It’s hard in this day and age to review any kind of film without it already having some form of expectation or hype fluttering behind it.
Marketing is an enormous element of any film’s success these days and with that in mind it’s often difficult to enter the foyer of the cinema without some kind of inbuilt expectation or delusion as to what to expect. We may only be seven months into 2008, but already we have seen hopes built up and then defecated upon, and with a number of films still to come back from the dead in 2008, you have to wonder if The Dark Knight, the second of Christopher Nolan’s reborn Batman franchise, can deliver the goods its been hyped to.
Well, let us sum the entire review up this way: this is not a Batman film. This is a cinematic masterpiece.
Perhaps a further explanation is required. For years and years, Batman films were known for their over the top campery. Memories of Adam West in latex still haunt some men to this day, and the villains in the films were often criminal genii who would have been better placed in the Beano than in Gotham City. Even Tim Burton’s gothic interpretation of the Caped Crusader had seriously camp or laughable elements, designed to keep fans of the original 1960s TV programme happy while also trying to cater for the hardcore comic-book lovers out there. This snowballed until we came to the ‘interesting’ Batman and Robin film of 1997, which gave Christopher Nolan carte blanche to reinvent the franchise with the darker, but still slightly camp, Batman Begins in 2005.
In comparison, The Dark Knight is completely out of left field. Unlike some of the previous manifestations, this is the film that comic-book nerds have been praying to the DC gods for since Bat-time began. Two and a half hours of action, violence and bitterness served with a dash of twisted humour. If anything, the clue was there in the title: “Dark”.
Plotwise, the story focuses on three main characters: The Joker, a psychotic evil criminal genius who is tearing up Gotham City left right and centre; Harvey Dent, the new District Attorney for Gotham City who is trying to clear the streets of criminals and mob activity; and Batman (no surprises there, it is his film after all!). Each one is out to get the other, and if you can imagine the movie Heat, only 10 times better and with more facepaint, you would get something like The Dark Knight. At every turn there are explosions, plot twists and action sequences, while the characters – especially the Joker – have some of the best dialogue you will have heard for a long time.
Now, it was around here that we were planning to say something along the lines of ‘despite excellent performances by Heath Ledger and Christian Bale, the star of the film has to be X, Y or indeed Z’. Alas, this is just not possible. Not because the other actors (including Z) weren’t great, but because Heath Ledger is (and let me make this clear, we wouldn’t even consider muttering this if we didn’t wholeheartedly mean it) absolutely 100 per cent totally breathtaking as the Joker. People who have seen previews of this film have been commenting left, right and centre that the now sadly deceased Ledger should get an Oscar for this performance. While we won’t go into it too much, there is no doubt in our minds that he deserves a nomination for some award as he makes Jack Nicholson’s Joker look like Krusty the Clown. To be fair, Aaron Eckhart comes very close to taking Heath’s nomination with his portrayal of Harvey Dent (and he’s still alive, which makes it a bit easier for the Oscar bods), but this film is Heath Ledger’s, pure and simple. Bale doesn’t even get a sniff.
Like all films, especially ones from the comic-book genre, The Dark Knight has some bad elements to it, although unlike some ghost-written celebrity film hacks with a history of praising rubbish films simply to get their name on the poster, we wouldn’t dare to label a film this good as ‘boring’. However, despite minor quibbles which will be argued in the pub for several hours, it is fair to say that Nolan has pulled this film out of the bag and created an epic movie which surpasses every Batman film before it. Plus, as an added geeky bonus to filmgoers everywhere (well, where there is an IMAX) over 20 minutes has been specially filmed for IMAX cinemas, meaning that should you decide to pay the extra money and travel to your nearest enormo-screen, you get to see the key action scenes in enormous size and detail.
Go see this film, and find you will inevitably find yourself leaving the cinema saying “Holy Cinematic Experience, that was amazing!” looking for a shop to buy some white facepaint and wearing a large, manic smile while pondering just why everything is ‘so serious?’