Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/20/08 w/ Additional Edits.
***In Memory of Heath Ledger (1979-2008)***
When Batman reemerged to the cinema in 2005, Christopher Nolan's new approach to the Caped Crusader returned Batman to his dark roots. With Christian Bale in the role of Bruce Wayne and Batman, 2005's Batman Begins was a huge hit as it resurrected the comic book hero after being lambasted with ridiculous storylines, bad puns, and such from 1997's Batman & Robin by Joel Schumacher. The return of Batman was greeted with rave reviews and huge box office as everyone is happy. With a new franchise emerging with Nolan and Bale leading the way. It was time for the franchise itself to step up to its epic vision as Nolan along with his brother Jonathan and Batman Begins co-writer David S. Goyer to make a new Batman movie that is even grander and more darker.
For the sequel entitled The Dark Knight, the film essentially picks up where Batman Begins left off. In that film's ending, the just-promoted Lieutenant James Gordon shows Batman a Joker's card. The card would signify the new foe Batman would face in The Dark Knight as he would also face a series of obstacles ranging from the physical to the emotional and mental. Directed by Christopher Nolan with a script he co-wrote with brother Jonathan based on the screen story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. The Dark Knight tells the story of Bruce Wayne playing Batman as he deals with overwhelming escalation among the mob and other criminals while wanting a normal life. With the arrival of new district attorney Harvey Dent, Wayne hopes for the new D.A. to succeed despite the fact that he's dating Wayne's former flame Rachel Dawes. Meanwhile, a new criminal has arrived to wreak havoc on Gotham itself as he's called the Joker.
Based on the comic book by Bob Kane along with characters created by Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson, the story is inspired by the comic story Batman: The Long Halloween as well as The Killing Joke story written by Alan Moore. The film takes Batman to newer, darker levels as he faces the Joker whose sense of chaos and lack of remorse makes him the ultimate villain that Batman has to face. Along the way, Batman would face more villains aside from the mob and the Scarecrow when Dent would eventually become another main villain named Two-Face.
With Bale returning for the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne along with previous Batman Begins cast members Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, and Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow. The film also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Eric Roberts, Michael Jai White, Anthony Michael Hall, Nestor Carbonell, William Fichter, Melinda McGraw, Nathan Gamble, and in one of his final performances, Heath Ledger as the Joker. The Dark Knight is an eerie, epic, and haunting masterpiece from Christopher Nolan and company.
More than a year after his arrival into Gotham City, Batman has managed to make Gotham a bit safer. The bad news is that copycat vigilantes has tried to do what Batman has done but often causing trouble. Especially as the Caped Crusader manages to capture former foe Jonathan Crane aka Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) who is trying to make deals with the mob. Yet, Batman has also received a lot of heat from the police and press. Then hope arrives in the form of new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who decides to help rid Gotham of crime. Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman hopes that Dent will do the job after an attempt in putting Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts) on trial. Maroni and another mob boss in Gambol (Michael Jai White) turn to a Chinese business accountant named Lau (Chin Han) to help in saving their money. Maroni also turns to a psychotic criminal named the Joker for help as he decides that the only option to help themselves is to kill Batman.
With Dent now becoming a rising public figure, he is also dating Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the assistant DA as Bruce Wayne realizes that his hopes to win Rachel's heart are not going to be easy. Even as he tries to deal with his role as Batman as he lives in a penthouse with faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) while running his enterprise with CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Fox and Wayne tried to make a deal with Lau where in truth, Wayne suspects Lau of taking money from the mob for their protection as he, Fox, and Alfred go to Hong Kong to capture Lau so he can testify against Maroni. With Dent managing to gather evidence against Maroni, things seem to go well until the Joker creates assassinations and such as he also targets Dent. Yet, the Joker comes face-to-face with Batman.
With another assassination attempt on the mayor (Nestor Carbonell) thwarted, Dent and Batman make a plan to capture the Joker with Gordon's help as Rachel stays at Bruce's for protection after she learned she's being targeted. Dent, Batman, and Gordon's plan to capture the Joker succeeds only to somehow, backfire because of the Joker's plan. The plan would involve the scarring of Harvey Dent as Bruce Wayne is forced to deal with the weight of being Batman. The Joker frees himself from jail as he decides to wreak more havoc into Gotham as he corrupts Harvey into becoming Two-Face as Batman realizes what limits he must take to save Gotham from the maniacal mind of the Joker.
In Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan tells the story of Batman's origins as he shows audiences how Bruce Wayne became the Caped Crusader as he understands what he must do and what he cannot do. In The Dark Knight, Wayne is forced to see how far he can be pushed and if he can restrain himself. What the film is about is Wayne trying to return to normal life in some ways as he lays all of his hopes on Harvey Dent. Then when the Joker arrives, everything completely goes to hell as he wreaks havoc on Gotham as he tries to prove a point of how even the most pure person can be corrupted through unspeakable means.
Yet, the core story of the film is Batman and Jim Gordon trying to battle the Joker as they realize that the Joker's intentions is to prove that there's no such thing as purity, honor, and justice. Batman and Dent tries to prove otherwise but once Dent is scarred on all levels, he becomes corrupted to the point that everything he is supposed to stand for is out of the window. Yet, this leaves the Joker the opportunity to create anarchy in Gotham as his true colors is the fact that he's a man who works for himself and only himself. The mob and gangs are nothing to him as simply pawns of his game. He also plays a different game with Batman as he tries to get him to reveal himself while hoping to have him destroyed. Yet, he's the man that likes to push Batman's buttons into doing things to try and make Batman break his one rule, to not kill.
Christopher Nolan along brother Jonathan and co-story writer David S. Goyer create a very complex, epic story that is a comic book film but with something more. The film in some ways is a character study on Batman/Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and the Joker. While it's clear that Wayne's motivations is simply to protect Gotham from harm, the Joker doesn't have motivation other than the fact that he just likes to create chaos in a world that he feels is impure. Then there's Harvey Dent, a man who is clearly on the world of good as he wants to clean up the streets and be the White Knight to protect Gotham. Though as Dent, there's shades of his dark side as he's even pushed to the limits. When he becomes Two-Face, the coin that he carries becomes his decider as he ends up being a character with very little remorse and hopes to prove that the Joker's argument for disorder is right.
The script by the Nolan brothers is more straightforward than their previous films as it doesn't rely on flashbacks and such. Instead, Christopher Nolan sets up scenes and things that would create a sense of momentum with the script's structure. The opening scene begins with a bank robbery that involved the Joker and fellow thieves to give the idea of what kind of man the Joker is. The first act is about Batman/Bruce Wayne's hope for Harvey Dent to take over while dealing with Rachel falling for Harvey. The second act involves the capture of the Joker and the beginning of Dent's corruption. The third is Batman dealing with the chaos the Joker has created and the outcome of what Dent has become. The film's ending is complex in not just on what was lost but how to cope with the outcome for both Batman and Jim Gordon.
Nolan's direction is truly astonishing as he creates a look and atmosphere that is purely epic and grand in its vision. With locations shot largely in Chicago and parts of Hong Kong, the film has a look that remains true to the grittiness of Batman Begins but on a far more grander scale. Especially in a few sequences that were shot with IMAX-made cameras like the opening bank scene, the nighttime Hong Kong scene, and other big action scenes. What Nolan also does is rely less on CGI-computer created images and have more realistic look whether its stunts or make-up in the case of Two-Face. Nolan creates a sense of momentum for some of the film's action sequences that also gear towards drama. The film also has some light humor that is also matched by the maniacal yet dark humor of the Joker.
Now some audiences might complain that the film is too dark and too long. It's dark because Batman is meant to be dark. Bruce Wayne has a sense of humor but Batman doesn't. Nolan understands this because, since he's a comic book fan. He knows that Batman has always intended to be this dark, adult figure who isn't really a hero. He's an anti-hero in some respects. The reason it's long is because given that Nolan wants an epic story that lives up to the larger-than-life figures that is Batman and the Joker. These are two men who are in some ways, equals as they give into adult themes that might be too heavy to understand if the audience are kids. What they know is that Batman is a good guy and the Joker is a bad guy. Nolan understands this but he knows that children have an idea of who Batman is and what he represents. His point of view more has to do with the original comics which aren't exactly kid-friendly. That's why kids might have more fun watching something like Spider-Man, who's a more accessible, friendlier super-hero.
Nolan obviously draws some of his cinematic inspirations from Michael Mann's Heat for some of the film's sequences while also taking notes from classic crime dramas which the film in some ways, is. It's a simple crime drama about a man wearing cape who teams up with a new district attorney, and a top police official to fight the mob unaware that they're going up against a figure of terror named the Joker. Nolan has to create a film within those simple plot lines but add dark touches that aren't easy to divulge as it's a film that also has a sense of tragedy. The tragedy more involves in what Batman has to play and what he must sacrifice in order to save Gotham. What Christopher Nolan creates overall is a huge film with a large canvas and a grand story as it's a film that is not just superior than the previous Batman films but raises the bar for all super-hero films based on comic books.
Cinematographer Wally Pfister creates a sharp, gritty look to the film with wonderful shading and colors to fit the mood of the film. From the daytime exteriors that rarely has moments of sunny, bright colors to the eerie nighttime exteriors for some of the scenes shot in Chicago with sepia-drenched colors for the city lights and highways and at times, very little color. In the Hong Kong scene, Pfister's use of blue colors and bright lights are truly brilliant with jaw-dropping presentation as it stays true to its grand look. Pfister's use of colors for the interior also pays true to the look of the Gotham exteriors in its nighttime scenes for its eerie tone as Pfister's photography is a highlight of the film.
Editor Lee Smith does a great job in maintaining the film's leisurely yet stylish pacing approach while creating scenes of tense drama to cut from segment and then to another, and another to create momentum. Smith also does superb work in creating a rhythm for the film's action scenes to create a sense of tension and build-up that is magnificent. Production designer Nathan Crowley along with art director Simon Lamont and set decorator Peter Lando do an amazing job in creating the new secret place where Bruce Wayne and Alfred work at along with the gadgets workshop that Fox has made. Even the gadgets that were created by special effects Chris Corbuld for the action scenes including the Batpod are truly brilliant.
Costume designer Lindy Hemming does an amazing job with the look of the Joker's costumes are truly demonic yet stylish while the Batsuit is given a grittier look that is true to the tone of the film. And no, there are no nipples in the Batsuit! Makeup designers John Caglione Jr., Linda Rizzuto, and Vicki Vacca are great to create the grungy makeup look of the Joker while the look of Two-Face with help from visual effects supervisor Nick Davis is also demonic to unveil the corruption of Harvey Dent. Sound designer Richard King does a fantastic job in the layering of sounds for some of the film's high-octane action sequences as well as sound of the Joker's sinister laughter that is chilling to hear.
The music score of composers James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer is brilliant as it lives up to its grand scale. Howard and Zimmer create fast-building, momentum-driven pieces to convey the sense of action and drama while having moments of screeching violins to play up to the film's sense of horror that accompanies the Joker. The score overall is truly brilliant as it's one of the year's best score work that is filled with huge arrangements, bass-heavy sounds, and layers of synthesizers to create a dark mood.
The casting by John Papsidera is phenomenal for its collection of actors with several appearances being very memorable. Small performances from Melinda McGraw as Jim Gordon's wife, Nathan Gamble as Gordon's son, Beatrice Rosen as Wayne's date Natascha, Nydia Rodriguez Terracina as a judge, Ritchie Coster as a Chechen accomplice of Maroni, and Tommy "Tiny" Lister as a prisoner in a ferry scene who makes a decision relating to the Joker's reign of terror. Other notable small appearances include Joshua Harto as a suspicious employee of Wayne Enterprises who tries to expose who Batman is while Anthony Michael Hall plays newscaster Mike Engel who also tries to expose Batman's identity. Nestor Carbonell is good as the town's mayor while Monique Curnen is also good as Gordon's fellow detective Ramirez.
Michael Jai White has an excellent yet small memorable role as gang leader Gambol who doesn't trust the Joker while returning from Batman Begins, Colin MacFarlane as Commissioner Loeb and Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow where the latter gives a great cameo appearance. Eric Roberts is in fine, slimy form as Sal Maroni, a mob boss who tries to do his business as he ends up having a scary confrontation with Batman. Chin Han is good as the charming yet conniving Lau, an accountant who ends up getting into trouble with Batman. In the film's opening bank robbery scene, William Fichter gives a great performance as a heroic bank manager who tries to battle the Joker only to realize what kind of power the man has.
Taking over for Katie Holmes in the role of Rachel Dawes, Maggie Gyllenhaal is excellent as Bruce Wayne's love interest as she plays a woman conflicted in her feelings for Bruce and Harvey. Gyllenhaal's performance truly surpasses what Holmes brought in the previous film as Gyllenhaal is more engaging, more subtle, and sassier as she has great chemistry with both Christian Bale and Aaron Eckhart while having a great scene with Michael Caine. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine both do superb work in their respective roles as Lucius Fox and Alfred. Freeman adds a lot of subtle humor and charm to the character of Fox while Caine plays the moral conscience of the film as he has some funny one-liners while being the lone father figure that Bruce needed. Gary Oldman is brilliant in his role as Lieutenant James Gordon, a good-hearted cop who is trying to capture the Joker and bring peace to Gotham as he had to take risks that involves his family while being the moral center for both Batman and Harvey Dent.
Aaron Eckhart is phenomenal in the role of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, a man who brings hope to Gotham City as he carries a coin that he's convinced gives him good luck. Eckhart displays a lot of charm and wit to Dent yet as he turns into Two-Face. Eckhart displays the sense of madness and terror as he becomes someone corrupted as he is tormented in what he lost as he becomes the very thing he is trying to fight against. Christian Bale is great as the character of Bruce Wayne and Batman as Bale brings a complexity to a man pondering about the role of the Caped Crusader. Bale's sense of torment and confusion adds a new layer to Bruce Wayne and Batman as he's wondering if he should do things he shouldn’t do while trying to be the hero that can save Gotham. It's a great performance from Bale as he adds new dimensions to the Dark Knight.
Finally, in his penultimate performance, Heath Ledger gives a rousing, maniacal, humorous, and certainly anarchic performance that is truly unforgettable as the Joker. Had he not died this past January, this performance surely would've made him into one of this generation’s great actors. What Ledger brings is a twisted, eerie, and psychotic performance that is more definitive and a lot closer to what the Joker is in the comics. Less comical than Cesar Romero in the original TV series and far less chew-scenery than Jack Nicholson in the 1989 film version by Tim Burton. Ledger's performance as the Joker is miles away from what those two actors have brought to the character. He has a great sense of humor that is very dark. He likes to create a lot of chaos, he can do lots of lip-smack that is creepy. There's layers to what Ledger brings to the character.
The portrayal of the Joker isn't some caricature or a one-dimensional villain. Ledger sees him as a man who is all about chaos, who doesn't think of good in the world. Ledger creates a villain that is just full of terror as even the men he's hired by are intimidated by him once they see on what he can do. He's someone that's not motivated by money, by revenge, or anything. Ledger makes sure the Joker is a man who likes chaos as Ledger makes the character of the Joker simply larger than life. For the late, 28-year old Australian actor who has brought such memorable performances as a young knight, a poetic junkie, a conflicted gay cowboy, and a troubled version of Bob Dylan. The role as the Joker is a definitive, mesmerizing, and certainly iconic performance from the late, great Heath Ledger.
The Dark Knight is a thrilling, superb, and supremely epic blockbuster film from Christopher Nolan and company featuring great performances from Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, and most of all, Heath Ledger. Fans of the Batman film series will no doubt be amazed at what Nolan does as he exceeds all the expectations that's raised for the film. Though young audiences, particularly kids might feel overwhelmed by its length and dark tone, audiences who love comic book and heavy crime drama will truly enjoy this film for its epic scale and eerie atmosphere. Though its unclear how Nolan and his team will try and top the third installment of the Batman series. It's clear about one thing, The Dark Knight is truly the most definitive and certainly the best of all super-hero films that's ever made.
Christopher Nolan Films: Following - Memento - Insomnia (2002 film) - Batman Begins - The Prestige - Inception - The Dark Knight Rises - Interstellar - Dunkirk - Tenet - (Oppenheimer) - The Auteurs #13: Christopher Nolan
Batman Films: (Batman (1966 film)) - Batman (1989 film) - Batman Returns - Batman Forever - Batman & Robin - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - The Lego Batman Movie - The Batman (2022 film)
Batman Films: (Batman (1966 film)) - Batman (1989 film) - Batman Returns - Batman Forever - Batman & Robin - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - The Lego Batman Movie - The Batman (2022 film)
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