The Dark Knight (Batman)
It's no laughing matter.
"Dark" is the key word in describing the tone of life in Gotham City during this second Batman adventure under the direction of Christopher Nolan and his writing partner and brother, Jonathan. (Their first was Batman Begins in 2005).
The ever-increasing squeeze The Dark Knight (played by Christian Bale) has on criminals in this city that bleeds corruption has created an opening for a new crime boss. Seizing the opportunity, The Joker (Heath Ledger), a ruthless fiend whose methods border on the insane, secures his position over the thugs and then plots to get his hands on Batman. To convince the crime fighter to give up his knight job, the notorious clown-faced villain begins to paint Batman into a corner by killing police and, eventually, innocent citizens.
Of course, our hero isn't likely to retire anytime soon, however his predicament is worsened by already frequent media discussions regarding his use of illegal techniques to round up Gotham's undesirables. Fortunately, he has on his side the extremely popular District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and Chief Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). While their appreciation of his work offers some security, a romantic triangle involving Bruce Wayne's (Batman's true identity) former girlfriend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her recent affection for the DA is putting pressure on the two men's working relationship. And The Joker, who is no fool, is quick to take this chance to place a wedge between the city's law enforcers.
Just as in Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne's desire to clean up the streets of his dank metropolis is just as strong. But this time he is meeting with far more resistance and complex circumstances, making the delineation between good and evil much more blurred. Is Batman really nothing more than a vigilante who feels free to literally fly above the law? Or are his techniques truly helpful? Yet one fact remains without question: no matter how hard the protagonist tries, there is always a never-ending supply of corruption and misery. Whether this depiction is truth or fiction, parents need to be aware this movie portrays some heavy content that transcends beyond other action figure flicks.
Definitely the film's greatest source of "evil" is also its greatest triumph. Ledger's representation of The Joker is nothing short of disturbing, giving this late actor a memorable exit from the screen. Compared to Jack Nicholson's version from 1989, Ledger clearly takes the character from comic misfit to what really amounts to a demented terrorist. Like many other movies exploiting our security scared society, this Joker uses body bombs, videotapes sent to television newsrooms portraying demeaning and humiliating acts, and mass rampage against civilians, in order to stake his claim as ruler of all things bad.
Artistically, The Dark Knight is on a level above most of the other superhero stories parading through theaters. It's pacing is precise -- an amazing achievement for a film running two-and-a-half hours -- and it leaves you feeling scared and vulnerable, again signs that the creators have done an effective job. However, the lessons and morals in this film are far more subtle and deep, and the violence is harsh with dozens of on-screen shootings, brutal physical attacks, jump scenes, and innocent bystanders in peril. Women, in particular, appear to be pawns in this society that operates under the complete rule of men.
Parents would be well advised to see the movie prior to taking older family members, or await the home video release, which will allow for better control over the viewing experience. Either way, be sure to make time afterwards to discuss the motivations and consequences behind the characters and their actions -- or you too may be in for along and sleepless dark night.