Summer Movie Showdown: "The Dark Knight" Review

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Heath Ledger makes his last full screen appearance in this 2008 blockbuster sequel to Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan directs as the caped crusader (Christian Bale) teams with Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) in Gotham's war on organized crime. However Batman and the police have an even bigger problem on their hands when a psychotic villain known only as the Joker (Ledger) starts a murderous rampage.
4.5

Summer Movie Showdown: "The Dark Knight" Review

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 152 minutes
Release date: July 18, 2008
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Action/ Crime/ Drama/ Thriller
Cast: Christopher Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart

Comic books have long served as the building ground for modern myths and legends, where costumed heroes fight against vicious villains on a regular basis to keep their little patch of land safe. Among these heroes, one character has managed to attract the attention and adoration of generations of readers-Batman. This familiar character has long been a popular icon, but in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," he's presented in his base form, a tragically damaged figure pitted against his archenemy in a battle that leaves moviegoers breathless, creating a new standard against which later comic book movies will be measured.

Nolan's Batman, as played by Christopher Bale, is a far cry from the campy presentation seen by television viewers throughout the world in the 1960s American television show. In this, the second of the revamped movie trilogy of the modern Batman, the character is presented more in line with the vision of Batman inked in the graphic comics of the 1990s. This film version of the Caped Crusader is a serious take on the character, delving deeply into the psyche of a man who's determined to mete out justice in his city regardless of the fact that doing so makes him as hunted by police as those he wishes to capture.

The history behind Nolan's and Bale's Batman was well established in the first film of the trilogy, which explored the hero's backstory from the murder of his parents to the development of his crime-fighter persona. The second movie assumes viewers are familiar with this history, taking few pains to explain the dual identity of Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy, and his alter ego, Batman. By this second film, Bale is familiar in the role, returning to the dark world of Gotham City with ease to continue in his one-man battle against the city's criminal element.

Two primary opponents face off against the hero in "The Dark Knight," both favorites from the comic book series. The first, Joker (Heath Ledger), is introduced early in the film as the leader of a group of bank robbers who happen to kill one another during a well-planned robbery that leaves Joker with all of the ill-gotten gains. The second is Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the charismatic district attorney for the city who's at first on the side of good, vowing to remove all presence of the mob from the city.

The plot of "The Dark Knight" is a fairly simple one, focusing primarily on the Joker's antics as he takes control of the organized crime element in the city. During the course of the takeover, Joker shows a psychotic side that creates a leadership based on fear as much as on his own criminal abilities. He kills at whim, terrorizes both victims and minions, and eventually kidnaps Dent and his girlfriend Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a former flame of Bruce Wayne. During Batman's rescue attempt, Rachel dies and Dent is severely injured, incurring scars over half his face. Joker pays a visit to Dent in the hospital, convincing him to seek vengeance on Batman.

What makes "The Dark Knight" such great movie fare is the performances put in by the actors. Bale manages to completely draw viewers in to Batman's character, allowing them to see his actions as a natural development of his tragic life. On the other side of the coin, he plays the Bruce Wayne persona lightheartedly, bringing some lighter moments to the film that prevent it from becoming too dark for younger viewers to enjoy. Eckhart's Dent is a great foil to Wayne, with his serious pursuit of justice serving as stark contrast to Batman's vigilante activities. The romantic triangle of Wayne, Dent, and Rachel also adds intrigue.

The standout performance of the film, however, is Ledger's Joker. The performance is the darkest portrayal of the character ever, with Ledger diving into the role and managing to present a wonderfully mad criminal performance. Ledger's turn as Joker leaves audiences guessing throughout the movie, as his every move one could just as easily be one of impulse as of planning. Ledger manages to outshine previous performances of the role with ease, and his portrayal earned him a posthumous Academy Award in the process.

"The Dark Knight" is a brilliant action film, with blockbuster performances that manage to raise the Batman mythos to new heights. It's a comic-book movie that transcends fandom, with solid storytelling and dialogue that make it a must-see for those looking for an enjoyable few hours of movie goodness.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5