Friday, 20 July 2012

Film Review: The Dark Knight

'He's the hero we deserve, but not the one we need right now'

When Batman Begins joined Spiderman 1 and 2 as an usherer-in of the new age of superhero movies expectations were high for its sequel, The Dark Knight. Thankfully, the second installment in Nolan's Batman franchise not only met, but far exceeded all of them. The film plays out like a fast paced thriller in two acts and boasts outstanding performances from the entire cast. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's score is phenomenal. The Dark Knight is far more affecting than Batman Begins and worlds darker, with one of the greatest movie villains of all time in Heath Ledger's Joker.

As the logos for production companies Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment and DC Comics come onto the screen, they do so slowly with only the slightest trace of background noise, as the audience watch with bated breath. The Batman logo appears in blue flame and a single note can be heard, before the bang of a drum introduces the first scene. The camera pans across a rooftop towards a skyscraper, and the music begins.  It projects tension and drama through the use of strong, heavy bass lines, staccato strings and percussion. The tension builds to a climax as one of the glass windows shatters from a gun shot by a masked clown. The pace quickens as we see more clowns, working together and it transpires they are robbing a bank, owned by the mob. The clowns discuss the man who planned the job, the enigmatic Joker, who is apparently 'sitting out' but still expecting 'a slice of the action' which the other clowns aren't happy about. The entire scene is perfectly orchestrated, creating suspense and moments of panic. The audience wait for Batman to turn up and save the day, but the mysterious leader of the gang manages to stay completely under the radar until he has finished his business (and after killing all of his partners). He removes his clown mask towards the end of the scene, only to reveal his painted face. This is the Joker. All superhero directors need to take note; this is how to introduce a villain.

Christian Bale continues in his role as Bruce Wayne, perfecting the husky voice used by his alter-ego which was inconsistent in the first film. Katie Holmes is replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who manages a far more convincing Rachel Dawes. As I alluded to in the Batman Begins review the supporting characters are far more developed in The Dark Knight, although it must be stated that at a running time of 153 minutes it is slightly longer than its predecessor and builds on the foundations laid by it. Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox questions Wayne's methods and morally struggles with the task given to him. Gyllenhaal is given much better material to work with than Holmes and plays Rachel Dawes with the perfect balance of strength and vulnerability required of her. New additions to the cast Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent and Heath Ledger as the Joker are both superb in their roles. Eckhart portrays a spectrum of emotions as Dent, who swings from cocky to insecure in the first act, before becoming the broken and terrifying Two-Face. Ledger is the perfect balance of black humour and horror, commanding every scene he is in.

The fight scenes are excellently choreographed, delivering lightning-quick action and high octane chase scenes in the batmobile. This is very similar to the chase scene in Batman Begins, however upping the ante by adding helicopters and giant trucks with villains who are actively trying to kill their target rather than just capture. The bar is constantly raised, jumping out of windows hundreds of stories up, sky diving, motorbike stunts, the action scenes never lose pace, and while a little predictable, are still spectacular.

Nolan deals with mistaken identities not only in the opening scene but also in Batman's first appearance; the scene with the Batman imposters is excellently handled. This plays with the Joker's assertation that 'when the chips are down these "civilised people" will eat each other', which suggests that good and bad are relative and entirely dependent on perspective. The idea of this juxtaposition is feature in the posters for the film, most featuring a dull, bluish background with a blaze of red set against is, often as the Batman logo (suggesting perhaps that Batman is at odds with the city and foreshadowing Lt. Gordon's line that he is 'the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now'). But as in the fake Batman scene where the Scarecrow recognises that they are imposters, Nolan asserts that there is good and evil, and what side you are on depends on the choices you make.

The Dark Knight is clever, thrilling, dark and heartwrenching. The characters (especially the villains) take on a life of their own, and spawn some of the best lines in the entire franchise, which Batman fans will be quoting for years. It is little wonder that Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the Joker is easily one of the most watchable and entertaining (not to mention terrifying) villains of all time. If The Dark Knight Rises even comes close to being as good then it is set to be fantastic. By Emma-Lee Davidson


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