In which one man attempts to view every summer blockbuster for the entire season, regardless of taste, genre, or getting chased by a Mack truck-driving nutcase in clown makeup.

With all the hype surrounding The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to the excellent Batman Begins, I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed. It’s hard not to be; every word I’ve read about the film has been so laudatory that I came to expect nothing short of perfection.

The Dark Knight is not a perfect film. It dismisses what could be a major plotline for a sequel in the last fifteen minutes, and Christian Bale’s put on Batman voice is more than a little distracting. But those problems are so insignificant in the grand scheme of things that they can’t really diminish the overall work, which handles the superhero genre with a complexity that Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk only dabbled with by comparison. And I loved both of those films mostly for the complexity with which they handled their superhero characterizations. The Dark Knight is, simply, a cut above. It’s not a perfect film, certainly. But it’s damn close.

Nolan directed Memento, which is the kind of bizarre character study that a lesser filmmaker would ruin, and Nolan handled it deftly and subtly (Guy Pearce’s standout performance didn’t hurt). Following up with Batman Begins, Nolan again did excellent work, but was hampered a bit by the necessity of an origin story that went on a little too long. The Dark Knight has no such necessity. Bale’s Batman is already developed, and the film can focus on a single episodic adventure, as complex and far reaching as this one happens to be.

The standout performance is, of course, Heath Ledger’s Joker, a role he plays with the kind of sociopathic bravado that Jack Nicholson, great as he was, could never aspire to. Even as the Joker, Jack was still just being Jack. Ledger puts on the clown makeup, but never once feels like a cartoon. He’s more Hannibal Lecter than Cesar Romero.

Aaron Eckhart, as new District Attorney Harvey Dent, delivers a similarly good turn, and like Ledger, outshines Bale on screen. Bale does a fine job as the Bruce Wayne/Batman dyad, but The Dark Knight is not really his movie. It’s more of an ensemble piece, the kind of great crime thriller that transcends the superhero genre into something more eventful, more grounded, just, more.

It’s also a great city showcase film, with Chicago subbing for the fictional Gotham (Even the license plates look like Illinois’). It’s the first Batman film that makes Gotham feel like a real place; Tim Burton’s adaptations gave painted Gotham only in shades of black and gray, while Joel Schumacher’s versions were strange technicolor abominations. 

The hype machine is a strange beast. It can bring in a massive audience, but it can leave people disappointed. In The Dark Knight‘s case, it certainly has done the former, but it mostly delivers on its promise.

Film: The Dark Knight
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

Viewing Situation: Weekday evening, full house; standard projection
Rotten Tomatoes Average: 94%
My Grade (Out of 10): 9

Next Up: Space Chimps

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