Currently, it’s number one on IMDB’s always-reliable Top 250. It smashed Spiderman 3’s previous record for opening-weekend box office gross. It’s already generating Oscar buzz, sequel buzz, and magic-tricks-involving-pencils buzz. So why haven’t you seen The Dark Knight, clearly the most important movie of all time?
Okay, so hyperbole like that might be what’s keeping you at bay. How can a movie possibly live up to such insurmountable expectations? Would it receive a fraction of the hype (and business) if not for Heath Ledger’s tragic death? Do we really need another unrequited love interest for Bruce Wayne?
Valid questions, I suppose, the answers to which I can definitively answer: absolutely it does, absolutely it would, and absolutely not, but she does help propel the most engrossing and exciting character arc of the film.
Every media outlet and every person who saw the film has already gushed about Heath Ledger’s performance, so I won’t go at length with what you already know. As The Joker, his most nuanced mannerisms—licking his lips, the methodical way he savors every word he speaks—are completely captivating. The anarchic extremes to which he terrorizes Gotham City can’t help but elicit not only gasps but cheers from the audience simply because Ledger so immerses himself in the character. It’s a brilliant legacy to have.
One unfortunate result of The Dark Knight’s (and more specifically, Ledger’s) buzz is that other brilliant aspects will inevitably be overlooked. I am specifically referring to Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Gotham’s District Attorney Harvey Dent, essentially the moral core of the film and subject of the aforementioned engrossing and exciting character arc. As the embodiment of the optimism and confidence for which Gotham strives in the face of rapidly-increasing crime and death, Dent constantly struggles with this massive responsibility, progressing from fresh-faced spirit to doubt to harrowing grief and loss to, well, some consequences of the actions of himself and others in their battle against The Joker.
And I just now realize that I’ve gone three hundred words without mentioning the titular caped crusader. That is, in and of itself, a very-welcome consequence of such a massive, intricate film. Christian Bale maintains the crown of at least the best Bruce Wayne ever, though his identity-masking Batman guttural growl muddles the delivery of a few of his climactic speeches. Like Eckhart, Bale perfectly conveys the delicate balance between choice and consequence, doing what’s best for the self and what’s best for the city.
I think it took me so long to mention Batman himself because the movie does not at all feel like a “superhero movie” in the vein of the Spiderman or Fantastic 4 series. This is a dark, gritty crime thriller with a protagonist who happens to occasionally wear a cape and cowl. It is certainly not for kids, not only due to Joker’s maniacal violence but also because of the intricate and, at times, labyrinthine plot.
So, back to the original question: why haven’t you seen The Dark Knight yet? Waiting for the lines to go down? Waiting for the DVD? Don’t want to buy into the hype? I urge you to, despite these reservations, go against your own judgment and see it in a theater. Soon, preferably, so it’s still crowded. There’s nothing like being part of an audience that absolutely adores Ledger’s every move and applauds the most breathtaking stunts and surprising twists of the film.
For once, the hype may not even do the film justice.