Let’s get this out of the way from the off – if you are a fan of the comics and have read the major graphic novels then you are going to be as happy as a pig in shit watching this movie. The script and story is faithful to the true Batman canon, and there are times where you want to stand up from your seat and shout “that looks just like the scene from the opening of Alan Moore’s Killing Joke!” The changes that are not so canon (a movie like this must make sacrifices somewhere) are done with skill and respect, leading viewers to get all of the story that they need and comic fans a condensed version of a larger story that would have been far too lengthy and complicated to put into a movie.
Right, enough of the fanboy shit.
For years, superhero movies have, no matter how good they were, patronised the film lover. Following the same formula time and time again we have a new sub category of the action adventure genre, a by-numbers flick that entertains in its bright colours and loud bangs but satisfies about as much as a dry water biscuit. The Daredevils, Fantastic 4s, Iron Mans [sic] and Hulks all sell the same attractions as the ones before; all are desposable and utterly forgettable. Even the note worthy ones of some worth – Sam Rami’s Spiderman movies and Bryan Singer’s treatment of both the X-Men and Superman – follow the same formula. And its stale.
Chris Nolan does not think of the Batman franchise as being part of this genre. He sees it as straight forward action drama, but with a huge psychological edge. Batman Begins was haunting and moving without being overladen with action sequences and explosions. It was about the world and the characters, not the fights and the flashes. The Dark Knight follows in with this tradition and, somehow, improves it beyond measure.
The direction of the movie is really what sets it apart. In The Dark Knight the viewer is treated to some of the cleverest direction that I’ve seen in years, with tension building fast cuts, use of music on a Hitchcockian level and false moves that will send the viewer one way and deliver in another. This is no mean feat. Obviously the time spent crafting the deeply disturbing Memento and equally grim Insomnia has paid its due in full. Because Nolan knows that the characters in his latest movie are larger than life caricatures of strength, defiance, madness and grief, but he recognises that these are traits that are part of every one of us.
So what you have is essentially an intimate portrayal of the human psyche on a grandeous scale. And in this, Nolan has come to Batman in the same way that he was always meant to be seen and admired. Batman is a character who does not have special powers, and nor do any of his foes. The things that they do is disturbing because of this (a mutant, say, could be seen to have a good reason to wage war on the world whereas a normal man in white face paint does not) and reminds us all of the morals and rages that each and every one of us has. And Nolan’s version of both The Joker and Two-Face have this in droves.
The fact is that The Joker is the true crowning (or should that be clowning?) glory of The Dark Knight, but chances are that you knew that already. For both fans and non fans alike, The Joker is the Batman villain that we all want to see. And for the love of god he doesn’t disappoint.
A tip. When you go and see the movie, try to look past the sounds of laughter during The Joker’s manic episodes. Because, while they will move you to expressions of mirth, they should disturb you twofold, making for an unsettling, conflicting experience. They say that there is a fine line between laughing and crying, and the reaction to The Joker is pretty close to the centre of this grey area. The way that Ledger, easily the best performance in the movie, plays him is to always have a side, just visible to the viewer, that is not sure what he’s doing. One gets the impression that if The Joker listened to this side of his personality then he may stop doing all of the terrible things that he does, but he just blots it out. And that is powerful characterisation.
In all, there is virtually nothing that The Dark Knight does wrong. If pushed, I would say that the pacing is slightly offbeat – in one part the film appears to be coming to a close and yet cranks the action further and goes on for another 45 minutes. But that is besides the point. Sometimes one has to believe the hype, get on board and be dazzled. And that time is now. Not only is The Dark Knight an absolute inescapable must for anyone with even the faintest fondness for Batman, but its pretty much indispensable for fans of movies in general.