Batman Begins is a near perfect origin story for the caped crusader. Nolan, known for his mind-bending thrillers took the world of Batman and gave it a fresh coat of paint after the overly sexualized, gothic, and campy era of Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s combined 4 films. But somehow, after a technically flawless film, Christopher Nolan finds a way to make an even better Batman film with The Dark Knight. The first Batman film to not have “Batman” in the title, The Dark Knight is a masterpiece in storytelling, direction, sound, cinematography and acting. Even though it’s a sequel, The Dark Knight is in a way an origin story for one key character – Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).
Not long after stopping Ra’s Al Ghul’s plan to destroy Gotham from within, Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) alter ego (his real identity) has become the legend he hoped for when starting on this mission to cleanse Gotham. Criminals are too afraid to go out at night while the bat symbol shines the brightest in the sky. But Bruce understands he can’t be Gotham’s savior, his presence attracts lunatics and maniac’s – a new class of criminal. Instead, the real hero of The Dark Knight is Harvey Dent – Gotham’s new district attorney. Harvey represents the good in Gotham, he believes in justice the same way Batman does but in a more legal sense of the word. But that also means Harvey has limitations, he can’t do what Batman does best because of the strict jurisdictions which makes Batman so effective when the sun goes down.
Nolan crafts The Dark Knight as an old Shakespearean tragedy. The rise of the hero as he cleans up the city, the tragic loss he suffers that turns him to the dark side and his plan to seek revenge in killing the ones responsible for that loss. This type of justice is fair, even, and truly blind in Harvey “Two Face’s” eyes. Bruce Wayne and Batman are a supporting character in The Dark Knight. “The night is darkest just before the dawn” Harvey tells the press after a string of cops are murdered by the lunatic known simply as Joker (Heath Ledger). Harvey is the one taking the blame and saying he’s the Batman because that’s what any inherently good character would do knowing that the real Batman still has a purpose.
Heath Ledger’s Joker may be the single greatest portrayal of a villain in any comic book adapted film. Nolan uses the Joker as a distraction, a mad dog off the leash, an agent of chaos used to turn a story of hope into one of disaster. He’s a vessel of evil that has no purpose making him unpredictable in his quest. Ledger is strange, going full method in his take on Joker. The last person to play the clown prince of crime was Jack Nicholson; Ledger transforms the character into something bigger than anyone could have hoped for. From his face paint to his unnatural ticks and methods for getting what he wants, Ledger becomes the quintessential Joker the moment he shows up on screen.
It’s simple: The Dark Knight is a masterpiece. Christopher and his brother Jonathan Nolan write a comic book story that transcends the genre in ways that Superman did. While the characters are fantastical in a manner, they’re human, we understand them, they have realistic views on the world. The Nolan’s give each character depth that comic book readers understand going into the film but make them relatable to the point that a casual fan can understand if they’ve never read a Batman comic before.
Arguably, the weakest link of Batman Begins was Katie Holmes performance. The Dark Knight upgraded Rachel (now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). Gyllenhaal instantly boosts the character in both her relationship to Bruce and to Harvey. She’s the voice of reason and the driving force of both Bruce and Harvey to become bigger and better versions of themselves.
Every frame of Wally Pfister’s cinematography is a portrait – its stunning from the darkness of the criminal underworld to the bright lights of high society pfister captures the contrast of Gotham. In a technically flawless film, it stands out the most. With Christopher Nolan’s direction, Pfister brings this tragic, beautiful, and destructive world to life – filling it with hopes and fear. Nolan builds upon the thematic elements of fear that he establishes so effortlessly in Batman Begins. At any moment, anywhere in the city, someone can be kidnaped, killed, hung from a noose, or two boats full of people can play a game of Russian roulette. A hospital can be blown up just to prove a point.
2008 is an overlooked year for comic book movies. DC has their champion while Marvel came to the table with Iron Man. Both take conventional methods for these stories and elevate them well beyond any standard of storytelling that has been established. While Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark may be billionaire, genius, playboys, they are flawed humans trying to be perfect in an unperfect world. Both Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr serve as the impeccable choices to play their tragic counterparts.
I can’t find anything to criticize about The Dark Knight. If there is something, it’s a nitpick and they are rare to spot in this breathtaking journey of defining what it takes to be a hero and all the sacrifices they make. Easily DC’s best film with an even bolder, louder, and more in your face score by Hans Zimmer, the music tells the story in ways that can’t be put on screen and filmed. Featuring a complete and well-rounded cast including Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine, The Dark Knight is deeply complex with so many moving parts, characters and motivations yet is surprisingly simplistic in its narrative. With a longer run time, somehow after the hero goes into hiding, on the run for the death of justice, you want more.
I could sit and watch a 4-hour version of this story and be completely engrossed from start to finish. This is not only the best comic book adapted film but one of the best films ever made period.
Written By: Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Music By: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Wally Pfister
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine
Release Date: July 18, 2008
Running Time: 2 Hours 32 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
My Score: 5 out of 5
Based On: Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger