Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan (screenplay)
Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer (story) Bob Kane (characters)
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Eric Roberts, Cillian Murphy
Producers: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Lorne Orleans
Music: James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Wally Pfister
Editor: Lee Smith
Running time: 152mins
This review originally appeared on SkyMovies.com on 18th July 2008
The lowdown: Christopher Nolan returns to direct Christian Bale in the dazzling follow-up to the franchise-resurrecting Batman Begins. This time, Bale’s Bruce Wayne pits his wits against the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning Joker, a devilishly clever criminal intent on bringing chaos to Gotham City. Aaron Eckhart joins the cast as lawyer Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent alongside Michael Caine as trusty butler Alfred, Morgan Freeman as the ever-inventive Lucian Fox and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Bruce’s lady friend Rachel. Consider all blocks busted.
The full verdict:
In a perfect world all summer blockbusters would be directed by Christopher Nolan, Paul Greengrass, Peter Jackson or Steven Spielberg. Filmmakers whose A-picture movies don’t leave their brains at the door.
With The Dark Knight Nolan and co-writer brother Jonathan have created a superhero movie, criminal procedural thriller and mob epic. Or, to put it more poster-friendly, it’s Batman meets Heat meets Seven, and is every bit as awesome as that sounds.
Making no concessions to the maxim that popcorn movies must be light and disposable, this follow-up to the fantastic Batman Begins is a true crime epic: massively ambitious in scope and executed with a ruthless efficiency that make the 152 minutes race by quicker than Batman’s sleek and achingly desirable Bat-pod.
A moral maze of a plot has the caped crusader’s war on crime hitting the mob so hard Bruce Wayne (Bale) is considering hanging up the cowl. The plan is to hand over justice duties to “White Knight” DA Harvey Dent (Eckhart, great as both the visionary lawyer and his dark alter-ego…) and try again to woo lifelong confidant, Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhaal).
But, like a wounded animal, the Mob on the run is more dangerous than ever, turning to anarchic psychopath The Joker for guidance in bringing an end to the Dark Knight.
But, with a mad dog whose mantra is “Welcome to a world without rules”, can the chaos be contained and this Jack stuffed back in the box? Or will the War on Crime become a War on Terror?
Nolan draws from key graphic novels The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns and The Long Halloween, hitting the audience with an impressive amount of characters and plot twists that demand complete attention.
He rewards that attention with a film that confounds expectations, taking sharp turns into unexpected territory (practically everything seen in the trailers has come and gone in the first 90 minutes), and makes sure supporting actors Gary Oldman as Lt. Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred, and Morgan Freeman as Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox are not forgotten.
The main show however belongs to Christian Bale and Heath Ledger.
Ledger’s Joker may be the most toxic villain ever to terrify a 12A certificate movie; a Clockwork Orange style dandy in colourful threads, pancake make-up smeared war-paint like on his leering physog, with a penchant for squirmy knife crime, YouTube unfriendly movies of civilian torture and presenting Batman with impossible choices by placing key characters in harm’s way.
A Best Supporting Actor nomination is a shoo-in, but the highest tribute is that you forget this is Ledger’s final completed role before his tragic death. Eclipsing both Jack Nicholson’s delirious scene-chewing and Mark Hamill’s stellar voice work for the Animated Series, his Joker is the definitive screen take on the character,.
But, Bale is not second fiddle in his own movie. With the space given, Bale develops both the playboy and criminologist Bruce Wayne and the formidable Dark Knight, who soars and swoops amidst the skyscrapers of Gotham and Hong Kong. The actor again employs that American Psycho darkness when The Joker forces Batman to question his cardinal rule: thou shalt not kill.
And while some grumbled that Nolan’s Batman Begins weakened during the action sequences, his raised game here quashes such criticisms.
Taking his lead from Heat’s shootout, the action, including The Joker’s opening bank raid and a demolition derby underground chase, is lean, crisp, and infused with peril. All aided by Wally Pfister’s cinematography that relishes the Chicago locations, continuing Batman Begins’ project that this Gotham should be entirely believable.
You’ll never catch everything first time, but this demands multiple viewings anyway. If only for Batman’s tête-à-tête with The Joker that, yes, is as spine-tingling as the De Niro / Pacino exchange in a certain Michael Mann film.
The first five star blockbuster of the year has arrived, and in style.