The Dark Knight

posted July 21, 2008 02:36:21 PM CDT | 108 comments

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Has any franchise adapted into the world of film gone through more indignities than Batman? In 1989, director Tim Burton brought a version of the Caped Crusader to the silver screen, creating a highly stylized and atmospheric world which, although praiseworthy and masterful in its own right, set the tone for a franchise which went on to be a disappointment for over 15 years.

The fact of the matter is, while Burtons Batman and Batman Returns films were artful, they completely missed the true darkness that is the Batman universe. The subtleties of the dynamic between Batman and Bruce Wayne, their faults and flaws, the very nature of good and evil and the grey area in between these were not explored by Tim Burtons movies, which were ultimately clumsy and campy to boot. What followed was a downward spiral in film making, with the next entries in the Batman franchise serving as absolute travesties. Plot, and especially character development were thrown out the window, and the meticulously crafted Batman universe was cast aside.

Then, in 2005, something happened. Director Christopher Nolan brought forth a vision inspired by comic book artist and writer Frank Millers with Batman Begins. Gritty, raw and focused greatly on the elements that have made Batman endure for over 70 years, Batman Begins was complete turnaround; though not without flaws, it took the Batman movie franchise an enormous step in the right direction. Nolans follow-up, The Dark Knight, has continued in that direction, and has finally brought the Batman universe to realization almost without flaw.

The first thing thats apparent about The Dark Knight is its absence of the jarring imperfections of Batman Begins. The most glaring of them Katie Holmes in the role of Rachel Dawes was swiftly addressed by the replacement of Holmes with the much more capable Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal, while benefiting from a better dialogue than her predecessor had, manages to make you feel as if shes speaking with purpose, whereas Holmes essentially went through the motions. Christian Bale, whose performance in Begins instantly made him the top candidate for best Batman/Bruce Wayne, does an even better job this time around by delving deeper into his characters inner torment. The entire cast old and new alike never overplay their hands. Rather, they reveal them as the movie progresses, making The Dark Knight focus on the film in its entirety, instead of shining the spotlight solely on Bale like Begins did. Another marked improvement is the camera work, which is simply a sight to behold. The filming allows the viewer to experience Nolans vision in just the right way, and conveys the mood of a particular scene.

And what of the main attraction the Joker? Simply put, Heath Ledgers final performance as Batmans greatest foe is the finest since Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lector. Where Tim Burton chose to focus on the Joker archetype featured prominently in the campy 60s TV show, Christopher Nolan chose the vicious, murderous psychopath that fans of the comic book series would most closely relate to the A Death In The Family story arc.

Ledgers performance is stunning. During the entire course of the movie, it is impossible to tell what the Joker has up his sleeve. He is revolting and hilarious all at once, and will make you laugh at the most inappropriate of moments. From his mannerisms and inflections to the obvious pleasure he takes in executing his plans, Ledgers Joker is truly the star of The Dark Knight. Rather than deal in frivolous talk about Oscar nods and the like, Ill say this: Ledgers creation of a villain who is so capable of being so vile and endearing at the same time is truly a masterpiece, and is performance few are likely to ever forget.

With lessons learned from Begins, Nolan has crafted a film with The Dark Knight such that it will resonate with audiences not only as the greatest comic book film to date, but as one of the greatest action films ever. Ledgers performance is truly one for the ages, which makes his tragic death all the more lamentable. Some may feel that statement cheapens the value of Ledgers life, but it is clear from his work in The Dark Knight that it was a labor of love. His meticulous attention to detail and devotion to the Batman mythos is something consistent throughout the film, which is truly what makes it a triumph.

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