THE DARK Knight, the second Batman film directed by Christopher Nolan, possibly comes closest to representing the darker side of the urban vigilante’s character of all the Batman movies.
Gotham’s public and police force alike are disillusioned with what they see as the caped crusader’s lack of efficiency in dispatching criminals. The gloomy, shadowed, city is regularly beset with criminal activity and it seems nothing can be done.
A new wave of self-selected vigilantes attempt to redress the balance, with less than successful results. At City Hall, police lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman ) continues to keep faith in Batman. Meanwhile in the district attorney’s office, idealistic new incumbent Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart ) is fighting corruption with all the resources of law and order on his side.
When a new villain emerges in the form of the Joker (Heath Ledger ), introduced briefly and sight unseen at the end of Batman Begins, Batman once again swings into action.
The Dark Knight unites a strong cast, excellent direction, and a cracking script, resulting in a superior superhero film. The screenplay, co-written by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, explores the central characters more thoroughly than is usual for a blockbuster. It also contains some great lines, most notably from the Joker, of course.
While this is undoubtedly an action film, it also delves into the idea of blurring good and evil, a preoccupation of Nolan’s films since Memento. The action sequences are also impressive, beginning with a slick bank robbery orchestrated by the Joker and later an even slicker kidnapping by plane over the neon skyline of Hong Kong.
Christian Bale returns as a pensive Bruce Wayne/Batman, still in love with childhood sweetheart Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhall ), reliant on family retainer and advisor Alfred (Michael Caine ), and beset with doubts about his role as a masked vigilante.
Bale often transmits an air of contained menace in his roles, and his performance here is no exception. More thoughtful than previous Batmen Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and, improbably, a jovial George Clooney, Bale invests the character with the requisite gravity.
The late Heath Ledger’s extraordinary performance as the Joker effectively overshadows Jack Nicholson’s version of the clownish criminal in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman.
Where Nicholson played the Joker as simply gleeful in his sadism, Ledger plays the Joker as utterly amoral, a thwarted child who sees no sense or justice in the world around him. Talking to Batman in his prison cell, the Joker describes a chilling version of humanity occasionally reminiscent of JG Ballard’s bleak vision of the world.
Reprising his role as police lieutenant James Gordon, Gary Oldman plays the veteran cop utterly straight, with a world weariness mitigated by a stubborn optimism and integrity. It is odd seeing Oldman perfectly at home in such a role, although he inhabits it fully.
The talented Eckhart as new golden lawyer on the block is superb, playing an obvious hero without the irritating naïveté which could accompany such a part. Eckhart too gets to access his dark side, seen most notably in The Company Of Men, and does so splendidly.
Gripping at the level of storytelling as well as deftly building suspense, The Dark Knight ultimately works as a morality fable which is engrossing and even moving. Some audiences will additionally get to see the trailer for upcoming film Watchmen, released alongside The Dark Knight, out in 2009 and based on the extremely dark graphic novel of the same name.