Friday, July 18

The Dark Knight

I watched the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight, on the night it opened here in Manila. What can I say? The sequel to Batman Begins has been hyped astronomically in the months building up to its arrival... and man... it actually lives up to the hype. More detective story and thriller than capes and fisticuffs, this latest Batman adaptation to film kicks all the versions that came before in the nuts.

The cast is in that zone of familiarity and comfort in their roles- Christian Bale manages to have a little more humor in his role as Gotham's resident billionaire and vigilante, with his loyal Alfred (Michael Caine) at this side. Acting chameleon Gary Oldman vanishes once more into soon-to-be-Commissioner Jim Gordon. Finally, Morgan Freeman is back in a more noble role after his stint in Wanted. Taking over the role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes is Maggie Gyllenhaal... certainly she doesn't have the star power or recognition of Mrs. Tom Cruise, but she does what she can with the role, which is pivotal to the film. Also new to the franchise is Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent, Gotham's new D.A. and 'white knight', a man so good and true that you know there's something cooking on the other side of the coin. I was even pleasantly surprised to see Scarecrow back, albeit briefly- and he was unmasked so you know it's still Cillian Murphy and not just some substitute.

But of course, we all know who's the real focus of The Dark Knight's beating black heart.

Heath Ledger's Joker is, easily, the most disturbing, formidable, scary and fascinating villain yet seen in a superhero film. You just can't take your eyes off this guy for a second, for all the right reasons. Among them, that quaking feeling of dread that he's about to do something really horrifying yet fascinating. In the deadly game of chess that he plays in Gotham, he always seems one step ahead. Can the Batman really stop this maniac? You're not really sure he can. And that's where the film succeeds- keeping you in that state of fear and tension for most of the 2 1/2 hours it runs. Ledger invested a lot in this role, and it may easily become his legacy for years to come.

That said, it's not the easiest film to follow- the action is reminiscent of the first film in the franchise; fight scenes are dizzying to watch, but stunts with vehicles and explosions are top notch. Lots of fireworks, lots of firepower and things go boom. People, good people and bad, die. It's far darker and more disturbing than any previous Batman, and so much braver. It takes that gutsy step to call forth imagery and fear of terrorism, much more so realistically that it ever was in the first film. This is indeed the Batman from the comics, The Dark Knight indeed.

However, when things seem darkest, the relief is just that more satisfying. As much and as hard evil may beat down the human spirit, somehow the good in people ultimately wins through. A jaded viewer may say, that's not entirely realistic. But damn it, this is a superhero flick still, after all.

This is the year of the Comic Book Movie, and this is the crown jewel. Watch this in theaters, and get ready to be blown away.

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