Before seeing The Dark Knight, people should know that the ‘Dark’ part is very, very important. I’m not talking about the usual hype about the sequels being darker and more mature (e.g. Harry Potter): this is the genuine article, and you should be prepared for that fact when you watch this film. Not that this is all doom and gloom; rather, it is a very serious approach to what is normally thought (especially after the Adam West incarnation) to be a non-serious subject matter.
The Dark Knight is the direct sequel to Batman Begins. That film ended with Gordon showing Batman the Joker’s calling card, and this film begins shortly afterwards. This film begins with the Joker robbing a bank, with the aid of some flunkeys. However, rather than the usual collection of identikit thugs doing what they’re told, these guys are a disposable bunch of goons that the Joker methodically uses and discards to achieve his goal. This sets up the tone of the film straight away – dark, intense, violent and visceral.
As I’ve mentioned the Joker, it makes sense to talk about Heath Ledger. His performance is pretty spectacular: the voice, the mannerisms, the tongue, the eyes, the madness is all there and he is genuinely scary. The scenes where he is threatening people are disturbing, which is how the Joker should be. His own description of the Joker as ‘a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown’ is accurate and accurately portrayed.
The Joker is the showy role, but the other actors are up to the task (Nolan has assembled an amazing cast). Christian Bale is Bruce Wayne and The Batman at all times – a scene where he is defending himself at a party in a tuxedo yet you can see The Batman in his face and the way he holds himself are perfect. Aaron Eckhart is a great Harvey Dent and Two-Face (the CGI for Two-Face is simply superb: disturbing and yet you can’t take your eyes off him), Gary Oldman is great as Gordon, and Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Maggie Gyllenhaal do good work in roles that are sidelined in comparison to the first movie.
Kudos must go to the Nolan brothers: Jonathan co-wrote with Christopher, who directs with an intensity and energy that matches the main characters, driven and focussed. This is no ordinary comic book movie, telling a simple tale of good versus evil, making knowing nods to the fans, and thowing in a few fights scenes and a chase and some jokes (although there are fights and chases, and there some moments of dark humour, especially from Ledger’s Joker). This is a complex and detailed look at Batman, the Joker and the world in which they inhabit, examining the nihilistic philosophy of the Joker, a man who doesn’t care for money, and the battle against criminals led by the law and the obsessed vigilante.
The movie isn’t completely perfect. The plot machinations of the Joker and the way he can organise everything that goes on in the story seem implausible and impossible, especially given the insanity. The film is a little long, with an ending that doesn’t leave you with any positive feeling (the packed auditorium where I saw it trundled out fairly quietly) and has echoes of The Empire Strikes Back. Batman is a little sidelined in his own movie, to allow for development of the other characters, and the character of Rachel Dawes is offered up to the god of plot development. However, even with these minor flaws, this is a truly astounding film, with definite pedigree to enter into the pantheon of excellent comic book films. Just be warned that the film is more like The Godfather than Iron Man.