The Dark Knight Review

After 2005’s Batman Begins many had high hopes for the sequel. Usually in superhero films, the follow-up is better. After all that nasty exposition and the obligatory origin story is dealt with, the film-makers can then move on to expanding the cast of characters and ramping up the action. That is certainly what happens here. The Dark Knight sets the tone well early on. Don’t expect any information to bring you up to speed however. If you haven’t seen Begins, then do so before seeing this. It will help.

Batman (Christian Bale) has been fighting crime for some time now with aid from his English butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and daring new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). As always his only love, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is also in the wings, though she is fond of the more stable Dent than playboy Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting ways. Director Christopher Nolan returns to this Batman screen re-invention with a skill gained from his indie cinema days. Co-written with David Goyer and Nolan’s brother, Jonathan, The Dark Knight is not a typical superhero film, like Iron Man, but is far more concerned with raising morality issues rather than having the good guy beat up the bad guy. As Harvey Dent gains the public’s trust and becomes the enemy of Gotham’s crime bosses, Bruce Wayne begins to think that perhaps he can give up his nocturnal adventuring for good and let Dent tackle crime the legal way. The right way. Of course, we don’t want that to happen as we want to see Bats do what he does best – exact justice on Gotham’s crims, but we also want to see Bruce and Rachel re-ignite their love and live happily ever after. For anyone who knows Batman the outcome is obvious, but seeing Bruce Wayne understand that he needs help in his war and could conceivably hand over the reins to another is a good take. It’s not entirely new, however. Both Superman’s and Spider-Mans’ second films also toyed with the idea of retiring their superhero alter-egos, and did, temporarily. At times the film reminded me of Bourne’s fighting scenes, Law and Order’s courtoom dramas and MI:3’s daring rescues, especially the great Hong Kong sequence. And with the nifty vehicles, like the new Bat Pod and hi-tech gadgets from Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), it is also similar to a Bond film. But Nolan makes it all seem part of a cohesive whole. There are also some genuine laughs and gasps along the way, mostly due to the Clown Prince of Crime and his amusing/horrifying ways. So, what about the Joker? Fellow Aussie Heath Ledger has certainly got everyone talking and makes a startling entrance. Is he great? Sure. Oscar-worthy? No. He loses himself in the role, like no other he’s played, but he’s not this year’s best actor and to give him a win out of sentimentality would be a mistake. The rest of the ensemble do a splendid job. Maggie Gyllenhaal is superior to Katie Holmes’ outing as Dawes in the first film and both Caine and Freeman add sparkling wit.

At two and a half hours, is it too long? Definitely, but I don’t see how the film-makers could’ve cut any scenes, with the story they are portraying. If I was forced, I’d say the entire Two-Face arc could’ve been left on the cutting room floor though, as the classic villain deserves his own film, not the cameo he has here. His transformation from golden boy Dent to corrupt Two-Face is similar to his comics origin, but with a twist that works well in this cinematic context. I was disappointed that Eckhart sounds the same as Dent and Two-Face however. Apart from the physical transformation, there is no real sense of any permanent inner change with the character, post-scarring, but his limited screen time means that such conflict can not really be dealt with.

As a comics purist I was happy to finally see Batman with haunting white eyes for the first time on-screen. It always irks me seeing black make-up on the actor’s face under the cowl. Is Bruce Wayne going to apply foundation every time he dons the mask? The Joker seen here is also the most faithful one, with a genius level intellect yet an unstable, unpredictable mind and an origin that not even he’s sure of. The film’s end is a surprise (though not the only one) and takes the franchise down an interesting path, though possibly one with limited potential. For fans of dark, mature takes on superheroes this is recommended. If you’d like more Batman/Joker inter-play, follow Nolan’s example and read The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, the best interpretation of their relationship ever created. The Dark Knight may be too scary for the younger crowd though. There is no blood on-screen, but plenty of madness, corpses and flinching moments. With the notions of sacrifice, honour and integrity all mentioned, for adults there will be plenty of discussion after you leave the cinema.