[We have had a great series of discussions on the Dark Knight, which I think is a movie with a lot to recommend it. But it was so universally praised by so many in and out of the comics community (it had a 94% metacritic rating) it fell to us to swing the pendulum the other way -- and perhaps we went to far. But I think it was a lot more than "hating" on a movie that everyone loved. Overpraise can be as much of a problem as under-praise, because in both we are in danger of loosing sight of the thing, and dulling our senses for the next thing.
Nevertheless, I think we could use something fully positive on the Dark Knight here, and James has written a very smart piece to that effect, one that nicely takes into account some of the things we said around here. The Hulk comparison seems particularly apt, as I have to admit to hating that movie, then turning around and seeing its brilliance years later.]
So it turns out it's impossible to overstate how good Heath Ledger is as The Joker. I know because I only just saw The Dark Knight, and if nearly a month's hyperbole isn't enough to oversell the performance, then nothing is.
But what of the movie itself? Geoff has said, and others have agreed, that by keeping the tension dialled up to fever pitch for the solid 2.5 hours, the movie ends up being exhausting. I think this is 100% accurate. I also loved the movie for it.
The Dark Knight in no way resembles the Summer Blockbuster it is supposed to be. It's too long, too intense, too upsetting. It reminds me of Ang Lee's Hulk in its ambition, refusing to conform to the expectations of a superhero comic adaptation. Where it beats Hulk however, is that I wasn't entertained only when the title character was onscreen.
It's a million miles away from the uncertain, try-to-please-everyone concessions of Batman Begins, which attempted an uncomfortable marriage of Year One's stripped-down realism and explosive action movie excess. This time out, I'm thoroughly convinced by Nolan's hyper-tech Batman, because now it's clear that Nolan is. Where Batman Begins seemed at pains to use technology to explain or justify the less plausible aspects of the comic book character, The Dark Knight is fully committed to the idea of a gadget-powered Batman. In hindsight, it's the ninja stuff that feels like the concession.
A lot of people have complained about the unexpected fourth (fifth, sixth, twenty-eighth?) act, but I found myself grateful they didn't cut the story in half: any other superhero franchise would've just ended the movie with the birth of Two-Face as its coda, teasing the next installment. Oh wait, I guess Spider-Man 3 doesn't, so we can be grateful that Harvey's treatment was infinitely superior to Venom's.
And then there's Gordon's speech, the hero Gotham deserves and the hero Gotham needs. My first thought was that this is the second time Nolan has ended a Batman film with a meaningless distinction (remember "I won't kill you but I don't have to save you"?). HCDuvall said he couldn't overlook the speech because it's given such import, and must therefore be Nolan's point of view. But it could just as easily be Gordon (and Batman) trying to impose meaning on a world where answers are cruelly lacking. There's a great discussion over at Neil's blog, about whether the Joker is truly a force for anarchy or whether he is in fact, another schemer, who's master plan was always to turn Dent. I have to agree with Omar Karindu and take the Joker at his word. He's so effective because he's a master of improvisation, and all the other players cannot fathom him. I read the hero deserved/needed rationalisation as an extension of this lack of understanding, and a pithy way to end the movie with its title, rather than a true statement of authorial intent.
We're told in both movies that the new breed of evil (that finds its apotheosis* in the Joker) is brought about by the Batman's existence, so he cannot be the answer to Gotham's problems. This irony is heightened in The Dark Knight when we see that Harvey Dent could have been the man to save Gotham, but is thwarted and corrupted by the new evil Batman brings with him. The film does offer a solution however; Gotham is saved, at least for the moment. But the Joker isn't defeated by Batman, or Dent - he falls when he realises that the people on the boats have not been corrupted, and refused to play his game. Maybe Nolan is telling us not to wait for Batman to save us, but to get on with saving ourselves.
(I mean, I don't know, I just really liked this movie. A!)
*Word of the blog?
[Editor's note: Yes, it is one of my favorite words. I got it from Bloom, of course, the master of the portentous].