The Dark Knight effortlessly glides across Gotham’s anarchic chaos. “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain”. The caped crusader. Gotham’s silent protector. The Batman. An ordinary man adorned with the anonymity his carbon fibre mask grants, enabling him to punish the corrupt and influence the innocent. A spotlight illuminates the midnight sky, beckoning his presence to be known. The symbol of hope. Yet a new mastermind upsets the established order. A meticulous psychopath that fears nothing and embraces everything. Batman’s nemesis, his unrivalled counterpart, the corruption to his incorruptibility. Joker.
Purple suit, clown cosmetics and an unmatched crazed cranium. Arkham Asylum, unlike with Jonathan Crane, would be unable to penetrate his barrier of anarchy. Chaos incarnate. His mission? To undermine the influence of Batman, coercing him into revealing his true identity to the world, and corrupt Gotham’s glimmering “White Knight”, Harvey Dent. The new district attorney who seeks and breaths justice. A pure soul of well-intentioned professionalism, locking up half of Gotham’s crime syndicates within an hour. He is Batman without the suit, everything Bruce strives to be. However, unlike the eponymous hero, Harvey’s instability when he loses everything presents a solemn insight into the lustful power that grief withholds. Turning fragility into vengeance. Harvey “Two-Face”, susceptible to Joker’s anarchic methodologies, has become lost. And that is the precipice of The Dark Knight’s thematic perspective.
Nolan’s second instalment within the trilogy undoubtedly changed the superhero, blockbuster, action and crime genres. It paved the way for comic book adaptations by merging dark, broody realism with heroic sentiments. Producing an optimistic political undertone against the backdrop of nihilistic lawlessness. For years, superhero blockbusters were mere shells of their source material, attempting to capture the buoyancy and comedic aesthetic of their dialogue. In doing so, they crumble into nothingness. Shattered surfaces of their former versions. The Dark Knight, and arguably its predecessor ‘Batman Begins’, changed that entirely. Relentlessly shadowy iterations conveying the humanity within both law and order. To illustrate the nature of good-will in times of bleakness and despair. And by shifting the narrative focus onto Harvey Dent, inhibiting the entirety of Gotham’s morality into one individual, Nolan and Goyer’s story is elusively elevated.
The Dark Knight isn’t necessarily revolving around Batman. The practical action scenes, from a highway chase sequence to cumbersome brawls, exclusively showcase Batman’s gadgetry and superiority. Yet the title alludes to the corrupted state of Dent and the cruelty reality brings, the sole purpose of this instalment. Nolan, through several philosophical quotes, underlines the virtuosity of its characters through engaging morality gauges. Every character, from Dent to Gordon, are distinguishable yet interchangeable. Their alignments constantly shifting based on the sociopathic scenarios Joker embroils Gotham in. The conclusive social experiment that plots two ships, one filled with innocent civilians and the other convicted felons, each harnessing a detonator to the other ship’s explosive device, literally highlights the psychological warfare that Joker brings. Not just to Gotham in general, but to specific individuals. It unequivocally provides a thrilling tone throughout, and enhances the indicative moral challenges that presides over the illuminated city.
Characterisation is what makes The Dark Knight successful. Supplying human qualities to the seemingly invulnerable. Wayne and his inner conflict on whether to reveal the identity of his alter-ego. Dent and his insistence on doing the “right thing”. Gordon and his persistent hunt for Joker. Even the antagonist himself reveals jaded humanity, especially when divulging in two different scenarios on how he received his grinning scars. The only character who serves as the underdeveloped weak link, was Rachel yet again. Unfortunately, her characterisation was relinquished, forcing her to be a mere plot device. The lack of chemistry between her and Wayne, and with Dent, was hugely noticeable and deteriorated the impact of the “choice” Joker forced upon Batman.
The Dark Knight, arguably, would not be as popular if it weren’t for the unfortunate untimely demise of Ledger, whom garnered a posthumous Academy Award for his performance as Joker. It is, categorically, the greatest performance for a villainous role in a superhero blockbuster. Ever. Transformative, both literally and figuratively, with subtle nuances embedded throughout. Offering a plethora of memorable scenes, aesthetics, lines of dialogue and quirks. The balance between explicit lunacy and hidden humanity was a near equilibrium. Perfection. Bale providing much required physicality to the narrative and Oldman consistent as ever. Recasting Gyllenhaal as Rachel, in a trilogy, does create an unfortunate inconsistency. She’s fine, if somewhat whiny. Eckhart has the tendency to overact when explicitly shouting, particularly “RACHEL!”. But when delivering quieter lines, he absolutely nails it. His sudden change into Two-Face was refreshing to watch and captured his acting ability.
Zimmer’s score continues the consistent elongated trumpets from ‘Batman Begins’, yet extends its reach by including heightened tones when tense situations arise. This usually occurs when Joker offers an ultimatum, and is as effective as ever. Pfister’s cinematography, again, capturing the darkened environment of Gotham City exceptionally well, and is one of the first films to utilise IMAX cameras for various sequences. Improving the action segments gloriously.
Batman concludes the film with a poignant line. Referring to Joker when communicating with Dent, “He wanted to prove that even someone as good as you could fall”. A sentiment that catapults The Dark Knight above and beyond. Admittedly, it is not a perfect film. Yet those imperfections suit the human elements that raise this feature to something more. We, as imperfect souls, can be corrupted. Yet put on a mask, and we can be an icon for others. A symbol of hope.