The Dark Knight has officially hit theaters, and, unlike other comic-based movies--which are generally dismissed by film snobs--critics and fans alike seem to universally recognize that movie is about more than a man in a cape and cowl. It's as enthralling and morally complex as any film you'll see this year and improves upon 2005's monumental triumph, Batman Begins.
Speaking of, though we loved the prequel to Dark Knight and appreciated that the film took the time to establish Bruce Wayne as a character before his transformation into a masked vigilante, it honestly felt a little slow in the beginning. Not this time around. From the opening scene to the end of the picture, the plot unfolds at a brain-smashing pace, and we found ourselves almost caught off guard by the film's end. It seemed impossible that two and a half hours could go by so fast. Films like X-Men and Spider-Man were great, but had us checking our watch a time or two, where Nolan's epic held us captive the entire time.
That is in no small part due to the fantastic acting of the ensemble cast, which brought their A-game across the board. Christian Bale has the pathos of a man caught between his unswerving dedication to ridding Gotham of crime and his love of Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes, played this time around by the talented Maggie Gyllenhaal (taking over for Katie Holmes). Gyllenhaal does a wonderful job making the love triangle between her character, Bruce Wayne and Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent compelling instead of trite. On the subject of Harvey Dent, Eckhart inhabits the smart and unwavering District Attorney fully as well as the wrath-filled avenger he later becomes (Dent is not really a villain as he is in the comics and animated series).
Gary Oldman once again lights up the screen as Lt. James Gordon, who has the daunting task of fighting mobsters and bringing down the Joker while dealing with a police department that's nearly as corrupt as it was in the first film. As far as Michael Caine (Alfred) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) are concerned, have you ever seen either of them give a performance that was anything short of spectacular?
However, as you've probably heard, the film belongs to Heath Ledger, playing Batman's ultimate nemesis, The Joker. How would we describe this incarnation of the Clown Prince of Crime? Well, he is not an over-the-top punster, nor is he a flamboyant loon. He is perhaps the most twisted sociopath ever to grace celluloid. Sadly, there are those among us who live to inflict suffering. They haven't lost touch with reality; their actions are not beyond their control. They are simply evil, and that, behind the paint, at the very core, is what the Joker is, and Ledger's mostly subtle delivery conveys that creeping menace to the audience perfectly.
The John Wayne Gacey face paint was the right choice; The Joker is what Gacey would have been had he grander ambitions. Ledger makes the silver screen harlequin truly terrifying (not to mention totally hilarious in a few places, the most entertaining of which occurs during the scene at the Gotham General hospital, but we won't spoil it for you).
Christopher Nolan and David Goyer have created the seminal comic to film adaptation and raised the bar yet again for films of this kind. Without a doubt, despite The Academy of Motion Picture’s known bias against sci-fi and comic films, it deserves to be included in the running for Best Picture of the year. The film is that good, especially in IMAX. We'd tell you to go see if it we didn’t believe you were reading this after having seen it at least twice. If you are on the fence about this one, what's wrong with you? What else are you going to go see this weekend, Mama Mia?