The Dark Knight ★★★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.

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