The Dark Knight is a direct sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, largely considered the greatest comic book hero adaptation film in history. I echo that sentiment, and unfortunately hold it to still be true even after seeing The Dark Knight.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the action and spectacle of The Dark Knight–and will most assuredly pre-purchase the DVD–my critical side is alarmed. After the complex depths with which Director and Screenwriter Christopher Nolan delved into the psyche of Bruce Wayne and made Batman believable in the previous film, I cannot help but feel that the Caped Crusader was shortchanged this time around. I can sum up Batman’s/Bruce Wayne’s character development through the course of The Dark Knight in the following sentence: Batman upgraded his suit so that he can turn his head. That’s it . . . Seriously.
The film makes the mistake, in my opinion, of repeating the sins of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films that Warner Bros. tried so hard to disown with this recent reinvention of the franchise: The Dark Knight focuses too heavily on the antagonist and secondary characters rather than the development of Batman as a hero. Cramming two arch-villains into one movie further exacerbates the problem and reduces Christian Bale’s screen time even further.
On the good side, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker is unquestionably the best ever seen. The film effectively portrays The Joker’s uncanny ability to get under Batman’s skin. Gone are the Disneyland joker slot parade floats and poison gas attacks from the sleeve, as seen in the Tim Burton film. Whereas Jack Nicholson’s Joker was a pompous prince and easily forgettable rapscallion with little impact, Nolan’s Joker is far more disturbing. He’s fully believable as a hands-on murderer, arsonist and demolitionist with a penchant of doing the exact opposite of what ration criminals and crimefighters would consider logical. But under the facial scars and clown paint, he honestly seems human. Ledger takes full advantage of what remains of The Joker’s subverted humanity in several calm moments during the film when talking to other characters. Ledger takes character traits we usually find endearing in normal people and uses them to portray a villain who does insane things, but isn’t necessarily insane. The only times I found myself disagreeing with Nolan’s and Ledger’s Joker were moments when the character begged for someone to kill him. Understanding that The Joker approaches crime and mayhem with a clear sense of his own purpose (to fraction society), the character undertaking his actions out of a suicidal tendency doesn’t stand to reason. Still, I’m glad to finally see The Joker done mostly right, and in line with writer Alan Moore’s unforgettable take on the character, The Killing Joke. However, the film’s intense focus on the villain and his exploits leads me to question why they titled it “The Dark Knight” and not “The Joker”.