Thursday, July 19, 2012

8 DAYS OF BATMAN COuNTDOWN: #1 - The Dark Knight

"Nolan has provided movie-goers with the best superhero movie to-date, outclassing previous titles both mediocre and excellent, and giving this franchise its Empire Strikes Back." - James Berarndinelli, ReelViews

The Dark Knight is the mountain top of superhero films, the very best comic film that can and will ever exist.  It has held up over the last four years, and in my opinion it has embedded itself deeper into my subconscious as something that overcomes any restrictions of the genre.  You know a film is good when the only hang ups most people can find are tiny plot holes amid an epic masterpiece.  There are some small oversights, but no film is perfect.  Considering the source material, arguably the most complex and compelling superhero in human history, Christopher Nolan created an intriguing character study in the midst of an action spectacle that still captures the imagination.  And make no mistake, this film is nothing without the work of Heath Ledger.  The film is called The Dark Knight, and obviously focuses on the increasing complexities of Bruce Wayne, but without Ledger's inspiring turn as The Joker, this film does not work.

The top two films on my list have both starred The Joker, a larger than life villain whose flamboyance has and always will overshadow the inward psychology of Batman.  But this is the first time the duality of these characters has been explored in appropriate depth on screen.  It is hinted at in Burton's first film, but here the entire picture hinges on the shared DNA of hero and villain.  The lines are blurred, and The Joker fights the entire film to try and erase the line completely.  His goal is to unleash anarchy and test the moral shield Batman carries. 

The story of The Dark Knight benefits from being simple.  It allows for the supporting characters to develop with ease, including Gary Oldman's stern and steadfast Captain Gordon, the plucky fortitude of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and the heroic presence of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the District Attorney who can do the things Batman cannot do while Batman crosses lines Dent cannot cross.  One of the things I enjoy the most about Nolan's Batman films is the way he, his brother Jonathan, and David S. Goyer focus on the detective aspects of the character, the way it is emphasized in the graphic novels.  Batman is but one part of a triangle including Dent and Gordon, working together to try and save Gotham.  But the impact of these three characters pales in comparison to The Joker, which is exactly the way it should be.

With deep scars in the shape of a smile, greasy makeup and sickly green hair, and a shabby purple suit, Heath Ledger manages to create an indelible character that we have known for decades.  Ledger plays the clown prince of crime as a true maniac, intent on bringing Gotham to its knees with a series of increasingly psychotic moral conundrums.  It is a tragedy that Ledger passed away so soon; I could only imagine what would have become of the trilogy is he were alive to make an appearance in the finale.  However, as it is, Ledger's role is the finest bit of true acting in a superhero film one will ever see.

COMING UP TOMORROW: 8 DAYS OF BATMAN CONCLUDES WITH MY REVIEW OF THE DARK KNIGHT RISES