Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger stars as the Joker, a villain who battles against Batman in Christopher Nolan's 2008 blockbuster The Dark Knight.

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins gained critical acclaim the world over in 2005. Few would have expected its successor to top its well-crafted script, but along came The Dark Knight in 2008 and with it a legend was well and truly born.

As promised in the closing scene of Batman Begins the fated Joker (Heath Ledger) makes his entrance into Nolan’s Gotham. Gone is the gaudiness of Jack Nicholson’s 1989 incarnation – here the Joker poses a very real menacing threat to the people of Gotham. Whilst still tackling the mob’s rule, the police, love interest Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes replaced here with Maggie Gyllenhaal) and new DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) are confronted by the insane antics of the Joker.

Catching the attention of both good and bad alike, the Joker feels no remorse and establishes no true allegiances, being a man with his own moral code. Men are killed, children threatened and chaos is ultimately unleashed. Away from the anarchy brought about my the Joker’s antics we travel to Hong Kong in one of the film’s deliciously flamboyant set pieces.

The Dark Knight‘s opening sequence (often referred to as its prologue) is instrumental in understanding just how good the film really is. Flawless and perfectly played, we watch as the Joker is revealed, having committed the perfect bank robbery. The superb scripting is beautifully complemented by Nolan’s pioneering use of IMAX technology. Almost solely used for recording documentary footage, IMAX cameras were used here to astounding effect that continue to wow audiences for both their breadth and their brilliance.

Like with most modern blockbusters The Dark Knight was preceded by months of viral campaigns but it was the tragic loss of Heath Ledger that perhaps garnered most of the attention, with the actor achieving several posthumous accolades for his role in the film. Through pushing the character to places never before explored, Ledger’s Joker has already become a thing of legend. Though eyebrows were raised when his casting was announced, sceptics were silenced when the film was released. Ledger’s cackle is complemented harrowingly by Hans Zimmer’s grating theme, making for one of cinema’s best villainous portrayals.

The fact that it takes us five paragraphs to begin to look at the portrayal of Batman himself is testament to Ledger’s performance. Christian Bale continues his stint as the caped crusader and, although out-shone by Ledger, is still on top form and is a worthy nemesis to the ambiguous Joker. Though his gruff voice may have aggravated some, he supplies the film with its constant and its backbone. Other notable characters return, with Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucious Fox offering much of the film’s light entertainment. Watch too for a small cameo from Cillian Murphy, who reprises his role as Scarecrow, a villain deemed almost non-worthy when put up against Batman’s main foes in this outing.

Battling against the brilliant anarchy is Aaron Eckhart who appears here as Harvey Dent. In a cruel twist of fate, and one of the film’s many brilliantly captivating scenes, the face of justice finds himself horribly disfigured, allowing him to become another of Batman’s well-known adversaries. It is in this revelation that the true intricacy of the script is made known.

Things come full circle in The Dark Knight with good becoming bad right through to returning to good again. The Joker’s riddles and devices are well timed and well played; sequences that could come across as muddled or rushed are dealt with with a subtly that has become expected of Nolan, a subtly that allows for an increase in the film’s tremendous tension. The corruptibility of good and the unerring symbol of Batman are two of the film’s key focuses; even when confronted with grief and loss Batman overcomes his rage to become whatever Gotham needs him to be.

It seems almost impossible that before his stint as Batman director Christopher Nolan was making films like Memento. Whilst its enthralling style is still present here he seems built for action sequences, with the upending of the Joker’s 18 wheeler truck being a particular delight. For Batman fans The Dark Knight is like a birthday and Christmas rolled in to one as the film also reveals the Batpod as well as providing a wonderfully twisted turn from the Joker who, dressed as a nurse, blows up one of Gotham’s most important buildings.

Sequels have a lot of responsibility thrown upon their shoulders. In a world where one film will spawn a great many more it’s difficult to create something that is both memorable and outstanding in a second outing. Nolan more than manages this here with The Dark Knight, a sequel that not only surpasses its predecessor, but a film that is, in all senses of the term, a game-changer. Setting the bar for comic book adaptations to a new height The Dark Knight has it all.

Best perfomance: Heath Ledger as the Joker.
Best line: ‘Why so serious?’
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