For a film that deals primarily with chaos and igniting anarchy, The Dark Knight’s main strength is its smooth, logical and well-paced progression through a consistent and cohesive plot, essentially, everything The Dark Knight Rises was not. But we’re not reviewing that mess. We’re talking about Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to the widely successful Batman Begins, but it’s still useful to place this within Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
With Christian Bale returning as the “caped crusader”, The Dark Knight opens with the Joker’s heist of a mob-owned bank. He’s clearly a criminal mastermind and a significant threat to Gotham City, and its interesting that he’s not given a backstory. In fact, at various points he tells conflicting stories of how he received his deforming facial scarring, serving to deepen his mysteriousness. He emerges from the shadows fully-formed at the beginning of the film, and ready to cause mayhem.Even without this origin story, the Joker is a brilliantly conceived villain and the true strength of this film. Much of this success can be attributed to Heath Ledger’s incredible, Academy award-winning performance, although it will always be remembered alongside his untimely death just after filming ended. Ledger gives the Joker a much deeper and more complicated character than simply being an eccentric and psychopathic killer; he is dark, sinister, and at times genuinely scary. He seeks battle with Batman for the fun of it, putting him and the rest of Gotham, including new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Gary Oldman as the newly appointed Commissioner Gordon, in impossible moral quandaries as he attempts to break down society into a state of total anarchy.
To me it seems the central idea of this film is chaos: how it’s birthed and how it breeds. The Joker forces citizens into opposition to one another, playing different parties off each other, and waits (in glee) to see how their desperation will manifest. It’s actually pretty sickening to watch. How strong a survival instinct is morally acceptable? What is the “best” decision? It might be easy to state an opinion, but when it comes to actually actioning it, can you? And while the citizens of Gotham battle their consciences, Batman himself must decide who he must be, who Gotham needs him to be. They need a hero, but perhaps not the one they were expecting.
The reason The Dark Knight places so highly on the IMDb list is because not only it boasts a well-conceived and tightly woven plot, with brilliantly portrayed characters (thanks largely to the franchise overall, of course), but it’s also a great action film, and let’s face it, we don’t often get these aspects all together in one film. The action sequences are choreographed, executed and shot expertly, as Nolan creates a great sense of tension and wonder. Best film ever? Probably not, but this remains an incredibly strong action film with truly great performances and a watchability factor rarely bested.