More noise than signal

The Dark Knight

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

Even coming off the shapely, well-formed back of Batman Reboots, there had to have been some trepidation in featuring the Joker as the main spanner in the works for The Dark Knight. After all, as Batty’s main baddie there’s been no shortage of decent interpretations of him. Jack Nicholson’s scenery chewing, essentially-Jack-Nicholson-playing-himself-in-makeup was memorable and vital to Tim Burton’s film, and even in the camp telly series Cesar Romero made a memorable foil. Admittedly mainly because he kept trying to turn the city’s water supply into jelly and other such leftfield scams that seem to be of no benefit whatsoever to anyone. However, it’s clear you’d have to do something special to make The Dark Knight work, and The Dark Knight is clearly something special.

We rejoin Gotham City with crime getting its ass kicked on a daily basis. Batman (Christian Bale) has battered the organised crime bosses to the edge of extinction, and now other citizens are stepping out of the shadow of fear, either becoming ill-advised vigilantes themselves or in the case of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) becoming a district attorney vowing to jail the evildoers Batman delivers unto him regardless of personal threats to his safety. Driven to desperation, there seems to be only one way to turn to rid themselves of this Bat-menace, and that’s in the general direction of the not-so-much unhinged as was-never-hinged-in-the-first place Joker (Heath Ledger).

The Joker, as is probably redundant to point out by this point, a psychotic, violent lunatic driven not by a desire for power or money but by, well, we’re not exactly sure, which is why he’s so effective as a villain. He appears to be starting a reign of terror because, well, he thinks it’ll be a laugh. As such, he embarks on a series of schemes to break the spirits of the newly resurgent Gotham citizenry, along the way breaking up a faintly contrived love triangle between Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, thankfully replacing that Dawson’s Creek chick).

And so it goes on, and I can’t think that there’s an awful lot of point in further recapping a film that’s in danger of sinking the Titanic as the most money grabbing film of all time ever and that. It’s been so popular that amongst some folks it’s sparking the least convincing backlash of all time, where the most convincing arguments against it appear to be that Bale’s Batman voice is silly. And people think we’re cynical.

The Dark Knight is not only as good as everyone else says, it’s probably better. The Bat-franchise continues to be the only comic book based shenanigans, and frankly one of the few film at all, which rely on actual characterisation to build dramatic tension rather than ridiculous CG setpieces and arbitrary monsters, and wouldn’t you know it it turns out to be around eleventy thousand times more effective than, say The Incredible Hulk or any of its ilk. Even the excellent Iron Man is largely decent because its lead actor is so engaging, but with The Dark Knight you get the double whammy of fabulous performances in what I can only call A Proper Film. With acting and motivation and that.

How many other nominal action films can you think of where the climactic final battle has, in essence, absolutely nothing to do with the people punching each other up, but in the minds of the people of Gotham and in the mind of Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent? It’s a credit to the script, the director and of course the actors. While Christian Bale is as customarily excellent as we’ve come to expect, and the support from Michael Caine, Gyllenhaal and Gary Oldman is able, it’s Ledger’s turn that gets all the headlines. This is a tad unfortunate for Aaron Eckhart, who’s every bit as vital to the film and every bit as exemplary, however isn’t dead.

There’s been concern over whether Ledger’s turn ballyhoo is effectively getting a sympathy vote because he’s worm fodder, however this does his memory a grand disservice. The only other actor to so effectively own a role and become a guaranteed movie icon was yer milkshake drinking fella in There Will Be Blood. It’s by turns creepy, terrifying, disturbing and yet at the same time kinda funny and kinda endearing, in a really perverted way. The Joker’s actions aren’t just random acts of senseless violence, there’s a twisted logic to how everything falls together that’s admirable, well, in a sense. It’s an entirely spellbinding performance, yet not one that’s over-used, and it’s a great shame that Ledger will not be able to reprise this role as it’s now truly his for all time. The only other actor that I think would stand a chance of doing as well as Ledger in the role happens to be the man behind the Bat-Mask, so that’s unlikely to work.

I just don’t have quite enough good things to say about this film. It’s restrained when it needs to be and packs a punch when it has to. The effects are often understated yet always effective, with the work of Harvey Dent’s disfigurement being seamless and regardless of how often it’s seen, disturbingly nasty. There are perhaps a few niggles in addition to Batman’s voice, but they’d be just that, meaningless, trifling niggles against an avalanche of awesome. There is one major issue with the U.K. release, but seeing as that’s entirely the fault of the BBFC’s quite insanely lenient 12A classification it’d be unfair to hold that against the movie.

There’s got to be a bunch of execs in the Marvel Studios office shaking their heads in despair at the moment. The Dark Knight has just made damn near everything that ever sprang forth from a comic book seem rather silly and small. There’s no question in my mind that this is the best comic book superhero film, and easily the best film I’ve seen since There Will Be Blood. The only thing that worries me about this film is where in the hell do you take the franchise from here? Hopefully Christopher Nolan can escape the third film slump that affected the Spider-man and X-Men films, but there’s little point concerning ourselves with that when we have something so wonderful to behold at the moment.

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