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Reviews

The Dark Knight

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Certificate 15, 105 mins

ReviewsSept08Batman.jpg

The Caped Crusader is as significant a figure in the media landscape as he is on the Gotham City skyline. suggested that the methods of a so-called hero who went around beating up villains might in fact be less than heroic, the complexity of the character has become increasingly apparent. In print, the high point has been Red Rain which reinvented the character as a vampire! Hollywood has jumped on the bandwagon in the last two decades with two quirky Tim Burton movies, two vacuous, family-friendly Joel Schumacher sequels and two darker Christopher Nolan outings (Batman Begins and this one).

Nolan's entries have focused on Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) rather than simply on Batman, whose masked vigilante is less a fabrication than his everyday millionaire playboy alter-ego. Bruce is trapped between wanting to protect the city from criminals and the dubious methods he employs to do so as Batman. The latter prevents his providing a good role model for the city as Lieutenant (later Commissioner) Gordon (Gary Oldman) or District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) do. (By comparison, no such moral conflict is explored in playboy and techno-geek Iron Man/Tony Stark.) Indeed, Gotham now has an epidemic of copycat Batmen. Yet however questionable is Bruce Wayne/Batman's system of moral values, there's no denying he has one.

Some have seen in the film reflections and comments on the contemporary political situation. The Joker is explicitly called a 'terrorist', and the city authorities question the ethics of Batman's methods of dealing with him. The rather questionable conclusion of the film seems to be that, in the face of this unprecendented threat, we need someone who's willing to break the rules.

Cinematically, in The Dark Knight, Batman is upstaged by his nemesis the Joker -"'an astounding performance by the late Heath Ledger. There are other villains: Scarecrow puts in a cameo and Dent, who makes decisions on the toss of a coin, later turns into Two-Face.

When one of the bank robbers in the opening hold-up sequence removes his rubber clown mask to reveal the Joker's painted face beneath, it's not the crisp, coloured make-up that adorned Jack Nicholson in 1989's Batman, but rather an actor whose scrunched up face has served as canvas for cracked and smudgy colour overlay to lend his face a whole other shock level. Money is unimportant: he stands behind his split from a lucrative criminal deal and sets fire to the huge stack of banknotes. The Joker is a figure lacking moral compass, an instigator of mayhem unafraid of losing his own life. Ledger plays him not for laughs but rather as an uncontrollable force in demented free fall.

More impressive still is the use of giant-screen format IMAX cameras to shoot several sequences, the first time they've been so used in a fiction feature. In the IMAX version, the opening letterbox Warners logo gives way almost immediately to a larger screen as the camera plunges and villains descend on ropes. The opening heist is breathtaking in this format, but even better throughout is the integration of IMAX footage into the whole. Suddenly, the screen expands for an iconic shot of Batman on the edge of a gigantic skyscraper overlooking the metropolis. So skilful is the editing together of the two formats its hyperrealism is as innovative, in its own way, as the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. We will divide movies' use of the IMAX format into before and after The Dark Knight: The IMAX Experience. If you see this movie in an ordinary cinema, you haven't really seen it at all.

Jeremy Clarke