“Why So Serious?” Because, The Dark Knight is a seriously good film.
Straight from the off: the robbery of a mob bank in Gotham City, by a gang of ruthless criminals (appropriately hidden behind clown mask), intent on double-crossing and murdering each other until there is only one left: The Joker, who with perfect deceit, poise and timing, escapes with all the money. From this one perfectly-crafted opening scene, which could have been a scene straight out of Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) or Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break (1991), we know that this is a seriously clever and technically brilliant film.
The fine opening sequence is just one of many that have been beautifully orchestrated and choreographed by director Chris Nolan, all of which benefited from being urban-set and grounded in reality.
Chris Nolan actually got his production team to sit down and watch Heat (1995) before filming, and you can certainly see its influence in The Dark Knight, from the thumping opening soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard to the Dante Spinotti-inspired cinematography.
Dark Knight expands upon Batman’s emergence as a force for good, this time forming an alliance with idealistic white knight, District Attorney Harvey Dent, and the pragmatic Lieutenant Jim Gordon, to rid Gotham of organized crime.
Where Dark Knight takes it up a notch from Batman Begins, is the performances which Nolan gets from his actors.
The late Heath Ledger deservedly stole all the plaudits for a career-defining portrayal of the deranged, genuinely unsettling, jocular, psychopath, the Joker – the embodiment of anarchy.
You simply can’t keep your eyes off Ledger’s Joker when he’s on screen, but he is ably supported by Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent, a charismatic man strong in his convictions about right and wrong (he takes the fall for the “vigilante” Batman at one point), who shows no early signs of inevitably and tragically metamorphosing into Harvey Two-Face, a disfigured figure who feels it’s futile being decent in an indecent world. It is Eckhart’s shaded performance that makes the character more realistic and believable.
One point of criticism is that, Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary) steps into Katie Holmes’s (Batman Begins) shoes, after Holmes chose not to reprise the role.
Gyllenhaal is a without doubt a very talented actress, but she wasn’t the right choice to play damsel in distress, Rachel Dawes; she is the strong actress who looks like she could reassuringly hold her own, and it is certainly too much of a stretch of the imagination to ever believe she would run screaming for help from Batman or Harvey Dent.
Indeed, Nolan deserves high praise for The Dark Knight, not least because after the success of Batman Begins, he could have quite easily gone misty-eyed at the amount of money Warner Bros.were willing to through at him, and instead he could have made a film with little or no plot, laden with over the top and inappropriate CGI, and topped off with a huge explosion every five minutes.
Thankfully, Nolan didn’t, and instead decided to make a Batman film about something (you may be forgiven if you were thinking it was about Batman). Yes, it gets a bit heavy in parts, some may say drift a little, but there is no lack of ambition, thoughtfulness, and potency in The Dark Knight, as Nolan delivers a beautifully crafted superhero blockbuster that balances action and emotion with expert precision.