Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

I've been a fan of Batman since I was probably 6 or 7. Bruce Wayne didn't interest me, nor his sidekick Alfred, nor his loyal friend Commissioner Gordon. I can't even say I was particularly impressed by his villains. For me, the shows, comic books, and movies were always about Batman and his never-ending quest to fight evil. The Dark Knight is quite possibly the best Batman movie ever. Heck, it might be the best Batman story ever. Why? Let this Bat-fan count the ways.

The nice part of this second film with Christian Bale wearing the cowl is that it's past all the "origin" stuff--how Bruce Wayne became the Batman, how he got his cape, toys, Batmobile, etc.--and just focuses on the hero in action. And the action and villains here are brooding, diabolical, and morally reprehensible. There are moments when Bruce Wayne/Batman starts to step over the line when it comes to monitoring the citizens of Gotham City too closely, but the movie drops that line of inquiry almost as quickly as it starts it. The Joker, after all, is almost a force of nature unto himself, unable to be coped with by normal means. The late Heath Ledger, whom everyone desired to see if only for his last performance, managed to capture this role perfectly. Instead of some overly jovial dandy, like Cesar Romero, or some damaged, wisecracking hood like Jack Nicholson, Ledger's Joker is a mentally and physically damaged psychopath: the kind that probably got started cutting up little animals in his neighborhood. We might all pause happily and reflect that the Joker is, in fact, only a fictional character; because if he were real, we would NEED a Batman to stop him, and then some.

There are things one may quibble about with this movie. It's too long by about 30-45 minutes, though the two and a half hours flew by for me by the rocket pacing of the action; Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne takes a back seat to the Joker, and his sidekicks have very little screen time compared to the first movie. But they're not the focus of the movie. And despite all the raves about Ledger, the movie is not about the Joker. It is about Batman. People are giving Christian Bale too little credit in this film because I think he nails the Dark Knight perfectly as well. Bruce Wayne is a brooding, airheaded fop, like Don de la Vega in Zorro. His true face comes out when he puts on his mask, and when Bruce Wayne has the mask on in this film, he is single-mindedly, righteously angry and committed to stopping the Joker. That's what makes him a hero. That's why we watch him. He is not an idealized hero like Superman, but a mortal man, albeit one with superior facilities and resources. Like the Devil in Paradise Lost, the Joker might get the better lines than the good guys, but that doesn't mean he's better. He is the one who must be defeated, and Batman's righteous rage at the Joker as his violent actions escalate merely push him harder.

And we mustn't forget the edgy District Attorney Harvey Dent who (minor spoiler here, only if you're not a regular reader of the comic books) eventually becomes a "two-faced" character in his own right. He too is played with by the Joker, and he too reacts aggressively to stop the menace while facing his own horrors. The Joker is not skimping when it comes to inflicting damage on the good guys, regardless of their level of goodness.

There are some non-action moments, some hints of romance and some occasional moments of dry wit; but again that's not why one reads or watches a Batman story. His relentless pursuit of the Joker, even as things get worse and worse, provides some tense moments, great escapes, and surprising personal twists for Bruce Wayne and "Bat-fans," and all of those things together combine to make this my favorite Batman movie, period.

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