The Dark Knight


Reviewed by: Richard Mellor

The Dark Knight
"While The Dark Knight may be limited cerebrally, sensually it is just sensational, bettering its predecessor in invention and scope."

Holy hype, Batman, hasn't Christopher Nolan's $180 million follow-up to his own Batman Begins caused a stir? Thanks to a well-received original, a hugely powerful, year-long viral campaign and Heath Ledger's premature death, The Dark Knight has initiated suitably nocturnal 2.30am and 5.30am screenings and put box office record overseers on alert across the globe.

Nolan's sequel begins in suitably grandiose fashion. The opening six-minute sequence is one of half-a-dozen shot with special IMAX cameras - a feature-film first meaning larger, startlingly-clear shots (especially if viewed in the vaulted cinemas) - and sees Wally Pfister's lens career low over Manhattan, standing in for Gotham City, plunging headily between silvery skyscrapers. Such is the immediacy of the spectacle, it truly feels as though you're Batman, flying over Gotham City with buildings at fingertip distance and glee uncontained.

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The pacy intro segues into a slick bank robbery by The Joker (Heath Ledger), who then tootles off to wage 150 (occasionally slow) minutes of merry, murderous chaos on Gotham. Opposing him are Batman (Christian Bale), hot-shot DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the woman they both adore, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and the plucky Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman).

Whereas Batman Begins was all about the chiropterous crime-fighter, The Dark Knight focuses more on his major foe, with the crusader even vaguely peripheral at times. The Joker repeatedly holds trump cards: where Batman is moralistic and logical, he is conscience-free and impromptu. And where his adversary's modus operandi is secretive, the Joker explodes hospitals, overruns prisons and turns mountains of money into pyres in anarchic instances John Lydon could only dream about. It's giddy, terrifying super-villainy, and delectable in its depravity.

Licking his lips, froglike, lacquered in sticky face-paint and drawling in an amused, saliva-heavy tone, Ledger's green-haired and purple-jacketed Joker is captivating and seductive, if never especially scary. But while the late actor is inspired, this marvellously hammed-up performance doesn't compare to the subtlety and bravery of his Ennis in Brokeback Mountain. Neither is Bale at his best: whether dishing out champagne or left hooks, he cuts a bland figure opposite his colourful co-star.

Heath also provides the only humour, be it by waddling around in a nurse's uniform or, in a weird Jerry Maguire moment, telling Batman "you complete me". Elsewhere, The Dark Knight is very sombre. Bale's baleful alter-ego, along with Michael Caine's tender Alfred, are regularly in the doldrums, while Dent and Gordon compulsively obsess about Gotham's need for a hero. In one way, such silly seriousness only heightens the OTT entertainment, but still - aren't superhero films meant to be fun, not glum? Oh for a 'POW!' or a 'BIFF!' from Adam West...

And what of the plot? There's an attempt to make Batman a bit bad - not that you ever believe it - plus mafiamen, money-launderers and corruption behind grander themes of ethics and selflessness. Yet really all is super simple - it's the Joker versus Batman, and little else is important. Gyllenhaal is more plot device than genuine character as the love interest, her dual romances positively anorexic, while the gadgetry scenes are shamelessly borrowed from 007: witness a suddenly boyish Bruce Wayne playing with lethal new gizmos to the weathered chagrin of Fox (Morgan Freeman) - aka Q.

But while The Dark Knight may be limited cerebrally, sensually it is just sensational, bettering its predecessor in invention and scope. Betwixt a blur of spellbinding spectacles, two particularly stand out. In the first, Batman suddenly plummets off a towering Hong Kong high-rise into whooshing wind and your tummy knots in empathy; later, a long lorry performs a perfect, slow-motion somersault in mid-air, landing with a sudden, sinewy thud. These are as visceral moments as cinema has ever produced, and worth the entrance fee just as much as Heath's final hurrah.

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2008
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The Dark Knight packshot
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:

Scott Macdonald *****
Stephen Carty *****

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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