The film of the summer is here. The Dark Knight arrives intact after truckloads of hype and if you haven’t already planned to see it, do so now before you finish reading this.
Writer/director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins re-energised the DC comics franchise in 2005 with its dark styling, muscular action and, a rarity for these kind of comic book shows: proper actors, acting.
The Dark Knight follows up and delivers what Nolan had promised us; he’s deepened the mythology and trumped the already impressive action with several mega-tons worth of pure cinema. The second instalment follows the continuing struggle between law enforcement in Gotham City and the corrupt underworld whose influence even extends to the District Attorney’s office, and within the police-squad led by Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman). This precarious balance is upset not just by our hero but by the crusading efforts taken by new D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Dent is portrayed as the public face of heroism, Batman without the mask if you like, and his close relationship with Bruce Wayne’s alter ego extends to his wooing of Wayne ’s unrequited paramour Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes here).
Now, there is a fair amount of plot squeezed into two hours-twenty, and much of which you really don’t want ruined. Suffice to say, all the major players have their own personal schemes in motion, for themselves and for Gotham. And all of these are utterly exploded by a force of chaos which we haven’t mentioned. Heath Ledger’s Joker. He’s the catalyst in this movie, all the performances will be compared to Ledger’s and the kinks in the story that give you the genuine thrill of the unexpected belong to his character. It’s with sadness of course, since his untimely passing, to report that his work here is captivating. He fully takes advantage of the space villains operate in, with a quiet, anarchic turn. With his lispy drawl and facial tics, you cannot take your eyes off him: in one shadow-drenched scene, he reminds of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. He’s one reason for the price of admission. Another is a screenplay which moulds an epic crime-thriller out of Bob Cane’s comic book world, and if you look closely you find many of ideas which fascinate the director: who’s showing himself to be a brilliant talent.
A third is a screen-bursting set of stunts and special effects which follow up on the movies of James Cameron and Michael Mann, to give you an experience you cannot have on any home formats. Never has Batman glided so gracefully, especially in some amazing scenes when he chases crime to Hong Kong: this film has six sequences optimised for IMAX screens which take some advantage of the vertical possibilities of the screen size, bringing new meaning to word "epic".
This is a sadistic and very dark Batman movie, it’s probably a touch over-long but despite a small gripe over Batman’s voice; what you get is a blistering, must-see summer movie, up there with the very best.