The Dark Knight

starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart
written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan & directed by Christopher Nolan
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace.

Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Bale) in the guise of his vigilante alter-ego, Batman, continues the quest to clean up the streets of Gotham. Assisting him are some old friends and a new ally in the form of Harvey Dent (Eckhart), Gotham’s fearless new DA. But the criminal underworld, driven to desperation, is about to unleash a madman on the city and its inhabitants: an anarchical mass murderer known only as The Joker (Ledger).

After taking their time to lay the groundwork for this character in 2005’s franchise reboot, Batman Begins, the Nolan brothers waste no time in dropping Batman (and us) into the thick of the action. The Dark Knight is a movie that never lets up, gluing the audience breathlessly to their seats for two-and-a-half hours of riveting crime drama packed with emotional depth and chaotic mayhem. It is a deeply exhausting experience, but those who undertake it will be rewarded by what very well may be the best film that the superhero genre has yet offered us.

Everything about this movie demands constant attention. The cast is as amazing as it is loaded with big-name talent (no less than seven stars share top billing). Bale is every bit as excellent as on the previous outing, and that goes double for his supporting players: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and especially Gary Oldman. Maggie Gyllenhaal steps in to fill the role of Rachel Dawes (previously played by Katie Holmes), a change which will, no doubt, be universally welcomed. And Aaron Eckhart, as the heroic Dent, a man destined to become (as those who know their Batman lore are aware) the twisted villain Two-Face, provides us with the most fascinating character study of the series to date. Eckhart is well up to the rigorous demands the role presents, as well as the challenge of not being overshadowed by so many great performances.

There can be no doubt whatsoever, though, that this show belongs entirely to Heath Ledger’s Joker. Regardless of anything else that may be worthy of our attention in The Dark Knight, Ledger’s chilling, terrifying, brilliant performance will be what follows us out of the theaters, into our cars, and back to our houses to dog our nightmares. Whether he is on the screen or not, his presence in the film is impossible to ignore. Ledger’s Joker is nothing less than an unstoppable force of nature, laying waste to anything and everything in his path (though never quite how one might expect). There is nothing funny about this character, despite the name. This incarnation of the super-villain revels in cruel (and often subtle) irony, setting up impossible ethical and moral dilemmas to spring on the unsuspecting heroes at every turn.

Despite over 50 years of prior baggage weighing our conceptions of the character down, Ledger and the Nolan brothers have created something we have never seen before (and likely will not again). At some point perhaps halfway through The Dark Knight, I quietly hoped that the Joker would not be killed off, so that the character could return to face off against Batman in future installments. It took me several seconds to remember that, tragically, this cannot be. This film ensures that we will once again feel the sting of losing a great performer in the midst of his prime.

I mention the Nolan brothers as well, of course, because despite the great support of their cast and crew, they are the ones ultimately responsible for the events that transpire on-screen. Their work here certainly lives up to the quality one would expect from the pair who brought us such films as Memento and The Prestige. The Dark Knight is The Godfather of superhero movies: an epic, sprawling tale encompassing a large cast of characters trapped amidst a series of devastating, far-reaching events that will change them forever. It walks the knife’s edge of never allowing the pace to slow without exhausting the audience with wave upon wave of climactic action.

Refreshingly, the action sequences in this movie (of which, admittedly, there are many) do not exist simply to amaze us with large explosions (although there are some) and gorgeous CG effects (which were, to my eyes at least, effectively invisible). Rather, the action is driven relentlessly forward by the sheer tension of suspense as to the outcome of a scene. This film, as its title implies, is a dark and devastating experience. Humor is rare. No character is sacred. The somber tone is obvious from the second the movie begins. In direct contrast to testosterone-fueled superhero movies like Iron Man, The Dark Knight‘s tone is oppressively foreboding.

To be honest, going to see The Dark Knight was like paying to get beaten up, but in a good way. It is emotionally and mentally draining, but somehow also stimulating. But, no matter how intense the experience, I am already sure that I will do it all again simply for the pleasure of watching Heath Ledger’s Joker in action.

~ by Jared on July 17, 2008.

7 Responses to “The Dark Knight”

  1. I really think this one is the best Batman movies ever


  2. I daresay this is one of the best movies ever. Drop the “Batman” or “superhero”, and I say it can still contend.
    Also…*clears throat* THAT WAS AWESOME!!!
    Ahem. That was pretty much all.
    That, and I really really really (x50) want the Tumbler. Really.
    Also, I have a word for Ledger’s Joker: primal. (Also, yes, his death makes this movie bittersweet, in a sense. I still hope they do another.)


  3. To clarify, my above comment refers to the death of actor Heath Ledger.


  4. I really like Christian Bale.

    But he’s no Adam West.


  5. Like

  6. i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was like the time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted…


  7. I, on the other hand, simply wish they’d cast Gyllenhaal to begin with.


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