The Dark Knight (2008) dir. Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart
“The Dark Knight” is a different film to “Batman Begins”, with Bruce Wayne/Batman’s origins and motivations established, and the comic book mythology deconstructed Christopher Nolan is off and running with his full-tilt action sequel. It’s breakneck speed from start to finish with little time for catch-up. Viewers who stop to think about the plot or how characters go from A to B, and wind-up at C will be left behind.
When last we left Gotham City, Batman had defeated the League of Shadows, but not before the inmates of Arkham Asylum escaped into the streets. Now with the city’s mob boss, Carmine Falconi, dead it’s been a free-for-all of uncoordinated gangland activity. Chaos reigns on both sides of the law. The ‘bat-man’ has become a legend to mimic by other wannabe masked avengers masquerading about town attempting their own personal vigilantism.
Batman/Bruce Wayne has come to realize that by his actions, he’s on track to becoming judge, jury and executioner. Batman puts his stock in the courageous DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to be the real hero and uniting force which will bring Gotham back into peace. Amid the chaos a poisoned pill psychotic named “The Joker” (Heath Ledger) has emerged as the city’s biggest threat to order.
“The Dark Knight” is all about action. A blistering pace set early starting with the excellently staged bank robbery sequence, and a number of bravura gun fights, set piece chases, and narrow escapes. The film never ever lets up. Nolan’s skills as director, and his unique rhythm of editing (helped by a pulsating Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard’s co-score) make the picture a marvel blockbuster entertainment – like Paul Greengrass’s with his Bourne movies – a cinema of momentum.
The film is not without it’s flaws and minor quibbles either. The muscular action substitutes for deficiencies in character. Even at two and a half hours, there’s not enough time to adequately give attention to its multiple subplots. As a result, characters like Alfred, Lucius and arguably Bruce Wayne himself are not broadened from what we learned in the first film. Towards the end, after 150mins of non-stop action, the exposition and explanation contained in the lengthy wrap-up speeches unfortunately are detractions.
So why was I not bothered about these deficiencies? Because The Dark Knight is the second film of a trilogy – a chapter devoted not to Bruce, or the mythology, but Gotham City itself – a city like, Rome, threatened with destruction from within. The theme of “The Dark Knight” is written into a conversation between Dent and Wayne early on. When considering whether it would serve Gotham better for Batman to temporarily exercise absolute power, Dent recounts Roman history and the authority of Julius Caesar, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
“The Dark Knight” broadens the accessibility of the comic book genre by rooting itself more in reality than any of the other comparable super hero films. In fact, the genre is more a crime thriller than comic book fantasy. The objectives of Batman’s adversaries are not arbitrary world domination - instead it’s the tangibility of money and power. But in the case of the Joker, his motivations are more difficult to read. We don’t learn too much about who the Joker is and what drives his need for chaos and destruction. For me, this was the most interesting question to be resolved – a discovery of his motivation beyond mere insanity.
Before “The Dark Knight” was even released, it was more than just a film. One cannot watch the film with pure objectivity knowing it was Heath Ledger’s last ‘completed’ film, playing a damaged character, which as some suspect may have mimicked Ledger’s real life personal demons. Ledger’s presence in the film is electric and the truth behind the fiction brings added context and attention to his character.
Admitted as I left the theatre, I couldn’t answer the question I wanted revealed – what was the Joker’s motivation? An explanation is given to us, but it was hasty and unsatisfactory and likely a red herring to keep us guessing. The Joker is a trickster who loves to play games. He continually challenges Batman, Dent, Gordon and the citizens of Gotham with questions of moral decency, honor and principal. Questions which, if answered properly, will put the city of Gotham on the right path of repair. As I recounted the progression of the story it then became so obviously clear – and several hours later I found myself nodding my head with admiration. Enjoy.
PS. As an aside…for those with access, “The Dark Knight” HAS to been seen in IMAX. With all this discussion of the impending death of cinema, and whether the new 3-D technology will be able to reinvent the theatre experience, Christopher Nolan has found the answer – and it’s been staring us in the face for over 25 years.
Many segments of the film were shot and presented in full IMAX glory. And for those who think it would be same as watching a blow-up version of Spider-man or Harry Potter in IMAX, there’s a big difference. Shooting a film in IMAX is different than blowing up a 35mm film to IMAX. The resolution of the full screen IMAX picture is remarkable – almost unbelievable actually. The film cuts in and out of IMAX and 35mm sequences frequently. Sometimes a scene is established with an IMAX shot and then goes back to standard 35mm for the rest of scene. But each and every time we see the film go 8 story-big it’s truly eye-popping. Christopher Nolan has not only raised the bar for all other top tier blockbuster directors to hit, he has resuscitated new life into that so-called dying art form of celluloid cinema.