Thursday, July 24, 2008

Holy picture show, Batman!

So I've had nearly 24 hours to digest "The Dark Knight," the new installment in the Batman franchise, now directed by Christopher Nolan.

Here's what I'd say: Brilliant. Amazing. Unbelievable. Stunning.

Even all that, somehow, seems inadequate.

This is a wonderful film. Mainly thanks to the late Heath Ledger, and his absolutely fantastic portrayal of the Joker. Let me get this out of the way quickly: if Ledger doesn't win an Academy Award, that process has become a bigger joke than the Heisman Trophy.

But, beyond that, "The Dark Knight" transcends the comic book genre, and becomes something quite good, something to savor, something to think about on cold, rainy winter days. It's the best -- by far -- of the "Batman" movies made to date, and I dare say is the best film ever adapted from a comic book.

Here's the thing: Ledger drowns himself so much into this role that you forget all about Heath Ledger. Ditto Christian Bale and Batman/Bruce Wayne. Back in '89, when Batmania swept the nation for the first time since the Adam West heyday of the mid-60s, I couldn't get it out of my head that I was watching Michael Keaton. You don't have that problem here.

In this outing, the Caped Crusader is overshadowed in the hearts of the Gotham faithful by the hot-shot new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Dent is promising to rid the city of the crooks and hoodlums who are overrunning the joint. Many, in fact, have come to view Batman as a nuisance, a vigilante, more of a hindrance than a help.

Dent has even stolen Batman's girl, Rachel Dawes, played here by a mighty fine Maggie Gyllenhaal, who takes over for the departed Katie Holmes. Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) is back, as is the great Michael Caine as Alfred the Butler and the peerless Morgan Freeman as Lucias Fox, the keeper of the Batcave.

And that's about as far as I'm going with plot summary. Ledger's Joker raises hell, has a great time in the process, and we love watching it. I didn't think it was possible to outshine Jack Nicholson, put Ledger makes you forget all about Jack's decent turn as the Clown Prince of Crime in Tim Burton's earlier flick. Eckhart's turn as Two Face won't haunt your dreams, but it's a nice surprise.

I can't say one bad thing about this movie. It doesn't fall apart in the middle or sink at the end, as so many of these things do (think about the last third of "Superman Returns.") It holds your attention despite a lengthy running time. It makes you forget all about what you have to do tomorrow, which, after all, is the point of a summer blockbuster.

Blockbuster this is, but let's not downgrade it by trying to lump the movie in with the usual crap that comes out when school's out. No, "The Dark Knight" is something to remember, something to put on the top shelf of the DVD closet. It's damn fine moviemaking, too. I can't wait for the next one.

That's enough, though, because my pitiful words can't do it justice. Just go see it. And, after that's done, go see it again.

It's that good, folks.

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