Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Darkest Knight

If not for the tragedy that befell the actor, I would have yelled,"Heath Ledger lives!"
His portrayal as the Batman's lunatic archnemesis was absolutely captiviting.

The director who also brought us the brilliant "The Prestige" returned with his second installment of Batman. Christopher Nolan has chose to named the sequel The Dark Knight, after one of Batman's more famous moniker.

I had always assumed that the Dark Knight was simply a fancy name, since the Batman is a hero who wages war against crime and he usually operates in the dark of the night. The movie revealed a greater significance behind that name.

Post the first film, Batman Begins, our hero continued his war on crime. Two new and important characters entered Gotham City. First is a lunatic criminal in clown make up with a dangerous trait. The Joker has absolutely no fear of consequences.

The second is Gotham new hero, a righteous and charming man who is also the District Attorney. Harvey Dent is determined to bring the city criminals to justice legally and was later refered to at the end of the movie as The White Knight.

Ah... see the contrasting connection now to the Batman's Dark Knight?

Ledger's Joker may not dominate the film but he certainly steals the limelight. This Joker is not like the Joker in the comic book, whose fall into some chemical substance distorted his face into a permanent smiling facade. This Joker is just a man, though a mad one at that, who painted his face white, with a permanent smile painted on his face in red. This Joker is more gritty, and almost real.

This Joker, in my opinion is the star of the show. Correct me if I am wrong but I believe he has even more screen time than Batman himself, didn't he? The strength was in his personality and Ledger performance is Oscar worthy. While Bale is great as Batman, he is more often than not behind a mask and I don't quite fancy the growling voice he used as Batman. Only time I saw a stellar performance behind a mask is Edward Norton's portrayal of King Baldwin in Kingdom of Heaven. The contrasting personality of these two characters taking their battle from mere physical to a mental level with Batman, though more highly skilled in combat, finding that he is unable to intimidates the Joker as he did the other common criminal while the Joker takes full advantage Batman's refusal to bulged from his morality aganst him.

Comparison to Jack Nicholson's Joker in the Tim Burton helmed Batman is inevitable but I felt such comparison is unfair. Burton has created a world very much similar to the version presented in the comic book and he was lauded for doing that successfully. His Joker is maniacal to the point of being comical with a penchant for the grandeur and Nicholson played that lunacy to perfection. What Nolan required from Ledger was very much different as the Joker here is much darker with a twisted plan for Gotham City which he executed with deadly precision.

Nolan has brought to the movie an unprecedented level of realism never seen before in a superhero movie. The characters were rich and the motives each have for doing what they do is believable. The script, even Joker's line is unpretentious and at times, provoking. And though the idea behind the surveillance technology employed by the Batman is mind-boogling, it was not inplausible. I can imagine the US military already working on that technology, assuming they haven't already own it.

In one hand, it is hardly common for a billionaire to dons tights to battle crime. On another hand, it was not too fantastic that the logic behind it can be immediately dismissed. This is Nolan at his best, capturing many small moments of brilliance and packaging them into one breathtaking piece of orchestra.

Likewise, the Joker appeared to have his small moments of victory but just when it seems Batman had him beaten, he bounced right back to take over the city. Only then did everyone sees the true extend of the plan he has for Batman and the city. The final hour of the movie is most suspenseful and unpredictable and though the Batman out maneuvre him in the end, he never really did outwitted the Joker. The Batman may won the war but the costs from the earlier battles lost are too great while the Joker never really lose anything. It's true that although Batman has foes with more powerful ability than the Joker, none was as dangerous as a man who is simply, mad.

Nolan's realistic approach was a fresh change to the superheroes franchises but seeing that the movies were planned as a trilogy, who will trade punches with Batman next? Considering the style employed here, we can safely rule out any characters with superpower although who to say that Nolan can't come up with a realistic version of such foes? It woould certainly be interesting to see his version of the Penguin. I am almost certain we will see Catwoman in an ambiguous role, as she already did in the existing Batman mythology. But who will be the main villain? And after Ledger's excellent portrayal as the Joker, who else is deserving enough to challenge the Batman in the final installment?

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