Proof once again that the heart behind the story resonates long after the explosions fade away. Heath Ledger’s performance was a strong contributor, but Christopher Nolan’s writing and direction is the real star.
A new kind of criminal has stepped up in Gotham City. Calling himself The Joker (Heath Ledger), he’s as likely to kill off his own henchmen as soon as any hostage. With newly-elected district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) taking on organized crime, the mob gives in to The Joker’s demands to hire him as a freelance exterminator to take out Batman (Christian Bale). With family and friends in the crossfire, even Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows that the battle to make the streets of Gotham City safe will have to escalate before things can get better, but what personal price will the cities’ protectors have to pay to make it happen?
Back in 1989, the yellow and black “bat” symbol appeared over Los Angeles and announced to the world that Batman was returning to the big screen. In 2005, writer/director Christopher Nolan took up the cause to create the most realistic and plausible self-styled super hero film to date and reinvented the genre once again. With Marvel Entertainment stepping up past X-men with this year’s Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, Nolan raises the bar again to make it clear that real drama and true grit never takes a back seat to merely a billionaire dressed as a bat.
There’s a lot going on here. Old flames, new villains, and moral dilemmas abound, Nolan unleashes his tale with no apology and relentless motion forward. Even while catching your breath between action sequences, details within dialogue keep everything moving along. Heath Ledger’s Joker is the true amalgamation of his predecessors, but The Dark Knight is an ensemble piece, and every piece is important. From Gary Oldman’s subdued but passionate James Gordon to Christian Bale’s billionaire beliefs that he could one day hang up the cape and cowl, even throwaway characters seem three-dimensional with Nolan at the helm.
The only bad thing to say about this film is that there may be too much of it out there already; parts of the film merely add an order to what audiences have seen already online or on television. But the tangible feeling of hope in a city consumed with chaos permeates the story on public and personal levels for all involved. Like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight continues to chart Bruce Wayne’s career as a crime fighter and city protector, changing to become what the city needs most. The only question that remains after the credits is, what happens next? Whatever it is, with Bale in the suit and Nolan at the helm, a third installment can’t be far behind and we’re already making plans to get into the ticket line.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)