Christopher Nolan, director and co-writer of Legendary Pictures' The Dark Knight, may have just made the best film of his career. He definitely has made the deepest, darkest and greatest Batman movie to date. And why limit those accolades to just 'Batman' movies? This is probably the most incredible superhero movie (or comic-book/movie adaptation) audiences have ever seen. I knew it was going to be good, but only by actually sitting down to watch this film (many sequences of which were shot on the giant, technologically advanced 70mm IMAX film cameras) on a big screen with a big crowd can you fully comprehend the genius of the work that went into this production. I'm calling it "The Godfather of superhero movies!"
Unlike his predecessors in the Batman film franchise, (the visionary Tim Burton and the extremely lack-luster Joel Schumacher,) Nolan has created a setting in the real world and in modern time. As with the previous film, Batman Begins (2005), Chicago doubles for the dark, crime-ridden Gotham City these days, and no apparent set design is made to the architecture or infrastructure of the city. This helps to create a far more reality based world in which a man dressed as a bat could actually exist. Nolan wants us to imagine that this could be happening somewhere out there in our own world, not in some fantasy.
And then, in comes Heath Ledger's Joker. Although his posthumous appearance on the big screen lends his performance in The Dark Knight a certain air of romance and a gravity it may not have had otherwise, Ledger's portrayal of the most perfectly quintessential and dastardly villain in comic book history is supreme! The Joker jumps of the screen with a fire and madness the likes of which filmgoers haven't experienced since Hannibal Lecter. . . and, dare I say, more so!
And how does this Joker compare with Jack Nicholson's 1989 performance? It doesn't! Ledger takes sick and twisted insanity to a whole new level, leaving Jack's Joker looking cartoony and almost silly. And, as a final credit to his phenomenal acting abilities, Ledger had only a "one-take" chance to do a shot in which a hospital behind him explodes and collapses, and he nailed it with the precession that only the greatest of actors can pull off! Simply brilliant! This is cinema-character history! Give that poor, dead boy the Oscar NOW!
The rest of the film is taken up by decent performances by the rest of the great cast, including Christian Bale (as the hero in question), Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Eric Roberts. Even Cillian Murphy pops up again as Prof. Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. the Scarecrow), Anthony Michael Hall has a spot as GNN (Gotham News Network) reporter Mike Engel, and LOST's Nestor Carbonell is struggling to get noticed as the mayor of Gotham. But it's certainly Ledger who steals the screen.
Clocking in at more than two-and-a-half hours, The Dark Knight is intricately laced heavily with message. The major theme of the film is the concept of heroes and the various "faces" they may take in a city of millions; be it the clown-caked countenance of the criminally-insane Joker (a hero of chaos), a masked-visage vigilante Batman, or the unmasked, honest face of elected official, Harvey Dent, who's selfless and bold in his determination to clean up Gotham as district attorney. In a ironically prophetic statement about the Roman guard-turned-tyrant, Julius Caesar, Dent tells Bruce Wayne about the value of sacrifice: "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." The idea being that we all have it in us to be a hero or a villain. Wayne believes in choice and inspiring others to find the bravery to make the right choice themselves. Dent seems to agree, in the sense that "you make your own luck." Both Batman and The Joker have made their own luck. Not all luck is good.
Batman faces a plethora of the Joker's classic catch-22 situations which force him (or other victims) to make a choice between one terror or another: save Dent or save the woman he loves; kill or be killed, etc. The Joker's ultimate objective is not to destroy Batman, but to murder his image as a hero. He wants to force the dark knight into a choice that will turn him into a villain in the eyes of Gotham's citizens and kill their spirit.
The Joker is not driven by greed or a desire to kill; all he wants is "a world without rules." He wants to show the human race that order is the same as chaos - that chaos is the natural order of things - and that the only difference comes in our reaction to each.
Batman only wants to show the ordinary citizens of Gotham that they needn't be afraid of such murderous madmen, organized crime syndicates or the petty thugs that rule the streets at night. Bruce Wayne dreams of returning the city to the way it was when he was young, when his father had built it into a shining metropolis. He knows that it can be this way again, and he knows that the citizens of Gotham believe in it, too. Dent believes it. Rachel Dawes believes it. Lt. Gordon and Lucious Fox believe it. But the mob has a vested interest in Gotham, and The Joker has them wrapped around his green and white little finger.
The Dark Knight also seems to pay homage in a very subtle way to previous films in several cases. Multiple scenes had a bit of a deja vu feel to them, like a Batman/Joker showdown in the middle of a huge, empty thoroughfare, as well as another duke-out between the two on a high rooftop. The demise of one Bat-vehicle and the surprise emergence of another one isn't exactly a new concept, and the Joker barging in on a classy party reminded me of The Penguin doing the same in Batman Returns (1992). Does the Joker attending a meeting of mobsters to take over as their new leader ring any bells? Even the Joker's evil scheme that forced Batman to choose one of two people in peril was very Lex Luthor-esque, a la Superman (1978). But none of this seemed derivative or ripped-off, but only homaged in an honorable and still unique way.
This film is worth every penny of the ticket price. The action sequences are amazing, the stunt work is top-notch, and the pacing of the story makes it feel like no time has gone by at all. The music is simple and effective, and the sound design is incredible - often acting as a score in huge action sequences where no music is heard at all. Whatever problems may have arisen on the previous venture, Batman Begins, have been well ironed-out by now.
The Dark Knight is the best Batman movie to date and it will be virtually impossible to top it... but at this point, I'm keeping great faith in Christopher Nolan and his team.