WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE FILM BATMAN BEGINS
After the generally well-received Batman Begins, The Dark Knight takes everything that was brilliant about the original and knocks it out of the park. After the appearance of the Batman (Christian Bale), the presence of organised crime in Gotham is weakening. This isn’t helped by the work of Police Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the new District Attorney, a self-styled “White Knight” Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, Thank You for Smoking, Olympus Has Fallen). But this starts to change because of the appearance of an anarchical terrorist known only as the Joker (Heath Ledger, A Knight’s Tale, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus).
True to its foundations, director Christopher Nolan gives us something truly beautiful. Most of the amazing cast returns from the first film, including Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and the aforementioned Gary Oldman, as well as the beautiful cinematography and musical score. The tone of the film is still dark, gritty and realistic, and the range of technology used by Batman is still awe-inspiring yet utterly believable, with practical effects that will blow you away. And yes, the titular vigilante still sounds as if he has laryngitis. The new additions are welcome too, such as Eckhart as Dent. A seemingly incorruptible symbol of justice, his fall from grace is a sad, yet compelling aspect of the plot. Katie Holmes has been replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Secretary), recasting the role of Rachel Dawes. And while not as irritating as Holmes in Batman Begins, Gyllenhaal is still the least strong member of the principal cast.
But the performance that makes the entire film is that of Ledger’s Joker. A maniac without a motive, he is a joy to watch on screen. Ledger takes the character and makes it his own, adding behavioural ticks a distinctive voice and an insane laugh that beats the previous live action Joker (Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman) hands down. This Joker has simple clown make-up and contradictory origin stories about his scars, and doesn’t care about money or revenge, just “watching the world burn”. He is a representation of chaos, contrasting the trinity of order and justice made up of Dent, Gordon and Batman. I believe that Heath Ledger’s performance was his best ever, and his posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor was well deserved. His untimely death was a tragedy, and it has a minor effect of the film by not, in my opinion, giving the character enough closure. But, when all things are considered, Ledger’s Joker is the best villain in the history of cinema.
In an earlier review for Avenger’s Assemble, I said it was “not the best film based on comic books”. That’s because that film is The Dark Knight. It has a great plot, spot-on casting, an excellent use of practical effects, cinematography and soundtrack, and a truly exceptional villain. If you haven’t seen it, go see it now, and if you have, see it again. I saw this before Batman Begins, so it works perfectly well as a stand-alone film (but better as a sequel), and it was the film that made me take superhero movies seriously again. The Dark Knight is my personal all-time favourite film of history. Ever.