In 2005, we were given a much-needed reboot Batman Begins, that resurrected the series and became the dawning of a new era for the DC Comics hero. Three years later, we were awaiting the release of its sequel - The Dark Knight. The anticipation was high but the sudden and unexpected death of star Heath Ledger 6 months prior the film’s release, very quickly caught the public’s attention and perhaps became the most hyped film at the time. The Dark Knight may have served itself well as the sequel to Batman Begins, but compared to everything that we had experienced from the caped crusader, The Dark Knight literally went to a much higher level and became an instant global phenomenon that blew the minds of worldwide audiences and created a huge influence upon them.
Director Christopher Nolan had already given us dark but underrated hits including Memento, The Prestige, Insomnia and, of course, Batman Begins, but his work as well as his status in Hollywood rapidly increased down the same route as The Dark Knight itself whilst gaining the popularity and critical acclaim. Nolan very creatively exposed another side to Batman that Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher were never to pull off. He transformed this from what could have been comic-book action film into the violent, sinister and scheming world of gangsters and crime. Furthermore, the construction of the film was not in the world of Batman and comic book characters, but into our world and the filming of The Dark Knight, especially in the action scenes, were not overloaded with CGI effects popping onto the screen. Therefore, with all these brand new techniques, Nolan and co added much more raw human emotion into the series and, thus, more of a natural and realistic tone to it.
Whether the films within the series have become successful or disasters, the Batman franchise has always been recognised for the breath-taking ensemble casts and selection of characters. Christian Bale had already surprised us all with his fantastic performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman Begins, but he returned to the role in The Dark Knight. Once again, he was fantastic in the role and has illustrated a very different Batman on the big screen, but when as the caped crusader, he still had a needlessly annoying croaky and raspy voice. Whether he improvised on it in The Dark Knight Rises, we shall see. Oscar-winning legend Michael Caine made his presence known once again as Bruce Wayne’s butler, mentor and perhaps father-figure Alfred Pennyworth. Furthermore, Gary Oldman returned as Lieutenant (later Commissioner) Jim Gordon as did Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, in which both became more involved in this sequel than its predecessor. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes as Bruce’s childhood friend and love interest Rachel Dawes. Gyllenhaal perhaps did not quite capture the essence of beauty like Holmes, but she had captured the purpose of the character and created an emotional connection between herself and the audience.
Let’s face it, the tragic passing of Heath Ledger 6 months prior the release of The Dark Knight became the primary cause of the overwhelming popularity of the film and the remainder of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series. At 28 years old during this time, Ledger became the youngest actor to portray the Joker and in an Academy Award winning performance, the Hollywood heart-throb and Brokeback Mountain star surpassed Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the character in the 1989 film by Tim Burton as he took the character to a whole new level. The Joker’s purpose is to bring terror and he takes great pleasure in emotionally and physically manipulating or killing his victims. Ledger became that terrifying, realistic and at times, mysterious psychopath that the world had been waiting forever to see. Nevertheless, the Joker is a very likable and inspirational character that is one of the greatest villains of all time and Ledger’s performance is one of the most controversial and mind-blowing performances in history. Aaron Eckhart portrayed District Attorney Harvey Dent/Two-Face in a very powerful but extremely underrated performance. Eckhart literally defined both character as he illustrated the handsome, intelligent and smart Harvey but the emotionally and physically scarred, psychopathic attitude of Two-Face. Eckhart’s performance is on a very close level to Ledger’s.
Overall, The Dark Knight was precisely everything that everybody expected it to be, but even more. Nolan showed that it is possible to transform a series of fictional comic books into the real-world and still create a huge reality effect upon the audience. Whether one finds The Dark Knight a wildly overrated film or not, it is perhaps the most successful sequel ever filmed and one of the biggest blockbusters in history. It has also boosted up excitement for The Dark Knight Rises, the finale of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, to an even higher extent.