The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

*****

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Believe the hype. The Dark Knight improves on Batman Begins considerably - it darkens the tone to something bleak and often nightmarish. So much so, the story's black humour probably won't be revealed until the second viewing. Mine will be soon.

A gang wearing clown masks nicks the Mob's loot in an outlandish, cleverly planned heist. The leader of the gang is The Joker (Heath Ledger) - Nolan deftly avoids a tedious origin story - a brilliant and insane hoodlum with "a taste for the theatrical", anarchy and sadism. With Batman dishing out nightly punishment for Gotham's mob bosses and criminals (including Arkham escapees, such as Scarecrow), and sneaking in a bit of detective work with the help of Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), the criminal element in the city are getting all the more desperate. This leaves a niche which the Joker fills gladly, lighting the fuse of terrorism and anarchy within the city. To help, Batman and Gordon contemplate bringing "Gotham's White Knight", new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) into their scheme to take on the mob - but things do not go to plan.

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The Dark Knight is an outstanding achievement: a rich, dark and complex movie told without pandering to the teenage demographic - the 12A rating is a delightfully twisted joke - or indeed, without storytelling compromise of any kind. The story, credited to director Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer, mixes several Batman comic-book stories - most notably The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke - and improves on them. It delivers everything we expect, but in clever ways we almost don't see coming. Brilliant story touches are present throughout.

Ledger's performance is a revelation compared to prior incarnations of The Joker. The character is portrayed in comic-book terms and simultaneously tangibly, frighteningly real and a complete psychopath. I can understand completely why some find it hard to enjoy. It's the best supervillain performance I have ever seen, and yet much more subtle than I expected, without actually being subtle (Watch, particularly, for his opening magic trick - "Ta-da!")

Batman's confrontation with the Joker builds and builds to near mythic proportions. The Joker takes disturbed pleasure in twisting the city and its heroes' moral compasses, coming across like a force of nature. He devises impossible situations for his victims, pushing them until they break. He knows their motivations and how to manipulate them. One can see a grisly parallel with the Saw films, only this is written with much more restraint and a stronger belief in characters, which makes all the difference in the world.

"When the chips are down, these civilized people... will eat each other. You'll see... I'll show ya!" sneers the captive Joker.

Bale is every bit as good as he was in Begins, finally seeing someone, in Dent, who can inspire a time "when Gotham no longer needs Batman". His performance as Wayne is subtle but full of optimism, even while sporting doll-faced escorts on each arm and holding fundraisers. Maggie Gyllenhaal (replacing Katie Holmes) as "Wayne's oldest friend" Rachel Dawes adds some vigour to her role as the damsel in distress. Gary Oldman projects virtue and self-doubt superbly. Very nearly the equal of Ledger is Eckhart's Harvey Dent, a wholesomely good man who "makes his own luck" but with character flaws that threaten to destroy him. The remaining supporting cast is excellent - reinforcing the team effort required to keep the Batman a living breathing bastion of hope for Gotham.

Visually, the film is luxurious, expensive, sophisticated and awesomely staged with movement and editorial timing honed perfectly. The music has also been greatly improved over Begins - Zimmer and Newton Howard's dual score delivers fresh, subtle yet sad brass themes for the falling heroes like Dent, and industrial Joker music which sets the hair on the back of your neck on edge.

Without wanting to spoil things - so I choose my words carefully - the finale of this picture is perfect, open-ended yet tying the real story of Gotham's struggle together beautifully, even with delicious purple prose in voiceover. It concludes with such a fabulous storytelling dichotomy I cannot imagine that it could be improved with a sequel. I almost don't want one, it's that good. Together with Begins, this continues the cinema Batman saga I have been waiting for.

The Dark Knight is one of the best films of the year, the best comic-book thriller ever and the role of his life for Ledger. Chases, crashes, choices and conundrums - I cannot imagine more entertainment value for your £6.50 this summer... and the IMAX presentation is a genuine revelation - the future of event movies!

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2008
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The Caped Crusader isn't the only batty one in Gotham... The Joker's also in town.
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Read more The Dark Knight reviews:

Stephen Carty *****
Richard Mellor ***

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer

Starring: Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Cillian Murphy, Anthony Michael Hall, Monique Curnen

Year: 2008

Runtime: 152 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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