The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

***

 

“The Dark Knight” is certainly a good movie. But I disagree with critics who are anointing it one of the best comic book movies of all time.

“The Dark Knight” doesn’t have the pathos or the tidy moral clarity of “Spider-Man.”

Early on in “Spider-Man,” director Sam Raimi introduces the notion that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Then he spends two focused hours proving the idea, nailing his point home with the perfect ending – where Peter Parker has to give up the girl he loves in order to be a true hero.

Instead of moral clarity, “The Dark Knight” has a lot of plot. Writer/director Christopher Nolan (“Memento,” “The Presige”) has a tremendous gift for story-telling. The film’s story is ambitious, engrossing and rather complex. I imagine that it could be difficult to follow for those who are not already familiar with the characters.

The basic summary is: a new master criminal calling himself the Joker (Heath Ledger) has come to Gotham City. He goes on a murderous rampage, killing lawmen and gangsters alike.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is having a crisis of faith and is thinking about hanging up his utility belt for good. Wayne puts his hope in the brave new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who is fighting bad guys the legal way. To complicate matters, Wayne and Dent are in love with the same girl.

The upside of the busy plot is that the film is consistently entertaining. The action scenes are worth watching because they are important to the story. “The Dark Knight” is a solid 2 ½ hours long, but I never glanced at my watch.

The downside of the busy plot is that it didn’t leave enough time for character development. To some extent, Nolan pulled a Tim Burton and put too much focus on the villains at the expense of Batman himself.

What made “Batman Begins” special was that it was the first movie to deeply explore Bruce Wayne’s psyche and what the Batman alter-echo really means to him. Not nearly enough of “The Dark Knight” is devoted to Bruce Wayne.

In fact, I’d say the lead character is actually the Joker. Through a number of colorful soliloquies, we get to know quite a lot about the film’s villain.

The Joker isn’t a thief and he has no desire for power. The Joker’s goal is to bring anarchy to Gotham City. He wants to take the best laid plans of arrogant people and reduce them to chaos.

The Joker feels a special bond for Batman because they are both mysterious outcaste vigilantes who play by their own rules. Batman recognizes their similarity, too, and the fact that the Joker follows his life mission with more confidence and purity of purpose.

This should have been the main moral conflict of the story, but Christopher Nolan doesn’t explore it as fully as I would have liked. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale make more compelling nemeses in Nolan’s amazing 2006 drama “The Prestige.”

“The Dark Knight” is not the greatest Batman film. It certainly isn’t the finest Christopher Nolan film. It is a solid, entertaining, dark, violent action movie. It doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

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