It’s been building up to this all summer. After numerous seasonal blockbuster disappointments (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones) and a few decent superhero adventures, this flashy but often predictable movie season has been awaiting a film that would live up to its hype and please audiences and critics alike with intelligence, thrills and an emotional resonance that would stick with theater-goers long after the credits roll.
It’s been building up to this all summer.
After numerous seasonal blockbuster disappointments (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones) and a few decent superhero adventures, this flashy but often predictable movie season has been awaiting a film that would live up to its hype and please audiences and critics alike with intelligence, thrills and an emotional resonance that would stick with theater-goers long after the credits roll.
Yes, it’s Batman or, more specifically, The Dark Knight, a film that has not only lived up to its ubiquitous marketing ploys but has also managed to become one of the greatest movies ever to grace the uber-popular superhero genre.
This confident and thoughtful crime epic brings back the Batman Begins team (with the infinitely more talented Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne/Batman’s love interest, Rachel Dawes), led by director and co-writer Christopher Nolan, to tell a story of the grey zone between good and evil and a city alternating between feelings of bright hope and crushing defeat.
Christian Bale once again plays the tortured billionaire Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, the raspy-voiced caped crusader Batman, who laments his sworn duty to protect Gotham City from the mob and various other scum that rule its streets.
This time there’s also a “White Knight” out to clean up the city, new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a non-costumed hero who has managed to give the beaten down citizens of Gotham some much-needed hope in the face of their besieged turmoil.
As you can guess, that hope doesn’t last long with the psychopathic, makeup-caked Joker aiming to release his anarchic leanings on the waiting city.
The Joker quickly takes control of Gotham with diabolical mind games, playing everyday citizens, mob bosses and cops against one another in an effort to plunge the city into the pure nihilistic chaos which he dreams to be at its core.
How do you fight a villain who has no motive but madness? The answer: not very easily. The film wisely hides the Joker’s backstory from us to make his character that much more frightening. He is the scariest and showiest movie villain in over a decade.
As the city devolves into his engineered chaos, Nolan and his team show us the devastating effects it has on everyone from the police department to the government to the average city dwellers.
Along with Batman and the Joker, Gotham City (played by Chicago) is a living character in the film. Every action has a reaction, and when buildings explode you can sense the impact it has on the lives of everyone in the city.
There’s not much that hasn’t been said about the greatness of Heath Ledger’s last completed role, but suffice to say that all the hype is true.
Like other renowned character actors, Ledger fully embraces the role of the Joker in such a way that even when he is not onscreen you are still haunted by his presence. It is a great eulogy to an actor that gave his all in every character he played.
But, the film isn’t merely “The Ledger Show.” The entire cast, from Bale as the eponymous Bat to Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon, fit into their roles so well that we no longer see the actors, just their characters.
Equally entertaining to watch on a date or with your family, The Dark Knight will hold up through the years as a culmination of the action genre.
The special effects, set design, cinematography, screenwriting and directing all add up to something special–an action movie that you can feel proud to watch, one that proves cinematic art isn’t beyond the reaches of the big-budget summer extravaganza.
Cherish it while it lasts because a movie able to transcend its genre with such resounding success doesn’t come along very often.
The Dark Knight****1/2 (out of five)Playing now