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The Dark Knight (2008)
Rated PG13

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Aaron Eckhart

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

As I write this, it's just been announced that The Dark Knight has broken the box office record for an opening weekend by taking in $155 million dollars. I am assuming that a lot of the interest in the film is due to the death of Heath Ledger and the hype surrounding his final performance as The Joker. Let's get this much out of the way up front: the hype is justified. Ledger's performance is fantastic and is undeniably the centerpiece of the film.

In 2005, the Batman franchise "rebooted" with Batman Begins, a dark, psychological take on the Batman character. Writer/director Christopher Nolan, along with David S. Goyer, took what some considered a dead film series and made it a gritty, disturbing tale whereas previous takes on the character had become progressively more campy and cartoon-like. This time around, in The Dark Knight, there's no relief from the darkness. If anything, Gotham City has become quite a bit darker.

The Dark Knight pits Batman (Christian Bale) against The Joker. The Joker is making quite an impact among the criminals of Gotham City. His total disregard for the "rules" that criminals are supposed to follow makes him a target for not only Batman but the city's mob bosses. Once The Joker makes it clear that he is a force to be reckoned with by killing off a few of his competitors, his loose cannon mentality is focused squarely on destroying Batman and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham City's new "white knight" DA, who is gaining quite a reputation for putting criminals behind bars. As much as Batman Begins was about the forces of evil that created a necessity for Batman, The Dark Knight is about how those same forces can manipulate the defenders of justice into doing things that they'd never imagined they'd do.

And it is The Joker that is responsible for creating life-changing situations for Batman, Harvey Dent, and Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman),. Each of these characters is forever changed by The Joker's actions. He is frightening and cunning but takes offense at being called "crazy." "I'm a dog chasing cars. I don't have plans. I just do things," he says. Ultimately, he doesn't care about the consequences.

Ledger's death may be altering my perspective on his performance but I will go as far as saying that his Joker is a masterpiece of evil. Ledger has every tick, twitch, and nuance of the crazed Joker down to a science. Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter has nothing on Heath Ledger's Joker. Thankfully, Nolan never reveals this Joker's origin, aside from a few stories he relays to his intended victims, which makes the character that much more creepy. The excellent make-up and nearly sublminal prosthetic work are just the icing on Ledger's already supremely twisted cake.

Christian Bale's Batman/Bruce Wayne portrayal is as good as it was last time around. He still does both characters better than anyone who has played them to date. However, his "menacing" Batman voice got a little irritating after a little while. Maybe because Batman has a lot of dialogue in this outing compared to Batman Begins. I do have to wonder why Batman uses his put-on voice when he's talking to people who know he's Bruce Wayne though.

One notable thing about The Dark Knight is that the special effects work -- while outstanding -- never overshadows or takes away from the human element of the story. The Dark Knight is first and foremost about the characters and their foibles. It's what makes this film stand out from the fast-becoming-overcrowded genre of the comic book movie.

Trivia: As a joke, one bat suit was made with nipples, as in Batman & Robin. It was presented to Christian Bale as the real bat suit, but he knew instantly it was a joke, having seen a few design pictures during preproduction. He did pose for some publicity photos in the "nipple" suit.(Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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