Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

This is probably the banner year for superhero movies. Only halfway through, and we already have four coming out in quick succession (Iron Man, Hulk, Hancock, and The Dark Knight) . Not only that, they're all pretty decent films, too, staying largely true to their comic book roots.

And of the four so far, "The Dark Knight" just happens to be the best one of all. Wait, let me rephrase that: the best comic book movie yet.

One word to describe "The Dark Knight": intense.

The movie had me glued to my seat and the almost three hours running time flew by just like that. It also had me cringing every time The Joker came on screen. Not that there have been many screen Jokers (Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson being the other two), but the late Heath Ledger just happens to capture the darkest core of the character.

In fact, "The Dark Knight" can largely be said to be The Joker's movie.

The Joker is the motive force throughout the entire film, from beginning to end. Everyone is merely responding to his machinations, The Batman included. And it isn't some simple grab for money or power he's after. It's anarchy, total and complete anarchy. That's what makes him so scary.

"The Dark Knight" glosses over The Joker origin story, and that's probably for the best. He comes across like an elemental force, chaos personified, the embodiment of the trickster spirit. The Joker is closest to V in "V for Vendetta"; he's everything that V should have been but wasn't.

This Joker owes its visual roots to its cartoon counterpart in the latest "Batman" cartoon. In execution, though, with the smeared on makeup and greasy unkempt hair, it's pure terrifying genius. The late Heath Ledger really makes it his own, down to the mannerisms -- the licking of the lips, the toss of the hair, the buffoonish shrug, the maniacal laugh....

As I said, this is really The Joker's movie, and it all boils down to his motivations. It's not just physical chaos he's after, it's a moral and spiritual one as well. The choices he imposes -- nay, inflicts -- on Batman and the whole of Gotham is what makes the movie so gripping. And it works because he's a genius whose complex evil plots go off with Rube Golberg-uesque perfection. Kudos to writer David Goyer and director Chris Nolan for writing such a great character.