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11 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A not so comic book..., July 18, 2008
This review is from: The Dark Knight [Theatrical Release] (Theatrical Release)
Do you want to read a comic book for two and a half hours? Perhaps that's a relevant question to ask prior to signing on board this film. Leaving the cinema, I felt strangely empty. Rather than providing ideas to further consider, or an imaginary world to inhabit, the film throws at you chaos and abstractions, which for a time linger like isolated frames from a comic book and then fade to leave you (or at least it left me) with nothing or very little.

The Joker is the most striking presence in the film. He is, in the best comic book tradition, an abstraction. As the embodiment of inhuman chaos, he approaches the god-like. He is not believable as a human character, however twisted, nor is he meant to be - rather he is a single human trait or inclination amplified and made animate, namely a chaotic drive towards cruelty and destruction, a trait that transcends the human and speaks of the forces of fate. Heath Ledger conjurs a fearful representation of this god - in make-up and costume he appears iconic; unaltered and unalterable by events, like the intricate and colourful outlines of the goddess Kali in Hindu myth, he materializes and rematerializes serially. The very fact that he is not portraying a human limits the boundaries of his performance - he is forced to play one note, louder or softer, bending the tone this way and that, but still bound to the one note; Ledger stays true to this, refusing to humanize or complicate his role, and this makes for a chilling display. The Joker is not a character so much as an abstract force.

In contrast to The Joker, Batman does have his human side. Once in costume he battles The Joker on almost equal terms, becoming an inhuman force himself, embodying something like a drive for justice, which balances on the edge of becoming a thirst for vengeance. Out of costume, Bruce Wayne is human, but only just - his wealth, his isolation, and his omnipotence rendering him a fantasy. Like a little boy all-powerful in his little childhood world, Bruce Wayne has a position in the alleged real world that insulates him from any interaction that could affect him. For practical purposes, he can be a solipsist. The one flaw in this bubble is his attraction to Rachel Dawes. The film deals uneasily with this love interest, for it is the only element in the fim which operates at an ordinary human level. At a thematic level, it is in danger of being overwhelmed and overshadowed by the grand forces of malevolence and justice that sweep through the film; at a visual level, how can a meaningful exchange of looks compete with swirling special effects. Ultimately, given the small window offered onto Bruce Wayne's humanity, it is hard for the audience to empathize - it is easier to sit back at a distance and watch him become Batman and go forth to do battle in the arena of the gods.

The battle is what you watch, cast in a dark arena, for most of the time. The visual effects are suitably spectacular. I'm not sure that they come as too much of a surprise - the look of the film, for all its competence, is familiar, its ancestry running through Blade Runner, Dark City, Alien, and the preceding Batman Begins. There is no innovation on the level of Sin City, a film which otherwise shares some common bonds. The tension is maintained, with little relief, for the entirety - it is a gripping ride.

Watching a contest for two and a half hours can be enthralling. The Dark Knight delivers on these terms. But having been enthralled, by this film, or by a boxing match, or a game of football, or a hackneyed crime thriller, or a tale of battle between Greek gods, I often feel drained and disappointed with how I've spent my time. As a dark entertainment, as a magic comic book that explodes into vivid life in your hands, this film succeeds; as great art, it fails, if indeed it ever held such a pretence.
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Location: Sydney, NSW Australia

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