From all my Dark Knight posts, you'd think I would've slapped a review up here the morning of Friday, July 19th. Rest assured, dear readers: I wanted to, but the thing is such an intense, complex epic that I felt I needed to see it more than once to register how I really felt about it. Turns out, I liked it (fancy that, huh?), and three weeks later, here are my thoughts...
First things first: in case you somehow haven't seen it (the movie's critical acclaim is topped only by its success at the box office, where it will likely go on to be the second or third highest grossing of all time), everything you've heard about Heath Ledger is true. He has truly created a film icon in his portrayal of the Joker; no small feat, considering how well known the character is - not to mention how skeptical initial reactions to the casting were. And yes, he makes Jack Nicholson's equally iconic turn seem a little silly, if only because this is a decidedly different take on the story than Tim Burton's Batman. As dark as Burton's Batman flicks were, especially when compared to Joel Schumacher's, the Dark Knight is pitch black ("Why so serious?" indeed).
If director Chris Nolan's goal with franchise revival Batman Begins was to ground the series in gritty reality, the natural fulfillment here of the Caped Crusader's biggest and best archvillain, then, is not only to be terrifying, but to to be terror itself. And the Dark Knight is about terrorism: about chaos and injustice, heroism and sacrifice. If that sounds big (and lengthy), it is, and at times, the film threatens to collapse under its own, nearly unrelentingly bleak, weight. But the Greek tragedy-vein story is so intricate and complete - and, ultimately, hopeful - that it manages to do what other recent superhero franchise entries haven't by keeping its focus sharp.
The picture deals with Gotham City's violent escalation in response to its good guy's masked vigilantism, as the closing scenes of Batman Begins promised. And, as with that film, the Dark Knight's greatest asset is how right it gets the character of Batman - from disappearing into the shadows, his cape gliding past skyscrapers, to the idea that Bruce Wayne is the real mask - and the role his symbol plays as a force for social good. Psychologically layered though it may be, the movie doesn't lose site of the fact that it's a superhero tale, and nearly every scene crackles with energy and adrenaline.
Non-fanboys may chuckle at just how seriously the movie (and the fanboys) takes its material, but the strength of characters like the Batman and the Joker is their ability to be generationally reshaped while essentially standing the test of time. Right now, the Dark Knight may not be the summer blockbuster the world deserves, but it's the one we need.