Directed by Christopher Nolan
Every summer, a new round of superheroes arrive as a pulp retreat from the oppressive summer heat…or so it used to be. Not this time. Dark Knight is not mindless summer escapism but a brutal caricature of our own sinister world.
Putting as much distance as possible between it and the campy fisticuffs of the Batman TV series or the dreadful Batman and Robin, the Dark Knight is Shakespearean in both plot and duration.
The Dark Knight gives us good and evil as yin and yang. Batman’s (Christian Bale) crime-crusading is the fuel in the Joker’s chaos engine. Seeing himself as a “better class of criminal” the Joker eschews monetary gain–anarchy and destruction are not the means to an end, they are the end themselves. And what fun is lighting the fuse to the powderkeg if nobody is there to try to stop you? Batman is his needed opposite. His answer to Newton’s third law of motion.
Like so many of the sensational stories littering cable’s so-called news outlets suggest, the Joker’s malice could strike anyone at any time. And like the faceless enemies of foreign lands, or the fiends loose on our own suburban streets, the criminality seems bottomless and our heroism exhausted and seemingly one-step behind.
Heath Ledger is indeed a revelation as this Crayola-colored Joker. The hype is real and we quickly forget that the man behind the mascara is a tragic hero himself. Director Christopher Nolan’s Joker is manic and deranged, a far cry from the trickster thieves of Batmans past. But Ledger takes it a step above, giving the Joker a psychotic, twisted edge reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter.
But while Ledger’s acting is standout, the story centers around the tragic character of Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart. Dent is Gotham’s white knight district attorney, boldly cracking down on criminals in broad daylight while Batman toils in the shadows of the backstreets. Yet even Dent can’t outrun the evil in the city, and disfigured and overrun by madness, transforms into the villainous Two-Face. It is Dent’s free-fall from hero to scoundrel that serves as a lesson which the Batman mustn’t repeat.
But the Joker is the real show–on screen, on the streets of Gotham and in his own eyes.
Giggling through sadistic slapstick and howling at homemade anarchy, the Joker finds great glee in turning our carefully orchestrated world upside down. And without agreeing with his methods, the film delights in exploring this hidden darkness. Even Batman wrestles his duality with only the pure wretchedness of the Joker compelling him to soldier on.
Bob Kane would be proud. Where other hero flicks crunch tomes of character development into picture-book packages, this movie delivers comic book lit at it’s best: dark, provocative and too close to life.