The Fraze Vs. The Dark Knight

Breathless. That’s the only way to describe my initial reaction to “The Dark Knight.” For the years of waiting, the months of staring at pictures and watching theatrical trailers frame-by-frame, I was still completely blown away by this film. From Heath Ledger’s tragic death and all the insurmountable hype surrounding this film, I was still left shaken and staggered by “The Dark Knight.”

At the finish of Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film, “Batman Begins,” Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman (Christian Bale) meet on a Gotham rooftop to discuss their next move in purging the city of crime and corruption.

“Now, take this guy,” says Gordon, who presents Batman with a clear plastic evidence bag containing what appears to be a single playing card. “Armed robbery, double homicide. Got a taste for theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card.”

Batman turns the playing card over to reveal a Joker. Our fearless Dark Knight examines it a moment and simply replies, “I’ll look into it.”

The card belongs to Batman’s nemesis, the Joker (Heath Ledger). An agent of chaos, the Joker is an anarchist in the vein of Sid Vicious, with a peculiar fashion sense. His green hair, white clown makeup and daring purple suit are a direct reflection of the escalation Gordon and Batman spoke of in “Batman Begins.”

Some men just want to watch the world burn, and nothing could be more true for the Joker, who rips through Gotham City with no master plan or overall goal – except to upset order and introduce a little mayhem to the system.

Since he first appeared in Batman #1 in 1940, the Joker has gone through several interpretations. Some people might be familiar with Caesar Romero’s portrayal of the clown prince of crime in the ‘60s “Batman” television series, where he was a goofy trickster of little to no real threat.

Then, of course, there’s Jack Nicholson’s performance in Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman.” Nicholson’s interpretation took the fun loving trickster of ‘60s camp and gave it a more murderous edge – but even still the Joker’s role was more a comical jester than anything.

What you might not know is that when writer Bill Finger and Batman creator Bob Kane invented the Joker, he was a violent sociopath who murdered people and committed crimes for his own amusement – not quite Adam West material, I guess.

That Joker is very much alive in “The Dark Knight,” thanks in great part by the brilliant performance of Heath Ledger, who died shortly after the film’s completion. You’ve already heard how chilling and fearless Ledger’s performance is, and all I can really say is that everything you’ve heard is right. Ledger’s Joker is one of the best movie villains of all-time. How fitting that the greatest foe to ever grace comic book panels has found his cinematic counterpart. The Joker is a sadistic, depraved liar with a lust for lawlessness and Ledger gives the performance of his, sadly short, career. No one will ever be able to top or even duplicate Ledger’s role – it’s that awing.

To combat the Joker, Batman and Gordon gain a powerful ally in District Attorney Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart (“Thank You For Smoking”). Dent is a new political force sweeping through the city, Gotham’s own “white knight,” vowing to clean up the streets and put corruption behind bars. This newly formed trio has their work cut out for them, as every mobster in Gotham is out to get them, and the Joker’s crimes grow more and more deadly by the minute.

In the comics, Harvey Dent eventually becomes one of Batman’s greatest foes, the conflicted coin-flipping Two-Face. Where as the Joker is the embodiment of pure chaos and disorder, Two-Face is an example of a good guy gone bad. Harvey knows the difference between good and evil, but is so conflicted by his duel personas that his choices are left to a coin flip.

In “The Dark Knight,” Eckhart takes the considerable challenge of playing such a complex, nuanced character and performs exceptionally. As the District Attornery, Dent is a pure and just force to be reckoned with. Batman sees Dent as the heir to his throne – someone to take up his mantle. Wayne believes that there will be a day when Gotham no longer needs Batman.

Among the long list of memorable performances in “The Dark Knight,” Eckhart provides his best on-screen performance to date. He’s a guy that you can really get behind – an equal to Batman – and when he is victimized by the city he tried to save, it’s truly heartbreaking. If I had my way, Eckhart and Ledger would both get Best Supporting Actor nominations.

Another new face to Nolan’s Batman franchise is Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Stranger Than Fiction”) who takes over for Katie Holmes in the role of Rachel Dawes. Gyllenhaal is a considerable upgrade from Holmes and fits nicely into a love triangle between Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne.

As for the returning cast, there’s Michael Caine (“Children of Men”) as Alfred Pennyworth, the fatherly butler of Wayne Manor. Alfred doesn’t just wait on Bruce hand and foot, he guides him along and provides invaluable wisdom – and when he must, deliver the honest truth.

Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, Batman’s gadget guru who is now the CEO of Wayne Enterprises. Lucius provides our caped crusader with all the tools of the trade, and there are plenty of new gadgets and gear to gape at in “The Dark Knight.”

And as previously mentioned, the magnificent Gary Oldman returns as Lt. James Gordon – one of the few good cops in Gotham who believes in Batman’s cause, and aids him in putting criminals behind bars.

As he has for the past 60 years, the joker pushes Batman to his limits. And while Bruce Wayne tells himself, “Batman has no limits,” he does have one rule – he won’t kill. So what happens when this brooding, incorruptible figure faces a killer without rules? As the joker puts it best, it’s what that happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object.

“The Dark Knight,” is one of the best films of the year. I’m not going to sit around and say, “Oh it’s the best ‘Batman’ movie,” or “The best comic book movie ever” because frankly that’s just insulting. This film deserves to be taken seriously, which is why it succeds in the first place – because Christopher Nolan and all parties involved set out to make a great dramatic film, not just some simple superhero flick.

Simply put, “The Dark Knight” is the reason I love movies. It’s a haunting, poetic experience that will stick with you long after viewing. Its multiple layers, each so deep with subtle nuance, may completely absorb you into the universe DC Comics and Christopher Nolan have created.