Director: Christopher Nolan
“Highly anticipated for its script (co-written by Nolan and his brother), its high-profile cast, and its tone, this is the most arresting and alarming installment of the Batman oeuvre so far – but also the richest in character and emotion.” (926, Karen Krizanovich, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I am a Batman fan (well a comic book fan in general) and love the Tim Burton films … not so much the cheesy Joel Schumacher films in the late 1990s. Having said that Nolan’s re-imagining of the caped crusader in the new Batman trilogy (Batman Begins, 2005; The Dark Knight, 2008, and most recently The Dark Knight Rises, 2012) are definitely the best incarnation of the Batman universe yet. There is a greater grounding in reality, all of Batman’s gear could feasibly be made. And while I’m a fan of the old school Batmobile the Tumbler suits this film perfectly. While Batman Begins was an excellent way to introduce this new darker and grittier Gotham, The Dark Knight raises the bar even higher. It’s definitely a case of the ‘sequel’ being better than the original!
Michael Caine is lovable and loyal as the ever faithful Alfred. The decision to replace Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal as the love interest, Rachel, could have been a disastrous move but ultimately it works. Christian Bale is commanding as the playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne and his vigilante alter ego Batman. The darkness to his character is intriguing and something Nolan and Bale have developed together. Krizanovich says “an intricate and emotionally and morally complicated film, The Dark Knight sees Batman squarely facing the problem that his character has always battled: How can a vigilante be ethically sound?” (926) This internal battle is no more evident than when Maroni tells Batman that he can never beat the Joker because he has rules.
Gary Oldman gives a solid performance as Commissioner Gordon – forever loyal to the idea of Batman. He seems one of the few people who understands Batman and what he is doing. Aaron Ekhart is wonderful as Harvey Dent, charming and charismatic as only a politician can be before turning into a somewhat psychotic, yet still idealistic villain Two Face. I love the line “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” It’s kind of prophetic given Dent’s ultimate demise. The make-up in this film is outstanding, not just on the Joker but also on Harvey Dent once he becomes Two Face. it definitely should have won the Oscar for Best Makeup.
The set pieces and stunts used in the film are spectacular especially the chase scene. The music is electrifying and jarring especially whenever the Joker is involved and completely ratchets up the tension. I still get goosebumps the first time you see the Joker, even before you realize he is the Joker. There is a presence about him. There is a nod towards Nicholson’s Joker in the costume yet it has been updated and once again has the new sense of reality. No longer is he the comic villain that he has been in earlier incarnations.
“As the highly disturbed and disturbing villain of the piece, Ledger’s performance is indelible and well deserving of his posthumous Oscar.” (926) Heath Ledger is exquisite and this is definitely his career defining performance – it’s just a shame it’s effectively his last complete performance (Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009, Terry Gilliam, doesn’t count as it was incomplete at the time of his death) but what a way to go huh?! To me Ledger’s Joker is perfect. He has the perfect blend of ‘bat-shit’ crazy while maintaining a sense of humor. Some of his scenes are genuinely hilarious … I’m thinking of the scene where he blows up the hospital while in drag!
I have to confess that when they initially announced that Heath Ledger was cast in the role of the Joker I was extremely dubious. While Ledger was, undoubtably, an exceptionally talented actor there was little in his career to indicate that he could handle a role of this magnitude. And then the first images were released and I began to think maybe he could pull this off. Having seen the film (a number of times now) I cannot conceive anyone else playing this part. Whoever tries to make the Joker their own in the future has some extraordinarily large shoes to fill.
Batman just seems more alive and visceral when his opponent is the Joker, without sounding corny (which I know it will despite my best intentions) they complete each other! Hey if it’s good enough for the Joker then it’s good enough for me. I am aware that a large portion of this installment of my blog is focused on Heath Ledger but then given the circumstances of the films initial release that was always going to end up being the case. Ledger’s image and catchphrase “Why so serious?” are now iconic though you have to wonder whether they would have left such an impression if he were still alive today. You also have to wonder what The Dark Knight Rises would have been like had Ledger lived. Would the Joker have made a reappearance and if he had what turn would the film have taken? And on that note dear readers I shall leave you to contemplate the genius that was Heath Ledger and the number of ways the Batman universe could have gone.