Back when I originally saw "The Dark Knight" it was still in theatres and the hype was intense. Users on this site had made it the highest rated movie of all time and professional critics were also giving it high marks. I had been let down a bit after the hype for "Batman Begins" a few years earlier, so I was wary of the same thing happening again. Ultimately, there's no doubt that my reaction at the time was negatively influenced by the hype. Basically, I thought that the movie was merely decent and far from perfect. Having just rewatched the movie a decade later, my opinion has softened somewhat.
The movie picks up not too long after the events of "Batman Begins". As teased in the final scene of that movie, the focal villain this time around is the Joker, arguably Batman's most recognizable foe. With Batman cleaning up the streets of Gotham City, mob bosses are finding their iron grip on the populace loosening as others are becoming defiant as well, including the popular new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. Recognizing their vulnerable position, the Joker offers to rid them of Batman... for a price.
The script by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan is a cut above most superhero movies. It's intricately plotted and has more dramatic heft than you might expect. Supposedly it was mainly inspired by the comic book stories "The Killing Joke" and "The Long Halloween", both top notch sources. Personally, I'm not sure that I'm completely on board with the Nolans' interpretation of the Joker but that may just be personal preference. I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue that it's not a vivid portrayal, regardless of whether or not it matches any preconceived notions that you may have about the character. However, as I see it, the script is not without its faults from a narrative perspective. At two and a half hours, the movie seems a bit bloated, which often happens in superhero movies when multiple villains are in the mix. Maybe some or most of the Two-Face storyline should have been left for the final chapter in the series. Also, I think that the movie was hampered a bit by its PG-13 rating, since the Nolans were broaching some themes with the Joker that could've benefited from less restraint. Lastly, the realistic tone of the film sometimes doesn't work so well when dealing with characters that are, let's face it, fairly outlandish.
When talking about the cast, it's hard to be objective about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, considering that he died about six months before the movie opened. No doubt this was one of the things that got everyone talking about the movie. In retrospect, even though I don't necessarily agree with this characterization of the Joker, I'd have to admit that Ledger contributed a standout performance in the role. When you consider that he posthumously won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for this performance, its pretty clear that it was something special. Granted, awards voters likely wouldn't have been so generous in bestowing acting awards on a superhero movie if Ledger was still alive but that shouldn't take away from his transformation here. It's a completely different performance for him and is as impressive, in its own way, as his previous Oscar-nominated performance in "Brokeback Mountain".
Apart from Ledger, the bulk of the cast was made up of returnees from the first movie. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman & Morgan Freeman were all up to their usual standards here. Meanwhile, Maggie Gyllenhaal took over the Rachel Dawes role from Katie Holmes and I think that it was a change for the better. The other notable new addition was Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. I'd say that he's got the right look for the part but I was never a big fan of his acting in general. The large supporting cast features some recognizable faces as well, including Eric Roberts and, in small roles, Cillian Murphy, Anthony Michael Hall & William Fichtner. Overall, not a bad cast at all.
From a visual standpoint, the movie looks quite good. Director Christopher Nolan decided to shoot some of the scenes in IMAX format and the results were stunning. The action setpieces were also nicely handled. If I have one complaint about the visuals it's that the CGI for Two-Face isn't quite convincing, which makes me wonder if they could have done any better with makeup/prosthetics. The score by James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer is also well done, with my preference being for Zimmer's tense Joker themes.
As of this writing, "The Dark Knight" sits at #4 in IMDb's top rated movies list. While I certainly believe that the movie has merit, I don't think that it belongs anywhere near that lofty perch. So, I would advise you to watch it with tempered expectations or else you may find yourself reacting overly negatively towards it as a result, as I initially did.
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