Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

Of course, I must review this movie. I am morally obligated.

Ever since I knew who Batman was, I was enamored. The idea of a man, haunted by misguided guilt over his parents' deaths, donning the guise of the thing he feared most in order to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies, a fragile hero armed only with martial arts and an inventive mind, captivated my imagination like no other comic book hero has ever done. It's the psyche of Bruce Wayne that attracts me. He's a man obsessed; he's tortured, tormented by his own weaknesses, his inabilities. But in spite of that he presses on in his cause: relentless in his struggle against the madness of the criminals who assault him and his city.

This Batman has until 2005 not been the one portrayed in the movies. Tim Burton's movie gave a small taste of that man, but they paid more homage to the villains than to the man behind the mask, and they made his world into a clownish, cartooney, sort of Willie Wonka-esque fairyland rather than a gritty noire setting. Then with Forever and & Robin, both fell short of giving the Caped Crusader his due, and made his villains into fun-loving jokesters rather than demented amoral madmen.

And let it be known that I have never - never - been a fan of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. The only thing I saw when I watched him in that role was Jack Nicholson with make-up on. I didn't see him as the utterly anarchic madman portrayed in the comics, the brutal, ruthless killer who operates without rules or motivation, who acts on whim without rhyme or reason. Nicholson was too polished, too svelt for the role, and far, far too calm.

That being said, I loved Batman Begins. I felt that at last, here was a movie that did justice to the Batman I had come to love. Here was a movie that delved into his psyche, that established what it was that would make a man take up a cape and fight crime in a lost, corrupt city. And when it was revealed at the end that the next installment would deal with the Joker, I was ecstatic. I knew that Nolan and co. would treat the character with the seriousness he deserved.

The Dark Knight is everything that Batman Begins promised it would be. It treats the characters with the same gravity as any serious crime drama does, delving into their motivations and relationships and beliefs, dealing with the problem of chaos and order and the fragility of the systems we all buy into.

I don't want to say too much about the storyline of the movie, since there are hundreds of reviews out there you could go to and find out the main points. But I do think it is a fabulous commentary on heroics and heroism, human nature, and sacrifice. The ending is powerful, and as achingly bittersweet as any I have seen in cinema. Christian Bale only gets better as we see Batman/Bruce Wayne's character deepen, and Heath Ledger - well, it would be hard to be better in the role. And Maggie Gyllenhaal is far better than Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. I've also been a fan of Aaron Eckhart for some time, and he does a smashing job as the tragic character of Harvey Dent.

There's a discussion I'd love to have here about some of the implications of the themese of the movie, but at the risk of giving anything away for those who haven't seen it, I'll wait a few weeks. I'll simply end by saying that it made me think quite a bit about what we put faith in, and the responsibility of those in leadership to protect those in their care from certain kinds of knowledge. More on that later.