Thursday, March 11, 2010

Archive: 'The Dark Knight'

Movie Review
The Dark Knight (2008)

I should probably refrain from referring to "The Dark Knight" as a "superhero" movie because that would be undermining director Christopher Nolan's purpose. He has succeeded in taking the Batman franchise and projecting it far beyond its comic book roots. He has created a world that is all his own, a world teeming with darkness and despair. This movie goes further than what any other ordinary superhero movie would offer, and Nolan ultimately redefines the possibilities for such movies. With "The Dark Knight," deeper depths are being explored, and the new standard has been set, and it's a high one at that. It's haunting, terrifying, and terrific.

While it's clear that Batman (Christian Bale) is good and the Joker (Heath Ledger) is evil, this isn't a straightforward story about good vs. evil. Gotham City is a city that's lost all hope and within such a state of mind, the line between the two extremes begins to blur. The movie explores this in great detail with an emphasis on moral complexities and consequences. In this world, being a superhero provides only glimpses of glory as the Gotham citizens view Batman as a masked vigilante. They blame him for the deaths of cops and other officials, and the Caped Crusader, as he is known, is being put under question as to whether or not he is truly the city's source of optimism. Meanwhile, the real villain to be on the watch for is the sinister Joker. And yet, he's even more than a villain. He is the epitome of chaos, a representation of our terrorism-obsessed times. "I don't want to kill you," the conniving Joker tells Batman. "You complete me." No joke.

2005's excellent "Batman Begins" was merely a warm-up round as compared to the full-bodied epic of "The Dark Knight." Now that the origin of Bruce Wayne's alto ego has been fully fleshed-out in the predecessor, we dive right in here. Batman's late night crime fighting has taken a toll on Gotham City's underground crime heads, and he is still assisted by the incorruptible police companion, Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). And now, while Batman is behind the scenes, Gotham City has a new face to look to. He's the new D.A. named Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and he and Batman collaborate on how to approach their war on crime. However, they face a new threat: the Joker. He's a schemer, placing those against him in precarious situations that force them to face their own inner demons. Late in the movie, the Joker creates a most devastating situation where he rigs bombs onto two ferries full of people and then tempts them to blow the other up before they both blow up. And while devising such situations, the Joker also demands Batman to reveal his identity. This demand alone threatens to destroy the entire legacy of Batman.

Christian Bale reprises his role as Batman, and for the first time, this is a Batman who's irreplaceable. He owns the role, and his presence in the Bat Suit is unparalleled to his predecessors, and this new Batman is here to stay. Bale digs into Bruce Wayne's background and psychological turmoil, creating a man who has a hint of tragedy in him. Michael Caine returns with sarcastic wit as Alfred, serving as Bruce Wayne's butler and also his conscious. Morgan Freeman returns, as well, reprising his role as Lucius Fox. He once again fits Bruce Wayne for all sorts of neat gadgetry and even introduces to him the awesome Batbike. Gary Oldman is ever more involving as the selfless Gordon. And then there are some new faces, too. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes this time around as Rachel, and all the better for it. She's a better actress and makes the new Rachel all her own. Aaron Eckhart is fantastic as Gotham's "white knight" Harvey Dent who makes a frightening transformation. For those who don't know what happens to him, don't let me spoil it for you. But just know that Nolan makes it truly something else.

In most other superhero movies, there's always that sense that all will turn out well in the end. Not so much here. This is dark, dark stuff and quite possibly the saddest superhero movie ever made. The weighty themes established in the predecessor with Batman balancing fighting forces with adhering to honor are expanded even more so, and things get grim pretty quickly. The story focuses on the characters, and we end up caring about all of their outcomes thanks to the performances and superb writing. Major and minor characters all get their share, and this includes the love triangle between Rachel, Bruce Wayne, and Harvey Dent. The script is by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, and they aren't afraid to keep things complex as their script holds the same unapologetic density as any good crime drama.

While special effects take a backseat to pure human emotion, they are still extraordinary. They consist of many explosions and several exciting and elaborate chase sequences including a tantalizing one involving a semi truck. But, while you're adrenaline is pumping, you're brain is also at work. Here's a summer blockbuster that occupies your mind along with your senses and goes places that Hollywood would normally never set foot in within the context of summer entertainment. There's some unexpected poetry and poignancy to a lot of the movie's dialogue, especially whenever the Joker speaks. So, this means that, while admiring the action, you also have to keep your ears open for something more, which is what makes the movie work simultaneously on more than one level. With this newly uprooted potential for what it means to be a "superhero" movie, Christopher Nolan has taken popular cinema and elevated it to the level of art.

And this is all without even mentioning Heath Ledger. He is twisted and absolutely horrifying as the maniacal Joker. He draws from something deep within himself to create this role that is grueling in its limitless sadism. The scraggly hair tinted green, the nightmarishly smeared and dirty face paint, the darting tongue that licks his painted lips, and his ear-piercing cackle that reveals scars at the ends of his mouth, it all is so crazy, disturbed, and ingenius. Consider the scene where he holds a knife to somebody's mouth explaining the time his father carved a smile into his face. Or, when crashing a party, he circles Rachel saying, "Hello beautiful," sniffing her like some feral animal. This marks the last performance for the late Heath Ledger who passed away back in January. Will it earn him a posthumous Oscar? It's worthy enough because Ledger's performance is a triumph.

1 comment:

  1. The Dark Knight is a super hero movie. This movie has good story and excellent performance by the main lead. This movie has lots of twist and turns. I really enjoyed this movie. This movie really worth your time ad money.