Fuck a duck!
Okay, gushing ends here, actual, rational commentary begins.
Holy sheep shit! Okay, just messing with you. Like I was about to say, even though you already know it, unless you're living in Zimbabwe or something and have found this page by staring into a crystal ball or some other bullshit, The Dark Knight is the long-awaited follow-up to Christopher Nolan's franchise re-launch Batman Begins. Although the world at large didn't really need a reason to forget about the Batman films that plagued the '90s, we got one anyway, a much less cartoony, somewhat more realistic envisioning of a superhero movie. With The Dark Knight, Nolan has taken it one step further: to make a stark, harsh-edged crime drama that just happens to have a superhero in it. We finally have a Batman film to end all Batman films. Really, literally. I don't see how you could even think of making another Batman film after this one. While I don't think it's necessary for a sequel to top the film before it, I don't think you can really make it be smaller scale, and equalling this one seems damn near impossible, without simply throwing in the towel and admitting that Batman 3, or whatever far more interesting title it might get slapped with, is simply not about superheroes at all anymore.
Some time after the events of the first film, things aren't looking so hot for the underworld of Gotham City. Arrests and convictions are on the rise, and new poster boy D.A. Harvey Dent is close to breaking the bank, so to speak, where the mob is concerned. Into this increasingly chaotic time strolls the Joker, a new player on the rise who sees the underworld's desperation for a quick resolution to the Batman problem as his own personal calling, a chance to achieve great things, if your only ambition is wanton destruction. By the way, Heath Ledger is dead; you may have heard this already. It's very sad and all, but shouldn't have any effect on your opinion. Any piece of work should be judged on its own merits, and based soley on what's on-screen, I must credit him for his performance, which is unlike any previous portrayal of Batman's most iconic villain. Far from the campy goofball of the '60s series or the ebullient mobster of Burton's 1989 version, Ledger's Joker is a psychopath, plain and...well, not necessarily simple. He is still funny, amusing amidst his casual brutality. There's no backstory this time, no real answer to who or why...he simply is the Joker from the beginning, as far as we know. Where he came from hardly makes a difference. His worldview of "no rules" is put in contrast to Batman's one rule of no killing, a tenuous thread he sees as the only real difference between the pair of them. Where Batman is condemmed as a vigilante, the Joker gets handed a far more sinister descriptor, one which comic book films have never really used before, to the best of my knowledge: terrorist. It's hardly inaccurate, but it does feel palpable when it's heard; suddenly, the fun and games of high-tech crimefighting are a thing of the past.
By the way, for the record, to all the other reviewers out there who feel compelled to bring it into the discussion, let me say this: I'm sick of everyone referencing 9/11. Terrorism was not invented on that day; people have done really nasty things to one another for our entire history. The fall of the World Trade Center simply inducted America into a club much of the rest of the world had long been members of, so that we could forever after have something upon which to blame and/or justify anything and everything. The Joker is a far closer reflection of the pretend issue we as a public have been fed by the government and mass media since that day, that of an enemy with no real goals or politics other than simple, callous disregard for human life. The real terror of a character such as this is the complete lack of control that can be exerted over him, aptly demonstrated in a scene where he merely laughs as Batman pounds him senseless, joyously crowing that "there is nothing you can threaten me with." The only ones who stand to lose are the decent citizens, be they Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent, or just the average Joe who's separated from the primal beast inside by their own morality. About two-thirds of the way through, something happens in the film which never, never happens in comic-book films, and which makes it impossible to look at the film in the same way afterwards. I can think of two previous movies right off that pretended to go down that road, only to wuss out on the commitment to actual consequences. The Dark Knight puts the stakes right in your face, without flinching, though many in the theater did exactly that.
The film is immense and sprawling in its epic scale, the first real, down-and-dirty crime drama to feature a man in a batsuit, and it's almost startling just how little it shares in tone with even its immediate predecessor. While definitely a remarkable achievement, I can't help but think that it might have gone a little too far. Kids like Batman, yet I can't really imagine taking any to this film, nor do I easily imagine kids not being confused, put off or just plain scared by what is clearly a movie for adults. It's a damn good movie, but it seems almost as though it might have worked better if divorced entirely from the genre and simply played outside the Batman universe, edged fully into our own, which would take only the tiniest push. This is not escapist entertainment. I find it hard to bitch at a film for being too successfully daring, but I can't help but think that anyone looking for a mere popcorn film will be somewhat overwhelmed. There are a couple of other bits I can bitch about, albeit mildly, with less ambiguity. There are a few moments dealing with the overall theme, that of the line between a decent person and a killer, which are handled with slightly less delicacy and subtlety than the film that contains them, and just as with Begins, there's the matter of dialogue being repeated or echoed to make a point, which feels very screenwriter 101 to me every time I hear this in any movie, and especially here, where one line is repeated scarcely minutes after being first uttered. I also can't help but feel like the emergence of Two-Face, though well handled and played, was one more plot point than a film already so dense could handle and still feel like it was a fully fleshed out story arc. It's not nearly so severe in this regard as the Venom story in Spiderman 3, but it leaves me wanting more, while simultaneously feeling like it couldn't possibly get away with going any longer.
Ultimately I have to give the film a definite recommedation. It may not be 100 percent of what I would want a Batman film to be, but it's certainly a majority of what I would want to see in a film, period. And would I see it again? Fuck yes.
-review by Matt Murray