It’s hard to fathom a movie with more hype behind it than The Dark Knight. This is the point where the comic book movie has truly come into its own, surpassing the usual boundaries to become something more. It’s impossible to give full credit to anyone here, although names can certainly be tossed out as to who made this more special than it would have been without them. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch, but it’s a great thrill ride.
Director Christopher Nolan eschews the usual build-up, creating a villain entrance that’s both eerie, impressively scaled, and almost completely illogical (no one saw a bus crash through a bank while walking on the streets?). It’s the only thing the audience needs to become involved with the Joker, played by Heath Ledger in his much hyped final performance. There’s no need for a backstory to explain where he came from or why he does what he does. It’s all there in the performance, and it’s certainly one that’s notable.
That opening is a perfect set piece to what becomes a sometimes overlong investigation. The mystery here is deep, at times slightly confusing, and always intense. The personal side to this conflict gripping Gotham City is portrayed through sheer mass panic to gain a sense of scale and one-on-one confrontations where the actors can shine. Likewise, action a-plenty delivers what audiences came to see, including an unforgettable tunnel chase, and multiple fights that offer incredible impact.
Katie Holmes is gone as Rachael Dawes, strangely choosing to star in the comedy Mad Money instead of this sequel. In her place is Maggie Gyllenhaal who offers up a stronger performance than Holmes. It’s evident as she faces off with Ledger at a fundraiser, where the emotion of the moment lets her shine.
Underrated is Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face. While Ledger steals the show, Eckhart is forced to play under him, and it’s a shame. Part of that is the scripting, which overwhelms audiences with the Joker, making Two-Face feel unnecessary at times. It’s crowded, and it shouldn’t be. That said, the special effects used to create this secondary villain are amazing, and absolutely rock-solid. Never does the effect come off cheesy or even slightly unrealistic. It’s as impressive as it is gruesome.
It’s hard to find fault in a movie that does nearly everything right, although claiming this to be a cinematic masterpiece is probably going a bit far. It’s undoubtedly the best of the Batman films, and that’s including any era. It’s probably the best of the comic book movies as well, transcending the usual colorful stylings and one-liners (though Dark Knight does slip a few in there) for a serious, involved tone. Dark Knight is too long, loaded with too many characters, and not always as smart as it thinks it is, but it is enormously entertaining.