In the lead-up to Captain America: Civil War, I’m reviewing my favorite comic book films, the foremost of which is among my favorite films of all time, period. And while some harbor a stigma against superhero flicks that precludes them from judging The Dark Knight with a measured and objective eye, I think of it as an opus of filmmaking – a masterclass in tension-building, character developing, acting, writing, storytelling, pacing, editing, cinematography, music, choreography . . . the list goes on.
Many try to characterize this picture as a superhero movie parading as a crime saga, when in fact it is the opposite, and so much more. It’s an intricately-woven ensemble-driven crime epic that happens to feature a character named Batman as its lead. Of course, director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathon understood this. It transcends traditional comic book movie strictures and becomes an engrossing depiction of good, evil, and the muddy sphere in-between that surpasses fellow masterpieces like No Country For Old Men and The Departed.
And here. We. Go.
What makes The Dark Knight so successful, above all other things, is its delectable ability to maintain an almost unbearable level of tension simmering underneath its surface. From the very first shot to the very last, there isn’t a frame in this film where you’re not poised to run for your life. Every inch of the story is dripping with a sinister pulse.
And you know the story. You’ve seen the film. But for the sake of providing context for this review, let’s run through it.
The movie sets Gotham City’s tenderfoot triumvirate of sorts in Commissioner Gordon, District Attorney Harvey Dent, and self-appointed city guardian Batman, against a villain, the Joker, that defies expectations and exists to promote only one thing: chaos. And the beautiful thing about the Joker is that he says as much multiple times throughout. But despite him wearing his decidedly anarchic heart on his purple sleeve, he remains baffling to both his opponents and to us, the viewers.
Other subplots revolve around Bruce’s relationship with Rachel Dawes, how that affects his relationships with her beau Harvey and his mentor/best-friend Alfred, and the clearly-laid-out – but not hamhanded – decisions he must make on utilitarian morality. The Joker takes all these characters – as well as the seedy, incestuous underbelly of Gotham – for a roller coaster ride, and even he doesn’t know where they’re going to get off, which adds to the fearful sense of mystery that feverishly propels that ride forward.
That fear pervades this picture, welling in your chest as you watch it. It informs everything in the film. The city is chilled with it. The characters are weighted with it. The cinematography, the lighting, the color palette, all feed off of it. It provides the movie with a beautiful corrosiveness that lingers with you and haunts your thoughts hours, days, and even weeks after seeing it.
The film is almost a chain of bravura moments, one applause-worthy, mike-drop level scene, sequence, and line after another. And while it is tiring, it’s an entirely good kind of tiring. It leaves you with the runner’s high of moviegoing, a savory breathlessness that makes you want to put your head in your hands and try to process everything that’s been thrown your way. It’s unrelenting, torrential cinema.
And, of course. Yes. I will obviously address the acting. You know what I’m talking about. Heath Ledger’s frenetic, almost epileptic take on perhaps the most iconic villain of all time. His attention to detail is mesmerizing. The way he licks his lips like a doll-eyed iguana. How he frantically parts his stringy hair and then musses it up as he delights in some ruin he’s caused. The fractured effervescence he infects every scene with. He’s the centerpiece of the movie.
So, if it weren’t clear already, I think this is a pretty good film, to say the least. It rings true on all fronts (even the few, calculated times it injects humor into the proceedings, it knocks it out of the park). It is far-and-away the greatest superhero picture ever created, and reaches the stratospheric heights of the other crime genre greats. My highest possible recommendation.