Review by J.T. Johnson
Christopher Nolan returns to the series he revitalized in 2005 with “Batman Begins” and the result is a resounding success. This time, the audience follows Batman as he deals with a new psychotic mastermind whose only goal is chaos. That person is the sadistic Joker played by the late Heath Ledger.
Meanwhile, Batman and Lt. Gordon join forces with the new District Attorney Harvey Dent to push harder on the mob bosses still controlling Gotham’s underworld. The only problem is that Harvey Dent is also dating Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s old flame from “Begins”.
First, I would like to go ahead and get this out of the way. Heath Ledger will always be the perfect Joker. I never once thought that was Ledger behind the make-up. I was thoroughly convinced that he was a completely psychotic character and think that Ledger set a new standard for this iconic villain.
Now, to the other key players that also help make this movie stand above the rest. Let’s face it, Christian Bale is perfect for the role of Batman and plays him with the same extreme intensity that he did in the first film. Bale is great at convincing us that Bruce questions whether or not Batman is truly needed as Gotham’s savior and thinks that with Harvey as Gotham’s white knight, he will not have to be their protector forever.
Talking about Harvey leads me to Aaron Eckhart who is also perfectly cast in the role of Gotham’s white knight. He plays a man who truly wants to clean up the city but gives subtle hints at having a darker side. Eckhart ultimately turns in a beautifully tragic performance as Harvey/Two-Face.
What about the supporting players? Gary Oldman returns as James Gordon. This time, Gordon has been put in charge of Gotham PD’s Major Crimes Unit. Like Bale as Batman, Oldman was born to play the part of Gotham’s top cop and like Ledger, Oldman disappears and only Gordon remains. One of the biggest mistakes in the Burton/Shcumacher films was that they never gave Gordon his due, but Nolan and Oldman have successfully corrected that error.
Oldman’s Gordon is not just a man who calls Batman when the going gets tough, he is also a man that takes care of business. However, as fans of the comics know, Gordon is not the only ally Wayne can rely on.
Michael Caine is back as Alfred, Batman’s faithful butler and even his conscience. Caine plays Alfred as a man who wants to help the son of his former employers but worries about what being Batman will do to Wayne’s mental state. Simply put, Caine is great as the tormented parental figure in Wayne’s life.
Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, a man who helps Batman/Bruce Wayne manage his company and helps supply him with some of those wonderful toys. It is great to see Freeman back in this film with a slightly bigger role to play than the last film. Lastly, Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes and does a serviceable job, but I don’t really think she does as good a job with the role as Holmes did in “Begins”.
Now we come to the story. The Joker is a sadistic madman that would do anything (and I mean anything) to accomplish what he likes to do best: create chaos. It is not about the money and it is not about personal gain. It is about anarchy and how the Joker thinks that the good people of Gotham are all destined to fall to chaos.
The Joker feels that he is the one to kick start the process and get Gotham’s citizens there a little quicker. On the other hand, there is Batman who is Gotham’s protector and thinks that Gotham still has a chance for salvation. The hero and villain’s views, order vs. chaos, is the ultimate theme of this movie. How far will a person go to achieve their goals? Will they remain good and true to themselves or will they fall to revenge and greed?
These are the questions that are answered throughout the movie and they are answered beautifully by the Nolan and his brother Jonathan. Their engaging story makes the two and a half hour run time fly by without a thought.
Does “The Dark Knight” live up to the hype? No. The film is in that rare category where it exceeds the hype surrounding it. With a fantastic and engaging story, great performances and the brilliant direction of Nolan, this is the definitive Batman film. It is also something more. It is one of the best movies of the decade.