The “Dark Knight’s” terrifying nemesis is no joke
Believe the hype. “The Dark Knight” is, quite simply, the superhero of superhero films. It has rescued the genre from the blockbuster doldrums that spawned some very good but not entirely memorable films and raised the bar to another level with a distinctly extraordinary film.
“The Dark Knight” is a spine-tingling, intense crime drama that happens to feature arch enemies who wear costumes. It is quite different than the franchise’s 1989 goth-epic original as imagined by Tim Burton. Yes, 2005’s “Batman Begins” improved upon each of the franchise’s previous four installments. But stylistically, “The Dark Knight” shares little in common with those films, or with any of its superhero siblings still playing in theaters this summer.
Much of the acclaim and legitimate buzz of the new film is emanating from Heath Ledger’s chilling swan song performance as The Joker. When he’s on the screen, which seems almost as much as star Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader, the film kicks into creepy overdrive giving us a villain whose every act is at once darkly disturbed and utterly entertaining. It’s clear that of director Christopher Nolan’s many inspired decisions, to cast Ledger was paramount, (despite his Oscar nomination, nothing in Ledger’s previous work intimated a character of such psychopathic wonder) as well as the decision to insure his character dominate the story line.
The story is set again in Gotham, and just as Batman seems to be winning the war against the underworld, The Joker appears and offers his services to mob bosses. His proposition? Force the caped one to reveal his identity or fill the streets with the blood of innocents.
The plot, as brilliantly constructed by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, is densely layered and difficult to totally ingest in one viewing. (This is not necessarily a flaw) This morality tale suggests little hope for a dreary modern-day environs combined with a pulsating, exhausting score. We know something terrible waits in the next frame, and the film never lets up as it spools over its longish two and a half hours, one of the film’s few imperfections.
Maggie Gyllenhaal steps in for the prettier (but less convincing) Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne’s former love interest Rachel Dawes.
“The Dark Knight” doesn’t rely on special effects to make its magic, but the few tricks it does employ-including a cool Bat-cycle with monster truck tires coupled with some great action sequences-are state-of-the-comic-book art. As usual, Nolan films his fight sequences up close, but the camera work never suffocates the viewer.
In a cast filled with A-listers in top form that includes Bale, Gary Oldman (Commissioner-to-be Gordon), Morgan Freeman (tech wizard Lucius Fox), Michael Caine (butler Alfred) and Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Ledger’s sadistic clown freak will be the one most remembered. His performance, and the knowledge that it will serve as his rightful swan song, haunts “The Dark Knight” in ways impossible to overstate.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace.