Though bursting with rootin-tootin chases and fireworks, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is an amoral bummer. If there is something funny or gee-whizzy about dozens of honest, working policemen getting murdered, or a courageous DA being barbecued, we must have missed the memo.
That said, “The Dark Knight” is a remarkable movie. As was the case with the first “Batman” (1989), the character of The Joker steals every scene from the caped crusader. Jack Nicholson acted circles around Michael Keaton in ’89 and Heath Ledger maintains the tradition in “The Dark Knight.”
So much so, in fact, that the Academy should have put Ledger up for Best Actor, not Best Supporting Actor (which he won, posthumously). Ledger’s manic Joker has an operatic range. Like the more imaginative bad guys (again, Nicholson comes to mind), he enjoys being wicked.
“Dark Knight” feels like one long, dark night. The endless chase scenes occur long after lights-out in Gotham City, and the whole mood is sullen and sad. The Batman franchise has no relation whatever to the goofy fun of the 1960s’ TV series or the grotesque fun of the 1989 blockbuster.
“Batman Begins” (2005) Nolan’s first stab at a Batman revival, was similarly depressing and postheroic, with touches of faux Zen. Like last summer’s “Hancock,” in which the super hero is a wino, we are instructed to give up hope and to look elsewhere — or nowhere — for inspiration. The alleged star of both the new Batmans, Christian Bale, is appropriately morose. In costume, he channels Clint Eastwood’s growl.
Heath Ledger’s ghastly, giggly Joker, however, is his own creation and the sole redeeming quality of this movie. His death last January at 28 from an accidental overdose is the more obviously tragic when you see how far beyond pretty boy he had come.