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“The Dark Knight”

by Robert Garver

            Some of my co-workers down at Cinema Center are concerned that “The Dark Knight” might be a bad title for the new Batman movie.  They think that the title should have the word “Batman” in it so people will instantly associate it with the popular character.  I want the movie to do well, so I’ll keep mentioning that “The Dark Knight” refers to Batman. 

Director Christopher Nolan relaunched the Batman franchise in 2005 with “Batman Begins.”  Gone was the one-dimensional, high-tech Batman that Joel Schumacher ran into the ground in the latter half of the 90s.  The new Batman was gritty, mysterious, haunted and conflicted.  New Batman Christian Bale pulled off quite the emotional juggling act.  It was a return to the darker Batman of the better comics.  “The Dark Knight” is a sequel to that.

A few years have passed in Gotham City and things are looking a little better.  Batman’s presence has sent most criminals running for the hills.  The police have made some significant gains, reducing the local mob to a few gangs that hide in kitchens.  New District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is promising to get even tougher on crime.  There are a few misguided copycat vigilantes who cause more trouble than they prevent, but overall, Batman has been a positive influence. 

For Bruce Wayne, Batman’s billionaire alter ego, things aren’t going as well.  His mansion (as well as the Batcave) burned down at the end of “Batman Begins.”  He is now living in the penthouse of his corporate building, doing Batman things on a deserted floor below. 

To make things worse, Bruce has had to let go of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the woman he loves.  She is now dating Harvey Dent.  Bruce barely recognizes her anymore, but then again, neither will anyone who saw “Batman Begins.”  Rachel was played by Katie Holmes in that film.  Holmes was nominated for a Razzie for her performance, and Gyllenhaal is arguably the best actress of the past ten years.  The recasting is an improvement to say the least. 

Other familiar faces remain as they were.  Michael Caine still dispenses wisdom as Alfred the butler.  Morgan Freeman still dispenses more wisdom as tech-guy Lucious Fox.  Gary Oldman may not exactly be “wise” as dedicated-but-weary cop James Gordon, but he still proves to be an invaluable friend to Batman, who is the main character in “The Dark Knight.” 

Any of the six aforementioned actors are fine reasons to see “The Dark Knight.”  There isn’t a weak one in the bunch.  But the reason I expect most people will want to see the film is the late Heath Ledger as The Joker.  Ledger was a controversial choice to play the maniacal villain because he wasn’t really known for Joker-like qualities like outlandishness and humor.  But in the course of “The Dark Knight,” he proves that he has all those qualities and more.  To think how long we had to wait to see those qualities, and how we will never see them again is quite saddening. 

To answer a few burning questions about Ledger’s involvement with this film:  Yes, Nolan keeps in the controversial scene where The Joker gets into a guarded room by hiding in a body bag.  Yes, there are a number of scenes where The Joker almost kills himself.  Yes, he does share screen time with Maggie Gyllenhaal (he takes her hostage at a party), but there are no references to the characters Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal (Maggie’s brother) played in “Brokeback Mountain.” 

The Joker lives to spread chaos.  He doesn’t care about money, power, or revenge.  He just wants to have fun with a terrified populace.  His idea of fun includes making people kill each other and causing massive amounts of damage.  He is the mortal enemy of Batman (main character in “The Dark Knight”) because Batman represents order and The Joker represents disorder.  Some people complain that Batman fights The Joker too much in the comics, but “The Dark Knight” makes it clear that their lives are absolutely destined to intertwine. 

The other villain of “The Dark Knight” is Harvey Dent.  Batman fans will know that he suffers burns over half of his body and becomes a villain called Two-Face.  To explain how this accident comes about would involve spoiling a plot twist, so I’ll have to leave that a secret.  What I can say is that the special effects (probably computer-generated) that go into making Eckhart look like Two-Face are excellent and make his appearance particularly gruesome and frightening.  And this is movie where the other villain is in creepy clown makeup the entire time. 

Batman (main character of “The Dark Knight”) is definitely good.  The Joker is definitely evil.  Two-Face is a challenging character because Dent was a good man who was driven into insanity and evil.  He even stays true to a twisted system of fairness where he gives potential victims the chance to stay alive by winning a coin toss (No, there are no direct references to the similar villain of “No Country for Old Men”).  “The Dark Knight” invites viewers to debate Dent’s decisions, as well as the decisions made by the other characters.  The film is smart for a superhero movie, and it is stimulating to study such interesting characters. 

          The rich characters are just one reason to love “The Dark Knight.”  The acting is another one, dialogue is another.  Even the action sequences (one of the few weak points of “Batman Begins”) are appropriately exciting and entertaining.  Of all of 2008’s big-budget summer blockbusters, “The Dark Knight” is by far the best.  In fact, it might be the best summer blockbuster of the last several years.  See it, and don’t forget that “The Dark Knight” refers to Batman.  That name will be justified in the film’s final act. 

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