Wow, it has been a while since I've been here. Let me clean up the cobwebs at the site a moment before I start.
OK, that's better. I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight this past weekend. For both logistical reasons (nearest theater is 45 miles away) and economic reasons (I'm broke), I only see about one movie a year these days. $11 for popcorn and a soda??? Yeesh. This movie, though, was worth seeing on the big screen.
Fair warning: this post doesn't just have spoilers, it pretty much spells out the whole movie, so you probably don't want to read any further if you haven't seen it yet.
Now that that's out of the way, the first thing that caught my eye was the setting. Gotham has always, always been identified as NYC. This time, they not only filmed in Chicago, they made it pretty obvious that is where they are. The city is much more open and bright than any other serious version of Gotham of which I'm aware. This was somewhat jarring to me. I'm accustomed to the claustrophobic, dark feel of Gotham, which matches Batman well. I think that the purpose was to reflect some of the bright hope for the city that is a key theme of the movie, and it serves that end well, but it took some getting used to.
Bale turned in another fine performance in this one. Of course, the test to me is never what an actor does in the Batman costume, since a deep voice and strong chin will pretty much get an actor through on that score. It is his acting as Bruce Wayne that makes him so good in this role. Bale (and the writers, of course) flesh out a believable human being who yearns for the same things we do.
Ledger's Joker was all that it was rumored to be. This incarnation was the darkest I've seen, and that includes the original comics and "graphic novels." [An aside: why did anyone feel the need to rename comics "graphic novels?" There is nothing wrong with the term comics.] The writers gave him some great lines, but it is his completely anarchic nature that grabs the viewer's attention. From the time he kills off his own henchmen in the middle of the initial bank heist, it is clear that this really is a man who "just wants to watch the world burn," to steal Alfred's best line. As much as I loved Nicholson's Joker, this was simply better. I think it was a good decision not to give Joker a backstory in this one, because it fed the theme of randomness and chaos for him to arrive simply out of nowhere. It's a damned shame about Ledger, because they set up the next movie very nicely for another confrontation between Joker and Batman.
Easily the happiest surprise for me was how perfectly the actor and director captured the essence of Two Face/Harvey Dent. Two Face is absolutely my favorite villain in the Batman universe, but his character is very difficult to capture. I like Tommy Lee Jones, but someone should have told him (and the director) that Two Face is NOT just another Joker. Two Face is the ultimate fatalist, a man who has concluded that random chance is the only justice in this world. He also has a sense of proportionality, as evidenced by his decision to only kill one member of Gordon's family. A life for a life. As the movie developed, I could see the fatal flaw in Dent that would be exploited by Joker: Dent really had led a charmed life, without having to overcome any disasters. It is easy for such a man to be moralistic and a stickler for the rules. When his world came crashing down, Dent had plausible reason to conclude that it was as much the fault of the 'good guys' as it was of the Joker. I really hope that Two Face will be the primary villain in the next installment, but it sure looked like they'd killed him off at the end of the movie. Of course, Gordon's eulogy could have been a cover if they've whisked Dent off to an asylum, but that's weak. Is it ironic that they killed off one villain, but the actor portraying the other one died?
As much as I loved the movie (and it is VERY rare that I can sit through a 2 1/2 hour movie without leaving even once), it wasn't perfect by any means. The biggest weakest to me was at the end, when Gordon's speech basically makes Batman into Jesus, carrying the sins of Gotham and turning him into "The Fugitive." Completely unnecessary and rather annoying. Also, the actors frequently spoke over each other and the musical score, making some parts unintelligible to me. Part of that may be my own hearing problems, but it's still irritating. Finally, they rather wasted Scarecrow on a cameo appearance and should have either edited that part out or enlarged his role in the movie. Finally, there were a couple of glaringly obvious plot holes. Joker couldn't have been that prescient about everything, such as planning to be captured. Also, Dent wasn't in the hospital long enough for someone with injuries that severe.
Still, these are fairly minor quibbles. In all, that is exactly what a hero movie ought to be.