Where do I even begin a discussion of The Dark Knight? It is quite a daunting task really. When a movie is this good it's hard to collect your thoughts enough to get it onto paper. I think I know where to begin. Here goes nothing . . .
Anyone who really knows me is well aware that I am not a fan of the DC Universe. I am a Marvel guy to the core. The main reason I prefer Marvel over DC is because Marvel always seemes more realistic, more grounded in the real world. My dear friend Leeman accuraetly points out that DC is more pure escapism than Marvel. Not to mention, the DCU is filled with what I call "hoaky, old-timey characters." The one exception to the mass of lameness that is the DCU has always been Batman. I have always thought Batman and his particular corner of the DCU were pretty sweet. He is awesome for the very same reason I think Marvel is awesome. Bruce Wayne/Batman is a complex character. He is a realistic person internally that anyone that is interested in significant moral choices can relate to. Also, Batman is grounded in reality. He is a regular guy with no super powers. He fights crime with his wits, physical abilities, and vast wealth. His villains are, for the most part, psychotic criminals, not mad scientists gone awry. Batman is everything that the DCU is not.
Because of my affinity for Batman, I have always wanted to see a Batman movie done right. In 1989, Tim Burton's Batman was a radical departure from what had come before it in terms of comic book films. It was a step in the right direction but, alas, not quite there. It was the first of Tim Burton's many "gothic fairy-tales" that I can personally do without. I swear, if Johnny Depp hadn't been on 21 Jumpstreet at the time, Burton would have probably had him play Batman. Well, after Burton's original film it was all downhill. We all know how bad they eventually became.
Then Chris Nolan made Batman Begins. It had a ton of promise but was tied down by a lot of silly bullshit we have come to associate with comic book films. Too much CGI, an obligatory origin story, and a dumb-ass scheme on the part of the villain. Liam Neeson was a perfect Ra's al Ghul. But poisoning Gotham's water supply with some gas made by The Scarecrow? Give me a fucking break. The train sequence at the end was the typical CGI "big" ending for the comic book film bullshit. All of these problems are gone in The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight is a real crime movie with Batman. It's not full of stupid gadgets with the word "bat" attached to them. It has a real plot about a city trying to enforce law and order in the face of a criminal psychopath who follows no logic and seeks only to bring everyone down to his level. There have been comparisons to Michael Mann's Heat and I think that is fair. This isn't just a good comic book movie, it is a good movie. If Batman has always been a kind of comic book film noir, this movie finally achieves that. The Dark Knight is not just one action sequence after another. It is filled with fantastic character moments and believable internal conflicts. The Joker keeps redrawing the line and Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent all have to make choices about where they will stand in relation to it. Each man makes his own choices and has to face the consequences. The choices aren't easy and no one feels particularly good about what they have to do.
I know people are tired of this coming up but I believe it is relevant for this film. (Sorry Leeman) This may be the ultimate movie about the post 9/11 world. What choices do we make in the face of an enemy that has no sense of logic? Where do we draw our personal lines of right and wrong when our enemies have none? How do we keep our citizenry safe in a world of utter chaos? If we do redraw our lines of right and wrong, does the enemy win after all? These are the questions society is asking itself right now and they are the questions asked by The Dark Knight. The film poses these moral dillemmas without the heavy-handed obviousness of the modern Battlestar Galactica. It's there if you want to see it but it's not rubbed in your face. The difference is truly good writing versus faux good writing.
Batman kicks ass in this film and Heath Ledger is every bit as good as people say he is. He has contributed the definitive portrayal of The Joker. This is not some idiot phoning-in his standard schtick while dancing to shitty Prince tunes. If no one told you this was Heath Ledger, you'd have no idea who this was. He transforms himself into the character. The other real stand-out is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. He exudes a likeability and pathos more than anyone else in the film. I'll chime in with the notion that he'd make a great Captain America. Oh, and good riddence Katie Holmes! She can stick with fighting the evil forces of Xenu. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the perfect Rachel Dawes.
Believe it or not, the Tim Burton film came out 19 years ago. It has taken that long to finally see a fully realized Batman film. We owe Chris Nolan a huge debt of thanks for giving us the movie we never actually thought could exist.
The Dark Knight is the gold standard of comic books films. Future directors better step up their game after this.