Are there still folks who feel that super-hero flicks form a minor genre, you know, for kids? If so, just as the works of Frank Miller and Alan Moore convinced a lot of people that comic books could be a legitimate art form, Christopher Nolan‘s sequel to his already excellent “Batman Begins” should convince them once and for all that you can make a smart, mature film involving costumed heroes and villains.
“The Dark Knight” is an ambitious, complex, unpredictable and uncompromising morality tale that evokes the current war on terror as much as ancient Rome besieged by the barbarian invasions. Is it possible to maintain decency in an indecent world? That is the question at the heart of the film and, in attempting to answer it, Nolan has put together a story in the form of a chess game in which the key figures would be the black (dark) knight, the white knight and, to mix metaphors, one hell of a wild card.
Hence, Batman (Christian Bale) meets district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who, like the Caped Crusader, is waging an unending war on Gotham City’s criminals, but by using the law instead of violence. But before Bruce Wayne can truly entertain the idea of hanging up his cape, a new kind of criminal comes along and changes everything. Chasing neither fortune or power and using cruel and unusual methods, the Joker (Heath Ledger) is after only one thing: chaos. Will Batman, Dent and their common ally Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) have to put aside their principles and stoop to the psychopathic clown’s level to stop him?
I wouldn’t dare spoiling all the fucked up things that happen from there on but, to give you an idea of how disturbing and hardcore things get, “The Dark Knight” didn’t make me think of other comic book movies, but of pitch dark pictures like “Se7en”, “Cape Fear” or Nolan’s own “The Prestige”. Which is not to say that there aren’t a lot of kickass action scenes and super-heroics in the film: from the “Die Hard”-level opening to the stupendous final showdown, by the way of the awesome Bat-Pod sequence and the fight scenes where Batman gets his ninja on, all of which are driven by the story, “The Dark Knight” is equal parts thought-provoking and pulse-quickening.
And then there’s the uniformly stellar acting from the ensemble cast, be it Bale, Oldman, Eckhart, Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Maggie Gyllenhaal (taking over from Katie Holmes) as Rachel Dawes or, making the best of smallish parts, William Fichtner, Nicky Katt and Tommy “Tiny” Lester. And then, last but certainly not least, there is Heath Ledger, whose presence totally dominates the film – and not just because it’s the last role he completed before his untimely passing. Unlike the hammy Hollywood Joker portrayed Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s “Batman”, Ledger’s Joker is utterly terrifying and batshit insane, looking like he’s spent the last year smoking crack under a bridge. You won’t forget this performance anytime soon, or “The Dark Knight” for that matter.