Hello, citizens of Gotham City! Remember me?
Tara and I had a wonderfully relaxing and rejuvenating time away. It was our first trip to Alberta, Canada, and both of us are of the opinion that we encountered some of the most majestically beautiful scenery that we had ever seen.
This was our hotel:
You can understand why we had a hard time leaving.
Now, let’s get to it.
“The Dark Knight” has jumped to the top of my list of favorite superhero movies. I think that it stands as a stellar cinematic achievement.
Even if I had never read a single comic book, I believe that I would have found in “The Dark Knight” a beautifully crafted, deeply unsettling, and relentlessly intense piece of work.
By the way, here is my current top-ten list of what I consider to be the best superhero films ever made:
1. “The Dark Knight”
2. “Spider-Man 2″
3. “Batman Begins”
7. “Superman II”
8. “Iron Man”
9. “X-Men 2″
10. “X-Men 3″
Here are some of the reasons why I place “The Dark Knight” at the top of the list:
First, as you have been hearing from many film critics, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Ledger’s Joker joins the ranks of Hannibal Lecter and “Seven’s” John Doe as one of the most horrifying, intelligent, and electrifying screen villains of all time. Unlike Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top portrayal of the Joker in 1989’s “Batman” (for which I never really cared), Ledger’s performance captures the nuanced madness of a villain whose commitment to the creation of chaos and disorder has become a life-force. For Ledger’s Joker, a bank robbery is never about the money. Rather, it is about creating an atmosphere of terror in which people are compelled to leave behind the illusion (or, if I may, the “joke”) of their preconceived morality in order resort to their primal urge to survive at all costs. The villain that Ledger brings to the screen, in other words, is not driven by the accumulation of ill-gotten booty. Rather, he is driven by his conviction that, if people are confronted with chaotic terror often enough, they will abandon their veneer of civility and become their true barbaric selves. Ledger’s Joker sees himself as the necessary instrument of this revelatory chaos. In his own words, he’s not really a monster. He’s just “ahead of the curve.”
Second, I also appreciate the way in which director Chris Nolan honors the complexity of the Batman-Joker relationship. Nolan consistently resists the temptation to reduce the relationship to a simplistic “good guy-bad guy” dynamic. This is an important achievement because, in the comic book narrative, Batman and the Joker are trapped in a symbiotic relationship, the common link of which is a shared psychosis. The only difference is that their psychosis is grounded in different obsessions. The Joker’s psychosis is fueled by an insatiable desire for chaos. Batman’s psychosis, on the other hand, is fueled by an equally insatiable desire for justice and order.
The film does an excellent job of illuminating the complexity of this hero-villain relationship. If one watches the film with a commitment to understanding its characters, it eventually becomes clear that, in a strange way, the Batman and the Joker actually NEED one another. In a world of confused identities, their struggle serves to remind them of their primary purpose and reason for being (hence the Joker’s sarcastic borrowing of Tom Cruise’s line from “Jerry Maguire” in his dialogue with Batman: “You complete me”).
Third, as dark a film as it is, I found myself inspired by its rather high view of the integrity of the God-given human spirit. Without spoiling any of the climactic plot moments, I will simply say that the film dares to give human beings credit for being able to rise above the self-serving barbarism that the Joker believes is at the heart of the human pilgrimage.
Fourth, Christian Bale IS Batman. It is as simple as that. With all due respect to Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and even Adam West, Bale has redefined the character in all the right ways. He is a good actor completely invested in a very complicated role. Granted, his gravelly “Batman voice” sounds a bit too forced this time around. But he seems to capture the passionate darkness of Batman as easily as he nails the privileged playfulness of Bruce Wayne. Furthermore, Bale seems more than content to allow Ledger to steal many of the scenes. A lesser or more insecure actor may have been tempted to match the manic energy that Ledger uses in his portrayal of the Joker. Bale, however, has the artistic sense to recognize that, by staying out of such a competition, he can better create a brooding foil to Ledger’s hyperactive villain.
Fifth, the supporting cast (including Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, and Maggie Gyllenhaal) is outrageously good. Several moments in the film (some poignant, others chilling) are made exceptional, not necessarily because of the script, but because of the thespian acumen of such remarkably gifted and thoroughly invested actors.
Sixth, the film brilliantly maintains a sense of darkness and foreboding without becoming oppressive in its tone. Some critics have said about the film that it is not “fun” enough for a summer blockbuster. My response: Hey, it’s Batman versus the Joker, for crying out loud! An epic struggle like that can be nothing other than dark! If you want laughs, go see “Pineapple Express” or “Mamma Mia!”
Seventh, in their choreography, the fight scenes are as athletic as they are artistic. After watching Christian Bale’s Batman fight, you’ll think that all previous Batmen seem geriatric in their combat skills.
Eighth, the film employs a bold willingness to move Batman from the pedestal of “hero” to the nebulous realm of “anti-hero.” He is, after all, a “dark knight,” meaning that, although he does not kill, he is not at all opposed to crossing a few lines, maiming a few thugs, and breaking a few bones. Postmoderns, it seems, tend to prefer anti-heroes in their literature and film. Perhaps postmoderns have come to understand that heroes are more believable and accessible when they have a little bit of dirt on them (and a little bit of darkness within them). At any rate, the cinematic journey from gleaming hero to dark knight is worth the price of admission.
Finally, I loved the film’s emphasis on sacrifice. Throughout the film, romantic fulfillment is sacrificed for vocational integrity. Personal advancement is sacrificed for the maintenance of justice. Normalcy is sacrificed for a willingness to embrace uncommon challenges. Even one’s personal reputation is sacrificed for the maintenance of a city’s morale. This consistent manifestation of the theme of sacrifice serves as a spiritual undercurrent to the film’s narrative. The film’s action means more because the audience knows that the action is undergirded by the character’s willingness to let go of something precious that he or she would prefer to keep.
Here ends my review. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to reload my utility belt and fight some crime.