Sometime around 1995 "filmmaker" Joel Shumacher threw some nipples on Batman's costume and changed the world for the worse. The Batman franchise was all but dead to everyone, myself included. If they never made another Batman film, I would not have minded. Not because I was over it, but because I was disenchanted that no one in Hollywood got it. Batman is a dark story. Far darker than even Tim Burton was prepared to tackle. If you’ve never seen Batman: The Animated Series you’re missing out. The brilliant minds behind the cartoons got it. Why couldn’t Hollywood? So imagine my surprise that Batman Begins was as dark as it was. And imagine my satisfaction that The Dark Knight was even darker.
The Dark Knight takes place not too long after Begins, in a Gotham City where people still don’t love the idea of Batman, but they do like that criminals finally have something to fear themselves. Without spoiling too many plot details, the movie centers around three great forces in Gotham City, all with inspired plans to change Gotham for the better: The title character, Batman (Christian Bale) of course, the new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart,) and a criminal mastermind who calls himself The Joker (Heath Ledger). Dent, thanks to the existence of Batman, has been able to expedite the process of cleaning up Gotham City from it’s heavily mob influenced regime. When Batman and Dent have all but cornered the seven biggest mob bosses in Gotham, in an act of desperation they succumb to an offer by The Joker to salvage what little power they have. What they don’t realize is that The Joker has no allegiances, and he’s not interested in money, or power. He’s out to prove a point. He’s out to have the last laugh.
As far as super hero movies, this is as dark as it gets. The beauty of Batman Begins was that it grounded itself in reality. They used obscure, human villains, and set it in a world of organized crime. It was gritty, and easily the most relatable comic book movie ever made. With The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan tries (and succeeds) to establish even more of a sense of reality, barely masking the city they shot it in (Chicago) with the huge fictional landmarks of the previous chapter. Gone are the monorail system, and the CGI skyscrapers. Gone are the fear-inducing toxin, no cult of social elite ninjas, and the military water-into-steam machine. This movie, at it’s core is about bank robberies, cop killing, mob money, and morality. This movie is not a superhero movie. It’s a crime movie. It is in the same genre of Heat, or The Departed. It is Cop vs. Criminal. Nothing is black and white. Good people make bad decisions, and bad people justify their actions with the spin of a powerful politician.
All of the actors involved are incredible, and bring to the table nothing a Comic Book movie has ever seen, but it is Heath Ledger’s Joker that is easily one of the most inspired characters to ever grace the big screen. If it weren’t for Anton Chiguri from No Country For Old Men, there would be no competition for best on screen villain in my lifetime. I have never once walked out of theater so simultaneously satisfied and saddened. Heath Ledger deserves every bit of praise he is being given
So did I enjoy The Dark Knight? Obviously. Is it worth the hype? Absolutely. Is it better than Batman Begins? This is The Empire Strikes Back of crime sagas. This is the Godfather: Part II of Super Hero movies. It is a masterpiece. That is not to say it is for everyone. It is certainly not the feel good movie of the year. I cannot think of a single character in this ensemble cast that does not end up Broken, Bruised, Bereft, or… well… dead. So if you feel up to it see this in the theater while you can. I don’t think we will ever get a superhero movie as good as this ever again, I guarantee that Ledger’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. I know this, and I’m going to see it again in IMAX this week.