OK. The wait is over, and I need to get this out of the way right now…The Dark Knight is not perfect. Oh, oops, sorry, actually it is. All those with seemingly unsatisfiable expectations, you needn’t worry. I, like many, have been waiting for this sequel for over three years, but it wasn’t until the movie started that I realized I didn’t truly know what I was waiting for. The Heath Ledger (I’ll get to him later) hype had occupied my mind more than anything else, and it kept me from completely understanding what I was expecting. I did know that I expected an improvement on Batman Begins, an excellent movie to begin with, but The Dark Knight surpasses it’s predecessor in every aspect by prodigious margins.
Batman (Christian Bale) has been on The Joker’s (Heath Ledger) tail for a while and with the help of good friend Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) as well as the newly appointed D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), they hope to take the insane criminal mastermind down. Dent may be the only man, not wearing a bat costume, that’s brave enough to take down crime at any cost, to protect Gotham city. Things are not so simple however as The Joker threatens to kill more and more unless The Batman reveals his true identity. How Batman/Bruce Wayne, as well as those close to him, will react to this disastrous situation is fascinating. To make matters worse, every time a step in the right direction is taken towards putting a stop to the Joker’s madness, it is revealed that those steps are apart of the Joker’s grand plan. I do not want to spoil anything, so I will not go into specific details, but the events unravel in tragic, devastating ways.
Christopher Nolan has crafted the perfect Batman story. This is the best single tale in the extensive Batman mythos. I have trouble imagining a better movie or comic book ever coming to be (never say never). Needlessly to say this is the best shot movie of the year and then some. Nolan appropriately highlights the explosions and various action. More importantly he magnifies the small character moments, getting us so emotionally involved we forget we are watching a movie. Surprisingly, he creates his most suspenseful film and in the most dire of scenes, we actually lose our nerves (in a good way). He does what great directors aspire to do, but it’s a rare happenstance, Nolan grabs his audience early on and never lets go. He commands us, we bend to his will. This is the epitome of masterful film making. The screenplay is full of surprises and daring decisions. The story unfolds in an epic fashion, a crime-drama of the highest quality. Important events are scattered through the beginning, middle and end, always at just the right time. The script has it’s humour, but less so than Begins. Knight is relentlessly dark and bleak, it contains the strongest of moral complexities. Yes, Batman is forced to make tough decisions, but so do many key characters, as well as all the citizens of Gotham. How would you react? At one point The Joker puts a televised hit out on a character. He threatens to blow up a hospital if that character is not dead in 60 minutes. There are no easy answers to the dilemmas contained herein and the consequential soul-searching is not always pleasant. Overall, the dialog is a lot tighter, another factor in making The Dark Knight so believable we find ourselves lost within it.
Of course the acting is tremendous. The supporting cast is flawless, providing one of the deeper casts of characters in recent memory. Leading the way is Aaron Eckhart, who plays his character perfectly, with just the right amount of emotion and complexity. Harvey Dent is one of my favourite characters from the comic books, and it is very pleasing to see him get a proper treatment. Also of note, Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes (one of very few downsides to Batman Begins) as Rachel Dawes, and is much better and therefore much less distracting than Holme’s
sub-par, boring, unlikeable performance. Two wonderful actors, Micheal Caine and Morgan Freeman, get much less screen time this go-around. This is most appropriate because it is hard not to smile when they are in frame, and The Dark Knight ain’t meant to be too smiley. Gary Oldman continues his brilliant job as the endearing, admirable Lt. Jim Gordon. Oldman brings a kindness as well as a respectable matureness to the role and it is a terrific effort.
Christian Bale brings the true Batman of the comic books to life. He embodies The Dark Knight like none before him, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever taking the part. Bale is fierce, confident, conflicted, and powerful as Batman. His “bat rasp” is put to even better use, he strikes fear in his enemies as well as the audience. As Bruce Wayne, Bale is arrogant and incontrovertibly intelligent. He gives his character such an intricate level of substance that it’s difficult not to think Oscar. I truly think Christian Bale is one of the better actors working today. He could play anything. He could take the most serious award-contending roles, which he sometimes does do, but here he takes a character that has been degraded in the past and manages to turn it into a most serious award-contending role. This is surprising to some, but for an avid reader of the source material, it is nothing short of necessary to make the movies as great as they should be.
Now for what I assume everyone is curious about, Heath Ledger’s invention of The Joker. The late Ledger was already an accomplished actor with such brilliant turns in, among others, Monster’s Ball, Brokeback Mountain and I’m Not There. But here is his master work. His performance is nothing short of awe-inspiring, to put it in perspective, it is of Daniel Day-Lewis quality. Ledger’s Joker is menacing, horrifying, thunderous and darkest of dark. Some scenes, and you can certainly credit the writing and directing for this, are unexpectedly terrifying. I really want to get the point across that this is the most frightening, haunting and harrowing picture of the year, and that Heath Ledger deserves infinite praise for making it so. He absolutely disappears into the character, like few in the trade can, there is no trace of him in the film. The unforgettable, hostilely convoluted performance is, in my mind, a no-brainer to win the Supporting Actor Oscar. I would be very disappointed otherwise. Though it is hard to escape the movie without being disappointed. We have lost an immensely talented actor, who would have had a long, magnificent career.
The Dark Knight is not comic-booky at all. It is ironic that the actual comic books the movie is based on are not “comic-booky” either. It is unfortunate that such a limitless medium is seen in such a specific way by those who have not discovered it’s possibilities. The movie is assuredly not as simple as good versus evil, but rather an examination of what good and evil really are and if they even exist. An elaborate meditation on right and wrong. A piece of extraordinary depth. This is why we go to the movies: To be moved, challenged, surprised and entertained. The Dark Knight is a crime-drama on par with the greatest works in the genre (Scorsese, Mann, Coppola). It is also, quite easily in fact, the greatest superhero film of all-time. Most importantly, it is one of the better motion pictures to ever grace the sacred silver screen.