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The Dark Knight Review


RATING:
(4 STARS)

The sequel to the excellent “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” is only the best superhero movie of all time. And the contest isn’t even close. Director Christopher Nolan creates such a dark world, it’s hard to believe this is the same character as played by George Clooney (remember the bat-nipples?). For something steeped in so much history, Nolan’s film is an unparalleled achievement. He not only does the comic books justice, but also creates a unique and unpredictable story in which no one is safe.

The story is complicated–much more so than you would expect from a comic book adaptation. You probably know the back story. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a billionaire playboy by day, and the crime-fighting vigilante Batman by night. Not everyone in Gotham City is enamored with Batman, however. Many think he is a menace who just gets in the way of the city’s real protectors. Others few him as a symbol of hope who proves there still is some good left in this city. Bruce longs to rid himself of the Batman persona one day so he can be with his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Although she loves Bruce, she refuses to be with him until Gotham City (and Bruce himself) no longer needs its hero.

Rachel has become involved with Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the new DA in Gotham City who most citizens view as a hero, the White Knight, a source of hope for Gotham. Dent wants to work with Batman and Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) to help take down the mob, but getting in the way is The Joker (Heath Ledger), a frightening creature who simply wants to create chaos on the streets. As The Joker starts amassing power, the body count starts piling up. With nobody up to the task of stopping him, The Joker starts making demands. His first is directed toward Batman: Take off you mask or more public servants will die.

If people hadn’t realized the brilliance of Christopher Nolan before this film (with the modern masterpiece “Memento” under his belt), they certainly did after. He manages the complexities of the plot and never sacrifices anything for the sake of commerciality. It’s a dark tale about responsibility, heroism, consequence, and sacrifice. Few heroes are as fallible as Nolan’s and Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman, and few superhero films are as unpredictable as this one.

In the wake of Heath Ledger’s death, there was a ton of anticipation over his portrayal of The Joker. That anticipation was a driving force behind the film’s mammoth box office (north of $530 million) and eventually lead to a posthumous Academy Award for the actor. Ledger is simply incredible. The Joker cares about nothing and no one. He respects Batman–views him as an equal. He kills for pleasure and thinks criminals ought to believe in something more than themselves. There’s no way to understand him, and therefore, no easy way to stop him. Most villains in superhero films have some kind of tragic, “ordinary man” back story behind them, but not The Joker. He’s pure evil and not in the least bit sympathetic (although he’s quite charming). Ledger steals every scene he is in (the best scene, in case you were wondering: the pencil/magic trick scene–absolute brilliance). The Oscar was so well-deserved.

But The Joker is not the only noteworthy character here; Ledger not the only noteworthy actor. Christian Bale is back with his strange but effective bat-growl. He is the first truly distinctive Bruce Wayne. Maggie Gyllenhaal is spunky and makes Rachel her own after stepping in for the talent-deprived Katie Holmes. Aaron Eckhart plays Harvey Dent with the same charisma he had as Nick Naylor in “Thank You for Smoking.” Dent has the biggest arc of any character, and Eckhart pulls it off.

If you’re one of the maybe ten people in the world who hasn’t seen “The Dark Knight,” I suggest you stop reading now (but come back later, for sure) and go rent it. Even if superhero movies aren’t your thing, there’s a lot to admire here. From the tremendous performances, direction, and writing to the incredible editing and production design, this film nearly has it all. It serves as a great middle chapter in the new and improved Batman saga, setting things up perfectly for the concluding chapter. That film will have a lot to live up to, but we should consider ourselves lucky if it’s quality is even comparable to that of “The Dark Knight.” This is a triumph on all levels. It will undoubtedly be remembered fondly, as one of last decade’s truly classic films, and for me, one of the absolute best of 2008.

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