With Christopher Nolan’s successful Batman trilogy now firmly, but sadly in our rear-view mirrors, it seems prudent to take a look back on the previous instalments in the mammoth of a franchise. I have been tasked with the second entry, The Dark Knight, which, for me, is by far the strongest of the three and perhaps Nolan’s greatest cinematic achievement to date. Even in the wake of The Dark Knight Rises – which was grander, more narratively complex and much more expensive – The Dark Knight remains its slicker, better looking, more intelligent younger brother and perhaps the best comic book adaptation to ever grace the silver screen.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still much to be said about Batman Begins and Rises (and I’m sure there will be), as both are extraordinary films, but from the opening shot of The Dark Knight it was clear that Nolan was about to change the game in an irreversible manner. Filmed in IMAX (a format he would later go on to champion), this scene introduced to the film’s – excuse the pun – ace in the hole, the Joker. Played with inimitable gravitas by the late Heath Ledger, the Joker was an agent of chaos and anarchy for the sake of both. His astonishing Oscar-winning performance is marred only by the actor’s tragic death just six months before the film was released. Nevertheless, he was a perfect foil for Christian Bale’s uncompromising Batman.
Immense credit must certainly go to Bale though for his performance of the Bruce Wayne/Batman dual role. In light of the trilogy’s conclusion, The Dark Knight is the perfect example of the adult Wayne who is comfortable in the cowl, aware of the need for Batman but conscious of the fact that it cannot last forever. He may also be be the only actor (at least in terms of live action) to accurately portray Bruce Wayne’s own duality as the altruistic playboy.
The Joker was not the film’s only villain, however, as over the course of The Dark Knight‘s 152 minute runtime, we were all privy to the rise and eventual downfall of Gotham’s ‘White Knight’, District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). The city was in dire need of someone unafraid to take on corruption and fight for justice within the limits of the law – a hero with a face. But for all of his efforts, poor Harvey was instead driven to madness and murder, and ended up with two of them. It is in his ultimate fall from grace that we learn one of The Dark Knight‘s many underlying themes: the triumph of evil over good. After all, does Batman really defeat the Joker in the end? In spite of all his efforts to stop him, he forces himself to be restrained by his own code of honour. Moreover, the only reason Dent is prevented from doing the unthinkable to Commissioner Gordon’s family is because he falls to his death. Instead of revealing the truth about the D.A.’s crimes, he and Batman decide to cover them up for the sake of the greater good.
These themes are actually Nolan’s trump card (I couldn’t resist), for they allow The Dark Knight to far transcend the medium on which it is based. If Begins was an origin movie through and through (albeit a superior one), then The Dark Knight is a fully-fledged crime saga. Not only does it hit far harder with the concepts of heroism and moral responsibility than Spider-Man ever could, but it ruminates on themes of greed, corruption and anarchism.
And yet, it can still function as an action movie. Nolan is famed for his ethic of filming as much in-camera as possible, and it rightly serves as one of his greatest strengths. When he wants to flip over a truck, he will literally flip over a truck. Perhaps this is by the grace of a hefty budget, but I would wager it’s more likely ingenuity and fearlessness. The most sublime moment in the film for me is shortly after the aforementioned truck scene, when the Joker’s chaos-ridden rampage through Gotham has reached its apex, instead of more explosions (minus one hospital), Nolan resorts to using silence and the unforgettable image of Ledger swinging his head out of a stolen police car, as all order burns behind him.
‘Unforgettable’ may indeed be the correct term to not only describe The Dark Knight, but the trilogy as a whole. Granted, this is coming from an avid comic book reader and Nolan fan, so I would consider myself somewhat biased, but I do not envy the man who tries to reboot this franchise come the inevitable Justice League adaptation. An easy five stars; if I could, I would give it six.