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The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
I was no fan of Batman Begins, Nolanís tired, quasi-realistic do-over for the Batman franchise, but this new entry strikes me as a triumph of commercial filmmaking. Batman Begins was overstuffed with exposition, but this sequel takes off running, providing background while it delivers excitement. With a tone thatís in step with the darkest of the Dark Knight comic books, Nolan has crafted a film that would surely alienate viewers were it not so absorbing. He directs this less like an action movie than a horror film, sustaining both menace and intensity throughout the run time. Baleís Batman admittedly seems underdeveloped here, but thatís partially because his position in all of this mayhem is scarcely privileged. This Batman is merely one more force vying for power in a dystopian Gotham City.
The pessimism that defines The Dark Knight makes it feel very much like a film that addresses the real worldís sociopolitical zeitgeist. One of the better scenes in Batman Begins featured Bruce Wayne explaining how he designed the Batman motif specifically to inspire fear. In this film, that fear has run amok, and the consequences of using it as a weapon must be confronted. Batman here becomes a symbolic embodiment of evil (note how heís referred to with a dehumanizing ďthe BatmanĒ) thatís easier for the public to latch onto than the ugly, unspeakable evil thatís looming. Heís an agent of disinformation and still the cityís brightest hope. Itís a bold conception of the hero, and it snatches the film from the frivolous triumphs that usually define the superhero genre. Through Batmanís pyrrhic, compromised victory, weíre made aware of the complications of heroism in a world thatís morally askew.
There are some minor complaints that could be levied at The Dark Knight, to be sure. Gotham City feels more like a real place here than in past Batman films, but at the same time itís decidedly less atmospheric. Nolanís direction of his action scenes is still sloppy, at best. He never establishes space before blowing it up. A few scenes end abruptly, with confusing edits. Often emotional effect is lost, either because Nolan seemed to be trying to tighten the run time or trying to secure a PG-13 rating for what is a very violent spectacle. Baleís throaty Bat-Voice verges on self-parody. Despite all this, The Dark Knight is a supreme achievement in its genre. It doesnít transcend its comic book origins, but rather faithfully represents them, wholly unembarrassed to deliver its story on its own terms.