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The Dark Knight

(Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Before we begin, I'd like to reveal something about myself. I am not a fan of Batman. That is not to say I dislike Batman, but I have never been especially driven to seek out adventures and merchandise pertaining to Gotham's favourite costumed watchdog. Prior to seeing Knight, the only two Batman movies I have seen in full are Batman and Robin and Batman Begins. I'm not about to pass harsh judgment on either - I admit B&R was quite amusing in a rather unintentional way and that Batman Begins was a well-crafted film (but I do not consider it to be a masterpiece in any way). At the very least, it set the bar high for its successor, and rather high up at that.

I know there's a thread floating around here with the first five minutes of Knight in it. I never looked at it here, seeing it for the first time on an IMAX screen. This opening scene alone - which follows a bank robbery, and that is all I shall say about it - gives a very good indication of just how highly Knight sets its own bar. It burns its way into your head and lets you know that the next two-and-a-half hours are going to be quite a step up from what you were probably expecting.

Plot-wise, you should have a fairly good idea what's going on. There's Batman and there's the Joker and there's the usual kind of plot complications that dog the "superhero sequel", namely the whole act of strongly humanising the hero (just like all the other "2" movies). I'm not about to deride Knight for its few clichéd plot devices - show me a blockbuster sequel without them. It's what the plot gets surrounded with that will truly impress you.

First off, the acting. A serious sequel demands very strong character development. Seeing as a lot of you are hardened moviegoers, you no doubt already know that. Of course, Knight sticks to this "rule". But how it does is impressive. The cast is impressive. Aside from strong returns from Caine, Oldman and Freeman, you have the introduction of a handful of new characters that will stick around in viewers' memories longer than, say, the Scarecrow.

Obviously, the first thing to come to mind is the Joker. Naturally I was wary of all the hype surrounding Heath Ledger's oh-so-epic final role. Could it really be as good as everybody was saying? The answer is a loud and hearty YES. Ledger is quite simply a showstopper. He steals more scenes than the Joker steals loot. His presence is simply commanding. Right from one of the earliest scenes (which I won't spoil with anything other than the phrase "magic trick") he takes hold and doesn't let go. Whether this talk of an Oscar is far-fetched or not, I can honestly see a nomination happening. I kept thinking to myself, "This is Ledger?" And when an actor is capable of doing that, well that is a good actor indeed. Now I can see how much of a tragedy his death truly is.

The other character of note is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent (best known to fans for becoming Two-Face). Granted, Eckhart does not do as much show-stealing as Ledger, but his performance is carefully played and very convincing as he goes through a number of stages, from smooth and trusty to thinly veiled psychopathy. When his transformation into Two-Face is revealed, it is one hell of a shock (and a damned good effects job).

Ironically, for a movie titled The Dark Knight, it seems like Christian Bale as the eponymous character is overshadowed by the aforementioned examples. Granted, this is because Bale is quite simply not a showboating kind of actor (at least in my experience), and that makes a fine contrast to the Joker's wild streak. Also, Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn't really make that much of a better Rachel than Katie Holmes did, but it's a forgiveable flaw in an otherwise brilliant spot of casting.

Of course, being a summer blockbuster (or winter, as the case may be), it just wouldn't be a superhero movie without a hefty helping of action sequences. The action is par for the course - there's chases, fights, even a couple of handfuls of suspenseful "beat-the-clock" moments. There are a handful of moments which induce laughs or a collective "Whoa" from the audience (namely, the Batpod). The inclusion of the Joker and his penchant for playing tricks make for some truly interesting setpieces, especially the "social experiment" he pulls near the climax.

Then we get to the ending. While it's not a cliffhanger, it really does end on a rather ambiguous note (kind of like The Road Warrior did) which sort of leaves it open for a third film, but at the same time doesn't, if that makes any sense. It could've been handled better, I suppose, but it's all about leaving them wanting more and the ending - which shows that things are only going to get much worse for Batman - certainly illustrates that.

The Dark Knight really did manage to pull off a miracle. It lived up to all of its hype (both pre- and post-Ledger's demise) and it indicates that not all blockbusters are going to shit. The only problem I can see this creating is that if there is a third instalment in this new trilogy (which, in all probability, there will be) it probably will not manage to top this one. This will be a one-of-a-kind, and who knows, maybe in 30 years' time when people are talking about which sequels were better than the original, the first movie to pop up will be The Dark Knight.

in the Movie Tab was more out of hyperbole than a serious rating)