Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)


Hell, if I can only turn back time just to experience this once again in a movie theater. "The Dark Knight", as much as I admire its greatness, is one of those rare films that I have never enjoyed that much inside the Cineplex but grew to love with each rewatch on DVD. This, I believe, is a mark of an 'epic' film in every sense. Wherever you may put it, whether it's on television, DVD, or the theaters, its greatness still and always will shine forth. This is also the great strength of "The Dark Knight" that's completely absent in other superhero films. Take out all its eye-popping visuals and you still have enough narrative, emotional weight, and pure characterizations to carry you through. Plus, unlike other side characters in other films of the same kind, "The Dark Knight" has characters that you would really care for. 

Jim Gordon, Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent. The triumvirate that stands up for everything that's right. These are the characters that have risen and fallen in the epic graphic novel "The Long Halloween", and here in "The Dark Knight", their dynamics as complex allies have never been displayed more effectively, affectingly, and with appropriate justice. Gary Oldman, in his portrayal of Jim Gordon, blows his earlier "Batman Begins" performance in the water with his reprisal here. Christian Bale is also great by balancing torment and transcendence in his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman. 

With "The Dark Knight", Batman isn't just your 5 cent superhero anymore. Here is a superhero that does not merely thrive on apprehending killers and petty criminals anymore. This is also a man who refuses to lead a better life as a billionaire for the sake of protecting the one thing he believes he is destined to fight for: Gotham City. But he also knows that it is never easy. 

Fresh from thwarting Ra's Al Ghul's destructive plan against Gotham in "Batman Begins", he is now confronted here in "The Dark Knight" by a murderous agent of chaos known only as "The Joker" (played by the late Heath Ledger).

Now, this review is not for the sake of describing, commending and fully admiring Ledger's miracle of a performance as Batman's greatest foe. Words, as what has always been said, are not enough. There is indeed something in Ledger's legendary turn that doesn't just appeal to the mere aesthetics but somewhere deeper that's raw, ferocious, and animal. His 'Joker' provokes some sort of primal fear within us all; of some hidden anarchic inclination hidden deep inside all of us. 

For me, this is the ideal portrayal not just of the Joker but of human vileness pushed to the extremes. Unlike Jack Nicholson's earlier yet also iconic portrayal of the clown prince of crime which has relatively told a clear and very human back story for the Joker (He even had a pre-Joker name: Jack Napier), Ledger's is, as how Nolan has interpreted the character, a complete absolute. 

From his custom-tailored suit to his ever-changing origin stories regarding the scars on his face, this is a nameless entity forged out of the depths of utter abomination and nowhere else. This is one of those men, as what Alfred (Michael Caine) has unforgettably stated, who just want to watch the world topple and burn, and laugh with it. 

Now, with all that being said, we all know how great Ledger's performance really is, and it will truly stand the test of time as one of the best villainous roles ever performed. But aside from him, there's also one actor who stood out among the rest; and yes, he even outperformed Christian Bale, and it's none other than Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face. 

Being one of the most tragic antagonists in the history of comic books, Eckhart has captured the so-called 'white knight's' gung-ho ferocity as a brave district attorney yet has also gathered enough dramatic range to also be an empathetic character and a frighteningly vengeful soul. His Harvey Dent is someone you would perceive as someone who's heroic but also someone who's humanly flawed. He is for justice and for lawfulness, yes, but his Dent is also brash and subtly arrogant. Maybe what makes his character's sad transformation from being a clean-cut DA to a monstrous incarnation of confused duality even more gripping is how Dent was portrayed as an ordinarily mild-mannered man who just happens to have a healthy dose of human decency. 

Unlike Batman, he is a man driven towards the path of heroism and justice not because of some tragic undercurrents but because he is born and raised to be one. And what makes his metamorphosis even more tragic is the fact that it could and should have been prevented and also because he was never destined to be the very thing he swore to fight against. 

Destiny, duality and identity; these are the themes that Nolan's "Batman Begins" has focused on but were also re-used here in "The Dark Knight". But this time, its collective emotional effect is heightened even more that "The Dark Knight" came out not just a superhero film or merely as your typical 'Batman' film but as a massive drama about the clashing beliefs and ideological extremes that form Gotham's crumbling soul. And in the middle of it all are some spectacular action sequences that are quite reminiscent of Michael Mann's "Heat". 

In truth, "The Dark Knight" is so emotionally rich that the action seems secondary. Before Nolan, "Batman" films have always been on a crossroad of whether or not to prefer camp over seriousness and vice-versa. "Batman Begins" came and surprised us with its depth; now, "The Dark Knight" enters forth and blows us away with its emotional magnitude. From this point on, I believe that the cinematic "Batman" has already chosen a path: a path that was not chosen and never was an option before by either Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. This is the film that the caped crusader is unconsciously asking for, and for that, he got what he wishes for, and so do we.


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