Should I Watch..? The Dark Knight
What's the big deal?
The Dark Knight is an action superhero drama film released in 2008 and is the second part of Christopher Nolan's trilogy of Batman films, later known as the Dark Knight trilogy. It is a sequel to 2005's Batman Begins (1) and sees Christian Bale reprise in the dual roles of billionaire businessman Bruce Wayne and Batman, a masked crime fighter operating in the fictional city of Gotham. Although based on the DC character of the same name, the film uses a number of publications for inspiration including the Joker's debut in 1940, the 1988 graphic novel "The Killing Joke" and the 1996 mini-series "The Long Halloween". The movie focuses on Batman's battle of wills with an anarchic criminal genius known as the Joker as well as the fall of DA Harvey Dent and his relationship with Bruce's childhood friend Rachel Dawes. Interest in the film reached fever pitch when the actor Heath Ledger died of an accidental prescription drug overdose before the movie was released. With his scenes completed, this movie marks the final full performance of Ledger and the movie is partly dedicated to him.
Inducted into Benjamin Cox's Hall Of Fame
What's it about?
Batman and Lt. Jim Gordon decide to include newly-elected District Attorney Harvey Dent in their vendetta against the mob in Gotham, led by Sal Maroni who has taken over Carmine Falcone's men. Bruce is impressed by Dent's desire to clean up the city, even though Dent is dating Bruce's childhood friend Rachel Dawes. But all too soon, a different criminal menace emerges - a man calling himself the Joker appears, threatening to kill people in Gotham every day until Batman unveils his true identity.
After killing both Commissioner Loeb and the judge presiding over the mob trials, Batman is forced to intervene. But his actions unwittingly put both Dent and Dawes in harm's way and the Joker is unrepentant about who suffers at his hands. As tragedy strikes, Batman's mission to bring the Joker in reaches boiling point and pushes Wayne right to the edge of his own sanity...
Bruce Wayne / Batman
Lt. Jim Gordon
Jonathon Nolan & Christopher Nolan *
Release Date (UK)
24th July, 2008
Action, Crime, Drama, Superhero
Best Supporting Actor (Ledger), Best Sound Editing
Academy Award Nominations
Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
Where else do you begin other than the astonishing performance of Ledger as the Joker? The Joker has undergone many incarnations through the years but Ledger's is arguably the most thrilling yet - he feels like a genuine menace, a real-life terrorist who could exist in our world today, which makes him all the more scary. But equally as good is Eckhart as Dent who goes from crusading campaigner to deranged killer as the movie goes on - Two-Face's only other appearance on the big screen was Tommy Lee Jones hamming it up in Batman Forever (2) but this eradicates any ill feeling the viewer may have.
Bale is just as good as he was before, excelling as Wayne but saddling Batman with his ridiculous throaty growl. Another improvement is Gyllenhaal as Rachel, delivering a performance that puts to rest the memory of goodie-two-shoes Katie Holmes in Batman Begins. Rachel feels more than a clumsy plot device, she feels involved in the story in a way that she wasn't before. Nolan is a director famous for getting performances from his cast and everyone steps up to the plate and delivers.
Nolan is also a perfectionist and with The Dark Knight, he has taken everything that was good in the first film and made it great. The action has increased and improved, not just in terms of violence or explosions but also made it dramatic and mean something. The film has an epic feel to it as well, especially when Batman flies through the night sky in Hong Kong to apprehend the mob banker Lau. And yet, it isn't afraid to include characterisation as well as each member of the cast convinces totally. And suddenly, we're back to Ledger again. I still get goosebumps as he leans out of his stolen police car, hair billowing in the wind, clearly enjoying the moment. His Joker will forever be regarded as one of the finest interpretations of the self-proclaimed Clown Prince of Crime, if not the best.
- Among many paying tribute to Ledger was Michael Caine who thought that Ledger had surpassed Jack Nicholson's portrayal in Batman (3). The first time Caine saw Ledger in full make-up was the scene where the Joker gate-crashes Bruce Wayne's party - Alfred was supposed to have lines but Caine completely forget what they were.
- This film made more money at the box office in six days than Batman Begins made in its entire run.
- When filming in Chicago, Freeman worked on both this and Wanted (4) which was also filming. Mark Miller, creator of the Wanted comic book, visited the set one day and was found by security sitting on the Batpod. He was quickly escorted from the set.
What's not to like?
Apart from Bale's off-putting growl whenever he speaks as Batman? Very little - the film is a showcase for every member of the cast and crew at the very peak of their talents. If anything, it makes other superhero films look tame and almost camp. Marvel have developed a large catalogue of films that have smashed the box office wide open as well as win critics over by being bright, colourful and fun. But no Batman film could ever be bright, colourful or fun - even with the Joker on screen. The Dark Knight lacks the energy and lightness that Avengers Assemble (5) brought to viewers and while it has its moments, it rarely makes you smile.
But then again, is it supposed to?
Should I watch it?
What do you think? The Dark Knight is the most complete Batman movie in existence, offering an irresistible mix of action, excitement, danger and drama. Ledger is undoubtedly the film's MVP but he is the cherry on top of a gloriously dark and gripping thriller that doesn't waste time going over the origins of the character and delivers a top-notch adventure that will easily stand the test of time.
Great For: Batman fans, Heath Ledger's legacy
Not So Great For: other superhero films, critics who thought superhero films could never be this good, kids - despite the PG rating, this is a more adult film than that suggests
What else should I watch?
The final part of the Dark Knight trilogy - The Dark Knight Rises (6) - is a somewhat disappointing end to the saga but remains an incredible experience for fans. If anything, there is little to choose between this and Batman Begins although The Dark Knight has more of everything and Ledger's legendary performance knocks poor old Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow (who has a cameo in this) into a cocked hat.
Even compared to other Batman movies, the difference in quality is vast. Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns (7) go down the same dark path Nolan does but are starting to look their age these days. Jack Nicholson's Joker in Batman is a real scene-stealer but the model work looks crude next to Nolan's IMAX-filmed opus. For fans of the more camp version of Batman, you've not only got Batman Forever and the cursed Batman & Robin (8) but also the big-screen outing for the 60's TV show, Batman: The Movie (9). Though if any fans of this version remain after watching the Dark Knight trilogy remains to be seen...