The Dark Knight
starring Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gylenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, and Michael Caine
directed by Christopher Nolan
screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Warner Bros. (2008)
Brian Singer's X-Men showed us that a superhero movie in the 21st century could be good. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man showed us what a great one looks like. But Christopher Nolan showed us something truly iconic. The Dark Knight became the stuff of legend.
Batman Begins is a really good origin story, but that's about all it is, and a movie I have never felt the need to revisit. Bruce Wayne is showed at his most vulnerable and flawed, and his rise to becoming Batman is one of the better origin stories in the superhero genre. The Dark Knight, however, is where we all knew the story was going to get good.
The movie picks up a couple years after the first one, and Batman has put the fear of God into every mob boss in Gotham. That's got them scared--and desperate. Things are so bad that when a maniacal newcomer calling himself the Joker offers to kill Batman for a hefty price, they agree. And so begins one of DC's most fabled battles between good and evil. After seeing this movie three or four times, I'm convinced that this movie would still be considered a benchmark in the genre even if Heath Ledger hadn't tragically died in the prime of his life. Some folks might dismiss the success of this film to movie-goers wanting to see Ledger's last movie, which I highly doubt--besides, Doctor Parnassus was his final film.
Christian Bale actually feels like the weak link, if there must be one in this movie. That exaggerated gruff voice he uses when parading around as Batman is just ridiculous. I didn't really notice it in the first film, and didn't mind it the first time I saw this one, but every time I sit down to re-watch it that voice gets more and more insufferable. Despite my annoyance with his voice, Bale does a great job showing the dichotomy Bruce Wayne strives for with the playboy image and the caped crusader. And Michael Caine as Alfred to play a foil is about pitch perfect.
I'm sure if I really wanted to, I could dissect this movie and find a whole bunch of things to find fault in, but I won't. It's just too much fun to get wrapped up in the story, and unlike too many superhero movies there is a strong story in The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne doesn't want to be Batman anymore; he wants to marry his sweetheart, and D.A. Harvey Dent looks like a perfect replacement to take on Gotham's crime bosses. The tragedy of having to stay at arm's length from the ones you love most so you can protect them is a poignant bit of storytelling, and Christopher Nolan finds a brilliant way to tell that story and still keep people enthralled with fights, chases, and explosions.
I'll let the supergeeks quibble over which superhero movie is the greatest one of all time. I'm only saying here that The Dark Knight is one of my favorites.