The Dark Knight Review: W-O-W.

(Advanced Screening for Media)

Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” isn’t merely a study in the psychology of a nearly 70-year-old character tailored to the familiar; instead audiences will be met with an accessible tale of deep and painful truths, a unique vision of hope in the face of seemingly aimless villainy, a new staple alongside the greatest of tragedies — in any medium.

Picking up right where 2005’s “Batman Begins” left off, Gotham City is rebuilding itself in the wake of criminal warfare, infrastructural corruption and weakened, nearly vanquished public spirits. Right off the bat (no pun intended), the film begins to make good on the promise of Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) at the end of the first film — escalation — as a new criminal mastermind has begun to systematically relieve the mob of its accrued earnings, bank by bank, and with a taste for theatricality.

The Joker (Heath Ledger) is revealed in the film’s opening scene (unveiled in December as an IMAX “prequel” with prints of “I Am Legend”) as a methodical, macabre merchant of chaos, yes, but with an ingenious sort of order and preparation that seems to fly in the face of his later insistence on a subscription to bedlam. But his own hypocrisies aren’t on the agenda, as he later exhibits to dramatic effect.

Gotham itself has been provided a sliver of hope amongst the former and upcoming strife of the city in the form of district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a “white knight” grinding away at the underbelly of the city and systematically cleansing the streets. The vigilantism of the outlaw Batman is on the table as well, but Dent is smart enough to understand that Gotham is responsible for the Dark Knight’s existence, having sat silent as the city slowly rotted from within.

Dent’s romantic sights have been set on Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, in a role originated by Katie Holmes) as the two lawyers form a power couple of sorts. But Rachel made a promise long ago to Bruce Wayne that when the city finally has no need for the Batman, she would be ready to make the leap in the billionaire playboy’s arms. Or has she moved on?

In Dent, Wayne sees that spark of hope that soon — perhaps sooner than he had originally anticipated — he would be able to hang up this monster forged in the fires of a different Gotham and live a normal existence. And therein lie the seeds of heartbreaking disappointment and hard realities awaiting the characters of The Dark Knight.

As the Joker moves through the narrative, exposing the flaws of humanity and demanding the dismantling of the Batman, he eventually locks into a crash course with that inevitable but still gut-wrenching conclusion. He is the impetus for the discouragement and broken optimism of a city on the mend. But perhaps his most thorough calculations didn’t provide for the continually unanticipated vibrancy of the human spirit.

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