Published Jul 18, 2008Lets get a few things out of the way: The Dark Knight is the greatest comic book film ever made. In fact, calling it a "comic book film somehow cheapens it. Its not a comic film; its the equal of any great, dark cinematic classic ever made, be it No Country For Old Men, The Godfather 2, The Departed, The Empire Strikes Back, etc. Secondly: yes, Heath Ledger is beyond awe-inspiring, redefining and owning a role many thought he was hopelessly miscast for. He will win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor posthumously (and should have been considered regardless) but, beyond that, The Dark Knight deserves to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Film. It is that strong.
Drawing rather heavily from Batman tales such as The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke and the themes they explore (the Gordon-Dent-Batman triumvirate, the belief that any good can be waylaid given the right circumstances, no matter how noble and pure), Nolan, his brother Jonathan and Batman Begins scribe David S. Goyer have fashioned a tale that even a few years ago would have been too dark for mainstream audiences to handle (and may yet still be). Its Se7en opaque in its despair and weight, staying with you long after the film ends. Fincher would be proud.
Picking up shortly after the events of Batman Begins, the film opens with a Mann-esque bank robbery (Heat is a not so subtle influence on the film) and the introduction of the Joker as an agent of chaos (or of the devil, or the devil). In fact, The Dark Knight isnt a Batman film per se, its Jokers film, and Ledger is up to the task, stealing every scene he has.
With the appearance of the Batman and his war on crime, an escalation has occurred, with the Joker being the inevitable "every action response to the Batmans crusade. With the mob running scared, the Joker positions himself as their only hope of stopping the alliance of Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Batman (Christian Bale), who are bringing law and order back to Gotham City. Insert Joker here to disrupt the best laid plans of bats and men.
As written by Nolan and company, and brilliantly realised by Ledger, the Joker isnt so much a super-villain with dreams of wealth, or unmasking the Bat or whatever the usual bad guy wants, as he is a force of nature, a terrorist hell-bent on destroying the established order for no other reason than he doesnt believe in it. Hes terrifying, hellarious, sad, nerdy and beyond lethal all at once. He doesnt want to kill Batman (as he says, "What would I do without you?), he merely wants to prove that when the chips are down, people will revert to their innate savagery. That society is a sham, hiding mans primal nature. That the higher the ideal, the more tragic its failure in the face of adversity.
However, Ledgers isnt the only great performance (although it does overshadow all others in the film). Bale of course, is rock solid as billionaire Bruce Wayne and the Bat, giving the perfect foil for Ledgers flights of insanity, and the supporting cast of Oldman, Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox, the provider of all of Batmans toys) and Michael Caine (as Alfred) get more to work with this time around. But it is Aaron Eckhart as Dent, the tragic butt of the Jokers sick joke, who shines second brightest, giving an earnest performance before Two-Faces inevitable emergence. And while Nolan still has trouble with female characters in the Batverse, Maggie Gyllenhaal at least has a pulse, bettering Katie Holmess wooden portrayal of love interest Rachael Dawes from the first film.
While The Dark Knight will unquestionably, and rightfully, be remembered for Ledgers iconic performance (sorry, Jack), Nolan deserves credit for innovating the art form, placing what was once considered inferior the comic genre amongst the cream of the cinematic crop. (Warner)