Bruce Wayne must come to terms with the fact that he may have finally lost the woman he loves, and Batman faces his greatest foe yet, The Joker, a mysterious man who thrives on chaos.
When first we saw Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) present Batman (Christian Bale) with a Joker card at the end of Batman Begins, we knew that we were in for a treat. The Joker is one of Batman’s most famous and formidable foes, and in the hands of Christopher Nolan, he was sure to become a character to admire and fear. However, when first we heard that heath Ledger was to take on the character, many fans of The Caped Crusader were less than pleased. The guy from that Tween rom-com? Really? As we all know by know, Heath Ledger created an iconic character in The Joker and one that cinema audiences are not likely to forget for a long time… But what did this mean for the city of Gotham.
In the six months that have passed since the end of Batman Begins, Gotham is a changed city. The streets are cleaner and, although the mob still operates, it is not the threat that they once were. The same goes for Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) who Batman encounters at the start of the film, but does not think enough of to take into custody. Batman’s identity is still unknown, people are mimicking him as he has become a symbol of justice and The Joker is robbing banks.
Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne as a man who has moved on emotionally since his grief fuelled turn in Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne is more confident in his role as Batman, but is beginning to think that his days of fighting crime are numbered. Bale allows Wayne to be noble and strong, but also selfish and foolhardy. This is a man who has grown since we have last seen him, but he still has his pride and values his secret identity.
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman all reprise their roles from the first film as Batman’s confidants, co-conspirators and touchstones. Again, these classical actors bring some levity to the roles, but also a degree of drama and solemnity that keeps Batman grounded. Aaron Eckhart has taken on the role of Harvey Dent, a district attorney who is left horribly disfigured and bent on revenge when Batman fails to save his love, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Eckhart, like Liam Neeson in Batman Begins, is scary through his use of logic and reason; it is the seeming reasonable nature of his arguments that allow the audience to identify with him and fear him at the same time. Maggie Gyllenhaal has taken over from Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, and brings some much needed feistiness to the role.
Of course, the performance we all remember from this film is Heath Ledger as The Joker. This was his final full performance in a film – which won him a posthumous Oscar – and the role that would have catapulted him onto a new level in his career. Ledger is almost unrecognisable as The Joker; his facial tics, walk and voice are completely that of his character, and he inhabits the role to such a degree that it is believable that this is the man that can challenge Batman and bring the mob to its knees.The Joker became the opposite of the man he challenged; Batman may be the Dark Knight and Dent the White, but Ledger inhabited a space in between; an area free from morals, conscience and consequences, where chaos reigned and lives were expendable. Ledger created a character that proved he was more than a match for Batman, enthralled and terrified as The Joker.
Once again Christopher Nolan created Gotham as a world the audiences could relate to. The characters are ones we know, and the city could be any on the planet. A nice improvement from the previous film is how much of the action takes place during the day – Batman Begins was rather gloomy at times. Along with scriptwriter Jonathan Nolan, Christopher allowed the gleam to disappear from Batman’s polished exterior as Gotham began to improve. The set pieces are no less spectacular than the those in the film that went before, and Nolan made some fantastic choices; once again we are treated to a spectacular freeway chase, but Batman’s motorbike (Batbike?) added a level of flexibility needed to face a character as slippery as The Joker, and the decision not to use music in this sequence allowed the audience to remain locked in, without being ‘told’ what to feel. The pacing is fast and balanced, but at two and a half hours long, it does seem as though The Dark Knight could have ended several times.
In all, The Dark Knight is a sequel that improved on the film that went before. The villains are madder, the crimes badder and the characters are allowed to develop, while questioning the world around them. Nolan appears to have done the impossible; improve upon an incredible first film.