The Dark Knight **** (out of ****)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Cane, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and some menace)
Running Time: 152 min
Release Date: 7/18/08

The latest Batman installment, The Dark Knight, brings comic reality and social reality into closer alignment. Batman is no longer above the law but is in fact viewed as a vigilante. His secret identity must be protected not so much from the villains as from the society he works to protect. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is Gothem City’s new charismatic and crusading DA. His investigation is working on the Batman issue but he is far more focused on bringing Gothem’s mobsters to justice.

Meanwhile Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has inadvertently inspired a group of copycat “batmen” who are also fighting crime their own way but not his. It would seem that everyone is more concerned with protecting their turf that really solving the crime problem. After all how would you feel if someone started doing your job and were doing it better than you had been?

Enter the Joker (Heath Ledger) who starts off by organizing a bank robbery with a group of tugs that have been ordered to kill each other systematically as their usefulness is over. The Joker is a real psychopath but he has a keen sense of societies moral fracture points. Through out the film he systematically “pulls Gothem’s chain” as he pushes and manipulates his targets into doing his bidding. He isn’t out for money but instead seeks moral vindication by inducing others to do evil.

The Joker berates an assembled group of mobsters for not dealing with DA Dent’s legal crusade. As the Joker sees it the solution is simple, “Kill the Batman!” Of course this is easier said than done. He does manage to kill the police commissioner and the Judge who is presiding over Dent’s massive RICO case. This allows for Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) to be promoted to commissioner. I’d say that was a rather remarkable career move but not a safe one with the Joker running amuck. The Joker’s attempt on the mayor’s life is insidious but fails.

Bruce Wayne’s romantic interest, Assistant DA Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), has moved on and fallen in love with Harvey Dent since Batman Begins. There is some controversy as to why Katie Holmes is not reprising the role. It is either because she had a schedule conflict with another project or due to her negative Q ratings over the whole “TomKat” tabloid issue. While Gyllenhaal handled the role well, Katie was missed by this critic.

The Joker continues to pose more troubling choices as the plot develops by kidnapping both Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent. With firebombs set to explode simultaneously, who will the good guys save? When an accountant discovers the Batman’s identity and plans to reveal it on TV, the Joker decides to offer the City a choice, i.e. either accountant dies or he will blowup a hospital. Finally, the Joker poses the classic game theory “prisoner’s dilemma” scenario with two ferry’s boats rigged to explode and the passengers of each having remote detonators for the other boat. The twist being that one boat is filled with convicts and the other law-abiding citizens. Which group will push the button first?

Strangely the film seems to be more about the Joker than Batman. Heath Ledger steals the show in his final performance. I see a posthumous Oscar coming his way. By the way this film is much to dark for very young children. Looking at how some of the violent scenes were cut, I’m expecting an unrated DVD release along with the theatre version later this year. But all in all The Dark Knight is the must see action movie of this summer.

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