The Dark Knight is, simply put one of the greatest experiences I have had with a film. Even ignoring the story, acting and themes, it's one of the best visual experiences I have had. The IMAX format that takes up roughly 30 minutes of the film is simply breathtaking to see on the silver screen. Watching Batman soar between the towers in Hong Kong was one of the best IMAX scenes I've ever seen. I've said it before and I will say it now, The Dark Knight is a better visual experience than Avatar (also IMAX>3D). The amount of praise and respect that the film has received has caused many to consider it 'overrated'. A lot of this stems from problems people had with Begins, 'it wasn't their Batman'. On top of that, this time there are people who say 'that's not my Joker'. Batman is a character that can be interpreted in many ways, as is the Joker. And I haven't even started on the story yet. Let's go to that now.
The story in The Dark Knight is multilayered, but, at the core, it's a classic struggle between good and evil. It's the eternal struggle of the hero vs the villain at its finest. The writing for this film is top notch, thanks to Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer. It's really quite the balancing act keeping all the elements they have up in the air. You have to have the protagonist (Batman) be active, have the villain's (Joker's) plot make sense, have to have a love interest (Rachel) and they have to remain in the rules of the genre. Well, I'd actually dare to say that this film burned and rewrote those rules. And, the key thing to this film is that it actually gets this all right. The Spiderman films couldn't do it (they came close in the second), the Superman films couldn't do it, the older Batman films couldn't do it, Fantastic Four couldn't and even Bond couldn't (Iron Man is the closest). But this film intricately weaves a narrative that brings all these aspects and more. Not only does The Dark Knight do a better job than most other comic book films out there, it does it with a new, ambitious script that presses questions about today's society and the true nature of right and wrong. In my opinion, the best types of superhero movies are the ones who do something else first and be a superhero movie second. The Dark Knight does exactly that.
The film is about Joker's plot to bring the city down to his level. To show that everyone is as twisted as he is. To show that everyone would eat each other if it came to it. That people would backstab, murder and betray for survival. Let's start with the prologue:
The prologue is simply one of the best openings to a movie I've seen. It gives us loads of narrative in a 6 minute action scene. That's really what it is, it's an action scene. But it's an action scene that tells a story all on its own. It lays the groundwork for the entire movie and sets the events in motion. Also, this scene is visually impressive in IMAX. Blows anything Dancing with Smurfs ever did out of the water (though that's a discussion for another day). The fact that it's all (or at least mostly) practical effects enhances the overall experience. The robbery marks the beginning of the rein of the 'freaks' and the beginning of the end for Gotham's underground mafias. Crime in Gotham was ruled by the mob until Joker shows up. Joker begins the shift to a city run by 'freaks'. The Joker represents something new to even the mob: an amoral, brilliant rogue with respect for nothing. The Joker card is a wild card. You're always confident that you know the rules of the game, but then the Joker appears and changes everything.
For the rest of the film, I likely won't go into so much detail and am mostly going to discuss the themes.
Over the course of the movie, we are told three times that Batman is not a hero. Alfred says it, Bruce says it and Gordon says it.
"He's not being the hero, he's being something more."
"Gotham needs its true hero, and I let that murdering psychopath blow him half to hell."
"Because he's not a hero. He's a watchful protector, a silent guardian, a dark knight."
Is the film suggesting that it's hero really isn't the hero? Is Batman being noble by not being the hero like Alfred said or is all of this his fault for getting involved in a situation he didn't fully understand back in Batman Begins? His fault for inspiring evil as well as good, even if it was unintentional? Was he ever a hero in the first place or is he just cleaning up his own mess in the end? The film realistically questions how being a superhero would work and what the broader implications of that are. Batman Begins was about the superhero coming of age story, about a man facing his fears, using his fears and developing it into an ideal he will use to inspire others to change the state of things in his city. The Dark Knight is about how society is affected by that idea; it's about how complicated real life is. You can't just put on a costume, be the good guy and punch out the bad guy then call it a day. For every action in Batman Begins and this film, there is a consequence. The question The Dark Knight asks is 'is it worth it?'. Is he a hero or is he just making everything worse?
Spinning off that idea, one big question is: If Batman never existed, would it be a better place? The Joker was inspired by Batman. Without Batman, Harvey wouldn't have been scarred. Without Batman, Rachel would never have died. Without Batman, nothing in this film would have happened. Now, does this mean Batman has made Gotham a worse or better place? Well, that depends. Had Batman not come into existence, the League of Shadows would have attacked Gotham with fear toxin and destroyed the city, resulting in the death of millions. Batman was responsible for bringing Joker into existence, yes. But, the Joker didn't kill millions of people as Ra's would have. So, in my opinion, despite inspiring the Joker, Batman has made Gotham a better place.
A large portion of this film is devoted to something we really don't see too often in superhero films: the hero's limits. What can they not do? How far will they go? Where is the line that they will not cross? Do they even have that line or will they stop at nothing? Batman learns his limits in this film. He learns that he has to be whatever Gotham needs him to be, whether that's the hero or the villain. Only when he can play both roles and by what Gotham needs can he become a symbol. At the beginning of this, he's Gotham's hero. He's inspired good in Gotham (Harvey) but he's also inspired the worst of his rogues gallery, The Joker.
Batman does not understand the Joker, the two don't play by the same rules. Joker believes in no rules while Batman adheres to a moral code. Though, Joker begins to get through to Batman and make Batman actually do morally questionable actions. Out of desperation, Batman has to turn the city's cellphones into sonar devices so that he can find the Joker. This allows him to monitor the entire city, violating multiple rights of the people of Gotham.
One revolutionary (for superhero films) event that takes place in this film is that Batman really doesn't win in the end. Sure, he caught the Joker. But the Joker made his point. The ferries were never the target, just the distraction to keep Batman away from the real action, Harvey Dent's murderous rampage. Joker pulled 'incorruptible' Harvey Dent down and brought him down to his level. In order to keep Harvey's prisoners locked up and to make sure the citizens of Gotham still had hope, he has to take the blame for Harvey's kills. Now, some people have said that he doesn't need to take the blame, that they could have just blamed it on Joker. But, think about it for a minute. In Batman's philosophy, he is responsible for them. He inspired Harvey to become DA. He set into action the bold move of rounding up all of Gotham's gangsters. He gave the big party to ensure Harvey's power. He set about making Harvey daytime Batman so that he could stand the hope of giving up his burden and stealing Rachel away. He created the power vacuum that gave rise to the Joker. He tried to make Gotham a better place and failed in every conceivable way. The Joker wins in the end of The Dark Knight and Gordon's dogs are chasing after him now.
People often complain about Batman being foolish in The Dark Knight. Those people are looking for the strong, always right, never wrong Batman. But would that even be interesting to see? A character that is never wrong? The greatness of the Dark Knight's narrative is that Batman is often wrong against The Joker, a man he doesn't fully understand. There is no defense against evil, only the strength to not give into it. "If Batman has limits, I can't afford to know them." Is what Bruce tells Alfred in the first act. And In this film he's confronted with the folly of such a head strong philosophy. Batman is all about limits, and the narrative of The Dark Knight is, in large part, an examination of Batman's limits.
Even though the story does have a few flaws, for posing the questions it does and giving us a wonderful philosophical debate that it does, I will give the story: 9.8/10.
How do you improve upon the nearly perfect cast of the previous film? You take the cast you have, replace the weakest link, give us one of the greatest performances of all time and have everyone give double the performance they gave last time.
I'll start off with our protagonist, Batman a.k.a. Christian Bale. Christian Bale pulls off a remarkable performance, improving upon his work in Begins. The character continues to feel as real and three dimensional as he did the last time, even possibly reaching being four dimensional. The performance was spot on and Christian Bale continues to be the best on screen Batman so far.
Now for our dueteragonist, James Gordon a.k.a. Gary Oldman. As with last time, and every time, Gary Oldman brings a wonderful performance. He really is the heart of the film for me. Every second he is on screen is a pleasure to see. The character of James Gordon is fully fleshed out in this film, even more so than in Batman Begins. He's likeable, relatable. You feel for him when he fakes his death. He's one of the hearts of this film.
Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. She is definitely an improvement but not really the starring female character that a Batman film needs.
The rest of the supporting cast is wonderful. Morgan Freeman is great, Michael Caine is great. New comer Eric Roberts is great as Salvatore Maroni. In the end, the weak link is once again Rachel Dawes. The acting for this film gets a 9.2/10
The Joker is the iconic Batman villain. He is Batman's opposite. They are so vastly different yet so similar, and that's what makes their never ending battle so compelling. It's a battle between good and evil. But it's also a battle for Gotham's soul. Batman wants to purge Gotham's soul of crime while Joker wants to corrupt the soul of the city (which he does with Harvey) and bring it down to his level. This film perfectly illustrates the true nature of Batman and Joker's relationship and does it with ease. Heath's performance as Joker is, as has been often said, incredible. Simply one of the best performances on screen. Heath Ledger's Joker is already being compared to villains like Darth Vader and Hannibal Lector. I have a feeling that once the film is old enough, he'll be considered a classic and take his place alongside them. 5/5
Harvey 'Two Face' Dent is an amazing character and this film pulled it off to a t. He was likeable, well rounded, fun to watch, interesting. It was like Two Face leaped off the pages of The Long Halloween and dyed his hair blonde. The character was absolutely perfect. Some people feel like there wasn't enough Two Face, but really, the movie was about him. He goes through the largest character arc. The movie is about the struggle for his soul, which is the soul of Gotham. When people say that Two Face isn't really in the movie, I believe they mean 'Two Face's special effects makeup isn't in the movie and he doesn't have a major scheme'. The Joker will never be finished; he wants to bring the world down to his level. Two Face has the opposite of a grand scheme. He just wants to make the people responsible for Rachel's death pay. People who want a grant scheme Two Face, like his giant mind control plot team up with Riddler in Batman Forever, are looking for a supervillain. This Two Face is not a supervillain. This Two Face is a human being. Eckhart is able to capture the emotions of this rich character perfectly and make us like him and actually maybe even root for him and his murderous rampage. After all, he's just getting justice for the death of his fiancée. 5/5
Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard are back once more with a memorable score that keeps you on the edge of your seat in every scene. We hear some reprisals of themes from Batman Begins as well as hear new scores that keep us engaged on the action unfolding before us. Quite simply, this is the duo at their best. If you haven't downloaded or bought this soundtrack, I highly recommend it. It's a soundtrack that will have tunes stuck in your head long after. From the low whine of the Joker theme, Why So Serious?, to the pulse pounding excitement of the Batman theme, Molossus (incorporated into other songs, not its own), this is a soundtrack to remember. 10/10
Director Chris Nolan brings his vision of Gotham to life once again on the silver screen in breathtaking IMAX. The move from Gotham to Chicago isn't as jarring when you look at the amount of space Gotham occupies (See: No Man's Land map of Gotham City, which was used as a guide) compared to the amount we saw in Begins. What I found interesting about the switch is the more orderly fashion that it looks. It's cleaner and looks very straight. It represents order in Gotham, something the Joker stands against and comes to tear down.
Wall Pfister once again brings his cinematography skills to the film, capturing the city of Gotham like never before with IMAX cameras sucking us further into this world.
The directing for this film gets a 10/10
That brings the final score to: 49/50.