How far does a hero fall? The new Batman movie “The Dark Knight” ponders this question amongst many others in one of the most intense cinematic experience in 2008 so far. More than another screen adaptation of a much beloved comic book character, it is a heady, full-fledged epic and elaborate crime drama. Its greatness lies in the fact that it augments the existing folklore surrounding the caped crusader. Rather than sticking to the conventional “hero-saves-the-day” formula, director Christopher Nolan turns everything inside out and exposes the humanity within one of the darkest protagonist the comic book genre has ever seen.
In Heath Ledger, Nolan has the definitive sliver screen manifestation of Batman’s arch enemy. With every lip smack, he resigns Jack Nicholson’s version in the 1st Batman movie to the hall of shame where it shall remain for all eternity. He is a twitching bag of putrefying genius with a penchant for creepy face paint and sharp objects. The scene with him in a nurse outfit and an exploding hospital in the background has already been assured a place in the annals of iconic movie imagery.
Cristian Bale reprises his role as the brooding Bruce Wayne and elevates melancholy to a whole new level. When confronting a scumbag accountant who tries to extort money from Wayne enterprise, Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox puts him in his place with perfectly arched eyebrows and a bemused expression nary missing a beat. This man is cool personified. As before Michael Caine is Wayne’s rock in a raging sea of existential angst as dependable butler, Alfred. Unfortunately the jarring change in choice of actress to play Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal instead of Katie Holmes) throws a spanner in the otherwise perfect ensemble cast.
After a string of disappointments in the latest run of superhero movies, “The Dark Knight” restores my fate in the power of film making. If there is a Nobel prize for mega budget movies, Christopher Nolan would beat everyone to it. It’s that good!