When we last left our intrepid director, Christopher Nolan completely blew our minds with Batman Begins. He showed us that comic book movies can be more grounded and believable than what superhero movies have previously been. We were all psyched about the teaser at the conclusion of Batman Begins where Gordon shows Batman a “calling card” left by the new criminal in town. Finally, three years later, The Dark Knight (2008) hits theaters. We had high expectations, but we weren’t prepared for a movie this good.
It begins to appear as if Batman (Christian Bale), Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) are making headway in their tireless battle against the remaining criminal organizations that plague Gotham City. Their partnership proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to an unstoppable force of chaos. A psychotic criminal known only as “The Joker” (Heath Ledger) begins shaking things up, seeking to humiliate the forces of good and expose Batman’s secret identity. The Joker targets Dent and Gordon and contrives cruel tricks that pose moral dilemmas, while sending the people of Gotham into a panicked frenzy.
This movie is nothing short of amazing. The characters were complex, the story was fascinating, the acting was impeccable, the writing was phenomenal, and the direction was remarkable. The acting was so powerful that it doesn't let the outstanding special effects take center stage. For a superhero movie, it’s astounding how deeply the drama affects us.
The Joker has been Batman’s arch nemesis since the comic books came about and many actors have taken up the role, including Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Hamil to name a few better known ones. I don’t follow the comic books, but I’d hazard a guess that there has not been a Joker quite like Heath Ledger, who posthumously earned an Academy Award for the role. The Joker in The Dark Knight was unquestionably evil. He wasn’t just bad; he was also completely creepy and insane! Ledger’s delivery was extraordinary and intense. Everything The Joker did was full of subtle quirks and blatant gestures that make us viewers genuinely uncomfortable. After The Joker’s first threat video is aired on Gotham’s news station, you could hear a pin drop; we are so stunned by Ledger’s performance of a genuine madman. The laugh is genuinely scary and at times sends a shiver down my spine.
Part of what sets this Joker apart from those before him is that all of his actions are sadistically designed to pose moral dilemmas for his enemies. Batman has a code of ethics that he adheres to, so The Joker makes a public announcement that he will kill public officials every day until Batman removes his mask and publicly reveals his identity. Towards the end of the movie, The Joker rigs two ferries with bombs and invites each one to blow up the other before they are blown up themselves. Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and Harvey Dent are posed with impossible ethical decisions, threatening the foundation of the Batman legend. There is enough meaty content in this film to philosophically analyze for days.
As for the scripting and dialogue, we get few of the usual jabs and banter most superhero movies have. The dialogue is psychologically evocative. Through dialogue we get an understanding of the situations and what the reasons for them are, all while developing the characters. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a script as well written as this one. I can’t help but relish it.
Comic book have been touching on deep fears, traumas, fantasies, and hopes for years. It wasn’t until recently that comic book movies have started reflecting this attitude. Nolan has again brought us a vision of Batman with a much broader scope of emotion than even the Tim Burton Batman movies did. These Batman movies have so much more gravity and are so relatable that you can’t help but be drawn into them. It’s not just about saving the world, or even the lives of innocent people. It’s about holding to your own code of conduct, doing what is right in your eyes, standing up to challenges, and not letting others get the better of you.
The Dark Knight was nothing short of amazing. I didn’t think movies were allowed to be as incredible as this one was. Once again, Christopher Nolan delivers a Batman movie that has a deep and meaningful story with interesting complex characters. It’s rare that a sequel is better than its predecessor, but this one certainly is! This one is worth owning. Go buy it right now. It is worth every penny. I have a copy on my shelf and you should, too.
Who is your favorite Joker so far? It could be from the movies, TV show, cartoons, or video games. Comment below and tell me why!