When it comes to an epic film series, you may have a strong case in stating that the second film is the strongest. The Empire Strikes Back, T2: Judgement Day, X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 2, Aliens, and The Godfather: Part 2 just to name a few. And The Dark Knight is no different. Taking a look back at the film that single-handedly put Christopher Nolan in the spotlight and paved the way for The Dark Knight Rises. After four years of its release, I review The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight takes place one year after the events of Batman Begins. With any sequel, if the filmmaker had done his job correctly with the first film, the sequel should be exempt from having to establish the world we are about to revisit. The rules are set, the main characters should be well-known, and we are brought back to a place that should feel familiar. As a sequel, fans should be ready to dive right in, and with The Dark Knight that is saying too little.
Just from the opening IMAX sequence of the wide shot of the side of a building, Nolan has already set the bar high. Honestly, who else could make the side of a building look so compelling. And of course, right from the start, Hans Zimmer delivers an incredibly tense score that embodies the film tremendously. The Dark Knight opens up the pace of the film well and never backs down for a moment.
Tonally this film is much darker and more thought provoking than Batman Begins. Instead of focusing on “fear,” The Dark Knight aims to instill a sense of “chaos” in our world. And indeed this film leverages an uneasy feeling of chaos. It’s not just Bruce (Christian Bale) who must overcome this chaos, but every character is affected by it. This is not just Bruce’s tale, and the way Nolan is able to balance every single character within this film is remarkable.
The level of intensity is always felt onscreen. On one hand there is an uneasy feeling of unknowing, while on the other hand there is the element of adrenaline that courses through every scene. Not a moment of screen time is wasted and this works well with the ongoing theme of chaos.
With Heath Ledger at bat as the Joker (pun intended?), this movie is a whirlwind of brilliance. Everyone, including myself, had doubts on how Ledger would perform as the iconic villain, but those doubts turned into silence. He had every right to win the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and it just goes to show that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.
Not for a second can you suspect what the Joker will do next and Ledger’s performance delivers every character moment impeccably well – he were born to play this role. His comedic timing is spot on and when necessary, his ability to switch to crazy serious Joker is fantastic. Heath deserves every praise of his performance and I put it on level with Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds.
Every new character is introduced very well. From Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts), every character matters; well except maybe Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). She still seems to be the worthless nag that tends to ruin all the fun. I enjoy everyone’s presence in the film except Rachel’s, and what Nolan does with the character in the end, I wouldn’t be surprised as to hear that it is how he really felt about the character all along.
I like how Bruce develops further as a character. We understand that he has embraced his fears, and now in The Dark Knight we see him take on a completely different mindset. We see him as more of the detective that he was written to be from the comics, but there is more to his growth than just his intellect. Definitely a more conflicted role. Bruce’s morality is at stake and he must learn who he has to become in order to stop men like The Joker.
The dialogue is much stronger than Begins and it always drives the story forward. The Dark Knight had a lot of great action set pieces to keep your attention, but even the scenes that were just dialogue had the appeal of an action sequence because you hang on every word. There is only one moment near the middle of the movie between Rachel and Bruce that acts almost as an intermission – it is the only point where the pace just slows down to give you a breather.
As much as this film triumphs, it doesn’t look or feel like Gotham City. It could have just been any city really. There never is a great presence of Gotham other than when people spoke its name or saw Wayne Tower or Gotham General Hospital. Where is the monorail, the Narrows, and Arkham? Yes, the world is built wonderfully in Batman Begins, but it is never utilized well in TDK.
I love this film. Despite a few lazy moments and the weak presence of Gotham City, The Dark Knight is an amazing piece of cinema. Few movies are able to pull off such a fast pace of character driven moments and multiple action set pieces and still retain a coherent story – The Dark Knight does this in spectacular fashion. This movie will perhaps be known as one of the greatest superhero/comic book movies of all time and has set a high standard for future films like it.
POST REVIEW SPOILER THOUGHTS:
- The bank robbery at the beginning of the film has to be one of the greatest opening sequences in cinema ever.
- I love the introduction of the other Batmen who come to stop Crane and the Russian right before the real Batman intervenes.
- Seriously, what happened in the time frame of when Bruce jumped out of the charity ball to save Rachel falling to her doom? Batman just left the Joker alone with hundreds of Gotham’s wealthiest, along with Harvey Dent passed out in a closet. The Joker probably despised every last one of those people in there and could have done away with them all. Bad plot hole Mr. Nolan.
- Also, right before The Joker comes up to the charity banquet, how did Bruce know at that moment they were coming after Harvey Dent? Was he listening in on police reports, is Gordon bugged by Batman? We don’t know.
- The banquet scene is just a mess in general. Why were all those rich folk just standing there watching Batman fight the thugs and The Joker instead of running away or finding cover somewhere?
- Batman doesn’t kill people, but that time when he rams right into that garbage truck on Lower Wacker Drive, and the cab of that truck goes straight into the ceiling… I’m pretty sure that guy had a hard time surviving that one.
- The truck flip is an astounding visual set piece enhanced by practical effects.
- After the events of Batman Begins, the Narrows had to have been in undeniable chaos with all of those who were effected by Scarecrow’s gas. How were they cured, what happened to the escaped Arkham inmates? Could The Joker be the creation of Scarecrow’s gas?
- Heath Ledger’s Joker has to be one of the greatest characters to ever grace the silver screen and will most likely always be remembered years down the road.
- This Nolan universe does not have Bat Nipples, but it does have Christian Bale talking as Batman in a really awkward gravely voice.
The Dark Knight was released on July 18, 2008 and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Achievement in Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Makeup, Film Editing, Cinematogrpahy, Art Direction and won for Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Heath Ledger).