Seeing a chance to hang up the cowl and cape, Bruce Wayne throws his weight behind District Attorney Harvey Dent as Gotham’s White Knight. And when Dent and Batman launch an attack on the mobs trying to take over Gotham, the Joker is let out of the box.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Run Time: 152 Minutes
Release Date: 18 July 2008 (US)
How do you follow a film as well-received as Batman Begins? This was the challenge facing Christopher Nolan when he agreed to return to Gotham and attempt to make a sequel to the best Batman film yet, a movie so well-received and appreciated that most directors would be loathe to even attempt a follow-up. This is Nolan, however, and that was the challenge waiting before him.
The same cast from Batman Begins returned, minus Katie Holmes who was replaced as Rachel Dawes by Gyllenhaal. The only other change came with the villain of the piece; out went Liam Neeson and in came Heath Ledger. The end of Begins teased Joker’s appearance, and Ledger was the man chosen to bring that character back to the screen. His last movie appearance came so memorably thanks to Jack Nicholson in 1989, and many – read: the majority – doubted that Ledger would be able to do that performance justice. Mainly appearing in comedies and, most recently, the controversial Brokeback Mountain, he didn’t fill moviegoers with confidence to hold up his end as Bats’ most iconic foe in a film many were expecting to be even better than Begins. How wrong they were.
Then tragedy struck; Ledger’s death in January – while coming after shooting completed on The Dark Knight – overshadowed all marketing and pre-release buzz. Early views of the film led to people inevitably calling for a posthumous Oscar for Ledger, as his portray as Joker was that good. And it was. His Joker is monumental, truly one of the great acting performances. Faced with a doubting public, though the faith from a director and a studio would have likely calmed that, Ledger takes this film and completely owns it. From his high-energy introduction – surely to this day still the best scene involving a pencil – to his horrifically-calm interactions with Dawes, he takes Nicholson’s Joker and crushes it. Of course, they are presented as two very different versions, with definite inspiration being taken from The Killing Joke and The Long Halloween, but with everyone keen to make the comparisons Ledger puts himself in a different league to Nicholson.
Unlike the main issue with the Burton version though, this Joker was never going to upstage the lead. Growing in confidence from his first outing, Bale is again magnificent as Batman. His stature and demeanour guaranteed he wouldn’t suffer the same fate as Keaton and play second fiddle in his own film, though some of the credit for that should also go to Nolan. Whereas Burton’s script in 1989 catered for a Joker show-stealer, the script here treats everyone as an equal and is interested in every character involved. This includes Gyllenhaal’s Rachel, who is represented far better than she was previously with Katie Holmes in the role. It is still likely that Holmes was more miscast than anything else, but thankfully the same issue is not prevalent here. Gyllenhaal excels in the role, exuding style and class. Her scenes with both Bale’s Wayne and Eckhart’s Dent are realistic and do not suffer the same ‘zero chemistry’ issue that Begins had with Bale and Holmes.
Elsewhere, Eckhart is wonderful as the increasingly-conflicted District Attorney Dent, finding himself in a battle with both Gotham’s mobs and his own morals and beliefs. Actually not unlike Bruce Wayne, whose desire to leave Batman behind and throw his support behind Harvey Dent plays into The Joker’s maniacal plans. Watching Joker tick and skip throughout the memorable hospital scene with Dent is a joy, and the money shot scene of Dent’s first full reveal as Two-Face is great viewing. From that moment on it almost feels Eckhart and Ledger are in their own personal battle to top each other; the chemistry between the two is scintillating, and it’s clear that this played into Nolan’s casting choices. Everything works no matter who is in the scene, everything clicks.
What also clicks is just how perfect Nolan gets the high-octane action in the script, and how well it works when played out. Though clearly more at home and comfortable with character building and development, when it comes time for things to blow up and war to start, Nolan pulls no punches. Michael Bay wishes he could pull off explosions like this; everything means something, nothing is done purely for effect and show. The overturning lorry, the exploding Tumbler – leading into an awesome BatBike debut – the dramatic final act battle. Nolan aims high and gets it right.
While The Dark Knight will forever be known as Heath Ledger’s film, that does not – nor should it – detract from the film. It could have been drowned by the pre-release hype and comparisons to Batman Begins. But suffer it doesn’t, for this is even better. It lives up to the hype and beats it.
This is the best superhero movie ever.
[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]
Heath Ledger puts in a truly legendary performance
Dark, gritty, emotional, action-packed, dramatic; this has it all
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]
A second act lull brings the film down a touch