In The Dark Knight, Batman sets out to destroy organised crime in Gotham City for good, with the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and committed new District Attorney Harvey Dent. The triumvirate initially proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker, who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces The Dark Knight ever closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: If you've ever wondered why nobody else rebelled against the standard superhero format and produced an intriguing action movie that uses the nuances of some awesome comic book creations to the full, you're in good company. In The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan creates a Batman that is exactly what he's supposed to be: he lives in the shadows, does what he needs to do and generally is a silent defender, not a hero. So forget Hancock — this is THE parody of superhero films to see this summer. The darkness and downright dirtiness of Nolan's Gotham City makes Iron Man, The Hulk and even the surprisingly impressive Hellboy II just look like mundane regurgitated festivals of the fake. This is done no harm by the truly frightening characters he creates from the already rich potentials of the Joker and Two-Face/Harvey Dent. The acting is superb and, even putting aside all of the pre-movie hype and the tragic events that followed, Ledger's Joker raises the bar for what a villain can be. Not only is his performance terrific, dripping in psychopathic idiosyncrasy and oozing manic terror, but it was written in a way that just dragged the audience into the horrific world he creates from Gotham City. Each one of his crazed crimes had me gasping in awe (particularly on an IMAX screen) at the gleeful destruction he wrought. This isn't an ordinary superhero movie; it's the new standard by which they must all be judged, and those who decry the hype and call us celebrators of this achievement "fanboys" will only feel more stupid when the test of time proves us right.
CASSAM LOOCH: Film noir meets comic-book movies in Nolan’s truly epic Dark Knight. The hype for this film has already been off the scale, and is bound to continue once the word is out: this truly is a masterpiece. Inevitably, people will want to know how Ledger performs as the Joker, and the fact is that he’s flawless. The moment he appears on screen you forget that it is Ledger. You forget the media frenzy around his death and you forget to give a sentimental perspective to his performance. So consumed in the character are we that we only see the Joker. Special (and much deserved) praise must go to Eckhart in the role of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, who gives us the polar opposite to Joker AND Batman in one man. He may be overlooked, but Eckhart puts in some sterling work throughout. His descent into villainy is genuinely moving and his grotesque transformation goes some way to wiping out the memory of the previous camp outing in Batman Forever. Bale’s growling Batman is fully formed, and if anything the bulked up Bruce Wayne comes across as far more likeable in this film than in Batman Begins. There are a couple of scenes where you can see why Bale will definitely step into the role of Bond in the near future. Oldman and Caine add to the acting credentials of the film, and Oldman in particular get to flex some action muscles as well as his acting chops. Nolan keeps things moving at a breathtaking pace. He employs the same incremental tension system of The Prestige (allied by a constant soundtrack) to enhance every scene. Every look and word is used to build to a great climax, not just in overall terms, but also scene by scene. This can be seen in the opening bank raid as well as the stunning chase sequence, both of which were shot in the mouth-watering IMAX format. These sequences stand out in an already near-perfect film, attaining a peerless quality that automatically place them in the all-time greatest moments in cinema category. The audible gasps from the audience in the IMAX screening I attended were utterly reinvigorating ... they remind you why we watch movies on the big screen and The Dark Knight should be seen on the biggest screen possible. Nolan’s reinvention of the franchise shows all filmmakers exactly how to tackle this material. That’s not to say there aren’t enough nods and cues to comicbook fans (I counted two nods to potential future villains — one obvious, one very, very sly) yet the director is free to swerve the story to such an extent that no one knows what will happen next. Film of the year for sure ... but also one of the all-time classics.
NEIL DAVEY: Looks like I'm in the minority then. The Dark Knight is a good film (for what it's worth, I'd come in somewhere around the **** mark) but a genuine cinematic revolution? Nope. Nolan is clearly a masterful director and yes, this is undoubtedly the bleakest blockbuster ever made (which is a good thing) but I can't help but feel too many people are believing the hype. Bale's gravelly Batman voice is still unintentionally hilarious (all that money and no decent voice changer?), the action scenes are curiously uninvolving (and, bizarrely, detract from the more interesting politics, plot developments and character interactions), there are several scenes where logic goes out of the window (a jail without a metal detector? gosh that's convenient and, er, very bleeding unlikely) and then there's Heath Ledger. After a phenomenal arrival his performance is many things but, sadly, none of them original. It's Lorre crossed with Cagney in the make-up of Joel Grey and it rapidly descends into standard "I'm mad, me" Oscar-grabbing tics and tricks. The reinvention of the character as playful urban terrorist on a truly grand scale IS fascinating but Ledger plays The Joker as the answer to the question "what happens when Rainman goes bad?" Much, much better (and certainly more convincingly written) is Eckhart's transformation into Harvey Two-Face although that will sadly get lost under the emperor's new clothes of Ledger's "performance". There are many, many good things about The Dark Knight (Gyllenhaal and Caine in particular, plus Nolan's healthy disregard for his above-the-title players) but film of the year? Nope. Nolan's masterpiece? Er, I think you'll find he made Memento (and that, frankly, widdles all over a bloke in a rubber suit fighting a psychotic clown, however tortured and deep they both are). The best / most interesting superhero movie ever made? Yes, probably, but, for a sense of balance, what's it up against? It's not a genre that's exactly teeming with quality offerings, is it?
STUART O'CONNOR: Think you know Batman? Then think again. Nolan and the gang have taken what they did in Batman Begins and, while ramping up the action, have dialled down the happiness to almost nil. This is not a superhero movie, not by a long shot. I've never considered Batman a superhero anyway — he has no super powers, just incredible skills and access to some wonderful toys — and Nolan appears to agree. He's the first director to truly take Batman out of the comics and set him firmly in the real world. The Dark Knight is a grim, grittly, relentless crime thriller that just happens to have a couple of its characters wearing crazy costumes. And speaking of crazy, how about Ledger's Joker? This really is the definitive portrayal of the character — forget Nicholson, forget Romero, forget even Hamill in the animated series. THIS is the Joker as he was meant to be portrayed: sick, twisted, evil, psychotic — the personification of chaos itself. He's a complete nihilist, who is not out for fame or fortune, but desires destruction simply for its own sake. Not to take anything away from the other actors — they all shine, particularly Eckhart as Dent. The script is perfect, and though the film is long at just over 2½ hours, it's never dull. Nolan has managed to completely wipe the Schumacher/Goldsman abortion, Batman & Robin, from our collective memories. If he's making a Batman trilogy (and fingers crossed, let's hope he does) then The Dark Knight is his Godfather II or The Empire Strikes Back. It's a masterpiece, the best film of the summer and possibly the best film of the year.
CRAIG MCPHERSON: The Dark Knight is a movie that really needs no review. You know you’re going to see it no matter what the critics say. Yet write one I must, if only for the purpose of commenting on the performance of the late Heath Ledger as the Joker. It’s not because he’s dead that I’ve in some way elevated my esteem for his performance, but this is really one of THE best of our generation. So much so, in fact, that it almost works to the detriment of the movie as a whole ... almost. Ledger’s portrayal of the face-painted psychopath is so electric, that the movie seems to shift into a lower gear when he’s not on screen. You simply cannot take your eyes off him. The wildly darting eyes, the flicking tongue, the maniacal walk, the cackling laugh ... it’s pure candy for the senses. All of which serves to make the tragedy of his passing that much greater. One can only wonder how many incredible performances he took to the grave that we will be denied. For every scene that I found myself reveling in Ledger’s Joker characterisation, there was also a twinge of sadness that there will never be any more to enjoy. If Nolan continues his Batman franchise, there can be no stand-ins for this Joker’s enormous shoes. In contrast, Bale’s repeat performance as Batman seems almost stiff, and those turned in by the remainder of the top notch cast all seem struggling to play catch-up. Of course, there really isn’t a bad acting job in the bunch. Freeman, Caine, Gyllenhaal, Oldman and Eckhart all never fail to hit any sour notes, it’s just that they share screen time with an actor whose role and its portrayal literally makes the movie his own. If they’d titled this movie The Joker, The Man Who Laughs (even though that’s been done), The Killing Joke, or anything Joker-centric, that would probably have been a more apropos titling choice. There’s a scene — a great one among many — where Ledger’s Joker, addressing a gathering of mob bosses, is accused of being insane. His response is a surprisingly low key but forceful: “No I’m not ... no ... I’m not.” It’s the way he says these three simple words, repeated twice with a pause, that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and a brought a grin to my face. Three simple words that hit like a sucker punch to the gut, and perfectly encapsulate a character, a performance and a life.