The Dark Knight exceeds the parameters of comic book filmmaking and filmmaking in general by delving into real world themes and utilising those core thematics against the main characters. Fantastic performances by the cast – headlined by Heath Ledger, box office success and a pop culture icon, The Dark Knight has changed the way we perceive not only Batman films but comic books films since its release.
The late Heath Ledger and his incredible performance will always be the first thing on people’s mind when they mention The Dark Knight and rightfully so. His casting came with a ton of backlash and all it took was five minutes and forty five seconds in the opening scene to put those doubts to rest. His performance as the Joker can be summed up as phenomenal as he does something with the character that we haven’t seen before. Encapsulating a less flashy and flamboyant rendition of the character, Ledger targets a more grounded and real version, as he has to be to become the agent of chaos. Joker explains how he got his scars over the course of the film, each time a different story to be told and said with enough conviction that you don’t know what story is true. This perfectly highlights the range Ledger is able to bring to this role as he perfects his craft. Heath Ledger’s frightening and chilling performance as The Joker has been a role he has owned for the past fourteen years and it will be a role that will always be synonymous with him in the years to come. It’s not just Heath Ledger who excels in these films but every single cast member too. Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhall, Michael Caine & Morgan Freeman all take their performances to the next level during The Dark Knight. Christian Bale and Gary Oldman improve on what we saw in Batman Begins. Bale gets to show his tortured and psychologically broken side of Bruce Wayne as we see him struggle to come to terms on what is best for Gotham. Oldman as Jim Gordon has a lot more to do in this film as he did in the previous film, we see him starting to crack as Joker gets the upper hand and kills ten of his colleagues, this is enough to make him snap. Aaron Eckhart finally gives a property portrait as Harvey Dent and eventually Two Face. Eckhart is able to convey his optimism, smart and calculated traits as Harvey Dent but when his life gets destroyed and Rachel is killed his turn to evil is so much more impactful and is completely convincing. Cold and ruthless in his method as he has lost everything he cares about goes on a killing rampage to find who actually murdered his loved one.
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan create an intricate script as we explore the themes of symbolism, morality and chaos. Batman has become a symbol for the citizens of Gotham, copy cats dressed as Batman wearing hockey pads are inspired by the Batman as they roam the city to stand up to the thugs of Gotham. The idea of Batman is not just Bruce Wayne under the mask but a beacon for hope while striking fear in the criminals of Gotham whenever they see the light in the sky. The Joker on the other hand wants to destroy this symbol and the idea of Batman; possessing no real motivation other than fun and to create chaos in an anarchic way. These simple motivations are enough to turn Gotham on its head as central figures just as Jim Gordan, Harvey Dent and Batman are thrusted into the spotlight. His methods pushes Jim Gordan to places he has never been before as he is willing to go to no ends to stop this maniac. The Joker psychologically splits Harvey Dent into two as he manipulates him to join his ideas of chaos. The Joker may not be able to go toe-to-toe with Batman physically but what he does manage to do is break the psyche of Batman and unknowingly Bruce Wayne, as he struggles to keep his moral compass and weighs up how the consequences of his heroism will affect the citizens of Gotham. Christopher Nolan balances these themes throughout the film as we see the ascension and ultimately, the fall of Harvey Dent, as the popular district attorney putting criminals behind bars. Bruce Wayne questions if he can hang up the cape and cowl to be with Rachel as Harvey appeared to be the right symbol that Gotham so desperately needs. “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” a quote Harvey said earlier in the film and it is somewhat poetic that these words end up summing up his character after his turn to darkness.
Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard are back to score The Dark Knight and they both have improved on Batman Begins. Their Batman theme has now become iconic and the tensions can really be felt during the film’s darkest scene. The musical piece they create for the Joker is unnerving as the slight hum eventuates into a bombastic tune perfectly situated towards the Joker’s persona. The pinnacle of the score happens at the end of the film as Jim Gordon is giving his monologue as we cut to scenes of Batman being hunted by the police and their dogs, the scene paired with the score gives me goosebumps every time I watch the film.
The Dark Knight has etched itself into cinema history and Heather Ledger’s performance is still talked about fourteen years later. Brilliant themes explored in depth backed by a well rounded cast who gives everything in their performance. The Dark Knight has inspired so many films and filmmakers since its release and its legacy will continue on forever, the film has become The Dark Knight of the comic book and film industry.