- Released Internationally on 16/07/08
- Released in Malta by KRS on 25/07/08
In a nutshell
Since Batman Continues doesn’t work very well as a movie title, one of the Caped Crusader’s many other monikers was chosen as the title for this summer’s highly anticipated Batman sequel. As you may recall, the franchise was reborn with a flourish in 2005, when director Christopher Nolan did away with the fancy colours and cartoonish scenes of the previous two films, and gave us possibly the best Batman film to date. And when, in the film’s epilogue, Batman handed the Joker’s calling card to Commissioner Gordon, we were already licking our lips in anticipation.
Why we’re hyped
Superhero franchises are sprouting like mushrooms nowadays, but no matter how incredibly strong or green Bruce Banner becomes, or how shiny Iron Man’s suit is, there will probably never be a hero as mysterious and ultimately cool as Batman. Add to this the fact that Batman Begins was a brilliant film on all levels, and it’s no wonder why the Powers That Be asked Nolan to stick around for more. The few scenes we’ve been treated to so far show the same dark, gritty, no-nonsense look of the previous film, and we can only hope it’s on par. Oh, and if you loved Batman’s car, wait until you see his bike.
Who’s in it?
The sad story about this film release is of course that fact that it was the last film that Heath Ledger completed filming before his untimely death last January. He steals the show in all the film’s trailers so far, and appears to have fashioned a maniacal and frightening joker, with a dishevelled look and unhinged behaviour that works brilliantly. So we will hopefully be treated to a worthy adversary for Mr. Wayne and his gadgets. Aaron Eckhart is also on-board as Two-Face, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Bruce’s childhood friend and possible sweetheart. But the important news is that Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and especially Christian Bale are all back to reprise their excellent roles from the previous outing. As mentioned above, Christopher Nolan returns to direct, as well as co-writing the screenplay with his brother Jonathan. They took time off since Batman Begins to give us the equally impressive The Prestige, so we can assume they’re still in top form.
And here we go
The Dark Knight wastes no time with introductions. Batman had all of the excellent Batman Begins to introduce himself, and we rejoin him in top form, as he slowly cleanses the crime-filled streets of Gotham city. The much-anticipated Joker is also in fine form. We get to meet him in a wonderfully orchestrated opening sequence, and he appears to be at the peak of his powers, terrorising us and the city’s inhabitants with his ruthless efficiency.
Welcome to Gotham
For over two hours, director Christopher Nolan immerses us in this Gotham City he has fashioned. Apart from a brief escapade in Hong Kong, the entire drama unfolds within the city walls, and by the end of it I felt like one of its citizens. We watch the news they’re watching, we see the politicians they’re pinning their hopes on, we watch their faces as this new terror takes over their city, and we sense their panic as he slowly edges the city into chaos. Besides working as a superhero epic, and as a study of the maniacal Joker, the film excels as a dark and gritty crime drama, dragging us deep into the Gotham City underworld, and giving us a feel for the board rooms, police headquarters and streets of this felon-infested metropolis.
Why so serious?
Gotham seems to be on the mend, thanks to Batman, and thanks to the new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). But then the Joker comes along, and things start to fall apart. Here lies the film’s trump card. The Joker, as moulded by the Nolan brothers and as brought to life by the exceptional work of the late Heath Ledger, lifts this film even higher than the lofty standards set by its predecessor. From physical tics, to an unnerving voice, to a hysterical laugh, Ledger fills his character with convincing detail, and becomes a truly mesmerizing villain. He gets ample screen time, but not once can we safely predict what he’ll do next. He has no rules, he answers to no-one, and his apparent insanity is what makes him so fearsome. The games he plays, and the way he toys with the minds of Gotham’s citizens during a number of sequences, are fascinating to watch. He tells us that Gotham “deserves a better class of criminal”, and Heath Ledger delivers just that.
Sounds of insanity
Adding muscle to Ledger’s performance is the innovative score by composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Zimmer created a unique, eerie, one-note theme for the Joker, which builds like a siren wail and then lets loose with the bass. It’s first heard when we first set eyes on the Joker, and from then onwards, its sinister, wailing build-up lets us know when things are going to get ugly. Newton Howard composed a more traditional theme for the noble Harvey Dent, and we also hear a couple of grand statements of the two-note Batman theme from Batman Begins, whenever the heroics call for it. The dark and unconventional score ends up adding as much to the ominous look of Gotham as the sets and cameras do, and the end result is just what a Batman movie needs.
All together now
Whenever the Joker isn’t stealing the scene, we can appreciate the many other performances that bring this film to life. Eckhart is endearing and confident as Harvey Dent, and his sometimes strained relationship with Bruce Wayne provides another story arc to follow. Maggie Gyllenhaal fills the shoes of Rachel, after Katie Holmes allegedly turned down the role for whatever reason she’s now regretting. Michael Caine gets some of the best lines as Alfred, Bruce’s butler and voice of reason, and Morgan Freeman returns as Wayne’s new CEO, and Batman’s design engineer. Gary Oldman is thankfully given a much bigger part this time around, as he gets promoted to Commissioner, and his role in the unfolding crime saga is often as important as Batman’s. Christian Bale does the job, and does it well, as the man with the mask, but he has a tough-time competing with the Joker when they share the screen.
Ticking every box
With these type of performances, the dialogue and ‘character’ scenes are great to watch, but as expected, the action sequences don’t disappoint either. The film flows swiftly from one to another, and the plot unfolds full of twists and turns. The special effects are also top-notch, and when the film reaches its elegant and smartly-scripted end, it’s hard to sit back and find any particular technical aspect of the film that was sub-par. It could have been a bit shorter I guess, but then again there wasn’t a single 5 minutes of the film I didn’t enjoy, and thought could have been chopped out. Christopher Nolan has outdone himself and created a film of the highest calibre, and for once this is a huge summer blockbuster that deserves all the hype.
http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/thedarkknight/ (High-res QuickTime)