Few pieces of American imagery can surpass the yellow oval housing a black bat, and for good reason. More than any other hero (Marvel, D.C. or otherwise) “The Batman” could be any of us … he is the “Anyman.”
The never-ending summer of comics continues with the hugely anticipated follow up to “Batman Begins”: “The Dark Knight.” Thankfully for all of us emotionally invested in this, the return of everyone save Katie Holmes (actually not a bad idea to save her) and the addition of more topnotch talent — Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart — sent hopes as high as if we saw the bat signal glowing brightly over our own city. And don’t you know it, this is the time that a flick surpasses our hopes.
Director Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins,” “Insomnia,” “Memento”) returns to expand on his take on the genesis of “Batman” by directing and co-penning this chapter in the Caped Crusader’s tale. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) was last seen thwarting Ra’s Al Ghul attempt to disperse Fear Toxin throughout Gotham. Although the crime syndicate took a hit, they have no intention of giving in to the good guys, and little do they know it, but the cavalry is giggling its way into town.
A nameless specter has been gathering a lot of attention around town with his insane plots and cold manners. The only clues point to a painted madman leaving the joker from a deck of cards as his personal card. This Joker (Ledger) confronts the crime syndicate and offers to identify and solve their problem. His price? Half of the mob’s savings. Crazy as the offer is, it doesn’t leave many laughing. Smiling and applause, however, echoed from the theater walls several times during the film because of the flawlessly inspired manner that the late Ledger took a tricky character and dug deep to unearth the true spirit of the Joker. Arguably, the single greatest nemesis in the annals of contemporary comics and the big buzz of this flick, the Joker has been portrayed on the small screen as a giggling hood, and on the big screen, by an actor that overshadowed the character itself. Ledger weaves his way into the horribly twisted depths of the sociopath’s mind and creates an unforgettable, unforgivable, and unbelievable villain that immediately rivals any being in film history. The only emotion to rival the elation at watching his performance was the constant depression at knowing he can’t reprise the role. Don’t even vote, send the Oscar to his surviving kin now.
Batman must dig deep within himself to combat this mindless evil. The city itself is seeing an upturn with the election of new D.A. Harvey Dent (Eckhart) and the promotion of Officer Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). They too, however, will be forced to make terrible choices and endure if there is any hope. Sound familiar? It should, as the film is a thinly veiled allegory reminding us of where we stand and spurring us to accept our own part in not only the saving of our Gotham, but also in allowing the thieves to bring it down in the first place.
Despite the melancholy feelings regarding Ledger, the film is a winner. Not only in the hero genre but dramatic action/adventure as well. The cast listings of both chapters read as a “who’s who” of top-shelf talented professionals and director Nolan benefits again, as well as utilizes, at every turn. And his dark, realistic perspective showcases what the Batman truly was meant to be.
Throw in the magnificent plausibility of Batman’s wonderful toys and some action sequences heretofore unrivaled in their scope and you have an unparalleled winner. Take it from me: no one will have to put a smile on your face after you catch this chapter of the Batman saga. Smiles guaranteed.