Bruce “Goddamn Batman” Wayne (Christian Bale) has teamed up with Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to work against bringing down two forces of evil in Gotham: the mob and the evil, psychotic Joker (Heath Ledger). Wanting nothing more than to cause chaos in Gotham, the Joker takes control of the mob and threatens to kill civilians each day until Batman reveals his identity.
Rachel Dawes (now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal , since Katie Holmes was, ironically, too busy filming Mad Money to reprise a role in a sequel that went on to gross over a billion dollars) is causing Bruce Wayne some emotional trouble as well, since she has chosen to not date the Goddamn Batman and has instead gone with Harvey Dent. To take down the Joker, Batman once again enlists the help of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) for gadgets and the token minority role, and his butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) for guidance and class. Together, they conquer evil and discover the power of friendship.
Just kidding. People die, everybody hates Batman and Gotham City continues to be a shitty place to live.
The Dark Knight transcends the typical comic book movie genre, and becomes a legitimate (and legitimately great) crime drama. Christopher Nolan has said that the main theme of the film is “Chaos”, and he pulls it off well, constructing a magnificent incendiary tower of plot, and establishing Gotham as a truly treacherous place.
Additionally, Nolan shows that he has a talent for practical effects, choosing to use as little CGI as possible. It really pays off, giving the film a significantly more realistic feel and lending the action sequences a bit more of a bite. With the exception of one scene, the film has a very clean look that makes the action easy to follow. There is no doubt that Nolan is a gifted filmmaker, and The Dark Knight is a good showcase for his skills.
But let’s not beat around the bush: this is the late Heath Ledger’s show, and he absolutely knocks it out of the park as the Joker. Ledger makes mild alterations to one of print’s most famous villains, transforming the Clown Prince of Crime from a cackling, maniacal jokester into a more calculating, cruel psychopath who would rather turn everything into a sick game. There is certainly some of that trademark jokiness, but Ledger gives a much more sinister edge to the character, assisted by scraggly hair, a rumpled suit, and smeared makeup. He is brilliant.
The treatment of Two-Face is a mild disappointment. It is relatively clear that the point of Harvey Dent’s character arc is to illustrate the fall of a major, apparently unflappably moral hero, but Dent’s transformation into Two-Face all feels a bit rushed, and doesn’t do great justice to the character. It doesn’t commit the dreaded “Venom Syndome” of utterly destroying a character, but it is kind of a bummer.
Venom Syndrome (n.) veh-nuhm sihn-drom A process in cinema by which a director takes a popular character and fucks him or her straight up the ass through poor storytelling.
Either I am in the minority, or I’m just the only one that wants to mention it, but the treatment of Two-Face in the movie could have been done better. Aaron Eckhart’s performance also deserved more screen time; he really exemplifies the duality of the character and never truly got the chance to spread his wings.
Sorry Topher, but we still hate you.
There’s a reason The Dark Knight is so well-loved. It’s a slickly made, exceptionally well-acted, tightly scripted and very gripping film, one that can almost stand on its own two feet as a legitimate dramatic thriller without requiring the crutch of being labeled a “comic book film”. It’s not perfect, due to Batman’s “I gargle with gravel” voice and the disappointing amount of screen time Two-Face gets. But it is pretty damn epic, and the way in which the film inhabits a fairly realistic world pays off in that the stakes seem much higher. It ends on a cliffhanger, as well. As a result, I have spent many dark (k)nights waiting anxiously for the finale. I’ll show myself out.
We’ve come a long way.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time the Joker tells a story about his scars.
Take a Drink: every time you have to strain to understand Batman’s voice.
Take a Drink: if you wonder how the hell no civilians ever put two and two together about Bruce Wayne being Batman.
Do a Shot: for a refreshing lack of Bat nipples.