“Why so serious?” The question echoed through my nightmares as a scrawny nine year old who’s only real concern in life was the topping on my lunchtime sandwiches. At this point in time, the philosophy that was bred throughout superhero films (and films in general) was that the hero of the film saves the day and not a dent was put in his iron-clad suit of good and courage, and the bad guy is sent to prison or some far off planet where intergalactic police could contain them like the monster they are. How often would you see a bad guy being hauled off in cuffs while the protagonist of the film stands laughing with the police officer that arrested him?
Every good hero needs a good villain and that is where The Dark Knight trumps every film in history. Not since Anthony Hopkins’ masterful performance as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs had we had a villain that you liked more than the main character, a man so warped and demented that you clung on to every word that emanated from his voice.
While I believe that Hopkins’ performance is the best portrayal in cinema history, Ledger’s Joker is undoubtedly the more complete villain. Not only does The Joker murder countless civilians and destroy hospitals, he achieves what no other villain in cinema history has achieved before. Complete anarchy. He makes The Batman retire for 8 years, meaning all the work of Batman, Gordon and even eventual villain Harvey Dent (Two-Face) go to waste. The Batman at the end of The Dark Knight may have captured The Joker but The Joker’s work was already done, ‘Gotham’s White Knight ‘ Harvey Dent had been turned into nothing more than a glorified thug with some fantastic make-up.
Even Dent’s turn from an almost Christ-like figure of hope for a better future into Two-Face is one of the most memorable anti-heroes in movie history. Despite all this however, Ledger’s Joker helps Batman grow. As the film progresses Batman begins to see that he genuinely can’t beat The Joker himself and needs to forge friendships with Gordon and Dent and that is where The Dark Knight’s Joker is perhaps most underrated, people love to comment on his genuine insanity but is one of the rare cases of the antagonist helping the protagonist become a better hero.
Of course all that isn’t to say that The Joker is the only good thing about this film. Understandably, Heath Ledger receives the plaudits when it comes to the acting in this film, but there is not a bad performance in this movie. From Aaron Eckhart’s sinister turn as Lawyer-turned-oh-so-nearly-family murderer to Michael Caine’s spotless performance as Batman’s wise old butler Alfred. Even Gary Oldman took a step back from his normally larger than life portrayals of people like Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series, to play the more grounded and subtle Commissioner Gordon. Christian Bale’s Batman voice may be questionable but the Brit has arguably, turned in the best performance of the masked vigilante, despite being scripted as a bit of a bumbling idiot in the Dark Knight Rises.
The action sequences also make you feel how an action sequence should, exhilarated, breathless, amazed. The film is unrelenting in the best way possible. Not that this should come as a surprise with Christopher Nolan behind the camera working his magic. The infamous bank scene that opens the film sets the tone for the film with and the proceeding car park scene shows faultlessly how much of a threat the Gotham crime world perceives Batman as and how correct they are.
So, while The Dark Knight may not have done too well at the Oscars, it was never meant to. Even Heath Ledger’s Joker would almost certainly have been overlooked for Best Supporting Actor had Heath Ledger not sadly passed away after playing the character, despite no other performances that year being nearly as memorable as the sadistic clown. However, what makes the film so memorable, is the realism, the threat that a random lunatic could come and destroy our city with ease, the thought that you could one day have ‘that’ smile on your face.