Dark portrait


“The Dark Knight”
5 of 5 stars

    Superhero movies provide the perfect mix of accessible plots, relatable characters, big-budget action scenes and instant fan bases to create the quintessential summer blockbuster. This summer, though, studios have pushed the market saturation of superheroes to the breaking point.

    “The Incredible Hulk” and  “Hancock” both turned out better than expected, and “Iron Man” and “Hellboy II” landed at the top of the genre, but “The Dark Knight,” the sequel to “Batman Begins,” now puts all other offerings to shame.

    The hype surrounding “The Dark Knight” has made it nearly impossible to ignore. “Batman Begins” was one of the best-reviewed comic book adaptations in history and the reincarnation the franchise desperately needed. The untimely death of actor Heath Ledger added more fuel to the fire, as the movie includes his final complete performance.

    After a record-setting number of midnight screenings on Friday, followed by truckloads of money at the weekend box office, it is safe to say that most people who care have already seen it for themselves. But for those who have not, rest assured that “The Dark Knight” is an absolute masterpiece.

    The film begins with Gotham City’s criminals with their backs against the figurative wall. Batman’s vigilante justice forces them to turn to a mysterious new outlaw, The Joker, who promises to end their troubles by killing the Caped Crusader. Meanwhile, Harvey Dent, the new district attorney, fights crime in the courtroom. He also secures the affection of Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s complicated love interest.

    With multiple important plot lines, “The Dark Knight” takes a road seldom traveled in the comic book genre by focusing on other characters as often as the hero. Bruce Wayne’s story is critical to the film’s success, but The Joker and Harvey Dent prove to be equally important, if not more so. Even minor characters play crucial roles and scenes never feel wasted. While films like “Hancock” felt like they were written by a committee, writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan were allowed to create something more complex. The brothers have collaborated on previous films, including “Memento” and “The Prestige,” and it is a relief that they were not forced to temper the script for a wider audience.

    Christopher Nolan also directs, reprising his duties from “Batman Begins.” His taste for raw action and realistic stunts make the campy special effects of the ‘90s Batman movies seem like a farce. Deftly executed chase scenes and satisfying explosions help complete the summer blockbuster checklist while reinforcing the idea that Gotham City’s war puts all of its citizens in danger.

    The movie puts a lot of pressure on its cast, and every actor rises to the challenge. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Christian Bale all reprise their roles from “Batman Begins.” Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over the role of Rachel Dawes, and greatly improves on Katie Holmes’ original performance.

    Aaron Eckhart plays Harvey Dent, a district attorney destined to become the criminal Two-Face. Any lingering memories of Tommy Lee Jones’ cartoonish interpretation of the character will quickly be forgotten. The story takes the time to develop Dent’s character before turning him into a villain, positioning him as Gotham’s white knight, a symbol of hope that Batman can never be.

    Despite the great ensemble cast, Heath Ledger’s performance dominates the film. The Joker receives no back story, but instead fleshes out his madness over the course of the movie. Ledger’s appearance is grotesque and haunting. Pasty makeup, grimy hair and a scarred smile mask him physically, but his mannerisms and voice help him truly disappear in the role. It would be naive to say Ledger’s death has not added to the hype, but he is deserving of every ounce of praise he has received.

    Fear, and the reaction to its influence, stands as the dominant theme in “The Dark Knight.” The Joker plays the role of the terrorist, toying with Gotham City for his own amusement. He defies the idea that criminals are easy to understand, prompting the diagnosis that some men simply want to watch the world burn.

    The response to terrorism provides the opportunity to raise numerous political questions, elevating the film’s relevance to the world outside the cinema. While “Iron Man” took a stab at political themes, “The Dark Knight” cuts a little deeper. Questionable interrogation techniques, unauthorized surveillance and media influence all play roles in the progression of the plot. The allegories at play are thinly veiled, but they never come across as preachy or didactic. “The Dark Knight” raises questions, but it never explicitly answers them.

    “The Dark Knight” goes above and beyond expectations in nearly every category. It is not simply a great comic book movie — it transcends its genre. If you have not had the chance to see “The Dark Knight” yet, waste no more time. As for me, I’ll be paying it the ultimate compliment: seeing it again.

Brendan Praeger is a senior in journalism education. Please send comments to edge@spub.ksu.edu.