In the year of summer blockbusters being dominated by comic book movies, the one that cast the biggest, darkest shadow was Nolan’s sequel to the rebooted Bat franchise. And as much as you may have found Iron Man surprisingly good, The Incredible Hulk surprisingly better or Hancock surprisingly original, nothing will prepare you for how just how surprising The Dark Knight is.
As is the general rule of thumb, with sequels must come darkness. Darkness was expected, but what is unexpected is just how dark this sequel gets. Getting right down to the nitty-gritty of psychoanalysis of psychotics and exploding it up on to an IMAX screen, for 150 minutes you will bear witness to a genuine cinematic genius at the top of his game making not a comic book movie, but a massive crime epic for the ages.
From the get go, everything has changed from Begins. Gotham City itself has been revamped; gone is the grimy asthetic and downtrodden slums, in comes a city made purely of skyscrapers, glass and steel. Gone to is the stranglehold that crime had over the city, with just a flash of the Batsignal enough to have petty criminals running indoors. Following a very quick cameo from The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) who seems to have been relegated to petty thug/drug dealer, we’re introduced to Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham’s new D.A. and known to many as the city’s white knight. He is dating Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing a not-missed-at-all Katie Holmes), who of course is holding a candle for Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale). But he is too busy helping Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman), with the help of some nifty weapons by his developer Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), to capture the new head of the mob family Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts), and then head home after a night of crime-fighting to his helpful/sarcastic butler Alfred (Michael Caine). As if all of this wasn’t enough, tossed into the mix is the live grenade known only as The Joker (Heath Ledger). Following the open bank heist that has been available online, and a superb taste of the intricacies of the plot, The Joker gets one of cinema’s greatest ever introductions, involving a pencil magic trick that will stick in your mind for days. Unlike Maroni and the other bad guys of Gotham who want nothing more than money and power, The Joker wants nothing more than to watch the city descend into chaos, believing it to be mankind’s natural (dis)order.
To say anything more about the labyrinthe storylines would deflect from the awe you’ll feel watching the clockwork plot tick off in front of you, but despite what you’ve read or seen in the trailers, nothing of extreme importance has been revealed in any trailer to date. One thing that you may have read is that Ledger’s performance is extraordinary, and while it is difficult to seperate it from his untimely death, everything you have read about him regarding this movie is absolutely true. He plays the character with so much magnetic surrealism that it is impossible to tear your eyes from him, even as he slicks the screen with a greasy menace not seen in any other villian, comic book movie or otherwise, in quite some time.
But this is no one trick pony; Bale is as charasmatic as ever, constantly at odds to do what is right and do what is normal, while all of the remaining of the supporting cast are at the top of their game. But special mention must go to Aaron Eckhart, even before the tragic events that result in him become Two-Face, he fills the screen with such potential hope that even though we all know the road he is eventually going to end up on, and as interested we all are in seeing his transformation, you will be half-hoping that the film makers will change their minds and let him be the normal hero.
The film-makers in question, the Nolan brothers sharing writing duties and one directing solo, have a history of taking psychologically interesting characters and placing them in pyschologically entrancing situations (think of Guy Pearce in Memento, Robin Williams in Insomnia, Hugh Jackman in The Prestige), and here, instead of letting it remain subtext, allow it to envelop everything in a murky haze of confusion. The Joker may be insane, but his brand of organised chaos takes a highly developed mind, and uses his ability to find a person’s darkest place and manipulating it to make sure they all play off each other. Its a highly intelligent route to take for such a blockbuster tentpole movie, but it in no way distracts or subtracts from the action scenes, including one involving an 18-wheel rig, a police escort and the Batpod that is most likely this summer’s best action sequence. The film is all for spectacle, be it the big, some of which you’ll have seen in the trailers, or the small, like the tantalizing reveal of Two-Face, which represents another ground breaking turn in CGI/model work.
The film isn’t perfect; around the half way mark the plot makes a sharp U-turn that may infuriate some audience members, any toilet breaks will result in missing several important key scenes, and some of Lucius Fox’s new gadgets, such as the “sonar phone”, go beyond ultra-modern technology into impossibly-sci fi. But these are minor niggles against a film that has set a bar for itself and any sequels just so god damn high. The ending is just as much a cliffhanger-ish ending as the original, but with Nolan having already stated that he isn’t as interested in coming back for a third slice, if this is the last of his entries into the Bat-cannon, then he has ended it not only on the best comic-book movie of the year, but possibly ever, not to mention possibly his own best film yet, or the fact that it may very well be the best film of 2008.
Nine Out Of Ten