The Dark Knight 2008 ★★★½

Batman Begins review is here.

The Dark Knight is a film that I like a little less with each new viewing. That is not to say it is not consistently entertaining with some exhilarating set pieces but the issues with the story become more pronounced over time. It is a film on an epic scale. Everything about it feels big and important but along the way this scale has dwarfed the characters. No longer is this a story about Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, in fact he ends up along for the ride through most of this film, but about the city as a whole and it makes it an emotionally flat experience. This is perhaps surprising given it has more emotional cliffhangers than the previous film but most are too overwrought and melodramatic to really have the impact they desire.

Where Batman Begins was about finding a substitute father, The Dark Knight is about the corruption of good honest people. With Batman (wrongly) relegated to the sidelines it is Dent’s transformation that is the heart of the film and it is one of the key areas where the film falters. His transition from White Knight to unhinged psychopath is clunky to say the least. Sure, his Two-Face is a significant improvement over Tommy Lee Jones’ pantomime portrayal but when the film strives to be grounded in reality the stilted switch just never rings true and this transformation would have been much better served over the course of two films instead.

Stripped of its Gothic architecture the city has become faceless and nondescript. It is all reflective glass and foreboding grey monoliths which may work with the tone of the film but removes the sense of character Gotham has always had previously. Still, the film is beautiful to look at particularly during the stunning IMAX sequences and the action is thankfully much easier to follow this time around. These action set pieces are also significantly more complex and the decision to do as much practical stunt and effects work as possible really pays off. It also contains one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores to date.

The performances are better this time too. Bale seems more comfortable in the role, even if his Batman voice is bordering on the comical, Gyllenhaal is a better actress than Katie Holmes and Oldman is finally given something to do. However, it comes as little surprise that Heath Ledger emerges as the real star of the film. Some may moan about the liberties they have taken with such an iconic villain but frankly I don’t care. His Joker is a revelation, a twitching and unpredictable presence that lights up the screen every time he makes an appearance. The Joker’s closest movie comparison is probably the shark in Jaws. He comes into scenes, causes mayhem and disappears as quickly as he arrives. You don't need to see the Joker's journey, just like you don't see how the killer sets up his victims in Se7en, he is a terrifying force because you can't work out how he does what he does and that is the appeal with this version of the Joker: it is the fear of the unknown he brings to proceedings.

Sadly the majority of the film’s issues arrive in the final act. The Dark Knight builds many interesting layers yet fails when it comes to the pay-off. Everything from Dent’s transformation onwards is a disappointment, whether it be the overblown ferry sequence or the confusing and anti-climactic sonar showdown, the last half an hour fails to live up to the promise of the rest of the film. It is a real shame because there is quality here but once you get over the scale, spectacle and magnetic performance by Ledger it is a film that ends up not quite reaching the heights it aimed for. It is still a fine sequel though but I hope The Dark Knight Rises finds the balance this film should have had.

15 Comments

  • Great review. One of the reasons I loved Batman Begins more than The Dark Knight is that Begins focuses more on Bruce Wayne and his journey to become Batman, along with what it means to be him, and his transformation from a vigilante to a full blown hero. It was a more satisfying experience altogether.

    In The Dark Knight, we barely got anything out of Batman. I mean, he is the title character. He really learned nothing from the experience. Here's hoping TDKR takes care of that and it's more focused on Batman's struggle.

  • Indeed. The shift of focus to Dent does hurt the story.

  • Finally someone who agrees that "Batman Begins" is better than "The Dark Knight!"

  • Hey Adam, check this out if you've got time and are interested. Thanks.

  • @Phips: Wow, that is quite a write-up. I've bookmarked it so will try and give it a read when I have some time tomorrow.

  • Do you think Batman Returns was better?

  • No, not really. Even if it does star Michelle Pfeiffer.

  • I couldn't agree more. Though I have to say that, after multiple viewings, I find Ledger's Joker less and less entertaining. It was obvious from the start that he bears only a pale resemblance with the character from the comics, but I used to accept this thinking he is just a better character. The more I watch it I see he is a completely different character, and not an incredibly better one, to say the least. Anyway, great review, congrats!

  • @M11: Cheers. I still really enjoy Ledger's performance here. He is very different to the normal depiction of the character but I really like his force of nature portrayal. He's certainly more interesting than any of the villains in The Dark Knight Rises.

  • @Adam Cook: Undoubtedly, he is. Thinking that I was so excited to see Hardy as Bane.... But then again, it seems to be a habit for the epilogue of these trilogies to be disappointing. One more thing, though: do you agree that, for Nolan's pretentiousness and alleged attention to details, this trilogy, especially the last two parts, have WAY too many plot holes and overall unpolished parts (think about the fight choreography, it's horrendous)?

  • @M11: TDKR is particularly all over the place. However, I've never had a real issue with the fight choreography as I've always felt it matched the way Batman fights.

  • What bugs me the most is the way they apparently forgot what films they were making after Begins, which is also the best. In Begins we have a ghotic urban setting, Batman fighting from the shadows and frightening criminals and then in the next two we have daylight shootings of generic buildings and Batman clumsily fighting with his elbows and, ironically, showing ineffectivness in movement. I mean, what was all that martial arts training from Begins for? Also, I think it is needless to say how inefficient and out of character Nolan's Batman was.

  • I'm with you on Begins being the best. I really liked the Gotham that was created so, like you, was disappointed to see it ditched for a more generic city.

  • Awesome review. I have to agree with you on lot of things, namely the focus on Dent. I too felt that his transformation into Two-face should've been carried over into the next film. Sadly, every time I watch this I will myself to like it but the more I watch I find myself feeling both overwhelmed by the film's scope and underwhelmed by its emotions. You've written a really great review, Adam. I really enjoyed reading it.

  • Thanks Ken. 'Overwhelmed by the film's scope and underwhelmed by its emotions' is a nice way of putting it.

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