No matter how much you’ve built this up in your head, no matter how good you hoped this would be, no matter how much hyperbole has been heaped upon Heath Ledger’s performance, nothing can prepare you for what you will see. You have no idea what treats lie in store for you. Yes The Dark Knight really is this good, blowing sky high expectations into the stratosphere and beyond.
A direct continuance from the events in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight picks up the story of Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale, back in black) crusade to save Gotham City roughly six months later. Now a fully formed law enforcer, Batman owns the night, forcing criminals into the light of day. Teamed up with incorruptible cop Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman again) and new DA Harvey Dent (an all-American, chiselled-jawed Aaron Eckhart – Thank You For Smoking), this triumvirate of do-gooders have gone a long way towards putting an end to organised crime for good. But the emergence and prominence of a new breed of crime-fighter has given rise to a new level of criminal and soon the trio face a foe more deadly and unpredictable than they could ever have imagined: the Joker (the late, great Heath Ledger).
By far the best comic book adaptation of all time, The Dark Knight is less your standard superhero story, more a sprawling crime saga, the likes of which courts favourable comparisons to Michael Mann’s superlative Heat. Beyond epic, with so much action and life altering events unfolding in its (all too brief) 150-minute runtime, it is amazing that Christopher Nolan has managed to present such a comprehensible film amid all the chaos. Of course he’s got his equally ridiculously talented brother to thank, big time, for co-writing one hell of a screenplay. Exciting, action-packed, melodramatic (in a good way), funny (there’s a rich vein of sarcastic humour running throughout), scary, poetic and most of all dark dark dark, there’s a level of writing here that you don’t normally find in summer tentpole releases. Scratch that, which you don’t normally find anywhere.
Astoundingly for a film this dense in plot and personage, not one character gets lost amongst the ensemble, each individual getting his or her moment to shine at some point. Bale defines himself as the best Bats ever, Michael Caine relishes reprising his wisdom-espousing role as Bruce’s faithful butler, Morgan Freeman finds time for a few funny quips around being Bruce’s moral conscience and personal Q, Oldman figures more prominently this time around and instils Gordon with a quiet sense of authority and a palpable sense of pathos, whilst Eckhart impacts, clearly enjoying the opportunity to render Dent’s (spoiler warning for those ignorant of Harvey’s two-faced tale!) descent from shining beacon to scarred psychotic.
Of course, shining brighter than all the rest put together is Ledger’s definitive portrayal of the best villain in comics history and arguably now the best ever big-screen baddie (yes even better than the dark helmeted one himself). Scorching the screen whenever he’s… umm… on screen, Ledger’s Joker is very droog; with no sense of right and wrong, just do what you want in order of chaos. Anarchic, psychotic and full of facial tics and nuanced gesticulation, he is one scary clown that will do nothing for the kiddie entertainment industry but wonders for the acting community. It’s a fitting epitaph to a talent taken long before his time.
Of course The Dark Knight leaves things open for a part three (but not in a cheap, cash-in way, don’t worry). Unfortunately, not everyone can return. But should the majority of main players want to continue with the Batman story they set in motion (please Chris, please Jonathan, please Christian et al), then you can rest assured Gotham is in safe hands.