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The Dark Knight Triumphs and Disturbs

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 18, 2008 4:10PM

Heath Ledger stuns as The Joker in The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan's second episode in the relaunch of the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight, takes a daring turn towards embracing a darker, bleaker vision of the masked vigilante and his increasingly odd rogues gallery of adversaries. Batman Begins did a good job of saving the Bruce Wayne/Batman character from the travesties that Joel Schumacher rained down upon our hero, excised the remaining camp from previous cinematic versions, and rebuilt Batman to more accurately reflect the darker tone of the original comics.

In The Dark Knight Nolan introduces a Joker that may shock most moviegoers, but that feels wholly appropriate to fanboys and girls. Too long has Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero's campy readings of the character diluted one of the greatest villains in all of comicdom. The Joker is supposed to be anarchic, psychotic, and downright scary; he's a man who murders for no reason, but reasons out elaborate plans to ensure his twisted victories. Heath Ledger finally delivers this vision of the Joker in a performance that is so mesmerizing, disturbing, and viscerally memorable that it leaves you chilled.

We admit we were curious whether the tragic loss of Ledger during the movie's post-production would skew our perception of his performance, but believe us when we say we so no trace of Ledger in the Joker. The actor so submerges himself into the performance our perception of him melts away to be replaced by a scarred, perpetually grinning boogeyman. Other noteworthy performances are offered by Gary Oldman in a note-perfect Lieutenant James Gordon, and by Aaron Eckhart, who masterfully handles the multifaceted character of Harvey Dent.

2008_07_batman_wayne.gif Aside from the darker turn in tone, the other major difference we couldn't help noticing is the emergence of Chicago as "Gotham." While the first movie built a largely digital construct laid over the bones of Chicago, The Dark Knight's cityscape is very recognizably Chicago. In fact, at some points hometown viewers may get a little distracted playing "pick the location." (HINT: They spent a LOT of time around the intersection of Wacker and Michigan.)

The movie is not perfect. It does run a little long, but we're willing to overlook that for the masterful build-up of tension and apprehension the movies length allows to develop. Bale is also our favorite actor to potrray Batman by far, but we sort of wish he had decided on using a different vocalization than the distracting barking baritone he employs while wearing the cowl. We also kind of wish the the criminal syndicate the film employs to signify Gotham's greater enemy was a bit less stereotypically obvious. And there is a plot device that surfaces to drive the climax that stretches the suspension of disbelief a bit too thin. But these are minor quibbles in the face of the film as a whole.

The Dark Knight is quite possibly the bleakest Summer blockbuster we've ever seen, but it's also one of the best.

A NOTE TO OUR FELLOW NERDS: To sum up this review in terms you all you nerd can understand, The Dark Knight is The Empire Strikes Back to Batman Begins' A New Hope, only with better pacing, stunts, and special effects.

Stills courtesy Warner Brothers