The hype on this movie was big. And, quite frankly, The Dark Knight delivers. Christopher Nolan, as writer, producer and director, has taken this series to a place no one ever dream Batman could go. It exceeded my high expectations.
Think of the first go round. In my opinion, the 1st and 3rd movies were the best ones. Batman Returns was ruined by all the sexual talk of the Penguin. It was just plain dark and dreary. Val Kilmer was smart not to retun for the 4th installment which saw a retun of the campy feel of the TV show.
Nolan restarted the series with the decidedly dark Batman Begins. In The Dark Knight the story continues faster, louder and more dangerous. In terms of continuity, most of the original cast returns. There is a cameo by Scarecrow at the beginning, and Bruce Wayne still longs for childhood friend Rachel Dawes. Batman and Lt. Gordon are close to shutting down the mob with the help of new DA Harvey Dent. Bruce sees the day that he can retire the mask and Gotham can have a respectable hero in Dent.
This is when all Hades breaks lose in the person of the Joker. He has been hired, he actually extorted them, to end the threat by putting an end to Batman.
The Joker is utterly diabolical; something of an anti-christ figure who unleashes chaos and destruction on Gotham. Unlike the other villians, he has no origins we know about. He appears mysteriously. We never know who he really is, or why he is the way he is. He even tells different stories about why he has the nasty smile-shaped scar on his face. He does not have the usual motives- money or power. He wants to destroy people, to test them and reveal that they can become evil if pushed to the edge. He is the devil while Batman plays the role of Job in this theodicy without a God.
The Joker wants to corrupt Batman, and then Dent, not through seduction but through heartbreak. He figures that if he pushes the right button they will reject their code of ethic. He is downright scary. Heath Ledger turns in a fantastic performance, somehow channeling both Caesar Romero and Jack Nicholson yet giving him a completely unique personality. His bent personality is matched by his bent body. His head often hangs. His perspective is just as bent.
Batman is not a true vigilante. He tries to bring criminals to justice, rather than mete out justic himself. And he displays an unusual respect for the dignity of human life. He does not shoot criminals, or apprehend them using guns. The guns he uses are typically used against inanimate objects. He uses strength, technology and craftiness to defeat his opponents. Sorry, this all dawned on me this morning.
This version has many more explosions and gun shots, in addition to the hand-to-hand (the real meaning of mano a mano) combat. The Joker is a violent psychopath who murders plenty of people. He has no respect for human life. He sees it all as a game between himself and Batman (the unstoppable force meets the immovable object). Nolan creates an exciting, thoughtful story filled with one memorable character in the Joker, and a very hideous character in Two Face- the ‘converted’ Harvey Dent who was driven mad by Joker’s insideous plan. He gives in to the notion of chaos and chance ruling the universe.
But Batman stands in contrast as the man who doesn’t forsake his ideals in the midst of terror. Though tempted, he refuses to destroy even Joker. But in the process, he becomes a scapegoat. He bears the sins of Two Face to preserve Harvey Dent’s reputation lest the Joker win and the people lose hope. Batman becomes something of a messianic figure to the Joker’s devil.
All this in one action-packed adventure story. Chris Nolan has outdone himself- making more than a great super-hero movie, but a great movie, period. This tale of good and evil is worth watching repeatedly. Just not for kids.
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