Batman’s beacon of hope

The Dark Knight delves deeper than the usual good vs. evil

A GUY WALKS INTO A …<br>Heath Ledger and Christian Bale aren’t joking in <i>The Dark Knight</i>.

Heath Ledger and Christian Bale aren’t joking in The Dark Knight.

Rated 5.0

Superhero movies are a dime a dozen these days. Last week it was Hellboy II, the week before that, Hancock. But Batman is somehow different. Stripped of all the bright-eyed “I’m here to save the day” of Superman and awkward teen-dom of Spiderman, Batman exists in a darker, more pessimistic world, where hope is harder to come by.

If one thing stands out in The Dark Knight, it’s without a doubt Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker. Everyone remembers Jack Nicholson’s trademark intense creepiness in the role. But Ledger, in his final full film before his death, outdoes Nicholson, embodying this grotesque, twitchy, clown of a man in a more disturbed and less comical, over-the-top manner.

The Joker and Gotham City’s new DA, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), are just as important in this film as Batman, played once again by Christian Bale. That’s because while Batman Begins focused on the incarnation of the winged superhero, this film develops his enemies and allies.

The Joker here, aside from being a murderous bank robber and all-around freak, serves as a sort of intermediary between Batman and Gotham City’s mob world. Loyal to no one, The Joker thrives on chaos and upsetting the natural order of things.

When Harvey vows to take down the mafia and eliminate crime in Gotham, he becomes a prime target for just about everyone on the wrong side of the law. Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, takes Harvey under his wing, so to speak, despite the fact he’s dating the lovely Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) also plays an important role in the film, as the only lawman who sees Batman as a symbol of hope rather than a vigilante.

What makes this film stand apart from others of its kind is that while pitting good against evil, it drives deeper than the typical good guy vs. bad guy battle (though there’s plenty of fighting and high-speed chasing to keep things exciting). Bruce struggles internally with his alter ego, especially when Rachel is around. And Harvey’s idealism is up against an army of pessimism and evil in the form of the mob and The Joker.

Besides having a complex storyline, the film, directed by Christopher Nolan, who also took the helm on Batman Begins, is also visually beautiful. The car and motorcycle chases and fights are intense and the scenes of Gotham City are predictably gritty and dark.

In a time when superhero movies are everywhere, it’s nice to see one rely on strong acting and a complex script more than just plain looking good.