Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart
Chaos has no remote control or feelings because its only purpose will always be causing disorder and shaking up the systems in place. Fighting this unpredictability proves to be a challenge even for the greatest detective the world has ever as seen in The Dark Knight. A truly spellbinding experience with the power to shift the way people look upon an entire genre of film and giving the world one of the finest performances ever seen.
With many of the Gotham crime lords running scared from the vigilantism of Batman (Christian Bale), a new force steps onto the stage to take him on named the Joker (Heath Ledger). With his unpredictable style and apathy for any material gain, he becomes an enemy the caped crusader has never faced before.
Following the entertaining Batman Begins, bringing us back into this new iteration of Gotham City and a showcase for the caped crusader’s arch-nemesis, The Dark Knight reaches a level comic book movies have not reached since. It serves as an incredible mixture of taking a comic book story and infusing its crime thriller filming style and themes to create a story so grounded, one could see this actually play out. No real superpowers to speak of, just wit and physicality, the impact this film had on the rest of the genre can be debated, but its quality demonstrates a truly sensational and impeccably crafted feature.
Beginning with the bank-robbing sequence already sets up the kind of experience this film wants to deliver. A bunch of masked robbers constantly betraying each other up until the reveal of the Joker appears. With the cold and cutting dialogue, he utilizes there and for the rest of this film, it’s made clear this character will not hesitate to irritate the most powerful people of this city and will become a worthy adversary for Batman. The framing and building of tension this scene offers on its own could be a short film displaying the mastery on display by Christopher Nolan. From the editing to the unnerving score, everything about the opening scene works perfectly, which then propels the story forward to the gripping crime drama we are set to witness.
Narratively, the story of this iteration of Bruce Wayne picks up with him having a moment of possibly no longer putting on the suit. It begins with a scene of him stopping some crime only to see other people try to act just like him. This begins the process of trying to decide if this path can continue, especially with the rise of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Both of these men stand for justice but the means to achieve it displays their differences. Bruce uses blunt force and coercion while Harvey utilizes the justice system. Some may argue the lack of difference in both systems, but that’s a conversation for a later time. The importance of Harvey’s character comes with the future Bruce seems for himself. He may not have imagined it when he first put on the cowl, but the possibility of Gotham being protected by someone like Dent putting away criminals would allow him to fulfill his promise to Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). At the end of the previous film, they decided they cannot be together as long as he puts on the suit and the rise of Dent presents the first true opportunity to follow through. The only issue, of course, arises with Harvey dating Rachel.
The progression of Bruce Wayne really shows itself in The Dark Knight, because it plays on the duality of the personality. This film along with the others within this tremendous trilogy gives equal time to Bruce and Batman to show the complete picture of this person we see. The only other substantive instance of this occurs in Tim Burton’s Batman. With Bale’s portrayal, it displays a man having to act a certain way as Bruce Wayne in order to do what he must to save the city as Batman. An unfortunate reality, because as the audience, the switch can be seen in the way he acts around others and then with those he loves.
Even with Bruce Wayne showing this struggle, the main draw remains the showdown with the Joker, who only cares to cause chaos. Some have even argued Bruce is a supporting character in this film as compared to the Clown Prince of Crime purely by the screentime each character gets. Joker’s belief system follows a nihilistic approach to the world with the lack of care he has for material or emotional satisfaction. He only wants to see the world burn as Alfred (Michael Caine) astutely tells Bruce. The clash between the rivals becomes a philosophical one as much as a physical one because Joker surely must be controlled due to the sheer amount of killing, but this battle gets at the heart and foundation of Batman. Joker certainly plays with Batman’s ideologies, but he ultimately wants to show the world looks exactly like the inferno he sees in his head and creates several moral quandaries serving to challenge not only Batman but also the citizens of Gotham. The fight between them does not come down to who punches the other harder because there’s a clear winner there, but instead it becomes about the soul of Gotham and whether the people should be saved by someone like Batman. This begins to separate this film from others within the genre, because of the overall themes it seeks to take and excels in expressing.
On a craft level, this film displays excellence in unsettling the audience with Joker. Sure, it helps to have a strong performance, but the score certainly helps. Each time the clown steps on-screen a long hold of a note on the cello plays, which creates such a strange experience. It serves to intensify his presence and show the string that could snap at any moment with any of his sudden movements. Without the clearest motives from the onset, attempting to decipher what his next action could be will only result in failure. The use of the cello in this way completely intensifies any moment where Joker appears and the rest of the score by Hans Zimmer has earned its iconic status, as it can be recognized if any track begins to play. The lighting and action sequences contribute to the effort to create this grounded feeling, as no magical superpowers get utilized in the feature. Nolan certainly drew from inspirations to compose these sequences, including another action masterpiece in Heat. With it being filmed in Chicago, it looks more recognizable even if the Gotham in the first film had its charm.
No one can possibly review this film without acknowledging the legendary performance by Heath Ledger. A true masterclass in acting, especially considering his reputation leading up to when he took on this role. He took complete control of the Joker, who has been done so many times at this point, and does something no one will ever be able to reach again. The look and way he speaks left me forgetting Ledger was behind all of the makeup because he completely disappeared into this role in a stunning manner. Bale continues displaying his quality as Batman but the other supporting characters really bring the true shine of this film. Maggie Gyllenhaal serves as a massive improvement to Katie Holmes and brings much more humanity to Rachel and what she means to all of the other characters. Each supporting character has a moment or a discernible line that can be taken away. The stacked cast comes together as a collective to deliver truly excellent work.
Going on a run not many can do, Christopher Nolan delivers quite possibly his greatest work with this film, which truly says something. As a fan of his style of filmmaking, even if it may leave you cold, the craft on display embodies excellence. For better or worse, he shifted how superhero films would be made in the future and changed how a whole industry looked upon comic book movies. The grounded and real nature of this film changed the game where it went beyond who could fly and punch the hardest, and instead, this movie shows the philosophical and psychological struggle when trying to save people’s lives.
A truly masterful work, The Dark Knight delivers an excellent story with the craft and acting to back it up. It introduces the world to one of the most iconic villainous performances by Heath Ledger and a story about a man in a costume unafraid to dive into deep subjects. The film does all of this while also having thrilling action sequences, a bevy of twists, and incredibly touching moments between the characters. A complete experience all wrapped into one tremendous movie, which has earned every inch of praise it has received.