With box office behemoth The Dark Knight (2008), Christopher Nolan created a game-changing comic book film adaptation that combined spectacular, hyper-realistic action with intelligent themes and a real sense of finesse. It also featured one of the performances of the decade, as the late Heath Ledger provides his own unique spin on the maniacal Joker.
Picking up from where 2005’s Batman Begins left off, the city of Gotham is being plagued by a psychopathic bank robber/terrorist known only as The Joker (Ledger), a man who, as Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine) states, “just wants to watch the world burn”. Simultaneously, we see the rise of district attorney Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the city’s white knight who sadly falls victim to the Joker’s machinations.
Nolan truly honed his art with The Dark Knight and demonstrates exacting direction and wonderful writing. The story is both grand and personal, allowing each character to contribute to the epic narrative. This is intelligent writing that picks out the multiple themes of the Batman comics and grounds them in a hyper-real world where audiences will invest in each character. A complex and brooding story is made all the more impressive with some superb production design and heart-racing action sequences, including a mesmerising bank heist (shot in the IMAX format) at the film’s opening.
The memorable make-up cracked face of the Joker adorned in his trademark purple suit and Batman’s upgraded body amour could easily have fallen into the ridiculous, but with Nolan at the helm, audiences accept them as a believable reality. Lest we become carried away with the spectacle of The Dark Knight however, it is worth pointing out a few problems. The story of Harvey Dent, essential to the overall narrative, causes a wane in attention in the third act. The scenes of his revenge lack a certain quality of the rest of this truly intelligent blockbuster – a term often reserved for much of Nolan’s back catalogue.
The Dark Knight has become, without doubt, the benchmark for anyone attempting to make an engrossing comic book movie. Much like Wayne himself, Nolan has taken something potentially ludicrous and made it into so much more – something sharp, dramatic, symbolic and, above all else, intelligent.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is due to hit UK cinemas on 20 July. For more info on the film and the Christopher Nolan Season, follow this link.