Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The Dark Knight - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer
Running Time: 152 mins
Certificate: 12A
Released: Out Now

It’s a rivalry that has been raging since Batman Issue #1 (1940), and has since been waged across all the visual mediums, be it comics, television, films or video games. Now, Batman and The Joker have returned to the big screen for the first time together in nineteen years in what has become the most anticipated film of the summer, if not the decade. Bolstered by a stunning viral marketing campaign and heightened by the media frenzy surrounding the untimely death of Heath Ledger, there was so much anticipation going into this film it’s a wonder it didn’t buckle under the weight of it. Instead, it has become a phenomenon, both at the box office, with the critics and with the audiences who are returning to see it several times. Is it really worth the hype?

Since Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been looking to step down as the masked vigilante Batman in the hopes that an official, elected, hero, can protect Gotham City. He sees his chance in the fearless new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and hopes his former love Rachael Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) will be awaiting him with opens arms. However Gotham has been rocked by the arrival of The Joker (Ledger), an urban terrorist who has seized power of the cities Mob families and is determined to destroy Batman, and prove that even a great man can be brought down to his murky moral depths.

What the Nolan Brothers and Goyer understand is what Tim Burton failed to grasp in the 1989 film; the true nature of the parallel relationship between Batman and The Joker. Where Burton forced a revenge narrative on them, The Dark Knight is the first film that successfully explores the mystic duality of the pair. Batman sees himself in The Joker; he sees where his own borderline psychosis could lead without his self-imposed rules. The Joker sees his greatest challenge in Batman; he is the one soul the self-proclaimed Agent of Chaos cannot corrupt. As The Joker says, “I think we are destined to dance like this forever.” At once a perfect summation of the classic hero/villain pairing, and also a taste of a possibility that will sadly never be fulfilled with these two actors behind the masks.

Now that it’s been brought up, yes, Heath Ledger is fantastic in the role. The Joker is a lip-smacking psycho with no morals and no cause. He just likes to watch the world burn, and thanks to Ledger’s magnetic presence; he ensures we’re all going along for the ride. While Ledger is the showiest, he is not the only great performer here: Bale returns to the role with aplomb, Eckhart effectively conveys the downfall of a great man and Gary Oldman, the most overlooked of all in this, is a wonderful Jim Gordon. Sensibly ignoring a trite origin story, The Joker simply exists, like Batman he is a constant, which allows Eckhart’s Dent arc to drive the film, which is essentially a battle for his soul between these two creatures of the night and by proxy becomes a war for the soul of Gotham City.

Speaking of which, said city has never been lensed quite as magnificently before. Nolan and his cinematographer Wally Pfister (who has photographed all of his films since Memento) take their influences from Michael Mann and Alan Mak & Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs), creating beautiful panoramas in which to stage their action. The wonderful chase sequence between the Bat-Pod and the 18-wheeler truck across Gotham is awe-inspiring in its lack of CGI and dependence on physical effects. Even the opening bank heist, used as an IMAX trailer last December, is thrilling and nerve wracking in its simplicity and choreography.

Naturally it’s not perfect, the film suffers most from over-ambition and there’s an awful lot of plot to be squeezed into its two hours thirty minute running time. Some of the quieter moments of reflection are rushed passed all too quickly, leaving some of the emotional pay-offs dangling. Yet a blockbuster with smarts, ideas and ambition is such a rarity these days that to chide it for not always hitting the mark does not take away from the impressive achievement. The Dark Knight is a fantastic film experience that cements this vision of Batman as definitive, and takes the comic book movie to new heights.

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