I will admit right now: if I had been in charge of casting The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger would not have made my top one hundred shortlist for The Joker. I will also admit that would have been wrong, and that I seriously underestimated his acting talent. In the new Batman movie, no one could accuse him of being cast simply because of his pretty features and little else.
As well as some deliberately bad jokes, lots of subtle threatening and not so subtle shooting; his cruel yet sadistically comic performance did bring some humorous moments to an otherwise dark and frightening film. His ‘I want one of those’ expression on first seeing the Batmobile was both amusing, and mirrored by everyone else in the Odeon at Leicester Square.
The Joker is carrying out a series of bank robberies, and Batman is trying to foil him, along with the new District Attorney - a spot on performance by Aaron Eckhart - and Lieutenant James Gordon.
Yet with so much publicity given to the untimely death of Ledger, the other baddie was overlooked entirely. The special effects on Two-Face were awesome, although young children will wake up screaming for a month should they see it. Don’t be fooled by the 12A rating: The Dark Knight makes the first Spiderman movie look like The Incredibles.
To be honest I felt more sorry for Two-Face than The Joker, possibly because we see his allegiance switch to the dark side after a personal tragedy and an accident that leaves him horribly disfigured. The man he was, and the man he could have been, only emphasises the stark and sad contrast to what he becomes.
As for Batman, the line between his status as a hero or a vigilante becomes ever more blurred. It veers substantially towards the latter when Wayne installs software that allows him to listen in on phone conversations. Whenever Christian Bale spoke in the throaty, raspy voice he gives Batman, I felt as though my own throat was about to revert back to the pain it had plagued me with over the previous two days. Just stop talking and hit some bad guys.
Although Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman gave strong supporting acts, the only thing that was miscast was Gotham City. I’ve never been to Chicago, but even I could tell it was The Windy City; possibly to give Batman some warm air currents to glide on. Compared to the previous Gothams it seemed too light and untroubled.
Brothers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan turn what seems like a simple story of stopping the bad guy into a two and a half hour blockbuster. Although some scenes feel overlong or would not be missed, there are some impressive scene-setting shots; and a thrilling night-time chase through Gotham’s streets and tunnels is one of the action highlights.
Although the fantastical technology is not as advanced as that depicted in Iron Man, Bruce Wayne’s Lamborghini leaves Tony Stark’s Audi in the shade. There is sure to be a battle between the superhero movies of 2008, and it is going to be very close between them.