I saw Batman Begins on opening night a few years ago, and it absolutely blew me away. I loved it. It was so dark, so interesting, so... philosophical, even. The acting was superb and the storyline was different and complex. There was a great villain and a dark, but satisfying ending. There was even a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger that most people recognized, but a great "to be continued" nonetheless.
So then, I was pretty excited to see The Dark Knight. I was excited to see Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine (with some much-needed comic relief). I was hoping that Cillian Murphy would make an appearance. I was thrilled that Aaron Eckhart was added to the cast, and I was elated that Mrs. Tom Cruise was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Because, let's face it: Katie Holmes is a bad actress. Maggie Gyllenhaal is simply amazing (look to Secretary, SherryBaby, and Stranger Than Fiction for just a few examples).
I tried not to read reviews, but was almost inevitable that I would. Everyone praised Heath Ledger. His performance was "Oscar-worthy," "intense," and "perfect." And while I would agree with that, the acting of every other cast member just enhanced his performance. Gary Oldman was especially good, and Christian Bale was great again, and delivered a few cheesy lines with grace - which made them not-so-bad-after-all in my mind. Because what's a comic book movie without a few zingers? Pow!
I really didn't know how another movie in the Batman franchise could dethrone Batman Begins, but this one not only did that, it took over the surrounding kingdoms. The plot is complex and constantly changing. Just when you think that things will start to wrap up, you're hit with another horrifying impossibility.
Heath Ledger's performance was better than I expected, even after the glowing reviews. I'd always known he was a fantastic actor (Brokeback Mountain was his best, in my opinion), but this role was a brilliant character study as Ledger pushed and pushed and forced the viewer to inexplicably want more of his deranged Joker.
The Joker is pure crazy - there is no rhyme or reason to his madness, and no explanation for his actions. He wants to witness pain and destruction for no other reason than to see what will happen. What will human nature dictate? The viewer, as well as Gotham City, has no way of knowing who this madman is, why he's so hell-bent on being so evil, or where his gruesome scars originated. (We hear several different accounts of this from him, but none really seem more truthful than others.)
I sat on the edge of my seat at more than a few points in the film. I knew that something was about to happen, but the unflinching screen was teasing me, baiting me, pulling me closer. There were no jumpy, cheap scares, but there were some deeply unsettling scenes (which make me wonder how parents could bring their five-year-old to see it, but I'm no parent, so what the hell do I know?). And when a movie based on a comic book can make you sit back and contemplate the human existence, well... something went right in the writing room.
The Dark Knight is a superb film. It's more than a summer blockbuster. And it's definitely more than a superhero film. It's strong in all aspects - the script, the score, the cinematography, the acting. Oh, the acting is wonderful. The special effects, too - there was one stunt scene in particular that had the theater cheering. It was such a satisfying film.
I really love movies. I love where they fit into American culture - how they are American culture. I love how they make us emotional. And above everything, I love it when they make me think about them long after I've left the theater. Sometimes it's considering a particular performance. Sometimes it's considering a philosophical question. Sometimes it's both. And that's The Dark Knight.