The Darkest Knight Ever: A Dark Knight Review.
The Gotham underworld is in ruins as it struggles to rebuild itself. Criminals stray from the shadows, and hide in the daylight, for the shadow is the Batman’s domain. Clawing desperately like rodents from flame, the mafia turns to a man they do not understand. An agent of Chaos, they call him the Joker.
The shadow of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight looms large over every Bat-film, nay, every superhero film before it. By the film’s conclusion, it struck me just how apt the title was: its darkness surpasses even Burton’s Gothic interpretation of the franchise. Nolan’s real-world Gotham makes the presence of a Joker all the more frightening. I’ve never thought about the Joker as a terrorist or even an anarchist before, but Nolan and Ledger gave me a real sense of, this is what the world would be like with the Joker in it, and this is what he’d do. It all seems so obvious now, but the truth is, there’s never been a Joker quite like this before. As Nolan has stated in various interviews, Heath Ledger’s Joker truly is a force of nature. He’s a hurricane that sweeps through each scene, stealing it and then destroying it for no other reason than that’s what he is. There is a tangible tension in the air; a siren sound builds in the background (courtesy of Zimmer and Howard), and neither the audience nor the Batman knows how to deal with him, because we honestly don’t know what he’ll do next.
It’s this unpredictability that propels the entire film for two and a half hours – no mean feat if you’ve ever seen Lord of the Rings. There are plot twists a-plenty here, and each one of them is a bold move on the part of Goyer and the brothers Nolan.
Like all good comic books, The Dark Knight is first and foremost a character drama. Christian Bale plays a brooding Batman, and a conflicted Bruce Wayne once again. But it’s clear this time that Wayne has moved beyond revenge, and is far more concerned with the repercussions of Batman’s actions, not only for his loved ones, but for Gotham City as a whole. One of the film’s major themes is sacrifice, and you’ll see plenty of moments where all of Wayne’s friends and allies pay high prices for the love of their city. I could really feel Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent’s love for both Gotham and Rachel, and Jim Gordon’s love for his family as well. It is Harvey Dent’s inextricable importance to Gotham and all of its major players that makes his destiny all the more tragic. That Aaron Eckhart’s Dent won me (and Batman) over within the first few minutes only amplified the tragedy. Again, I knew what to expect, but I was continually surprised by the journey.
Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon is a comic fan’s dream come true. His resemblance to the character in the classic Year One is uncanny, both in personality and visage. Maggie Gyllenhaal was the perfect choice to replace Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes – not only does she look similar; she plays a stronger character with more substance than a pretty face. Take this from someone whose pet hate is changing casts between sequels – that the first four Bat-films featured the same Alfred Pennyworth, yet three different Bruce Waynes irked me to no end! Speaking of Alfred, Michael Caine shines through as Bruce’s mentor and friend. I was initially wary of his casting in Begins, mostly due to his rustic speech, but he has captured the essence of a butler who oversteps his role, and cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Morgan Freeman reprises his role as Lucius Fox, Batman’s ‘Q’ and now-CEO of Wayne Enterprises.
The movie’s other major theme is Chaos. Chaos is the Joker’s modus operandi, and he sees himself as the necessary Yin to Batman’s Yang. Bale underscores this notion in playing the thinking-man’s Batman. While there is little emphasis on Batman as the World’s Greatest Detective, he is certainly portrayed as an inventive and rational force. Joker, on the other hand, is all kinds of insane. He simply doesn’t care what happens, as long as something happens; his life an amoral dance of cause and effect. It’s almost refreshing to see the Joker’s sheer abandonment and wanton destruction, as it represents a way of life so different from our own.
Nolan and company cottoned on to the character’s greatest strength: his mysterious origin. Nolan makes no attempt to explain the Joker’s origins definitively; a wise choice that not only saves valuable screen-time, but enriches the character as well. A wry smile crept across my face every time Ledger licked his lips to recount a different origin story to his victims. Indeed, there is a certain black comedy that permeates his dialogue and the film at large. Heath Ledger’s mannerisms are clever and understated, simultaneously manic and aloof. His performance chilled me to the bone, and yet I couldn’t wait to see him return for the next scene. It represents a fitting swan song to his career, and I would love nothing more than to see him win that posthumous Oscar.
The Dark Knight definitely comes off as a self-contained film, and no expense was spared to give it all the dramatic weight possible, with almost complete disregard for sequel potential. As lofty as they are, comparisons with the likes of The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather: Part II are apt. With such a take-no-prisoners approach, where do we go from here? Disheartening, though it may be, it’s a beautiful problem to have.
There are so many more things I could say about The Dark Knight, but nothing that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by someone else. To give you a detailed account of every happening would only diminish its profound impact. Needless to say, it distills some of the greatest elements in Batman’s rich history and combines them to create a thrilling, multi-layered narrative. With Iron Man and now The Dark Knight, its refreshing to see the medium of the comic book movie treated with such maturity and respect for the source material. More than that, The Dark Knight actually transcends the genre of the superhero movie. It’s not for the faint of heart (or for children), but anyone can and probably will enjoy this movie on its own merits. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest video store and catch The Dark Knight.