The makeup, which is INCREDIBLE, helps immensely in this task. Bale is still great as the Batman, and of course Maggie Gyllenhaal is a serious upgrade over the mediocre (I’ll be nice) Katie Holmes in the love interest role. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox gets a bit more screen time this trip around and serves as less of a technical advisor and more of an accomplice. Michael Caine is dead on (again) as Alfred the loyal butler, squeezing out laughs and pathos from his role. It’s hard for an actor of Caine’s caliber not to shine, especially given his chemistry with Bale. Still, despite the great performances from all the cast (especially the notable heavies in the mafia syndicates, lead by the excellent Eric Roberts as Sal Maroni), this is definitely the Heath Ledger show.
I’m lavishing this movie with praise, but honestly, no matter how much I go into detail about how awesome this film is, I can’t possibly do it justice. It really is that good. If you haven’t seen it, go and see it as soon as possible. This could very well be the best comic book movie ever made, bar none. Absolutely picture perfect, totally riveting, and the fastest two and a half hours you’ll spend in a cinema. This is what all comic book movies should be. If Watchmen is half this good, I’ll be thrilled
I can’t wait for the third Batman film.