Tim Burton rescued Batman from the clutches of camp with his 1989 outing but when the reins were handed over to Joel Schumacher for Batman Forever, he flirted with the cartoon before embracing it wholesale with Batman & Robin. Enter Christopher Nolan in 2005, whose Batman Begins reinvented the franchise and goes one further by reinventing the superhero movie, hopefully forever, with The Dark Knight. Opening with an extended sequence in downtown Gotham in the midday sun when we're used to dark, rain-soaked alley nights, we know we're in for something a bit different from the off: A bank heist is in progress, headed up by a sadistic Joker (Ledger) who has hopes of filing the crime vacuum left by the Gotham mob, squeezed out by new DA Harvey Dent (Eckhart). Together with Lt. Gordon (Oldman) and Dent, who has wooed Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhaal taking over from Katie Holmes) away from him, Batman (Bale) goes up against is deadliest foe yet.
The Dark Knight is easily the darkest instalment in the Batman cannon and Nolan doesn't want to direct another disposable summer spectacle. He and his scribe brother, Jonathan, aren't content with the usual good guy Vs. bad guy plot - they want a crime movie in the guise of a superhero movie; they want to explore the evil in all of us; they want to investigate corrupt morals and create confusion as to what is right and what is wrong: "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." The Nolans, too, draw parallels between Batman and The Joker: both are deemed freaks by the populous, both are physically scarred, both are psychologically unhinged, and need each other to survive. Nice. However, The Dark Knight's action scenes could have been delivered with a little more panache: tight angles in dark rooms do not a great action sequence make - it's not exactly Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem but it's not far off. The movie can be too busy for its own good too, as there's a lot going on here with enough plot and big names for another instalment: on top of Bale, Eckhart, Oldman, Ledger and Gyllenhaal, there's Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Eric Roberts, William Fichtner and, eh, Michael Anthony Hall jostling for position. Batman (still not sure about Bale's gruff delivery) actually gets lost amongst all these subplots, an afterthought to Nolan's grand scheme. Or is it that Ledger owns the film even when he's not on screen? A powerhouse performance from easily the most interesting character on show, The Joker's twisted psyche controls the film: it's daring, unpredictable, savage, grim and unrelenting. The Joker would be proud of the chaotic structure. Fanboys will love The Dark Knight; not only for what it's achieved but also they can now wave a film in the face of those comic book poo pooers. The Dark Knight is something different altogether.