Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gylenhaal

Director: Christopher Nolan

Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Jonah Nolan, David S, Goyer

Cinematography: Wally Pfister

Original Score: James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer

Running Time: 152 Mins.

I wouldn’t usually consider the lead up or background in reviewing a film, but in this case I think its interesting and most importantly essential too my viewing of The Dark Knight, I have seen the film three times over a period of two weeks (once in IMAX, more of which later) and have considered and questioned my opinion of the film greatly. Not wanting to over-egg what my opinion of it is, you will find that what I decided upon first viewing and my initial reaction to it has proven to be the correct one. It is an opinion I now know will not change or regress through repeat viewing or over time.

BACKGROUND

Never has a film arrived riding the crest of so much hype, not even (gasp!) the Star Wars prequels. Upon announcement of a sequel to Batman Begins there were mutterings and rumours aplenty as to whom would play the iconic Joker, Batman’s most well known nemesis and many a comic book geek’s favourite character. Names bandied about included Paul Bettany, Lachy Hulme and Johnny Depp, with an announcement eventually confirming Heath Ledger as the new Joker. The overall response was mediocre…that was until the first pictures and footage of Ledgers Joker were slowly revealed over Warner’s very clever marketing campaign.

Let us not forget though, that this is a Batman film, it’s not called The Joker! This could quite easily have been forgotton though as the viral campaign focused on the Joker’s reign of terror and Harvey Dent’s (Aaron Eckharts) campaign as District Attorney. Apart from using the campaign to reveal pictures and trailers the marketing company were very shrewd in using the fans to build the hype for the film on a massive scale, encouraging people to take part in endless chases and clues leading to some big reveals and some sneaky dead ends. In America im sure this was much more riveting as almost all tasks took place in and around the U S A. Never The Less the internet, as we all know is a great tool for building up hype and anticipation for The Dark Knight was at an all time high. Then tragedy struck.

In January, midway through the viral campaign, Heath Ledger tragically died (which everyone must know, unless you have been living on Mars for the last 8 months!). Leaving Warners with a predicament. Rumours were rife that the film wouldn’t be released, or if it was released it would be cut, whether Ledger had finished the role, whether the role contributed to Ledgers state of mind upon his death…the list went on. In truth it was a tragic accident, and he had finished the film. Warners released an official statement and placed on the films official site a tribute to Ledger. The marketing died down, however within weeks it picked straight back up again, still focusing on the Joker. Thankfully, in terms of the film, Ledgers death had done it no harm and was to be continued as normal in tribute to his work.

The more footage that was seen the more people could see he had nailed the role and most certainly gone out with a bang, attracting rumours of Oscar nominations, cynics claimed these only came from the fact that he was now dead. In truth these runours were rife even before his death. If The Dark Knight wasn’t the Joker’s film before, it inevitably was now.

On a personal level I can honestly say I’ve never anticipated a film so much before, often this can be a very bad thing, a hyped film can often fail to live up to its hype, therefore disappointing, case in point being Transformers (brilliant film, still failed to live up to the hype!). But I had high hopes for this, Nolan is a cracking director and an auteur in my eyes, demonstrating his credentials and knowledge of what a good comic book film and more crucially a good film full stop should be. Gripping, twisting, with excellent pacing and fantastic characterisation. The only thing lacking in Batman Begins was an excellent action set piece, the tumbler chase came close but never quite reached the heights it strived for and in the hand to hand combat he cut far too close making the punches indistinguishable between opponents. Could Nolan improve on a winning formula, the signs were all there…. 

REVIEW

“Let’s put a smile on that face” one of the Jokers many memorable lines, or ‘one-liners’ as they could well be called! A quote which could well sum up the experience of watching Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins follow-up, The Dark Knight. Though not only will the experience of seeing The Dark Knight put the biggest of smiles on anyone’s face it will get them thinking, alot. Now that’s deep, especially for a comic-book film! But where do I begin, there is so much to praise, so much too dig into, but without wanting to spoil the experience for those of you yet to see it (what HAVE you been doing!) I will try not too divulge too much plot wise.

Beginning with a bank heist, we are introduced to the scheming Joker. It’s hard at this point to say what hasn’t already been said with regards to Heath Ledgers performance, so ill go ahead anyway and say that superlatives alone cannot begin to describe how well ledger has embodied the character. This IS the definitive Joker from the comics, funny in an unnerving way, making you question whether you really should be smiling as he does his soon to be infamous “pencil trick”, or laughing out loud as he walks from a hospital wearing a nurses uniform, whilst blowing the hospital to kingdom come. Since Ledger’s death i had a gut feeling that watching his penultimate performance (the final one being in Terry Gilliams Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus) I wouldn’t be able to help but watch the film with an over whelming sadness. It is only through testament to how well he ‘becomes’ the Joker that i forgot it was Ledger and invested my feeling in the character, rather than the actor, only very rarely does this happen in film and when it does, as here, it is a sight to behold. For this reason alone I would urge everyone who has any interest in film to see The Dark Knight,

The achievements most certainly do not finish with Ledger, in fact he is simply the tip of the iceberg. There is no single role that stands out as the lead with each actor given their moment to shine. Christian Bale naturally progressess from Batman Begins into a much more confident Batman, making him a truly fearsome hero. On the flipside is Bruce Wayne who gets to save the day himself on a number of occasions. Where this aspect comes into play best is in the depiction of Batman as the detective he is portrayed as in the comics, something that has never been truly developed in any of the past Batman films or live-action series and it gives a potentially two dimensional character a much smore interesting story arc. As ever Mrgan Freeman and Michael Caine deliver in their normal roles that are now honed to perfection, something which helps give the film much more gravitas. Maggie Gylenhaal steps in for the lacklustre Katie Holmes, and makes Rachel Dawes a stronger character but is dealt a rather harsh blow for her efforts. Apart from the aforementioned roles, the other standout is Eric Roberts, as Sal Maroni, who doesn’t over-do the mob boss shtick as those in similar roles have a tendency to (stand up Michael Jai White as Gamble) and makes his character much more human and realistic for it.

Rounding off the casting is Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart, both actors have been vastly overlooked in favour of Ledger but without their performances the film would be a much lesser one. Eckhart, who will be little known to most, is the true heart of The Dark Knight standing out as a square jawed All-American hero, arriving in Gotham to save the day and to give Bruce Wayne the escape he appears to want from his alter-ego. Though as you may know he has a tragedy befitting of a Shakespearean play to befall him, though the less said the better, you must see his fate to believe it, suffice to say it is excellently handled and more than a little gruesome (this is no a film for kids). Sorry Tommy Lee Jones there’s a new Two-Face in town! On the filpside of Eckharts Dent is Gordon, soon to be Commisioner. Oldman is our eyes and ears in the tale, the usually thankless everyman role (see Agent Myers in Hellboy), but Oldman being the talent he is, makes Gordon so much more with one scene in particular that will have audiences everywhere cheering him on. So the cast are nigh on faultless, all working at the top of their game. Does the achievement end there? uite simple, No.

Memento, Chris Nolans breakthrough film was riveting with a script to match the fantastic direction. He only continued too impress with Insomnia, then came Batman Begins. As brilliant as it is, Nolan seemed incapable of directing an action sequence, the camera cut far too close and in the IMAX experience especially it was nauseating! This is most certainly something that needed to be better, and boy is it better. Following the excellent heist we meet Batman in a car park, taking out various doppelgangers, from this point it is clear the eponomous director has taken a step back infusing the fights with real crackle. This is just the beginning, set piece after set piece i sat mouth open truly shocked at how good this film was. There are stand out scenes, a sky-hook escape from Hong Kong, a clever despatch of a SWAT team and most notably, in one of the best action sequences i can rememember having ever seen, the Tumbler takes on a Dustbin Lorry, transforms (gob-smackingly!) into the Batpod and proceeds to filp an 18-wheel lorry culminating in something which sounds trivial to read, but left the entire cinema slack-jawed, the Batpod turning round, up a wall!

So superb performances and action sequences. Check. What more is there, well the script, as a mentioned before with Memento, is riveting, very well paced and giving everyone a charcater arc regardless of their screentime making it almost on impossible to single out any character as better than others. Yes the Jokers fantastic, but he has the inevitably showiest role. The score vastly improves on that of Batman Begins, setting the tone exceptionally well, the Jokers themes are stand out and Batman now has his own theme, thundering on whenever he arrives sending goosebumps down your back. It’s dramatic in the best possible way.

If there are any criticism’s I have they are mostly inconsequential or nit-picking, as mentioned before Gamble is a little too hammy for his own good but gets his come-uppance in a fantastically gruesome way, and the climax of the film never quite reaches the heights of the chase scene midway through, much the same as happened in Batman Begins. Aside from this the main critism i would have is that sometimes you do not have enough to take some things in while the films is cracking along at such a fast pace. This ordinarily would not be an issue and means that you derive more from repeat viewings, but for two events that should really be moving and emotional, i felt neither moved or emotional as they happened and are never dwelled upon, something which has not changed on repeat viewings. One of my personal favourite characters, The Scarecrow, is also wasted and it makes you wonder why he wasn’t left to be used more fruitfully in future installments. However as i said this is merely nit-picking, and overall it’s as perfect a film as I could personally ever wish to see. 

One final point to make is that if you really want to fully experience the film as it should be seek it out in IMAX. I can honestly say I haven’t felt so in awe at a film in my life (including The Lord Of The Rings) the cityscapes are mind blowing in their clarity, and when Batman jumps from skyscrapers you truly feel as if you are jumping with him. Again hard to fully appreciate without experiencing it, but experience it you should! 

It’s hard to see where Nolan will take his Batman universe next, though a sequel is inevitable. His world is so real, meaning to see the Riddler, Penguin or Catwoman within it seems daft (and they are the less conspicuous of the Dark Knights enemies), though if anyone can achieve it Nolan seemingly can!

VERDICT

“Why so serious?”, because this really is my favourite film, ever! And for the reasons that it is, I see no reason why everyone who sees it wont be enamoured by its achievements n every aspect. It’s the most exciting experience you will have in a cinema guaranteed. For once soemthing has lived up to the hype piled upon it, Ledger is fantastic but don’t overlook everyone else. The summer of mediocrity , pfft now its the summer of excellence! See The Dark Knight…now!

 

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