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3. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: The Dark Knight

December 6, 2018

Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman
Runtime: 154 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 2008

 

★★★★★

 

After the successful renovation of the franchise with 2005’s Batman Begins, hopes were high and looking towards the promise of a bigger, grander future for the Dark Knight of Gotham - and The Dark Knight doesn't only not disappoint, it might stand as one of the most impressive sequels of it's kind since Spider-Man 2. In which Batman finds himself pitted against his arch-nemesis, the Joker, for control over the streets of Gotham city.

 

Before anything else can be said, it must be addressed that even following the tragic passing of Heath Ledger right as he was on the cusp of stardom, the hype around his performance was no hyperbole. Ledger offers up a transcendent, career-redefining turn in one of the most disquieting and unique interpretations of the character ever put to screen.

 

Reimagined as a psychopathic, anarchic criminal with an amoral compass and a shaggy grunge look, this Joker operates as the manifested antithesis of Batman in the flesh. Clowns and bats might have anything in common, but as figures with an operating flare for the theatrical, their clashing ideologies bring Gotham to its knees in a titanic clash that consumes the lives of everyone in contact with them.

 

The film dwells on the nature of performance, antithesis, balance and destruction. The theme of fear gives way to anarchy, and the loss of control, as Bruce struggles to maintain the balance necessary in his life while fighting an enemy of near-omnipotent capability. The toll it takes is both startling and devastating as the city of Gotham changes forever. The tests at play all stretch the capabilities and codes of its heroes in ways that throw the black-and-white resolves of the genre further into obscurity.

 

Series newcomer Aaron Eckhart fits seamlessly into the world as the tortured Harvey Dent, and Maggie Gyllenhaal works as Rachel. The film is an awesome power struggle that builds even greater upon the original film's story, as circumstances change and effect Bruce in extraordinary ways.

 

The other star is director and co-writer Christopher Nolan, delivering upon the promises of Batman Begins with an immensely enjoyable, exciting and intense action film of heavy practicality, (mostly) seamless digital wizardry and a feel of weight and scale that bombards the audience as much as Hans Zimmer's thunderous score.

 

Borrowing heavily from the aesthetic values of Michael Mann's Heat and keeping as much of the action in camera as possible, from the perfect character introduction of it's opening bank heist to a bravado car chase sequence at the centre, he strips the more comic influenced vistas of Gotham from his previous film away to resemble something much closer to the real world Chicago setting.

 

It’s also great to see Bruce achieving the “World’s Greatest Detective” status as he breaks down the Joker's path of destruction piece by piece with new equipment and gadgets to aid him thanks to Morgan Freeman's returning Lucius Fox.

 

The only true issue to be taken with the film is that Bruce seems to take a backseat in favour of Batman, so Bruce’s emotional punches feel less poignant to the audience, especially when he's sharing screen time with Ledger who is stealing every moment he's around. It’s a Batman film, and yet seems more focused on the icon than character. Which is a shame considering Bale is delivering on a convincingly emotional and enraged performance, even if his Batman's voice is a little too gruff and monstrous to understand at points that make him sound silly.

 

That's maybe the other issue to take. As far as it delves into the grim and dark territory that it's aiming for, there is a strange dissonance being cause when you see Gary Oldman's terrific Jim Gordon arguing on a rooftop with Dent about how to take down the mob - like a scene out of any other straight thriller or gangster drama - suddenly Batman emerges silently into frame and it all becomes a little hard to take unless you're just going with it.

 

Regardless, the film is exemplary and in many cases transcends its position as a comic-book movie… if taking itself a tad too seriously at times.

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