by GEOFF GEIB
Prepare yourself, gentle viewer, for The Dark Knight is very, very dark.
In every film version of the caped crusader since Tim Burton’s fine Batman through the astonishingly wretched Batman and Robin and peaking (perhaps) in Nolan’s latest twist on the franchise, there has been a pervasive sense of isolation that envelops the title character. He is a man who has since the day his parents were murdered before his eyes, stood largely alone against the world.
For the first time, however, and in what must be considered a master stroke, The Dark Knight takes Bruce Wayne’s personal struggle and elevates it to become the central preoccupation of the film. By the end of the movie, Bruce Wayne has arguably lost every single person who has any meaning in his life. Now that’s dark.
The driving force of Bruce Wayne’s misery is the Joker, played in riveting, sensational style by Heath Ledger. Dominating every scene in which he appears, Ledger’s Joker is both a fully formed psychopath and a construct through which Nolan batters his characters with impossible moral dilemmas. The character is so fully formed, with an endless array of gestures, mannerisms and facial tics, it is a wonder to behold. The performance is sure to garner an Oscar nomination, at least in part for Ledger’s untimely passing, a horrible tragedy in and of itself, and also for how it will naturally obscure what is painfully obvious to me is the greatest performance I have ever seen in a comic book film.
It helps that Christian Bale is once again superb in the title role. His taciturn turn as the troubled hero is at an immediate disadvantage against the bravado of Ledger’s Joker, but since the film is so much about punishing Batman, it’s hard to imagine it working any other way. The supporting characters, many of whom have returned from Batman Begins, are all tested in painful ways, bringing into sharp focus the agony Bale’s Batman must endure. While all are good, especially Gary Oldman as Gordon, the sheer number of people who must find screen time illustrates the small weaknesses of the film. It’s a little long, it’s a tad jumbled and heavy handed towards the end, and the plot requires a few small leaps of faith.
Small complaints about what is a great film and an improvement on Batman Begins, very good in its own right. Crafted with exceptional skill, The Dark Knight works as an exciting action film which dares to explore complicated territory usually reserved for an art house crowd. If only every summer blockbuster exhibited such qualities.
The question naturally arises, if there is to be another installment of the franchise under the Nolan/Bale partnership, where does it go next? It is a delightful prospect to imagine what Hell Nolan has in store for Gotham’s vigilante/hero now that he has been so completely forsaken. The next chapter might naturally ask, when your enemies come for you, what is it to be truly alone? Now that’s dark.
3 1/2 stars