The Dark Knight


Well, what do you know? Someone’s finally made a bloody awesome Batman film. They made it a while ago, and this review is late, but it seems wrong not to say anything about it. So I’ll say something, and that something is this; it’s refreshing to watch a super hero film with multiple interesting characters interacting in involving ways with each other. By which I mean, there’s no stereotypical aunties, no wise-cracking sidekicks, no shallow love interests, no cartoonish buffoons.1 The film’s really about five people. Or to put it another way, it’s about four people, and the ways they all respond to one monster.

When we left our dark-cowled hero, he’d just been told by his childhood sweetheart that they couldn’t be together if he insisted on being a vigilante all the time. At the time, it seemed like your garden variety “we can’t be together” sort of ending to a superhero movie — a cunning way to extend the will-they-won’t-they romance which such movies thrive on. Surprisingly, instead that conversation lends a lot of extra weight to The Dark Knight, as from the get-go, Bruce Wayne is keen to ditch the whole ‘Batman’ thing.

Encouraging him in his delusion of returning to a normal life is Harvey Dent, Gotham’s ‘white knight’ and all-round good guy. I first saw Aaron Eckhart being awesome in Thank You For Smoking, and he continues said awesomeness here. Dent’s an interesting character; anyone with a passing knowledge of Batman lore knows how he’s likely to end up, but for anyone who doesn’t, his story must come as quite a surprise, rather than an inevitable tragedy.2 Eckhart toes the line between inspired good guy and over-zealous cop deftly, convincing at every turn.

The aforesaid childhood sweetheart is also full of surprises; the first being that she now looks a lot less like Katie Holmes and a lot more like Maggie Gyllenhall. In my book, this is a good thing; for a variety of reasons I could never quite take Holmes seriously, and seeing her wander about Gotham’s seedy underbelly was reminiscent of seeing dodgy fake dinosaurs wandering about London via bad blue-screen.3 It is a crying shame that amongst the five protagonists I alluded to earlier, only one of them is a woman, and that even her involvement is limited.4 Her story ends up being quite a sentimental one, but pleasingly, Christopher Nolan is no Sam Raimi, and these elements are underplayed nicely.

Heath Ledger’s Joker, meanwhile, is running amok in Gotham, taking on the mob and winning. Ledger’s performance is the one aspect of the film which has probably been praised to death, so I won’t go into it. Instead, I’ll just say that not only does he catapult into the top five screen villains ever, but he’s possibly the most geninely scary human being I’ve seen on screen in my adult life. I can’t quite explain it, but just seeing him moving, stalking, flicking his tongue between his mouth, gave me the willies. It’s a masterful performance, and it’s the gruesome, beating heart of the film. Of course, the script has to sell his intellect to us, and his anarchy and amorality engage you almost as much as Ledger. There is one moment in particular which feels somewhat like the world is bending over backwards to give the Joker a chance to present his latest social experiment to his enemies. But it’s not, as they say, a deal-breaker.

And finally there’s Gary Oldman, happy to let the others take the limelight while playing it quietly sincere with Gordon. When you’ve got so many people running about with crazy make-up, pointy black ears and gruesome eye-sockets, it’s nice to have someone pulling the movie back to some level of reality, and it’s Gordon more than anyone else who keeps the film with one foot in reality. In the old sixties TV show, Gordon was of course a ridiculous caricature; a pathetic authority figure who has become so reliant on the man in grey tights solve his problems that he barely bothers to sit down at his desk, lest he have to get up again and pick up the red phone. Gordon here, as in Batman Begins, is almost a partner to Batman, and a peculiar contradiction: an honest cop working inside the system, yet allied with a vigilante.

There’s been some complaint that Batman doesn’t necessarily do that much in The Dark Knight. In a way, it’s true, but it’s only because he’s sharing the screen with another four excellent characters. Here’s a super hero movie where the fact that the hero’s running about the place isn’t the most interesting thing about the movie; the most interesting thing is what happens. Watching the Joker waltz in and turn everyone’s world upside down is arresting stuff, and the effect he has on Dent and Batman in particular is perfectly realised. In truth, it’s like this; The Dark Knight is just a bloody awesome film. And it has Batman in it.

  1. There’s Michael Caine’s Alfred of course, but he’s damn cool, and gets one really nice moment that raises him above comic relief.
  2. I believe people who don’t know who Harvey Dent is must be the vast majority, given that our own Mr Kearney seemed blissfully ignorant.
  3. Also, Gyllenhall is cuter.
  4. This shame, of course, stems from the rather sexist distribution of roles in the source material. Nolan has resisted it seems the urge to pull a Starbuck on Gordon.

2 Responses to “The Dark Knight”

  1. I’ve decided that superheros aren’t very interesting when they are flying around saving people. The action is great, but for the whole film to be great you need complex and realistic characters, which a guy with in a cape and a mask isn’t.

  2. i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was as though all that time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was lost…