The Dark Knight ★★★★★

While Batman Begins can be considered to be an extensive prologue, Christopher Nolan's dark, fatalistic vision of Batman's world really takes off with The Dark Knight. The movie's plot takes the essence of a typical Batman adventure where he fights his foes using his combat skills and custom-made high-tech gadgets, while the practiced crimes have been elevated to big modern day themes such as terrorism and large-scale company fraud.

The Dark Knight features a number of fabulously choreographed action sequences and spectacular stunts, but Nolan's scenario is really completed by effectively interweaved layers of psychological and philosophical depth, establishing a disturbingly dismal atmosphere, complemented by the movie's dark art direction, photography and soundtrack.

Like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight features an impressive cast of laurelled actors such as Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman. Oldman plays a remarkably reticent role as Lieutenant Gordon, contradictory to his former roles of intense villains, such as the memorable bad cop in the 1994 movie Leon.

Christian Bale does a great job creating a convincingly dark Batman, but he is also perfectly cast to play Batman's bored, rich yuppie alter ego Bruce Wayne, reminding of his great role as the psychotic yuppie in American Psycho. Other characters from Batman's world include Batman's butler Alfred, strikingly performed by the skilled acting veteran Michael Caine, and Harvey Dent, a very motivated District Attorney played by Aaron Eckhart.

But the surprise star who undeniably steals the show is definitely Heath Ledger's Joker. Ledger has brilliantly succeeded in creating a perfectly twisted, anomistic Joker, redefining the character as a highly intelligent, manipulative and frightening personality with unprecedented depth. The Joker's intense, charismatic performance grabs you by the throat and leaves an impression that keeps haunting you even after the movie has ended. Ledger impresses with numerous acting refinements, establishing a very convincing, unpredictably insane character, while at the same time instigating sympathy from the viewer by adding a right amount of humor and a sense of being lost to the Joker's personality.

Heath Ledger's performance is so memorable that every scene in The Dark Knight featuring his Joker made me feel regret that such a remarkable talent passed away at the mere age of 28, not long after the movie production was finished. It seems as if Ledger has literally put his soul into creating a magnificent Joker, exhausting the actor behind the makeup. May he rest in peace. To die young is to live forever, especially when you've left an impression of this extraordinary kind.

The Dark Knight is full of clever audiovisual touches that enhance the tension throughout the movie. I especially love that almost every time a scene nears featuring the Joker, a disquieting tone arises in the movie's audio track, effectively eliciting a feeling of disturbance when the Joker appears. I also love the Joker's makeup, believably reflecting how a disturbed person would apply makeup: smeary and chaotic, as opposed to the smooth, finished makeup of Jack Nicholson's Joker.

Also interesting about Christopher Nolan's Batman movies is the creative reinvention of certain facts from the traditional comic. For example, the Joker from the comic series turned insane because his skin and hair had become permanently discolored after swimming through chemical waste during an escape. Burton followed that convention, but Nolan's Joker is much more convincing because he is a real, twisted person who wears clown-like makeup to conceal his scars.

In contrast with The Dark Knight's fairly excessive violence, there is a remarkable absence of blood, effectively keeping the movie from becoming too explicit. I don't recall any blood flying around, even in scenes where people are shot at close range and during heavy fights. Of course this must have been a strategic decision to keep the movie suitable for a younger audience, but in my humble opinion it also keeps the movie digestible by not letting it lose the last bit of familiar comic unreality. Despite the grim nature of The Dark Knight's scenario, I guess displaying a lot of blood would have made the movie lose appeal.

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