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The Dark Knight

It’s been cold, it’s been wet, it’s been miserable; but in terms of blockbuster movies, this summer hasn’t been half bad. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Hancock have all had a go and now the eagerly awaited Dark Knight steps forward to knock them all out – in ticket sales at least. With him comes the fanfare of posthumous Oscar nods for Heath Ledger’s Joker and assault charges for Batman’s Christian Bale (somewhat a reversal of roles). But putting aside these elements, and the record breaking opening weekend, is the film worth coming in out of the rain for? Well that all depends on what you want out of your summer movies.
The Dark Knight has been called the film of the year by some critics, but then some critics called Michael Haneke’s Cache the first masterpiece of the millenium. And, if you’re into plotless French fare, maybe it is. Personally, I prefer it when things actually happen in films. Lots of things happen in The Dark Knight. It opens action packed and it doesn’t let up throughout its 152 minutes. It’s certainly bang for your buck in that respect.
All that action doesn’t mean Batman doesn’t find time to take himself a bit seriously though. Director Christopher Nolan’s first reinvention of the superhero, Batman Begins in 2005 gave Batman a back story, inner turmoil and a heart – established him as deeper than your average superhero. Nolan’s Batman was distanced from those that went before him by attempts at solid characterisation and the addition of ‘The’ to his name. Rescuing the superhero from what had been done to him in the past (see Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin) was no mean feat and Nolan had to try hard to do it – the trying showed. It shows here still, it’s all a bit obviously ‘serious’ in intent. But then can you blame a guy for trying?
The strong focus on characterisation continues, played out through ideological battles. Like many teen dramas before it, the film ‘deals with issues’ in a ‘serious’ way. But for all its attempts to differentiate itself from other superheros and past incarnations, it covers much the same ground – good versus evil. The film does attempt to get a little deeper, tackling questions about democracy, human nature and the consequences of vigilantism but it gives no answers. The Dark Knight represents an extreme manifestation of pragmatism, doing as he pleases to clean up the streets but in the process strengthening the criminals. In contrast, Gotham’s District Attorney, Harvey Dent, the White Knight (Aaron Eckart) represents democratic principles, taking action against crime through the proper channel of the law. The ideological battle is overtly referred to throughout but nothing is ever resolved and the whole attempt comes across more than anything else as a plot device. Indeed Christopher Nolan has said he and his co-writers wrote the script with entertainment value in mind and any resonances that can be inferred after the fact are coincidences. This has not stopped critics seeing echoes of American administration in the film but in these times, all interpretations seem clouded by the terrorism angle. When you come down to it, plots are driven and require elements to drive them, here the ideological issues are used as plot devices. Don’t look for answers to the questions posed, because the film doesn’t give them, its not even all that sure what the questions are. Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over the role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes. Dawes is the love interest of Batman and Harvey Dent – nothing new there then. Speaking of the film, Gyllenhaal acknowledged that it affords the viewer no answer to the questions it poses, but said she is happy to think that it might cause a large audience to question ethics. Now, I dont know about you, but I don’t go to superhero films to think about ethics. I prefer my goodies good and my baddies bad. Luckily the superficial treatment of any ethical questions posed makes it easy to forget them and to see the film for what it is – your good old good versus evil superhero flick.
And it’s a good one at that. Visually stunning (parts of it were filmed for IMAX), it creates a dark and impressive Gotham cityscape viewed through grand sweeping overhead shots. It’s not one for the kids; it’s violent and at points quite scary. The chases are fast, the fights have punch and overall it looks great. The performances are good, though I didnt see an Oscar winner amongst them, and its plot keeps you hooked from start to finish. It’s a summer film with notions but a good one all the sam – so take down that umbrella, get yourself a large popcorn and go see it!

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