This post marks my 500th post on this site, and I gotta tell you, I can't think of a better topic.
I have just seen what I am sure will go down as the best comic book movie ever. In fact, The Dark Knight will probably become an iconic film along the lines of Star Wars.
It's not just the audience reaction that allows me to say this movie will have incredible staying power-- though the response has been overwhelmingly positive. No. I'd say it's the vision of director Christopher Nolan and the performance by Heath Ledger that will make The Dark Knight linger in our minds well beyond the closing credits.
Let me just start by saying, if you thought Batman Begins was a dark movie, you ain't seen nothin' yet. We've heard all along that Heath Ledger's Joker was menacing and disturbed, and the fact that Ledger's death has been rumored to have been linked to his emotional state after playing the role only strengthened that impression. I was still blown away by Ledger's ability to portray the Joker's sociopathic nature.
The story picks up not long after the end of Batman Begins. I really don't want to offer too many spoilers, but let's just say there hasn't been enough time to build a bat-cave yet. There has been time, however, for Batman to become a real presence in Gotham City. He has brought a bit of hope to the beleaguered city but also galvanized the Joker into bold action. He is both hailed as a hero and derided as a vigilante. Because Batman has brought a flicker of hope to Gotham, the city is all too ready when the idealistic, and tough, District Attorney Harvey Dent comes to town as Gotham's White Knight. Aaron Eckhart's performance deserves mention because he does a fabulous job of capturing the optimism of Harvey Dent as well as his descent into madness as Two-Face. Dent, in many ways, is the linchpin of the story between Batman and the Joker. Like Many people in Gotham, Bruce Wayne has become a true believer in Dent, despite the fact that Dent is romantically involved with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Wayne, believing that Gotham needs a hero they can see, supports Dent strongly and harbors a hope that Dent will be successful enough to see that Gotham won't need Batman anymore. But Wayne's hope turns out to be naive in the face of the Joker, whose main motivation seems to be chaos.
There isn't really any back-story to the Joker despite the fact that so much of the movie is given to his character. I mostly know the version of the story that claims the Joker fell into a vat of chemicals, leaving him scarred, white faced and with a permanent grin. But Nolan's Joker is a scarred psychopath who paints his face with the trademark red grin. He leers, licks his lips and walks with a hunched, stilted gait and offers more than one explanation for his maimed face; each more disturbing than the last. There are surprising moments of black humor and Ledger captures the hysterical laugh of the Joker with a spine tingling eeriness and an unpredictability that is chilling. This Joker isn't motivated by money but rather the urge to see other men give in to their basest instincts--especially Batman. He terrorizes the city of Gotham beyond what you would believe one man could be capable of doing. He's a man who would go laughing to his death just for the perversity of it. Nolan also increases the tenseness of the scenes featuring the Joker by sometimes taking out the music and all you hear is a sort of low-pitched buzz. Very effective.
The relationship between Batman and the Joker is a long one through comic book history, but sadly it's likely to be all too short in this movie franchise. Ledger nailed the character so well that it would be a travesty to attempt to put anyone in the role in the future. What could have been a melancholy experience for me was saved by the fact that I didn't see Heath Ledger while I was watching the film; only the Joker. There was a momentary sadness when, in one scene, the Joker says to Batman, "I could see us doing this forever." If only that were true.
Everyone has been talking about Ledger. There's has been blog buzz about an Academy Award nomination, though I don't know if that is more than wishful thinking. But the fact remains, The Dark Knight is Ledger's movie. I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating, that the best thing Nolan did for the Batman franchise was to hire a real actor in Christian Bale to portray Batman. He made the same wise decision when he hired Ledger.
If Christian Bale wasn't such a class act I'd feel sorry for him that Ledger's performance has been getting all the attention for this film. I have seen countless interviews and in each one Bale is asked to comment on Ledger's death, but it never seems to bother him. If you have seen any of Bale's other films, like 3:10 to Yuma or The Prestige, you'd know that Bale doesn't mind leaving the flashier performances to his fellow actors. He is known as a man who dedicates himself to the role and not to being the bigger name on the marquee. The Dark Knight is no different.
There really isn't anything I can find to say that is bad about this movie. There have been a few people who have tried, maybe one or two for the sake of notoriety. I even saw one review that claimed we should be ashamed of ourselves for gushing over this movie when people are still dying in Iraq. Worst segue ever. But I think Nolan hit all the right notes with this one. I liked Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of Rachel Dawes because I think the storyline demanded a level of maturity that Katie Holmes didn't bring to the role. As always, Michael Cain, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman were solid and believable.
But like the movie poster above shows, the triad of Batman, the Joker and Harvey Dent are what this movie is built upon and it's a heck of a solid foundation. The movie is a dark, violent, tense ride of a PG-13 movie and I can't recommend it enough.