I was sort of caught off guard by the release of BATMAN BEGINS way back when, but rest assured I did not make that mistake twice when it came to THE DARK KNIGHT. I followed all the news right up until the release and went through the gamut of emotions that came from the casting of Heath Ledger as Joker acceptance when he turned out to be pretty great in the trailers and sadness when the news broke he had died. After release the sadness grew deeper that this talent brought Batman’s most infamous villain to life in a way that stands as the greatest portrayals of that character and would never get to follow it up. THE DARK KNIGHT is a marvel of filmmaking that might still have a few minor hiccups, but otherwise is a tense and unforgettable crime thriller elevated even further by the riveting performance from Heath Ledger as the clown prince of Gotham, the Joker.
The film takes place an undisclosed amount of time after BATMAN BEGINS with Batman making headway to cleaning up the streets by making the crime bosses nervous, but so far has let a bank robbing psycho, Joker, fly under the radar to deal with the big fish. Once Joker makes himself directly involved with the mobs of Gotham Batman is forced to deal with the threat head. Joker’s motives are completely unknown except that he appears to just want to cause as much chaos as possible in order to send the city into fear and panic. Bruce Wayne sees the new District Attorney Harvey Dent as the future of Gotham and does his best to help him try to clean the streets of the mob while his alter ego attempts to silence the influence of Joker on the city and on the mob.
I have a few of the same problems that carry over from BATMAN BEGINS in regards to the acting of minor characters- which again is a minor beef- one that bothered me even less due to the phenomenal performance from Heath Ledger. Both films have somewhat muddled final confrontations that end in much more satisfying than they unfold. In THE DARK KNIGHT Batman’s final battle with Joker is hindered by an over use of Bat sonar that came very close to giving me a headache, but the entire scene is redeemed by the conversation between the two that caps it off while also serving as a chilling profile of the Joker as a character and the bittersweet end to Ledger’s portrayal of the madman.
The action still has its issues but improved from BATMAN BEGINS especially in the 18 wheeler chase scene that culminates with the massive vehicle being flipped and leading to the game of chicken between Batman on his Batpod and Joker screaming for Batman to hit him. There are many different dynamics on display here and aside from the scene stealing monologues delivered later in the film by Joker this is one of the more memorable scenes in the film.
The best parts of THE DARK KNIGHT revolve almost entirely around the Joker, which may also be to its detriment at times. For a Batman film, I found myself only occasionally drawn to Bruce Wayne and Batman’s plight while completely hypnotized by Ledger’s command over his performance and the film in general- something I find a bit odd when it comes to rewatching, because I often skip a lot of the film in favor of getting to scenes involving Joker. The opening bank heist, crashing of the mob meeting, storming the party thrown by Bruce for Harvey Dent, the interrogation scene and Joker visiting Dent in the hospital are all scenes that make THE DARK KNIGHT such a stellar cinematic experience- the tension in every scene with the bone chilling performance by Ledger nail home just how unforgettable the film is in spite of its lesser moments.
Another step up from the previous film is the use of score throughout. There are many of the same beats recycled from BATMAN BEGINS, but the addition of the Joker’s theme throughout really takes the overall scope and score up a significant notch, especially in the opening bank heist. I also find that restraining from using an overpowering score during scenes like when the Joker crashes a party in search of Harvey Dent a pretty effective choice, but is accented by the swelling score that leads up to it as Joker traps are taking out his potential victims.
With THE DARK KNIGHT Christopher Nolan not only topped himself in the Batman-verse, but also set the gold standard for cinematic superheroes. Nolan’s sequel to BATMAN BEGINS ups the intensity and dark tone of the series in incredible fashion with the help of an incredible villainous performance from Heath Ledger as Joker. The film continues to stumble just slightly in terms of action/fight choreography and in creating a truly breathtaking finale, but always finds a way to endear itself to me in spite of any of my perceived, but extremely minor shortcomings.