WarningMight contain spoilers.

Unquestionably an amazing film, and in many ways a masterpiece. This time, though, I noticed the seams as I’ve never done before. I think Iron Man , which I rewatched recently, might actually be a little better: even though it was a gamble for Marvel as a business, that movie is much less ambitious and as such entirely successful at what it does.[1] It’s a straightforward superhero film, while The Dark Knight is a film that uses superheroes as a vehicle to pit ideas and concepts against one another.

The biggest problem here is that its epic nature and incredible overall quality magnify every shortcoming. Heath Ledger’s once-in-a-generation performance as The Joker doesn’t belong alongside the cartoonish Gamble or the silly, video game–quality nameless thugs at the start of the film. All the usual superhero antics that one’d take for granted in something like Captain America: The Winter Soldier detract from this otherwise grounded story: the number of times people walk away without a scratch from what should be fatal encounters (notably, Batman whacking them on the neck in full armour), the convenient way collateral damage is written off because Batman is the protagonist (see: the police cars destroyed by The Joker, the parked cars destroyed by Batman during the truck sequence), and so on.

Christian Bale might be a little worse in this outing. His accent is hard to stomach and his Batman voice makes me alternately giggle and wince. (I can’t stop watching the strange contortions of his mouth.) Gary Oldman is quite a bit better as Gordon than in Batman Begins, though his accent remains surprisingly bad. (The wife is amusingly terrible.) Aaron Eckhart is unequal to the task of playing Harvey Dent: he goes from a tolerable hero to a ridiculous villain, not helped by the makeup or visual effects.

Michael Caine, though, continues to be perfect as Alfred. Morgan Freeman feels a tad underserved as Lucius Fox, save for that line about blackmail. Maggie Gyllenhall eclipses Katie Holmes: the latter came across as a mediocre actor unable to elevate a bad role, whereas the former breathes life into Rachel and, with better writing, is able to give her some personality.

All the major sequences are still magnificent. The opening bank robbery instantly draws you into the story despite the dialogue and vocal performances. The party sequence had me on tenterhooks. The Joker trying to get to Harvey Dent as Batman rushes to intercept him is tense and thrilling from start to finish. Everything about the Joker in prison is amazing. His visit to the hospital to see Dent provides relief from the tension without losing any momentum.

No surprise, really: the Joker is the soul of this film. There’s no gainsaying the fact that this was the performance of a lifetime… except that Heath Ledger was the talent of a generation. We will never know how much the world lost when he died. His ability to effortlessly combine menace, charisma, humour, spontaneity, and psychopathy are unrivaled. The vast number of tics and mannerisms he incorporates into the character’s unique physicality and voice is staggering in and of itself; the fact that every last bit of it feels essential and natural boggles the mind.

Indeed, there’s what he does with the words; what he does with the vocalizations between the words; what he does with his expressions; what he does with his posture… it’s hard not to gush over every moment he’s onscreen. How Christian Bale and Aaron Eckhart could share the frame with this towering performance and not feel inspired to do better is beyond my understanding.

In addition to its villain, the greatness of this film lies in its score. Hans Zimmer refines and builds on his work in the first one to craft a unique (for the time), instantly recognizable score that’s responsible for at least half of the tension, scale, and grandeur. Even thinking of the opening heist sets off the accompanying music in my mind.

More than ever before, I understand why this is called a post-9/11 superhero film. It’s very uncomfortable how self-righteous Bruce and Alfred are. All their talk about how one man needs to take control and how it justifies any measures honestly feels right out of the playbook of the very villains in 2022’s The Batman. Lucius is unequivocally right to be dismayed by Bruce’s panopticon.

There are quite a few jarring cuts in the middle of scenes to combine sections of dialogues, now that I’m able to notice them. And some of the dialogue itself is shockingly awkward, as with the prelude to the classic line, I believe whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stranger, or how Dent forces Gordon to say Two-Face.

I have no intention of ruining my experience by watching the risible (if culturally significant) The Dark Knight Rises . I did listen to the equally grand score again after this one, however.

  1. The MCU was more idle thoughts than plans.