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 The Dark Knight
 Critic's Rating
 Date Posted
   17th July, 2008
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Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger
Director: Christopher Nolan

The 'Dark Knight' strictly speaking doesn't feel like a Batman film. It neither feels like it is about the Joker, which is what you might expect, nor about the circumstances behind the corruption of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and his transformation into the villainous Two-Face. The foundations on which this Batman story is constructed is far too diverse to be about any one of these arcs or characters and therefore it collectively feels like a crime saga, albeit a very long and sometimes ponderous one, where corruption, injustice and the Gotham way need to be reigned in.

What makes the film, good as it is overall, seem at tangents though to its DC Universe setting are the simple elements of any Batman story that we take for granted the Batcave (here replaced by an underground warehouse bunker), the Wayne Manor (destroyed at the end of Batman Begins, and apparently still being rebuilt), and a storyline that is traditionally, almost always set entirely in the dark refines of Gotham city (this time we see Batman venture outside his hometown and take on a mission in, get this, Hong Kong). As a movie, the settings seem to finally rise above their comic book roots and enter new, much darker territories.

Still grounded in reality, but this time in an aura of absolute gloom and foreboding, the setting is similar in tone but harsher in execution. There are many, many deaths, in fact, death or the sense of it lingering seems to permeate every scene. The main reason for this is the presence of the twisted, macabre Joker. As a film construct, what we finally see owes a lot to two major attributes the Nolan brothers well written characterization and Heath Ledger's breathing life into him as a triumphant maniac, whose wild and violent antics make us laugh but dread his presence. He talks about a childhood incident that hints at how he received his widely cut, scarred smile, and each time it is repeated, you fear for the consequences of those who have to listen to him on screen. His introduction itself is unforgettable. He makes a pencil disappear to amusing and shocking effect (you'll know when you see!). As a nemesis, projecting the intimidation of being the Joker (essentially a crazy guy with paint on his face) would be difficult, but I was able to believe that this incarnation of him was capable of absolutely anything, because he had nothing to lose. What the Joker is to Batman, Harvey Dent becomes to Bruce Wayne. As the 'white knight' his nobility to his cause is pure determination and the downfall that follows is tragic. Dent's transformation into Two-Face, the high point of the film and seemingly inspired by one of the best known Batman stories "Death in the family" is superb and differently so. It is not at all how you imagine it would be.

In the final analysis though, if the film does falter, it is because it spends too much time meditating on the frail separation of good from evil. The last act turns into a brooding monologue about morality and its consequences. I was reminded of the simplicity of Batman Begins, traded this time around for a complex, interwoven and heavily layered thematic impulse but also traded for the goodness that comes with being a superhero. None of that is to be found here, though the film remains a superior entertainer and follows the best of the Batman comics into territories where the actions of its hero blur the line between desperate and forced. The talent of Chris Nolan has been his very unique ability to filter reality through comic book melodrama and find poignancy and sentiment in the way it is portrayed, but here it seems to have been let off the leash. Even the two traits that define him as a director audience deception and some form of subtle cruelty towards his characters are either tricks that familiar audiences can finally see through (as in the case of the purported early death of a major character), or hint at unnecessary nihilism on the part of a hero who should be more redeemable.

All of these are minor quibbles, but quibbles nonetheless about a character and the creative team behind him, who last time we saw them, delivered us more. With the novelty of discovering a familiar individual anew now gone, we get more of Batman, less of Bruce Wayne, more of the antagonists, less of Batman. Far from being a supporting character in his own films, the way previous versions suffered with their sequels, the Dark Knight tries to transcend its genre material and becomes something unrecognizable. To call it a Batman film is an injustice but a necessity. It is extremely good if not viewed as one. - Faizan Rashid

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