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It has been almost impossible to avoid the hype surrounding The Dark Knight, a film that is guaranteed to be this years biggest summer blockbuster. My own anticipation for this film reached almost unrestrained proportions in the build up to its release in the same manner that it had back in the day when The Matrix: Reloaded was first showcased. Thankfully this film didn't build me up and then throw me back down to Earth with a bump in the same disappointing way that The Matrix managed. With the internet a minefield of spoilers and the incremental release of the film across the world guaranteeing that some American, somewhere, would probably carelessly divulge a huge plot twist before I got to see it for myself, I took the necessary precautions and shut myself away from all media links, reviews, blogs and synopses. In fact, all I had to salivate over was a singular promotional poster of The Joker, back to the camera, wearing his iconic purple suit and wielding a knife and a playing card.
The final result is incredible. Christopher Nolan delivers a comic book adaptation that boasts moralistic themes that are unparalleled amongst other films in the genre. I've seen the status of this film compared with The Empire Strikes Back and I would certainly agree that it surpasses the original Batman Begins story in every way. The second film in any superhero series always has the benefit of not having to develop the heroes origins and initial struggles in the limelight, but something I appreciated about The Dark Knight was the fact that The Joker's background was never divulged or explained in any detail. For me, this made him all the more sinister as a psychotic thug and brilliant master criminal who had lived in Gotham quite peacefully until appearing out of nowhere and descending the city into chaos.
Crackdown on Crime!
The brilliant characters are what drive this film forward. The spotlight was always going to be on the late Heath Ledger in what would be his swan song role as Batman's most notorious arch enemy, and he does not disappoint one bit. His walk, talk, facial expressions, ticks and debonair attitude all portray a man who is every inch the psychotic genius. Generally heartless and without mercy, one thing that impressed me was just how dark and sinister they made The Joker out to be while maintaining a relatively low age certificate for the film. He is brilliant as Batman's enemy. Whereas Jack Nicholson portrayed a Joker whose camp humour and scripted one-liners offered viewers hope and a sense of civility buried under the madness, Ledger's Joker offers no such comfort. Unable to match Batman on the physical front, The Joker nevertheless remains one step ahead of him thanks to his superior intellect and devastating unpredictability. This performance is one that will be rightfully lauded for a long time.
After an intense crackdown on organised crime by Batman, James Gordon and newly appointed DA Harvey Dent, the mob looks to the unknown and entrust The Joker to level the playing field. His criminal excellence soon turns Gotham into a panic stricken city of chaos in his attempts to bring the establishment crumbling down around him. Without the motivation of personal wealth or monetary gain driving him, The Joker's sole aim is to see society collapse. In the process, Batman is turned from a figure of hope who inspires copycat vigilantes and fearless citizens, to an icon of double-standards and corruption. After all, he often breaks the law to apprehend his criminals, so who polices him? The knee-jerk response of the public is to call for his head and you soon realise just how terrified the citizens of Gotham are, it's a recurring theme and one that is conveyed quite potently right through to the end of the film.
Christian Bale improves as both Batman and his ignorant playboy alter-ego this time around and Maggie Gylenhaal is a welcome replacement to the wooden and utterly boring Katie Holmes as Bruce's love interest. Aside from Heath Ledger though, it is Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart who deliver electrifying performances that are integral to making the film so entertaining to watch. The former, portraying James Gordon, a man that is so obviously driven by an ambition to stamp out crime in Gotham that you think he may be on the borderline of going vigilante himself at times. The latter, Harvey Dent, is a man who shares the anti-crime stance and delivers himself with confidence and compassion for fellow citizens. Although never really caring for the character of Harvey Dent before this film, Eckhart's performance was incredibly stirring and I began to fully appreciate him as the loyal and steadfast political saviour of Gotham - which made his transcendence into Two Face even more difficult and heart-breaking to watch.
Aside from the spirited characters and the gripping storyline, the film is helped by the wonderful location of Gotham, a city that is extremely tenebrific, sullen and constantly see-sawing between salvation and pandemonium. The car chase through Gotham's rotten underbelly in the middle of the film was one of the most intense and enjoyable moments of the film for me, seeing The Joker essentially reclaim the night for the mob by turning the city into a deadly battleground was extremely profound, with the outcome of the battle being as unpredictable as The Joker himself.
The Dark Knight was a cinematic experience that will not be equalled for me in a long time. I'm sure they'll make a third Batman film, though whether they'll ever be able to recreate such an epic and sinister showdown is something I highly doubt. The film is both solid enough to never make you resort to the 'well, it is a comic book adaptation...' line (to describe over the top plots or stunts) and freakishly disturbing in a way that only a graphic novel adaptation can be. It might almost be too uncomfortable to watch if you didn't know beforehand that the schemes and characters came from a cartoon world of fiction and flamboyance. Pervaded by a moody and almost comically overbearing score and littered with dark humour throughout, The Dark Knight delivered on every level and more than lived up to the hype. You owe it to yourself to see the film, it's going to be huge!
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