The Dark Knight Soars

Posted by Andrew Groves | Posted in | Posted on Wednesday, August 06, 2008

When “Batman and Robin” was released eleven years ago, moviegoers shuddered as they watched their dark knight succumb to ridiculousness right before their eyes. The film, riddled with cheesy one-liners and ridiculous gags, seemed to extinguish any hope of a solid series.

Until now.

Director Christopher Nolan’s Batman series has successfully rebooted the franchise, as evidenced by its latest film “The Dark Knight.” In the film, Gotham City’s famous caped crusader returns to face his ultimate nemesis: the Joker. The realistic take on the Batman universe set forth in “Batman Begins” continues in the sequel, but with a much darker tone. Batman faces an epic struggle between good and evil… order and chaos. The lines he has drawn have suddenly become blurred, and he must decide whether his role as the protector of Gotham is an asset or a danger.

The Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger, is a twisted anarchist bent on wreaking havoc across Gotham. Ledger’s chilling performance is breathtaking, underscoring his unique ability to fully inhabit a character. When you watch him slither across the screen, you don’t see Heath Ledger; all you see is… the Joker. And it isn’t his grin-shaped scars or his grungy appearance that makes him so frightening. It’s his motivation: “I am an agent of chaos.” Ledger’s Joker has no agenda. He’s not in it for money or power. The Joker is the ultimate embodiment of chaos. He thrives on disorder and panic. As Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred puts it, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical… They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Even more unnerving is the Joker’s delight in inflicting pain, whether on himself or on those around him. While being thrashed by Batman in an interrogation room, he continues to taunt the dark knight, laughing all the while. The more Batman pummels him, the more he enjoys it. The Joker’s deadly instruments range from pencils to pistols, but his signature weapon is a knife. He uses knives because “guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the little emotions.” And savor he does. Every time he employs this weapon, he asks his victim, “Wanna know how I got these scars?” Then he delves into some horrific story about his scars, embellishing it to terrorize his victim. This Joker is no joke.

Christian Bale reprises his role as Bruce Wayne / Batman in the film and delivers a solid performance. Batman’s struggle to confront the Joker without sinking to his level permeates the plot, allowing Bale to explore a much deeper level of the character than before. The caped crusader is driven to the brink of darkness in his quest to bring order to Gotham. Bruce Wayne’s words, “Batman has no limits,” ring hollow as the city he has sworn to protect is going up in flames. For the first time, the mortality of Batman is on display. The incredible angst after Rachel Dawes’ death makes the struggle even more poignant, as Batman must avenge the death of someone he loves.

Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Harvey Dent is excellent, but his transformation into the coin-flipping murderer Two-Face is less believable. Dent’s love for Rachel Dawes is shown in the film, but it isn’t developed thoroughly. Thus, when she is murdered, his vengeful alter-ego is hard to take seriously. Also, the burnt half of Two-Face is just a little bit over the top. Nonetheless, that is my only bone to pick with the film.

While the film is titled “The Dark Knight,” the Joker is the one who steals the show. Ledger creates a comical, yet creepy villain that will be remembered for years to come. His performance is absolutely Oscar worthy, and this movie wouldn’t have been the same without him.

The movie ends with Batman taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s string of murders. “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be,” Batman declares to Gordon. He adds, “Sometimes, truth isn’t good enough; sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” But this movie raises several important questions. While it is noble, almost Christ-like, to take the blame for someone else’s actions, isn’t Batman just perpetuating a lie? Can he assume to know what is best for Gotham? Is withholding the truth really the right thing to do? We are left without answers as the manhunt for Batman begins.

But that’s okay, because some of the greatest movies aren’t meant to answer questions, but raise them.
RATING: 5 (out of 5)