The Dark Knight

    When a film gets as much hype as The Dark Knight has had, I get worried. How can it possibly live up to the incredible amount of publicity and  sheer anticipation that has preceded the release of this film? Most of the early reviews have been the type of raves that leave your heart beating with impatience.
    Of course a large part of the ruckus is the tragic and untimely death of Heath Ledger just as he was beginning to distinguish himself from the other major actors in his generation. Ledger was hugely talented and completely fearless. After Brokeback Mountain, his presence in any project  gives it instant credibility. Ledger’s death brought this Pacino-like quality to the attention of the world. And for one of his last roles to be a fresh, dangerous take on a flamboyant American archetype is an almost irresistible hook for any writer.
    So we’re in a strange situation where fanboy fervor for a much beloved franchise mixes with the mainstream movie culture’s obsession with the industry’s hottest actor of the moment. I can’t recall if that’s ever happened before. It’s not a question of if you’ll see this movie but of when. I warn you, if you wait until the DVD, you won’t be able to go to the water cooler until Christmas.
    So here’s the setup. Batman (Christian Bale) and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) have made great strides in eliminating organized crime in Gotham City. In fact the gangs are now left with one outlet with which to launder their money, a corrupt Hong Kong bank. These efforts have drawn the attention of the new and effective District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who wants in on the plan. Bruce Wayne is entertaining thoughts that if this plan works out, he can retire Batman and settle down with old flame Rachel Dawes. (Maggie Gyllenhaal) The old gangs, of course, push back, making a deal with their own newcomer, a scarred, demented, green haired lunatic called the Joker. But the Joker has his own ideas of how to proceed.
    The centerpiece of this film is Ledger’s take on the Joker. It’s far darker than any previous portrayal. This Joker is an agent for chaos, who seeks to ruin any plan by simply doing something unexpected. He is deviously clever and capable of anything. Ledger falls a little short of Hannibal Lector territory but that’s the direction he was heading. He not only steals the film, he defines it’s theme. If Batman Begins is about fear, The Dark Knight is about chaos. Gordon and Batman save a lot of lives and put a lot criminals in jail, but ultimately they lose by the end of the film. Their plan to rid Gotham of it’s gangs is torn to shreds by the Joker’s nihilism.
    The Dark Knight is a great film. I haven’t decided yet how it measures up to Batman Begins, but at worst, Dark Knight is the second best Superhero movie ever made. It’s look is dark and sleek, like a Michael Mann film, which is a comparison that many critics have been making. Christian Bale is dark and brooding as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. I still don’t like the choices they’ve made for Wayne, but that’s a quibble. Gary Oldman is given much more to do this time around and he delivers. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent is believable as a fearless and charismatic crusader for justice, who also has trouble seeing the line he must not cross. Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over the role of Rachel Dawes seamlessly. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are old pros who disappear into their roles.
    There have been a few critics who haven’t liked The Dark Knight. They say it’s too long, too dark, or too confusing. They worried me at first. Several have said that the action scenes were too hard to follow. I didn’t find that to be the case. Those critics just don’t get what we fanboys want from Batman. He’s the most realistic of our superheros, not having any powers or supernatural talismans. And he has the most believable motivation for what he does. To me this suggests the more realistic approach. It doesn’t work with Superman, who’s so powerful he has to fight outsized villains to keep things interesting, or even Spider-man. Batman’s a detective and his stories should be gritty and played out at street level. Christopher Nolan, the director and screenwriter understands this.
    The Dark Knight lives up to the hype and fanboy expectations.


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July 2008
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