Arguably the most anticipated movie of 2008, “The Dark Knight” is the next installment in the Batman “re-boot” that started with 2005’s “Batman Begins.” After the last set of four movies descended into campy ridiculousness (Mr. Freeze, anyone?), “Begins” brought Batman back to his roots with an excellent origin story that brought some great actors, and a great story, back to the franchise.
This is a dark movie, much in the same vein as “Empire Strikes Back” or “Temple of Doom,” where we have the characters established, but the authors/producers feel like it’s time to hurt them a bit. Bruce Wayne is settling into his role at Wayne Enterprises, the criminals are on the run, due in part to efforts by Batman, but also because of Lieutenant Gordon and the new D.A. Harvey Dent. Wayne sees Dent as the “bright light” Gotham needs, as someone that can bring justice and order to the streets without resorting to vigilantism and the wearing of a mask. The entry of the Joker, however, changes things in that he seeks to bring as much chaos to this “new order” as possible. He views the Batman as his equal, as the only person that can fully compliment his destructive capabilities. The Joker even says “you complete me” to Batman during an exchange later on in the film.
I try not to use the word lightly, as it tends to be over-used in movie and video game reviews, but I would describe “The Dark Knight” as a “visceral” experience. I only say this because, unlike many other superhero movies out there, I think I felt the sheer terror of what the Joker represents, and the pain that the protagonist (and the other characters, for that matter) experienced as the movie goes on.
The movie is complete with its usual special effect goodness, is top-rate acting from its strong cast, and a very, very intricate plot-line that ties things up very nicely throughout. There are things that occur earlier in the film that lead on to surprises later on, allowing for a story that, while 155 min. long, keeps you engaged throughout as you want to see what finally happens in the end.
My analysis ends with “The Dark Knight’s” place in the annals of superhero movies. This year alone, another strong movie, “Iron Man,” came out and blew audiences and critics away. Certainly, there are two other franchises (“Spider-man” and “X-men“) where, by most accounts, the second movie in the franchise is where their respective trilogies peaked. I think, in my opinion, the jump in quality between “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” exceeds that which we saw in “X-men” or “Spider-man.” Both of those two series had much stronger stories than their previous outings, and the characters were established allowing for much more expansive themes to hit upon, but “The Dark Knight” succeeds where those two series didn’t by the “visceral” experience you feel while watching it. You really get the sense of pain that the main characters experience through the investment you have in them. There is genuine surprise in the events that unfold throughout the film, making you want more and more.
It could very well be the greatest superhero movie of all time. Not just because it’s Batman, and certainly not just because Heath Ledger provided his last, great performance. But because it’s just a damned fine movie.