The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight has received near-universal praise from critics and fans alike. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating is well over 90%. It currently hold the #1 spot on IMDb's Top 250. Amidst the massive praise, I'm here to tell you...that everyone is right, even if they don't know why.

The Dark Knight picks up not long after Batman Begins ended, with Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne living in high society by day and his Batman fighting crime at night. The Gotham City public is still unsure of Batman's intentions, considering him equal parts threat and savior. Into this gray area shoots The Joker, the best screen incarnation of evil I have ever seen.

The late Heath Ledger turns in a performance worth of all accolades he has received, completely disappearing into the twisted role. The makeup aids in the transformation, but more impressive is Ledger's intentional body language, which is utterly creepy in its remarkable precision. The Joker is not the extravagantly villainous psychopath most often seen in comic book movies. Instead he is the worst sort of enemy, measured and deliberate, every bit the equal of any superhero. Alfred sums up what makes Joker unique, pointing out that he has no defined agenda, but "just wants to watch the world burn." Chaos is Joker's goal, making him the best film equivalent of the Devil that I have ever seen. Ledger's death undeniably overlays his jaw-dropping performance with an layer of requiem that evokes an inimitable combination of ache and awe, but regardless of the real-life influences, he owns the role and the screen every second he is seen.

In addition to Ledger, the other not-to-be-overlooked actors are far better than the latest young stars often crammed into comic book movies. Bale's fierce intensity matches Ledger's show-stopping performance with a range of emotions so effective that his turn will likely be underappreciated. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a brilliant choice as Rachel Dawes, displaying more acting chops in her first thirty seconds on screen than Katie Holmes did in two hours of the prequel. What Gyllenhaal may lack in traditional beauty she more than makes up for with her carriage and attitude. As the never-quite-trustworthy district attorney Harvey Dent, Aaron Eckhart brings the precise amount of slickness, leaving the viewer riding shotgun with Batman, appropriately unsure of Dent's motive and actions. Add in Gary Oldman and Michael Caine, who are both again perfect in their roles as the world-weary cop and the eye-twinkling butler, and the result is a cast perfect for this brooding drama.

Some have labeled this the best comic book movie ever. I will call it the best such comic book adaptation (perhaps not movie), but TDK transcends superhero flicks, morphing into a massive crime drama that is more Heat than Spider-man. TDK elevates the genre with masterful filmmaking and acting. The story is an impressively choreographed roller coaster that scarcely relents over two and a half hours. If the film has a weakness, it might be the flawless complexity of the plot, but given the perfection of the characters, that potential issue is easily overlooked.

Gotham City is once again a bleak world in which hope seems nearly lost, a dark place both figuratively and literally. Although a cloak of evil threatens to overwhelm both the city and the viewer, the blackness is shattered by two shafts of light. One inspiration is of course Batman, who parallels Joker's diabolical plots with his drive to save an ignorant people from their bleak situation. Batman's determination and actions subtly call to mind a greater savior from 2,000 years ago (thanks to Ben N. for that one). The other stems from from a surprising late decision made by endangered Gothamites. These two sparks of optimism provide a dawn to the dark night that dominates the film.

On top of TDK's quality and the extra layer that Heath Ledger's death adds to the proceedings, I aver that that these redeeming qualities are a strong reason for the film's immense popularity. Without a small but vital sense of optimism, The Dark Knight might veer down a depressing trail blazed by movies like Sin City. Instead, the threads of good woven into the fabric of the story leave a pleasant aftertaste and elevate TDK to a level never before reached by comic book movies. Like classics such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Dark Knight possesses an admirable soul that stirs emotions in ways that ordinary films can not.

A perfect confluence of events have made The Dark Knight a phenomenon, more cinematic experience than mere movie. But had the film itself not matched the massive hype, even the intriguing subplots of anticipation and reality could not have salvaged it from plunging into the abyss of disappointment. Instead, the high production value, equally impressive performances, and positive spirit amplify the expectations into an all-encompassing appreciation for what may be the best film of the year.

Bottom Line: 10 of 10, equal parts quality and entertainment. Movies don't get much better than this.

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