The Dark Knight

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Postby rolotomasi99 » Thu Jul 10, 2008 3:19 pm

Zahveed wrote:But wouldn't its early release (July, I assume, isn't a very popular month for Best Picture contenders) affect such a possibility?

GLADIATOR is a perfect example. released in may but beat out better films TRAFFIC and CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON despite their december releases because of its $187 million gross (not that the other two films did not do well at the box office...just not well enough).

while i am not on board with this growing idea that the academy would actually nominate a comic book film, if they were going to ever nominate a comic book film this would be the one.
from everything i have read this film acts more like a major crime epic (as others here have mentioned) in the vein of THE DEPARTED or HEAT. it is a comic book film about one of the more realistic comic book characters (not an alien or mutant), and it seems nolan has opted for just depicting gotham through the real streets of chicago rather than building ornate sets.

even something as mundane as the title signifies how different this film is from all other comic book fare. THE DARK KNIGHT is the only major comic book adaptation i can think of not to use the character's primary name in the title. THE DARK KNIGHT (batman's nickname) could be the title of any thing from a film about europe during the dark ages or new york during the mobster era. it reads like the type of movie oscar voters could write on their ballot without feeling weird or embarrassed.

not that this means i am endorsing this crazy (though cool) idea this film could actually make it into the top five. the way the voting system works, enough people would have to consider this the number one film of the year. maybe it will be on many critic's (and my own) top ten lists, but not too many oscar voters are likely going to see this film as the best the entire year had to offer (then again...CHOCOLAT, FINDING NEVERLAND, RAY?).
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Postby Mister Tee » Thu Jul 10, 2008 9:56 am

ScreenDaily, a bit later than usual, but just as enthusiastic. This one's a clear critical hit.

In fact, with Iron Man and Wall-E, you'd have to say this is one of the more critic-pleasing summers in some time.


The Dark Knight
Brent Simon in Los Angeles
09 Jul 2008 10:59

Dir: Christopher Nolan. US. 2008. 152 mins.

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight stands poised to leave a substantial summer footprint, both commercially and critically. Batman has long been a top-shelf comic property, and with fans now familiar with this series' new players, widescale embrace awaits.

Expanding on the darker moods and true-crime instincts of 2005's Batman Begins, The Dark Knight cleverly balances its action with an exploration of optimism and decency's combined power and potential fallibility in a world gone mad. While anticipation of the late Heath Ledger's tongue-wagging, lip-smacking turn as the villainous Joker will draw in some new interest, it's the novelistic density and moral complexity on display here that will drive repeat viewings and help The Dark Knight far outscore its predecessor's tally. International receipts should also soar, especially given a brief but effective use of Hong Kong as a location.

Picking up within a year of the events in Batman Begins, the film finds Batman (Christian Bale) and his police department counterpart and ally, Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), experiencing some success in stemming the tide of crime in Gotham City. As the bold, hard-driving new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) works to dismantle the all-powerful criminal syndicates that have long had a stranglehold on the city, Batman and Gordon must determine whether or not they can trust the charismatic idealist.

Proceeding with caution, their partnership proves effective, especially after Batman visits Hong Kong to dazzlingly extricate the criminal sects' accountant, Lau (Chin Han). Dent ties all the crime bosses together in a 2,500-count conspiracy indictment, and Batman, in the form of billionaire daytime alter ego Bruce Wayne, throws his support behind the district attorney with a dazzling fundraiser, convinced that Dent is the new public face of decency and order.

The Joker, though, has other plans, unleashing a reign of terror built on shifting motivations. At first he offers to kill Batman for the city's crime bosses; later he threatens serial deaths until Batman reveals his true identity. In the end, of course, it's all a guise for his own games of anarchic indulgence.

Scripted by Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, from a story devised with David Goyer, a co-writer on Batman Begins, The Dark Knight may be the first movie of its kind to substantively, intellectually address the mythos of comic-book action in something vaguely resembling the real world. There is a lot of discussion about, and action driven by, the symbolic value of Batman, and the limits of what he can accomplish versus the publicly-empowered Dent.

In fact, it's the depth of the latter storyline, of the tragically-doomed district attorney, that is perhaps the most surprisingly effective part of this film. His soul-of-the-city struggle parallels Batman's quest, and has important implications when vigilantism and law-bending later creep into play in an effort to defeat the Joker. The film's weak point is that a shift involving Dent's personality, after he is wounded, is handled in mad-dash fashion, undercutting the sensitivity and care of all this set-up.

Nolan shows a much more refined hand with action here than he did in the first film, though these movies will never compete with the whiz-bang, state-of-the-art thrills of something like the Matrix films. There's an emphasis on functionality over showsmanship with respect to the action scenes, and Nolan doesn't pad these sequences with affected angles, stuffed shots or orgiastic CGI.

Bale delivers another solid, brooding performance as Wayne/Batman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal subs in for Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, the childhood crush of Bruce Wayne, now romantically involved with Dent.

There is undeniably a bit of a pall cast over the proceedings by Ledger's death, but it doesn't last long, so starkly defined is his portrayal. There's no cackling buffoonery here, just a grimness to match the material.

Other technical credits are superb across the board. In particular, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's score for the film again eschews hammy signature tones, instead trading in moods and rhythms; most striking is the theme for the Joker, a processed string arrangement which effectively evokes dread.

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Postby OscarGuy » Thu Jul 10, 2008 9:46 am

It is possible, anything is possible (except Pamela Anderson getting an Oscar), but I don't think that it will happen. Spider-Man 2 got uniformly excellent reviews, yet it didn't perform well with the Oscars. The only major difference is the Spider-Man was clearly a fantasy vehicle where as Nolan's Batman seems to be a realism vehicle. I still think it has a LONG way to go to get Oscar nominations beyond the techs and Ledger and even those aren't guaranteed.
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Postby Zahveed » Thu Jul 10, 2008 9:28 am

So if The Dark Knight rakes in as much cash as most people think it will and continues to be the highest rated wide release of the year, it could have a chance at more than just a Heath Ledger supporting nod? Hell, Jack Nicholson and Adam West would have a heart attack if that were to happen.
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Postby OscarGuy » Thu Jul 10, 2008 9:19 am

Release date only affects certain types of films. Blockbusters don't really get hurt by release date as they are often remembered by year's end, they get hurt for being blockbusters. Release dates hurt small studio films. Usually, an early release date (especially January, February, March, August and September) means that test audiences or studio bosses didn't care much for it despite being a "prestige" flick and thus they off-loaded it into the least competitive months hoping critics might pick up on it more easily, but generally resulting in easily forgettable-ness.
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Postby Zahveed » Thu Jul 10, 2008 9:17 am

It's true that Ledger has been receiving great praise, but that also goes for everything else. I haven't read a bad word yet about the entire film. Multiple reviews point out its epic scope and crime drama tendencies veer more toward that of The Departed than any superhero/comic book movie. But wouldn't its early release (July, I assume, isn't a very popular month for Best Picture contenders) affect such a possibility?
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Postby MovieWes » Wed Jul 09, 2008 11:15 pm

Does anyone else get the feeling that this film could end up getting much more than just a nomination for Heath Ledger? Ecstatic reviews like these are usually reserved for Best Picture contenders. The last live-action fantasy blockbuster to get these kinds of reviews was The Lord of the Rings.



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Postby Zahveed » Tue Jul 08, 2008 11:29 am

Here's one from Cominsoon.net




The Dark Knight
Reviewed by: Edward Douglas
Rating: 9 out of 10
Movie Details: View here


Cast:
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman
Heath Ledger as The Joker
Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent / Two-Face
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes
Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon
Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox


Directed by Christopher Nolan

Summary:
Daring and uncompromisingly different from previous incarnations of Batman--both the movies and the comics--Christopher Nolan and his amazing cast haven't redefined the superhero genre as much as created an unforgettable piece of crime fiction within the context of that realm.

Story:
Under the increased presence of Batman, Gotham City is a different place with the city's criminal element fearfully avoiding him whenever possible, creating a void that's filled by the new menace called The Joker (Heath Ledger) who targets both the gangsters and the city's law officials alike. When the Joker challenges Batman, threatening to kill a person a day unless he unmasks and gives himself up, the caped crusader and Gotham's new D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) must find a way to deal with this violent new form of killer each in their own way. At the same time, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) must contend with Dent's interest in his childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and his own feelings for her.

Analysis:
Clearly, one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, "The Dark Knight" is certainly nothing like the superhero movies we've seen so far, which means it might take some time for fans of Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" to get their head around his decision to make a completely different movie rather than making a direct sequel that rehashes what worked in the first movie.

"Batman Begins" created a clear-cut origin for the comic book character based within the real world, and "The Dark Knight" takes that one step further, venturing further into the world of true crime dramas with a film that owes more to "The Departed" and Michael Mann's "Heat"--admittedly an influence on Nolan--then any previous comic books or movies. With the origin out of the way, Nolan could have easily gotten right into the action, but instead, he revisits earlier ground explored in "Insomnia" to tell the story of three very different men--Batman, Police Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart)--and the diverging ways they try to achieve the same goal by cleaning up the city's crime, something that often puts them at odds. Much of the movie is spent intensifying the dynamics between these three men and building up to what will ultimately set them on different paths.

The most fascinating new ingredient to "The Dark Knight" is the reintroduction of The Joker, a disarmingly different take by the late Heath Ledger. This Joker doesn't boogie to a Prince soundtrack and crack jokes about toys; this is an evil and horrifying villain, clearly insane and unpredictable as he wantonly maims and kills anyone who crosses his path. Partially influenced by the visionary spin from the likes of Miller, Moore and Morrison, Heath Ledger takes this classic Bat-villain one step further, giving the madman a cinematic flair that makes him one of the most memorable film "villains" since Tyler Durden with an M.O. not unlike the horror villain Jigsaw, only on a much grander scale. It doesn't matter where this Joker came from or how he came to be, but the fact he's around and can show up anywhere makes this a far more violent and scary world where anyone can die at any moment. And yet, there's something gleefully delightful whenever he's on screen, one that puts a tragic and bittersweet sheen over the entire film.

The brilliance of Ledger's performance doesn't take anything away from the rest of the excellent cast, and Aaron Eckhart brings his A-Game and fires on all cylinders as Harvey Dent, Gotham's brave defender who wants to use lawful methods to take down Gotham's criminal element. Both Batman and Bruce Wayne readily accept Dent as the hero the city really needs, but someone else plays the pivotal role in Dent's transformation into the grotesque scarred madman Two-Face, a murderer as horrifying and violent as the Joker.

Those going into the movie unaware of what Nolan was trying to achieve may be frustrated by the way the first 80 minutes drags as it sets up a cleverly intricate plot with lots of dialogue and only scattered and fleeting appearances by the Joker to shake things up. The film relies heavily on the intelligent script by Nolan and his brother Jonathan that omits the usual comic book quips that have held the genre back for so long to create a tense and dramatic film that uses the many different elements to confirm Nolan's thesis about what makes a man who he is. Certainly, Nolan could have gotten to the confrontation between the Batman and Joker quicker, but the movie never feels long once we're into the thick of things and it's well worth the wait with money shots coming at us in quick succession.

What might be harder to adjust to and accept is that this is no longer the Batman from the comics, even as it further explores the idea of Batman as high-tech detective, keeping that concept firmly grounded in the reality created by the first movie. There's no real "Batcave" this time, just an empty floor in a building with a few computer monitors and diagnostic equipment, but that doesn't mean that all the cool gadgets have been put to the rest. Batman's "Tumbler" is replaced by an even wilder two-wheeled "Batpod" and the costume is retrofitted with an inventive sonar system ("Batvision"?) that plays an interesting role in the climactic finale. Bruce's butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and corporate frontman Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) are still the crimefighter's go-to guys, each actor being given strong scenes that play an active role in influencing the decisions made by both Batman and Bruce Wayne.

The most noticeable departure is that Gotham is no longer the dark neo-futuristic city we've seen so many times. Now, it looks more like... well, Chicago, as we spend far more time in the daylight than in previous Batman movies. Nolan isn't trying to show off with the visually stylish fireworks of past films, setting aside the large-scale set and models to capture realistic cityscapes in their full glory. Those who see the movie in IMAX will know when Nolan is ready to play as the image extends vertically in both directions whenever he's ready to kick off one of the movie's "holy sh*t" moments, whether it's a car chase that's even more intense than the first movie or scenes of Batman literally flying through the night sky in Hong Kong. These scenes more than make-up for all the expository build-up as Nolan uses the full scope of the IMAX lens to capture every nuance.

We've learned far too well that anyone can put on a mask and pretend to be Batman, but Christian Bale brings an imposing gravitas to the role with a voice modulator that allows him to deliver every line in a deep baritone. It's the slightly more limited on-screen time of his alter ego Bruce Wayne that makes Bale so right for the job, giving Robert Downey's Tony Stark competition as the playboy millionaire we love to watch. While Katie Holmes' Rachel Dawes may have been the first movie's weak link, Maggie Gyllenhaal is far more spirited as the character, creating a complicated love triangle between Wayne and Dent that makes her a key cog in the story, rather than just another interchangeable damsel in distress.

Nolan has veered far from the safety zone of mainstream superhero movies with the decision to create a violent environment where anyone can die at any moment, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat, never knowing how far he may choose to take it. It's a daring approach to filmmaking that you have to appreciate in a world where it's easier to copy something that works than to try and tread new ground. Compared to other light-hearted superhero fare, "The Dark Knight" is such an intense experience one might not be able to imagine reliving it, but it should be worthy of repeat viewings to study and analyze what Nolan has achieved. It also guarantees this summer will forever be remembered as the one where the superhero movie genre was elevated beyond the quips and spandex.

The Bottom Line:
Nolan's "The Dark Knight" is another unforgettable offering from the visionary that defies all expectations by creating a serious "superhero" movie for grown-ups, one so grounded in a brutal reality you're left in a cold sweat by its stalwart refusal to cater to escapist fantasies. While one might hesitate to throw around overused words like "masterpiece," it's refreshing that "The Dark Knight" is not a movie that can be viewed and easily discarded like so much other summer fare.
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Postby Zahveed » Tue Jul 08, 2008 9:58 am

I assume most people like the Burton's Batmans (Batmen?), but after Schumacher's horrible renditions you can't help but love Batman in a realistic, though slightly exaggerated, gritty environment.
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Postby OscarGuy » Tue Jul 08, 2008 9:36 am

Burton's one of those off-and-on directors. Sometimes he's on, sometimes he's way-way off. I don't think you have to "prefer" one set of Batmans to the other. They are stylistically different approaches to the hero. One is a fantasy spin akin to most superhero films. One is a gritty realism.

I like both the original 2 Batmans and Batman Begins. Liking one does not preclude liking the other.
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Postby anonymous1980 » Tue Jul 08, 2008 8:46 am

Damien wrote:
Zahveed wrote:
jack wrote:The question is: if Ledger hadn't died, would this Oscar hysteria be happening? Clearly we'll never know, but it's still worth thinking about.

Maybe a globe...

Jack Nicholson received a Best Actor Globe nomination for his Joker performance (a performance which first got me thinking, maybe he's not all I've thought (since Easy Rider) that he was. I don't remember if his Globe nomination came in the Comedy or Drama category.

But Christopher Nolan's a marginally more interesting director than Tim Burton. And given the current mindset of the film industry and the Oscars, a Ledger win ( or at least nomination) would make perfect sense, no matter the quality of the performance.

I believe it was in the Musical/Comedy category. I seem to recall reading that there was Oscar buzz and that one of the reasons he didn't get an Oscar nomination was category confusion (Lead? Supporting?)

As for Christopher Nolan, he's a very good director but I'm one of the few souls (I think Noel Vera is the other one) who much, much preferred Tim Burton's first two Batman movies over Nolan's Batman Begins.

We have to agree to disagree on Tim Burton, Damien. IMO, he's one of the best directors of his generation.

That said, I'm still looking forward to The Dark Knight mainly because of Ledger.




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Postby Johnny Guitar » Tue Jul 08, 2008 7:56 am

Damien wrote:But Christopher Nolan's a marginally more interesting director than Tim Burton.

Really? Is The Prestige that good?

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Postby Damien » Tue Jul 08, 2008 3:02 am

Zahveed wrote:
jack wrote:The question is: if Ledger hadn't died, would this Oscar hysteria be happening? Clearly we'll never know, but it's still worth thinking about.

Maybe a globe...

Jack Nicholson received a Best Actor Globe nomination for his Joker performance (a performance which first got me thinking, maybe he's not all I've thought (since Easy Rider) that he was. I don't remember if his Globe nomination came in the Comedy or Drama category.

But Christopher Nolan's a marginally more interesting director than Tim Burton. And given the current mindset of the film industry and the Oscars, a Ledger win ( or at least nomination) would make perfect sense, no matter the quality of the performance.




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Postby Mister Tee » Mon Jul 07, 2008 9:28 am

And, Hollywood Reporter.

Film Review: The Dark Knight
Bottom Line: One nervy blend of top entertainment and thoughtful character study.

By Kirk Honeycutt
Jul 6, 2008

"The Dark Knight"

Opens: Friday, July 18 (Warner Bros.)

"The Dark Knight" is pure adrenaline. Returning director Christopher Nolan, having dispensed with his introspective, moody origin story, now puts the Caped Crusader through a decathlon of explosions, vehicle flips, hand-to-hand combat, midair rescues and pulse-pounding suspense.

Nolan is one of our smarter directors. He builds movies around ideas and characters, and "Dark Knight" is no exception. The ideas here are not new to the movie world of cops and criminal, but in the context of a comic book movie, they ring out with startling clarity. In other words, you expect moralistic underpinnings in a Martin Scorsese movie; in a Batman movie, they hit home with renewed vigor.

None of this artistic achievement denies the re-energized Warner Bros./DC Comics franchise its commercial muscle. Those bags of money in the movie's opening bank heist are nothing compared with the worldwide boxoffice haul "Dark Knight" will take from theaters. Repeat viewings are a certainty.

Repeat viewings might also be a necessity. That adrenaline rush comes at a cost: With the film's race-car pace, noise levels, throbbing music and density of stratagems, no one will follow all the plot points at first glance. Not that the story with its double crosses and ingenious plans isn't clear, but to enjoy the full glory of these urban battlefield strategies, multiple viewings are required.

"Dark Knight" revolves around notions of the yin and yang between Hero and Villain and of those gray areas where social conscience and individuality collide. Thinking logically, Nolan and his co-writer/brother Jonathan, working from a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, imagine that the heroism of Bruce Wayne's Batman (a returning and very buff Christian Bale) is a double-edged sword. (A theme the current "Hancock" toyed with but badly mucked up.) Cleaning up the streets of Gotham City turns the crime cartels into an even more dangerous beast that, once cornered, resorts to its own doomsday machine: the maniacally clever and criminally amoral Joker (the late Heath Ledger). And vigilante justice is nonetheless "justice" from outside the law. So who or what polices him?

Running for cover, the mob head (Eric Roberts) first takes refuge with a Hong Kong crime mogul (Chin Han). Then when Batman takes him down, he and his fellow mobsters hold their noses and in desperation settle on a man who knows no rules and plays everyone against one another. The Joker relishes the assignment precisely because of his "admiration" for the Dark Knight. In one key confrontation, the Joker purrs to Batman, like a bride to a groom, "You complete me." The criminal clown, his makeup designed to emphasize his facial deformations, sees in a man dressed up in a bat suit "a freak like me."


Seemingly on the side of good are the city's White Knight, District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart); his girlfriend/Assistant DA Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) -- and, if you recall from "Batman Begins," Bruce Wayne's longtime love -- and police Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). But loyalties are easily dislodged by threats or money. The Joker's true purpose, besides amusing himself trying to outwit Batman, is to see if he can "turn" the White Knight to his dark side.

One wishes Nolan had cast a different actor than Eckhart as this White Knight. Although very good at playing duplicitousness and irony -- witness "Thank You for Smoking" -- Eckhart never quite seems the crusader presumably intended. He will, of course, turn into Two-Face, but you sense this propensity too early.

The Joker, though, sees everyone as two-faced, even Batman, in his estimation. When confronted by pure evil -- and there is a kind of purity to the Joker's rule of no rules -- what can a vigilante do but violate his own moral code? The Joker means to push Batman beyond those limits.

With six major action sequences shot with Imax cameras, Nolan pushes his own cinematic envelope. If the action in "Batman Begins" received ho-hum reviews in some quarters, this won't happen with "Dark Knight." Batman flies around the skyscrapers of Gotham and Hong Kong, rips through any number of villains with his martial arts, tears through streets in his armor-clad, two-wheeled Bat-Pod and has more tech backup than James Bond. While all modern movie action is visual-effects driven, the stunt work in "Dark Knight" looks like it's happening on the streets and not in a computer.

Bale again brilliantly personifies all the deep traumas and misgivings of Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne. A bit of Hamlet is in this Batman. Ledger's performance is a beauty. His Joker has a slow cadence of speech, as if weighing words for maximum mischief and contempt. He moves languidly as if to savor his dark deeds, his head and body jerking at times from an overload of brain impulses.

Michael Caine's butler extraordinaire, Alfred, and Morgan Freeman's scientific genius, Lucius, have settled into their dutiful roles as oases of the expected when all else is unexpected. Gyllenhaal is not exactly wasted, but she can't do much with a tissue-thin heroine. Oldman as the all-too-human cop is a quiet triumph in superb character acting.

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Postby Mister Tee » Mon Jul 07, 2008 9:24 am

Variety joins the praise parade.

The Dark Knight
By JUSTIN CHANG

A Warner Bros. release, presented in association with Legendary Pictures, of a Syncopy production. Produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, Christopher Nolan. Executive producers, Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Kevin De La Noy, Thomas Tull. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay, Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan; story, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, based upon characters appearing in comicbooks published by DC Comics, "Batman" created by Bob Kane.

Bruce Wayne - Christian Bale
Joker - Heath Ledger
Harvey Dent - Aaron Eckhart
Alfred - Michael Caine
Rachel - Maggie Gyllenhaal
Gordon - Gary Oldman
Lucius Fox - Morgan Freeman

Having memorably explored the Caped Crusader's origins in "Batman Begins," director Christopher Nolan puts all of Gotham City under a microscope in "The Dark Knight," the enthralling second installment of his bold, bracing and altogether heroic reinvention of the iconic franchise. An ambitious, full-bodied crime epic of gratifying scope and moral complexity, this is seriously brainy pop entertainment that satisfies every expectation raised by its hit predecessor and then some. That should also hold true at the box office, with Heath Ledger's justly anticipated turn as the Joker adding to the must-see excitement surrounding the Warner Bros. release.

With the Bruce Wayne/Batman backstory firmly established, "The Dark Knight" fans out to take a broader perspective on Gotham City -- portrayed as a seething cauldron of interlocking power structures and criminal factions in the densely layered but remarkably fleet screenplay by helmer Nolan and brother Jonathan (stepping in for "Batman Begins'" David S. Goyer, who gets a story credit).

Using five strongly developed characters to anchor a drama with life-or-death implications for the entire metropolis, the Nolans have taken Bob Kane's comicbook template and crafted an anguished, eloquent meditation on ideas of justice and power, corruption and anarchy, and, of course, the need for heroes like Batman -- a question never in doubt for the viewer, but one posed rather often by the citizens of Gotham.

Indeed, with trusty Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, superbly restrained) and golden-boy District Attorney Harvey Dent (a cocksure Aaron Eckhart) successfully spearheading the city's crackdown on the mob, even Wayne himself (Christian Bale) figures his nights moonlighting as a leather-clad vigilante are numbered. The young billionaire hopes to hang up the Batsuit for good and renew his relationship with assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, an immediate improvement over Katie Holmes), who has taken up with Dent in the meantime.

But Batman's stature as a radical symbol of good has invited a more sinister criminal presence to Gotham City -- and, as seen in the crackerjack bank-robbery sequence that opens the pic, one who operates in terrifyingly unpredictable ways. Utterly indifferent to simple criminal motivations like greed, Ledger's maniacally murderous Joker is as pure an embodiment of irrational evil as any in modern movies. He's a pitiless psychopath who revels in chaos and fears neither pain nor death, a demonic prankster for whom all the world's a punchline.

After Ledger's death in January, his penultimate performance (with Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" still to come) will be viewed with both tremendous excitement and unavoidable sadness. It's a tribute to Ledger's indelible work that he makes the viewer entirely forget the actor behind the cracked white makeup and blood-red rictus grin, so complete and frightening is his immersion in the role. With all due respect to the enjoyable camp buffoonery of past Jokers like Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson, Ledger makes them look like -- well, clowns.

Pic shrewdly positions the Joker as the superhero-movie equivalent of a modern terrorist (one of several post-9/11 signifiers), who threatens to target Gotham civilians until Batman reveals his identity. Batman, Gordon and Dent uneasily join forces, but the Joker seems to have the upper hand at every step, even from a jail cell; the city, turning against the hero it once looked to for hope, seems more fractious, vulnerable and dangerous than ever.

Though more linear than “Memento” and “The Prestige” (two fiendishly intricate thrillers also co-scripted by the Nolans), “The Dark Knight” pivots with similar ingenuity on a breathless series of twists and turns, culminating in a dramatic shift for Eckhart's Dent. While this subplot reps the film’s weakest link, packing too much psychological motivation into too little screen time to be entirely credible, Eckhart vividly inhabits the character’s sad trajectory, underscoring the film’s point that even symbols of good can be all too easily tarnished.

From Wayne's playful debates with faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) about the public perception of Batman to the Joker's borderline-poetic musings on his own bottomless sadism, the characters almost seem to be carrying on a debate about the complicated realities of good vs. evil, and the heavy burden shouldered by those fighting for good. One of the few action filmmakers who's capable of satisfying audiences beyond the fanboy set, Nolan honors his serious themes to the end; he bravely closes the story with both Gotham City and the narrative in tatters, making this the rare sequel that genuinely deserves another.

Viewers who found "Batman Begins" too existentially weighty for its own good will be refreshed to know that "The Dark Knight" hits the ground running and rarely lets up over its swift 2½-hour running time. Nolan directs the action more confidently than he did the first time out, orchestrating all manner of vertiginous mid-air escapes and virtuosic highway setpieces (and unleashing Batman's latest ooh-ah contraption, the monster-truck-tire-equipped Bat-Pod). In a fresh innovation, six sequences were shot using Imax cameras, and will presumably look smashing in the giant-screen format (pic was reviewed from a 35mm print).

Though not as obsessively detailed as "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight" shares with that film a robust physicality and a commitment to taking violence seriously; a brief shot of bruises and scrapes on Bale's torso conveys as much impact as any of the film's brutal confrontations. Bale himself is less central figure than ensemble player, but the commandingly charismatic thesp continues to put his definitive stamp on the role, and also has devilish fun playing up Wayne's playboy persona.

Tech work is at the first entry's high standard, with many artists reprising their contributions here -- from Nathan Crowley's imposing production design, shown to flattering effect in Wally Pfister's gleaming widescreen compositions, to the propulsively moody score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Perhaps most impressive is Lee Smith's editing, confidently handling multiple lines of action and cutting for maximum impact.

Exteriors were lensed in Chicago aside from an early scenic detour to Hong Kong, which marks the first time a Batman film has ventured outside Gotham City.


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