Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight

This review contains one or more images you should not see until you have seen The Dark Knight (2008).

Ever since Batman Begins (2005) there has been anticipation for the sequel. As word of the powerhouse performance of the late Heath Ledger as the Joker spread, that anticipation only increased. Now, at last, The Dark Knight (2008) is upon us. As you can see from the opening picture, the visuals are stunning. They are stunning throughout the movie and that is just the beginning.

Taking up shortly after the events of Batman Begins, Dark Knight finds a lot of Batman impersonators on the streets. They are almost as dangerous to themselves as they are to the Batman (Christian Bale) and even cause him some difficulties in the opening sequences as he deals with The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).

As an is kind of sad to see a potentially tough Batman villain such as the Scarecrow turned into a throw-away piece...he is dispatched as easily in this movie as any of the dozens or hundreds of thugs that Batman deals with. In Batman Begins he was, if not on the level of Villain, at least a strong Minion, well above the level of mere henchman or thug. He might even be considered a mere Hooligan in this movie and it will be hard for him to ever serve a role as viable threat to the Batman in the current franchise.

Be that as it may, we are also introduced to a true villain, the ultimate Batman arch-nemesis, the Joker. He is at his dastardly best in this one. His opening gambit to steal huge quantities of cash from the local mobsters includes having his gang members kill each other with him killing the final member. His trademark is inventive killings.

It is established early on that this is not the comedic Joker of the Batman television camp but owes a great deal to the psychopath Joker of Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989). And the Joker will prove to be a worthy opponent. He seems to always be not one but two steps ahead of the police, the mob, and even the Batman. He has a sick, sadistic sense of humor and causes lots of destruction. He dominates not just every scene he is in but also a lot of scenes he is not in.

All of which makes this even more amazing. The Dark Knight has nothing to do with the Joker. In case you missed that, let me repeat it. The Joker is irrelevant to this movie. He is the ultimate McGuffin.

The Dark Knight is about temptation, about endurance. Can the Batman be corrupted? Can Harvey Dent be a White Knight to Batman's Dark Knight and render him unnecessary? Those are the questions that intrigue director Christopher Nolan. Remember how in Batman Begins Batman won't kill Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) or, more tellingly, Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson)...but he DOES choose not to save him? In The Dark Knight the question is will he kill the Joker to end the Joker's crime spree? As the Joker explicitly questions him, the Batman's entire story line is summed up in this one line; "And tonight, you are going to break your one rule."

Batman must choose whether to kill or allow killing to continue yet that has always been his one rule. He breaks laws at will. For example, he invades sovereign air space and kidnaps a foreign national in violation of dozens of laws. He beats the Joker to a pulp during an "interrogation". He removes evidence from a crime scene after 2 cops are shot. He drives an unlicensed, definitely not street legal Batmobile (and, later, Batbike)

But it is not just the Batman facing a moral dilemma. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) also faces a crisis. Seemingly incorruptible and fearless, he refuses to acquiesce to the Joker's demands and continues his job as District Attorney of putting mob members behind bars. Yet there are signs that he is perhaps a bit corruptible. He flips a 2-headed coin to determine choices "by chance". This reliance would become his trademark after one of the Joker's diabolical schemes resulted in a major change in Dent's life. In one moment his intended wife Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhal) is killed and he is turned into Two Face.
Two Face, of course, is a major Batman villain. Half good, half evil, he uses a coin to decide...the same 2-headed coin, only now one side is scarred in the same explosion.
So how is it that even though he dominates the screen and creates a major villain that the Joker doesn't matter? Just take a look at that picture. All the money the Joker stole is in that pile. So is all the moneybelonging to the mob. And the money was set on fire by the Joker. Money means nothing to him. Power means nothing to him. He explicitly tells both Dent and the Batman that his entire purpose is anarchy, to test them, to see if he can break them and create anarchy. He has no motivation of his own other than that of the writers and directors: to move the story along. Now, to be fair, he does this admirably. But he is completely a red herring. The movie is not about catching the is about looking at the character of the Batman, Dent, and Dawes and seeing who will stay true to their character.
Fortunately, it is an entertaining journey. Filled with powerhouse performances, high-octane action, and thought provoking story lines for everyone from the major characters down to supporting characters like Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine). If you like Batman as a character, Super Hero movies, action movies, or just plain entertainment, you have to see this flick.


monkeysuncle said...

Sweet write up, dude. I, uh, concur. =)

Darth Weasel said...

Thank you for the kind words, glad you enjoyed it and agree. It was a movie well worth the time and coin no doubt