Untimely Reviews: The Dark Knight

Every now and then, a movie comes along and sets an impossible to beat standard for an entire genre. “Star Wars” did it for sci-fi movies. “Titanic” did it for disaster movies. “The Dark Knight” does it for comic book movies. 

Two and a half hours never felt so good, which is ironic considering the subject matter. This is one gruesome movie. Even though actual murders are are mostly kept off-camera, they do mount up. Sometimes we see a body falling or a vehicle explode. Other times the bodies show up pre-murdered. A few murders are merely mentioned. We never really see the gory details and that restraint is to the film’s credit. Batman feels bad about every death, of course, and considers retiring. If I saw every facet of each death, I’d probably tell him to do the same thing.  Batman’s fights are non-lethal but visceral affairs and not over edited like the incoherent fights that plagued “Batman Begins”.

The story is non-linear but it has a central theme: the corruptibility of man. The psychopathic Joker sees everyone as corrupt and guiltlessly works to reveal that “truth”. “Batman” is the incorruptible hero, the Joker’s polar opposite. In the middle is everyone else. We cheer as some unexpectedly rise to the Joker’s challenge. We are aghast at others who are complicit in the Joker’s murderous schemes. The plot requires some suspension of disbelief. Some of the Joker’s plans require the invention of new technology on the part of Batman. Perhaps the Joker simply knows that he should never underestimate Batman. 

In terms of greatest comic book movies of all time, “The Dark Knight” has some serious competition that start with “S”: “Spiderman” and “Superman”. Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman” gives us an awkward teen superhero worthy of our empathy in a parable who’s moral is oft quoted by kids and their seniors. Richard Donner’s “Superman” gave us all the goodness and grit of a god-like hero with all the special effect wonders available in the late 1970s. “The Dark Knight” trumps them all. It gives us a Batman tortured by his conflict between his refusal to kill (his “one rule”) and the death that surrounds his fight against crime. It gives the Joker, played by Heath Ledger in the best superhero movie performance ever. All superhero films have a hero and a villain, sure, but “The Dark Knight” has an ace up its sleeve: an entire Gotham city’s worth of the most fleshed out supporting characters in comic movies history. 

Sometimes a movie’s length and wide cast is its detriment. The crime drama “Heat” is one of those movies that is about one hour and several quiet character development scenes past greatness. The devil really is in the details. “The Dark Knight” can deliver a great movie with mass appeal because it makes the hard choices, much like Batman himself. I give extra points to The Dark Knight for its willingness to kill off staple characters of the franchise. We also never find out the Joker’s real background: why a criminal genius chooses to be an anarchist. Other events are sped up, like the creation of villains and the development of new technology. So be it. Life is too short to watch every single backstory. And piqued curiosity bests strained patience. Making the hard decisions makes for a good movie. Also making the right decisions makes for an instant classic.

I give “The Dark Knight” 5 out of 5 bat-stars.

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