Back in 2005 Christopher Nolan brought us a much needed de-camped Batman. Gone were the nipple nuts and terrible puns, replaced instead with a formidable Christian Bale and a dark streak that made it serious, exciting and CF top-10 rated. A sequel with the same cast and an iconic bad guy was obviously muchly anticipated. Throw in a highly rated performance by a now tragically deceased star and you couldn’t get much more hype than if you implanted a special device in everyone’s ear that bellowed “watch Batman! It’s great! Watch it right now! Now!” At 3am. Every night. For two months.
Now that’s a marketing idea…
Anyway, The Dark Knight launches in with the superhero sequel bonus of not having to spend any time setting up the back-story. Batman’s trying to take down the mob with the help from his police and lawyer friends, meanwhile a crazy guy in clown make-up is slowly building trouble. Nolan (who co-wrote with his brother) weaves an impressive tale, with plenty of stonking action (the opening bank robbery a fine example), suspenseful lead-ups, dramatic interchanges bristling with danger, and the occasional flash of humour.
To be honest, as a character Batman can sometimes be vaguely dull, bumbling around his underground lair with a mood on, dressing up to beat up guys using no real super powers at all save some smooth moves and Bond-esque gadgets shaped like little bat wings. Nolan’s reinvention made him moodier, broodier, more dangerous. Better. But though he carries the film’s title, all eyes are most definitely on The Joker here. Partly because it’s Heath, and there’s no denying the surprising force of sadness that hit most people back in January. But mainly because The Joker is such a vibrant character, and Heath’s Joker takes the fun and twists it into something truly menacing. A clown that wants to slice your cheeks and ram a pencil in your face. Come on kids, it’s fun! Creating carnage for seemingly no purpose, turning people on each other by stirring fears, the Joker is the boogyman to today’s society, not least when his coat is full of grenades.
The film boasts a sizeable supporting cast – the familiar faces of Freeman and Caine mixed with newbies Maggie Gyllenhaal (taking over from Katie Holmes and doing a much better job of giving her character backbone) and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, comic fans knowing what’s to come while those out of the loop probably non-the-wiser, thanks to some refreshingly restrained advertising.
Tone-wise this definitely lives up to the ‘dark’ in its title, some events both shocking and bold to include in what’s seen to be a mainstream flick. It is incredibly violent without showing anything on screen, the implications for a 12A film possibly traumatising little kiddies, although they deserve it for spending half their time walking about the cinema. A quibble might be the running-time, perhaps over-shooting it with too much spent on slightly confusing car / motorbike chases. And an unintentional hilarity from Batman’s voice dampens some of the drama (I think his suit might be a little too tight in the larynx department.)
Never-the-less, The Dark Knight lives up to the hype; with superb control from Mr Nolan, solid performance from the Bale, striking from the Ledger (although not Oscar worthy – crazy isn’t that hard to do…) some ace action pieces and good old-fashioned moral conundrums. Dark Knight matches Wall-E with a CF3 and shows its bum to the other superhero flicks of 2008. Keep it up Nolan.