Monday, July 28, 2008

The Dark Knight

The law of diminishing returns does not apply when it comes to comic adaptations – in fact, the opposite is usually true. A first movie in a series is, by necessity, the story of the beginning – how our hero came to be, and what demons he faces. This frees up the second movie to be purely action-driven, with little focus on story.

‘The Dark Knight’ not only satisfies these assumptions, but goes beyond the requisite staple for comic sequels. Bale’s Batman is dark, complex, and totally at odds with what Bruce Wayne would wish him to be – he is not the hero of Gotham, he is simply a man forced to do what is right in difficult circumstances. Even if what is right results in the vilification and hatred of what should be a symbol of good…

Gotham is less dark than in ‘Batman Begins’, with criminals actually fearing the Batman and his brand of justice. But it is still a city of rules – held in place by the tenuous line Batman walks between vigilantism and integrity. Enter, stage right, The Joker. Pre-release hype had placed Heath Ledger in the ranks of acting gods before anybody had seen a smirk or snicker – talk was, could he return on this build-up? Ledger’s Joker can, and does. Jack Nicholson has long been the epitome of the criminal – dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight all over Keaton’s Batman, but Ledger’s Joker goes one step further. He combines the manic craziness of previous Jokers’ with the smooth, terrifying anarchy of a man possessed by no other driving force than cold, murderous energy. Though it is not important to the story, it is relevant to know that Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month preparing for the role, devising the character’s bearing, voice and psychology. His work and dedication paid off, and he has given us a Joker to remember – a sad loss, indeed, to the acting world.

Over-complicating things slightly, as far as story goes, is the romance element – Rachel is still working in the DA’s office, but has rather shockingly morphed from Katie Holmes into Maggie Gyllenhaal. Something audiences are bound to notice, despite best attempts to the contrary! Rachel Dawes is, however, a fairly minor character – working chiefly as a foil to Bruce’s playboy pretensions, her sanctimonious lecturing can wear a little thin. It is with great gusto, therefore, that Aaron Eckhart takes the mantle of social conscience as Harvey Dent – shooting his lines like bullets, and injecting Two-Face with a back story worthy of the character.

The film is carried, all in all, between Bale, Ledger and Eckhart, but supporting characters give their tuppance. Gary Oldman’s Gordan is upright and forceful, Michael Caine is British and brash, and Morgan Freeman is wise and forgiving – everything in its place!

All in all, ‘The Dark Knight’ capitalises on an adult demographic drawn to the tale of a hero torn between what is good, what is right and what will make him hunted. Despite the Joker’s constant questioning, ‘Why so serious’, this is not a movie to be taken lightly. A darker vein in the comic adaptation, ‘The Dark Knight’ carries a sinister Batman further from the light-hearted goon, and more into the shadows he deserves.

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