Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine
Following on from the brilliant Batman Begins, the Dark Knight is the next installment of Nolan's Gotham saga. To be frank, I can think of no other way to start a review of this film than by simply saying this is an exceptional piece of cinema. Truly, truly exceptional.
Like all fantastic ensemble films, it is best to visualise TDK as a pyramid. A pyramid? Yes, a pyramid. This film has so many assets, so many qualities, but the real genius is the way those qualities come together. It's not enough for a film to rely on a cast of A-listers (see: The Tourist). It's not enough for a film to have a great script, or mind-blowing stunts. It has to have everything, and it has to incorperate everything correctly.
So, the pyramid example. TDK is a pyramid, at the base of that pyramid are all the little aspects of this triumph that 'hold up' the rest of the film. Little things like the choice of location, the subtle links between this film and the first, and Hans Zimmer's brilliant soundtrack. Further up the pyramid you have TDK's more stand-out qualities: the Nolan's inch-perfect script, the exhiliating chase scene, Bale's brooding but not over-the-top portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and the solid performances of father-figures Michael Caine and morgan Freeman.
Nearer to the top of the pyramid are the qualities that make this film really remarkable. Things like the chemistry and relationship between Batman (Bale), Harvey Dent (Eckhart) & Commisoner Gordon (Oldman), the stunning opening sequence shot entirely in IMAX, and the realism that makes the story believable and gripping.
Finally, above all else, the pinnacle of the pyramid, The Dark Knight's secret weapon: Heath Ledger.
The Dark Knight is Ledger’s movie. It is a towering performance. From his menacing, pencil-packing greeting to Gotham’s Mob fraternity (one of the most economic and effective character introductions ever), to the threat and fire he conjures in exchanges with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sexy, sophisticated brief and “The Bat-maaan”, to the Sophie’s choice surprises of the third act, he is pure, powerful, immense. Ledger’s Joker is anarchy in a three-piece, a ruthless villain who cares for nothing, not even himself. His function, crafted in the hive mind of the Nolans and as Ledger plays him, is to cause chaos, to question everything, to push everyone to extremes, to show Batman there are no rules to this game.
Nolan navigates through a moral maze and some pointed politicking, but without ever stinting on stunts or explosions. After a blistering opening, there’s a second act lull and a story shift not quite as elegant (or, some might argue, even coherent) as you’d expect from the director of The Prestige. But The Dark Knight is spectacular, visionary blockbuster entertainment: pretty much everything you could hope for and then some.
Ledger’s performance is monumental, but The Dark Knight lives up to it. Nolan cements his position as Hollywood’s hottest booking. Greatest superhero film? Undoubtedly.