Even though The Dark Knight is a sequel to Batman Begins, you don’t actually need to have seen the first film in order to appreciate this one. That’s what happened when I first watched The Dark Knight in theatres back in 2008. I hadn’t seen Batman Begins, but still decided to go and see The Dark Knight.
I did enjoy The Dark Knight without seeing Batman Begins. I enjoyed it a lot, as a matter of fact. I thought it was wonderfully made, and incredibly entertaining. Now, looking at it, I still think that, but also enjoy all of the subtleties that you notice after watching its predecessor.
In The Dark Knight, the character of Batman is already established, meaning we don’t have 45+ minutes of back-story to wade through before kicking off the main portion of the story. In fact, the story begins with the Joker (Heath Ledger) and a hired crew robbing a bank. We get a primary villain established right off the bat, something that I was very thankful for. The villain actually appears throughout the course of the film. The Joker is a constant threat to Batman and the other characters, unlike what happens in Begins
Anyway, yes, Batman (still played by Christian Bale) is now an established character. He’s starting to get followers, copycats if you will, and he doesn’t like this. These “fake Batmans” don’t actually end up playing much of a role, except to make Bruce Wayne consider whether or not Batman is actually still needed in Gotham City. He’s still popular with the citizens, everyone knows about him, and he has the mob running scared. The mob think that eliminating him would be a good idea, and as such decide to enlist the help of the Joker, an anarchist who apparently never has a plan, to eliminate Batman.
Joker not having a plan doesn’t really seem to be the case, despite his protests to the contrary. He does have a plan, more than one as a matter of fact. He’s got several different methods that he will try to utilize in order to corrupt and kill Gotham’s dark knight. This is what the rest of the film focuses on–Joker’s attempts to kill Batman, as well as Batman trying to stop him from reeking havoc on Gotham City.
Speaking of Gotham, and this might just be an observation that doesn’t have much basis behind it, but the city itself seems to be less of a factor in The Dark Knight. In Batman Begins, it was intimidating–you didn’t want to live there. This time around, it seems to be just like any other large American city, not particularly dark or terrifying. Has Batman done such a good job cleaning up the streets that it no longer should feel dark?
At least, it doesn’t seem like it’s all that bad judging by the cast of good characters that appear throughout. There’s a new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), his assistant, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes in this role), as well as Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). All of these people, as well as Batman, obviously, are there to fight crime and help make Gotham a better place. With this many people fighting crime, you’d think the city itself would feel more, I don’t know, menacing.
While the city doesn’t feel dark, the villains do feel threatening. At least when we zoom in on them, instead of the city, we get the darker feel that was present in Begins. The Joker is no longer a character to laugh or poke fun at, he’s an incredibly dark character. The other villains, or should I say villain, (who I won’t reveal, as he only appears about half way through), is also similarly cruel, and the character’s contrast to that of Batman is something that plays out incredibly well.
Something that did disappoint me was a cameo role played by Scarecrow. Scarecrow was an important character in the last film, but here he gets maybe a minute of total screen time, before disappearing for the rest of the film. This also comes right at the beginning, which almost seems like a way to misguide the audience into thinking that he would play a bigger role.
Apart from the Gotham City not looking particularly dark, and Scarecrow’s far too minor of a role, I don’t really have anything but praise for The Dark Knight. The story kicks into high-gear right at the beginning of the film, and it holds interest for its entirety. The times when there is more action than plot are entertaining, and I had difficulty looking away from the screen, even after seeing the film many times.
I’ve also got to mention how great the acting is. Before the film was released, there was a lot of debate as to whether or not Heath Ledger could play the Joker. After seeing the film, it seems that this debate turned into a one-sided praising of his portrayal. He was amazing. His Joker is incredible, having both depth and the certain amount of craziness that is required with the role. Everyone else plays their role well, with Aaron Eckhart giving a very solid performance as the D.A. Harvey Dent, as well as Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman reprising their roles from the previous film.
Look, when I’m criticizing the city for not being dark enough, and stating that something that is essentially nothing more than a cameo role should have been changed, and that’s all I can complain about, you know you’ve got a solid movie on your hands. I really enjoyed The Dark Knight, even after seeing it a half-dozen times. Heath Ledger completely owns in his role, the action scenes are entertaining, and the story keeps you fixated on everything that is happening. I had to grasp at straws just to find something to critique, and that’s saying something.