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In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by three separate, yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime, the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders, and the Goddamn Batman.
This is their story.
Well, okay, this movie isn’t exactly Law & Order. Thank heaven for that. But it does have that loose association: James Gordon (police), Harvey Dent (District Attorney), and Batman, who work to keep the city safe from criminals. There is one criminal in particular who threatens not only Gotham but our three heroes as well: The Joker.
On paper, The Dark Knight sounds pretty much like any other Batman story we’ve ever been told. In execution, however, it rises above and beyond expectations. The dialogue is intelligent and natural-sounding. The acting is superb. The twists truly are twists, very much in a “whoah, I didn’t see THAT one coming!” sort of way.
In short, it’s a damn good film.
As the direct sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight has the luxury of not having to explain Bruce Wayne or Batman (played again by Christian Bale), or his relationships with Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and can instead focus more on the new arrivals: Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham’s “white knight” who is as tough on crime as Batman himself, and The Joker (the late Heath Ledger), the scariest criminal ever to roam the streets.
Right from the get-go, the movie gives us a good idea of how director/writer Christopher Nolan brought the character back to his roots as we watch a meticulously-planned bank robbery in action, with a series of violent double-crosses leaving The Joker the sole winner of the loot. This isn’t Caesar Romero’s Joker. This isn’t even Jack Nicholson’s Joker. This is a truly insane Joker with such brilliant, complex ideas and such a casual approach to violence that you’d have to be some kind of nutcase yourself to not be terrified of the guy. We don’t end up with any real explanation as to what made him this way, and you know what? That’s fine. The mystery makes him that much more interesting.
The Joker has what sounds like a pretty simple plan: to kill people on a daily basis until Batman, the one crimefighter all the crime bosses are truly scared of, turns himself in. And The Joker keeps his promise, killing his victims in ingenious ways. The whole city is effectively his hostage.
In the meantime, The Joker finds other ways to get under Batman’s skin, such as endangering the life of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes), without even realizing just great an effect on Batman this really has. The Joker even does his best to kill Harvey Dent when Dent tries to convince everyone that he is actually Batman, though in the end it turns out The Joker is on top of things more than even the clever Dent could imagine, and what eventually results is something I didn’t actually expect to see in the film… something I thought they were setting up for the third film. What I also didn’t expect was that it would be as flawless as it turned out to be.
The film itself, however, does have flaws, though they are minor ones. The whole sonar tracking trick that Lucius and Batman used was far-fetched, to say the very least, and I had a pretty hard time believing it. The action scenes are better than they were in Batman Begins, but I really wish Nolan would learn how to shoot action scenes properly; I hate it when I can’t really see what’s happening. The camera is too close to the action too much of the time. Move BACK, Nolan; let us see the action. Also, there’s the pointless cameo the Scarecrow has. Sure, it was nice to see Cillian Murphy again, but after the Scarecrow managed to get away at the end of the first film, this is how he winds up? Are you kidding me? Why was he included if this was all he was going to get? Talk about a disappointing wrap-up to his story! The character deserves better than this. Either give him a more substantial role, or don’t give him one. This just doesn’t cut it.
In fact, the treatment of the Scarecrow in this movie makes me worried for the third film, if they actually make one… suppose The Joker (or another certain villain) gets a similar sort of brush-aside in that film? But then, what about The Joker at all? Ledger, rest his soul, gives a performance so powerful and gripping that anyone offered the role next would probably be terrified to accept it. Ledger’s Joker is a show-stopper (although, to be fair, Eckhart steals scenes himself when his character’s other persona surfaces), and following that act will be difficult.
In fact, coming up with a topper for The Dark Knight will likely be damn near impossible, since, despite its few flaws, this is easily the best Batman film in existence. It’s powerful, it’s tragic, it’s deep… and it shows that the people behind it really GET what Batman is all about. In fact, I happened to catch Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie on TV a couple nights after watching The Dark Knight, and I marveled at how silly Burton’s film looked next to this one. Even Nicholson’s whiz-bang performance didn’t feel so whiz-bang anymore. The Dark Knight is Batman as he really should be.