I'll be honest — I've never seen Batman Begins. Truth be told, I was not interested in it when it came out, because I thought it looked corny and there had already been too many Batman movies. But when 2008 rolled around and I saw the trailer for The Dark Knight, I was pumped. It looked like a total head rush, a dark and violent Batman that had never been before. It mimicked the original paths of the comics, and Heath Ledger looked like a man who would burn in Hell as the Joker. So I knew I had to see this movie, preferably on the big screen.
The Dark Knight continues from Batman Begins, with Batman Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) duking with evil again. Yet a new villain has made himself known, with unwarranted murders and bank heists. This is the Joker (Heath Ledger), a makeup-clad man with deep scars on both sides of his mouth and plenty of tricks (and stories) up his sleeve. As Batman fails to stop the Joker numerous times, the Joker resorts to kidnapping Bruce Wayne's love interest Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her boyfriend and Gotham City's new crime-fighting DA, Harvey (Aaron Eckhart).
The Joker wants to draw Batman out, to find out who Batman really is — to have Batman take off his mask. But as time runs out on Batman's ability to catch the Joker without having to kill him, and without society turning into mindless criminals trying to kill each other off before the Joker kills them all, Batman contemplates putting an end to the Joker. And to make matters worse, the Joker creates another monstrous villain that Batman has to try and battle. I'll leave you with a quote from Alfred (Michael Caine), when asked how he had caught a bandit who had been stealing diamonds in Burma:
"We burned the forest down."
So you can tell that The Dark Knight has a pretty intelligent plot, but how does the actual movie stack up? Let me say that it's the best Batman movie ever made, hands down, and it blows all other Batman movies way out of the water. But you want specifics.
Director Christopher Nolan really knows how to shake a viewer around. His quick cuts during scenes leave the viewer barely hanging on from one shot to the next. This is a good thing, because none of what we see gets so boring or tedious that we zone out for a while. It's also a good way to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, because the way that we zoom around from one action sequence involving Batman to a sequence that occurs the next day leaves the audience wondering what happened that we didn't see. It doesn't allow us to really contemplate what comes next, because we're so absorbed in the current predicament that we're not thinking about the next scene. The quick cuts allow twists and turns to be packed into the two and a half hour runtime, keeping The Dark Knight from becoming cliched.
Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne better than he does Batman. Batman's growl, while needed to disguise his voice, feels too exaggerated. With the gadgets that Lucius (Morgan Freeman) comes up with, Batman should be able to have a better guise than Bale's polar bear growl. Yet Bale's emotions come through, especially when Rachel is the subject at hand. But even though Batman is the main protagonist, the film doesn't feel like it's actually about Batman.
The Joker seems to be more the main subject, even from the very beginning where the camera seems to be following Ledger as one of his minions. We, from the camera's point of view, seem to be silent observers in the Joker's carnage, even focusing on him as he blows up a hospital. The Batman seems secondary to the Joker, as if The Dark Knight is a clinical observation of the Joker's personality and mental disorders.
Ledger's portrayal is absolutely deserving of the early cries of Oscar nominations at the time of his death. I was afraid that his death would generate too much emotional love for him instead of actually focusing on his acting ability displayed in Knight, but after seeing his work with an attempt at an unbiased reaction, I can safely say that these commendations are correct. Ledger's role is visceral, emotional, disturbing, and even comedic. Ledger brought a gamut of adjectives to the Joker's character, most of which can be lumped into one category — devilish. Ledger's laugh and his unnerving calm even during some of the Joker's darkest scenes add to how depressing and black the atmospher of The Dark Knight really is.
The Dark Knight hits on so many themes of violence and paranoia, desperation and love, that it's hard to discuss in one review. However, The Dark Knight really pours on the darkness towards mankind. The violence the Joker creates with his hands, his misanthropic worldview, and his uncaring attitude towards anything besides committing arson on the whole world are chilling, and the script has many spine-tingling lines which go right to the core of the human soul. One of my favorite motifs that Knight touches on is the dilemma – the meaning – of what being a hero is. Everyone wants to be the hero; everything needs a hero, and what if there isn't one? What if Batman is just a do-good criminal? What does that do to society? Does it tear it down, or build a new hero? Can there be an innocent hero, or is that just naivete?
Also, much of what many people want to know is about the action. The Dark Knight is not full of fist- and gunfights, but when they happen, it's really hard to miss. Some are over-the-top, like a chase sequence in which Batman motors his Batmobile in front of an oncoming bazooka shot, or an exploding hospital that, from sky-level, looks like a gas station went up in one of your Hot Wheels toy models. Others are pretty impressive, especially when Batman wrangles in Rachel while falling from a building. But all in all, The Dark Knight left me feeling like jumping down the escalator and beating up a masked guy stealing an old lady's purse, then jumping down the elevator shaft, rolling over my car, and then stopping to get coffee while battling armed robbers at the local Starbucks. That's pretty damn impressive.
If you're looking for a nice superhero movie to watch with your kids, you might want to settle for the flop that is Spider-Man 3. If you want a really dark, daring, fast-moving action-packed ride, with lots of thought involved, The Dark Knight is for you. It's Heath Ledger's final complete movie, and one of his best. This film's Joker may go down as the best in history – and you want to skip it to go see Mamma Mia!? Put this on your list of movies to see; Alfred and Bruce Wayne will be waiting to put you in your place if you don't. And Batman ain't too happy anymore.