With idealistic District Attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart) and incorruptible cop Jim Gordon (Oldman) cleaning up Gotham’s streets legitimately, Bruce Wayne (Bale) decides that the time has nearly come when he can give up being Batman and be with his beloved Rachael (Gyllenhaal). However, when a scarred psychotic criminal named “The Joker” teams up with the mob and offers to kill the Batman, it causes Wayne to question everything he stands for…
And here we… GO. Ever since filmmaker Christopher Nolan delivered the first truly worthy screen interpretation of Batman and raised the comic adaptation bar with Batman Begins, anticipation levels for a sequel were understandably lofty. But while such expectancy was raised even higher by overwhelmingly-positive early reports and a perfectly-teasing marketing campaign (yes, this review just mentioned a marketing campaign), The Dark Knight somehow manages to live up to expectations – and then some. Less a superhero movie than a sprawling crime epic, Nolan’s eagerly-awaited follow-up is a bold, smart and thrilling triumph which sits comfortably among the best sequels ever made. Is it better than Begins? Well that’s open to debate.
Truthfully, it threatens to overload itself towards the climax and impatient viewers may find the 152-minute running time too long (sigh), but The Dark Knight is an ambitious work with a lot on its mind. Earning complimentary comparisons to Michael Mann’s crime classic Heat (strengthened by William Fichtner’s small part), Nolan and his co-writing brother Jonathan craft an operatic tale of obsession, escalation and consequences, whilst wisely borrowing again from key Batman texts (most notably, Jeph Loeb’s unparalleled Long Halloween series). There are minor niggles for anyone searching (Maroni walking again so soon?), but it matters little as the Nolans get so much right (including the small details, like Batman being referred to as “the Batman”) while expanding the themes they began three years ago.
Though the British writer-director admits to having more explosions than last time, happily his picture still revolves around ideas, character and realism. Yes, there’s more than enough actiony spectacle (like an adrenalin-jacking truck chase or a vertigo-inducing rooftop base-jump) and striking visuals (see the sweeping cityscape shots or the few IMAX-shot sequences), but it’s all in service of the story. Arguably the moodiest and most adult superhero movie ever made, while other comic films make claims to being ‘dark’, The Dark Knight genuinely is dark – and not just in name. Here central characters are scarred, killed and ruined. Here we feel danger. Here we aren’t waiting to see how the hero will save the day, but if he will at all.
Which brings us to the villain. Somewhat inevitably, the movie belongs to Heath Ledger (who tragically died prior to release) and his undeniably towering performance. A chilling, threatening turn of lip-licking and shifting-unpredictability, Ledger’s hugely-enjoyable Joker is here to pose terrible moral dilemmas (not just for punch-ups) and exists at the other end of the scale to Jack Nicholson’s overrated camera-hogger. Grabbing us right from his startlingly-memorable ‘pencil trick’ introduction, the late star’s every physical tick is note-perfect and the decision to present him as an “absolute” with no back story couldn’t be more right. Ladies and gentle-men, he is indeed, tonight’s entertainment.
Still, the over-shadowed Aaron Eckhart is also excellent as the tragic Harvey Dent (who is as much as central character as Wayne or The Joker), while Gary Oldman is flawless as Jim Gordon in a welcome expanded role. Christian Bale might be less prominent than previous, but his commitment to the cause and Nolan’s savvy means that we still get plenty of pathos (a broken-hearted Bruce with cowl in hands) and iconic character moments (standing crestfallen over debris) far from the Tim Burton Batman films where the hero was essentially a cameo. Elsewhere, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine return, while newcomers Maggie Gyllenhaal (replacing Katie Holmes) Eric Roberts and Nestor Carbonell all fare well.
Less a superhero movie than a sprawling crime epic, The Dark Knight is a bold, smart and thrilling triumph which can sit comfortably among the best sequels of all time. Is it better than Batman Begins? Well that’s open to debate.