The Dark Knight – Review

A magnificent Knight

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Director: Christopher Nolan
Notable Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine

Heath Ledger’s fire is gone. But his legacy lives on with his body of work. Though small, he managed to leave behind a few performances that will resonate for decades.

His final, complete, performance is an exercise in lunacy – an all too creepy portrayal of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece.

The Dark Knight is a Batman movie. Fans of the caped crusader have eagerly anticipated the sequel ever since the last one, Batman Begins. Three years after Nolan’s take on the Batman mythos rejuvenated a stagnant franchise that had been reduced to hammy acting, stupid jokes and, um, “bat nipples,” he returns and delivers something that looks like a comic-book movie but is in fact something bigger. It’s not just enjoyable summer movie entertainment. This is a tragedy where you are gripped by the characters, their actions and the motivation behind it all.

The pulp universe of Gotham City is a town of heroes and villains. It acts as the backdrop to an operatic piece of filmmaking with Nolan as its conductor. For those who aren’t amused by heroes in funny outfits, or don’t like Batman altogether, get off that high horse. Don’t discount the idea that rich performances can exist in the genre of superheroes. Christopher Nolan is able to exploit the good, the bad and the gray in between.

Welsh actor Christian Bale reprises his role as Bruce Wayne, the billionaire who also masquerades as the Batman. He fights for the citizens, trying to rid Gotham of an underworld run by mobsters and killers. Also returning is Wayne’s trusted butler Alfred (Michael Caine), honest cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and the designer of all those fancy Bat gadgets, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

New to the creative side of things is Jonathan Nolan, who collaborated with his brother Christopher on the writing of Memento and The Prestige. Like those films, where nothing is as it seems, neither is this latest Batman sequel. This story’s focus is Bruce Wayne’s pursuit of Gotham’s public enemies with the help of the morally upstanding district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Adding to the intrigue between the vigilante and the law enforcer is Dent’s dating Wayne’s childhood love Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Fighting crime, even through law-breaking means, has its limits, and Bruce is near the point of hanging up his mask and giving the mantle to Dent. Unlike the Batman, Dent is a visible figure of Gotham that people can get behind. A shining knight in a suit and tie. Batman is just a symbol, a lurker in shadows.

But for this so-called “hero with a face,” the Joker has plans for you.

That’s it with the plot divulging. No more. The Dark Knight uses its 152-minute running time to great effect. Not a wasted moment. Heath Ledger’s Joker, his red lipstick and his white-and-black war paint, is not the film, but he makes the most of what was to be his last, complete, performance. He is a different kind of insanity. Forceful and dark and menacing all at the same time, yet I only see the raging chaos, the combustible nature of man – not an actor. Twisting and turning every which way, the breaking down of morals and altruistic ideals, it can be draining. The dichotomy of the Batman and the Joker alone will play with your head. Neither wishes the other dead. “You complete me,” the Joker tells the Batman. This single line, though a derivative of Jerry Maguire, reinforces the idea that each exists because of the other.

Taking a break from the superfluous use of computers and green screens that seem to plague many SFX-heavy creations, Nolan uses stunt work and pyrotechnics, and IMAX technology, to the greatest effect, creating a visual pop whenever there’s a skyline shot or when Batman’s cruising the streets of Gotham on his wickedly awesome Batpod contraption. And you can’t have a superhero movie and not expect action. Nolan has that in spades with Batman going toe-to-toe with Gotham’s worst. He stretches the limits of his film’s PG-13 rating. Graphic images and sinister plot elements abound.

The Dark Knight may be long remembered because of Heath Ledger’s death months after production. While this is true, one can’t mistake this film as a work of genius that looms higher than its superhero counterparts. Multi-layered and intelligent, with emotional highs and lows, this is a two-and-a-half hour roller coaster of action and drama, and it’s simply magnificent.


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