Batman and Robin proved such a monumental disaster, despite reasonable returns at the box office that many feared it had killed the profitability of Batman as a movie franchise. 8 years later, Christopher Nolan successfully rebooted the character in Batman Begins. It was an origin story that placed Batman in a more realistic setting, a far cry from the Technicolor of Joel Shumacher’s world. It was successful both critically and commercially and provided a strong vehicle for its star Christian Bale. Off the back of this success, Nolan was given the green light to make a sequel, The Dark Knight, which smashed box office records and firmly placed director and star into the A-list of Hollywood.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a dilettante playboy by day and a masked vigilante by night. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eackhart) is a district attorney in Gotham City and becomes a local hero for breaking a crime syndicate. Together the two men are pushed to their limits by an anarchist known as The Joker (Heath Ledger). The Joker sets a series of challenges for Dent and Batman for seemingly no other reason than to see when they’ll break.
The story itself revolves around Harvey Dent’s fall from grace and Batman’s ascension to become the ‘hero that Gotham needs him to be.’ Both Eckhart and Bale are strong ‘straight men’ struggling with their own demons in a city that seems to be falling apart around them. However without their low-key performances, the real star of the show would not be given the room he needs to perform. Ledger’s maniac and the interplay between the three leads is truly a joy to behold.
In the build-up to its release, The Dark Knight was consumed with the shocking and unfortunate death of Heath Ledger. Many saw this as the last film from a promising young actor and a potential megastar in the making. His performance as the Joker shows just how brilliant he was. From his creepy, off-key pencil-pushing introduction, to his bombastic finale, with some cross-dressing dark humour thrown in, Ledger’s Joker is a work of art and uncompromisingly astounding. Like a force of nature, he consumes the film and it is him alone that people will remember for years to come.
The film runs a little too long (the scene on the boats could easily have been cut) and Bale’s voice is a little odd at times, but we forgive these minor problems in view of the towering success of Nolan’s direction and the cast’s incredible performances combine to make The Dark Knight one of the most impressively constructed summer blockbusters of all time.
Add to this pitch-perfect casting a real sense of threat throughout and some glorious set-pieces and you have a blockbuster that is not only exciting, but cerebral. It’s intense, dark, thrilling and completely engrossing. Nolan’s skills as story-teller and blockbuster maestro are unparalleled in Hollywood today, and The Dark Knight remains a testament to his popularity. Everyone hits the right note and Ledger’s performance must be seen to be believed.