I didn’t quite know what to expect when I entered the theater to see The Dark Knight last evening, I just knew it was going to be good.* I was absolutely blown away. This isn’t the sort of film where you walk out saying “It was good for a comic book movie.” It is a great movie, period, something that changes what a comic-based mythology can be with careful planning (even if the Joker’s love of chaos seeps into the mix). Unlike so many other films there’s not the sense of obligation to hardcore comic book fans that results in endless streams of in-jokes, cameos, and crossovers; much like it’s predecessor The Dark Knight works from the source material and reinvents it in a new fashion. Yes, Heath Ledger’s penultimate performance is fantastically terrifying, but as a whole the film grabs your attention and doesn’t let it go. The only time I looked at my watch it was to wonder how the hell they were going to complete the story in the time that was left. (My fellow Sciblings apparently liked it, too; see the reactions of John, Evil Monkey, and Chad.)
(So far my predictions for this summer’s crop of movies has been right. I loved Wall-E, Indy 4 was so-so, and The Dark Knight was fantastic. The only question now is what is going to fill the summer movie void between now and September?)
Not everyone is going to like it, of course, and that’s to be expected. Although The Dark Knight is sure to be a hit it just isn’t the kind of movie some people are interested in, and that’s fine. What I find odd, however, are the reviews in which the critic is offended at the very concept of there being a solid “comic book movie.” While many have praised the film for being dark and gritty, perhaps being the closest fictional representation of what these characters would be like in the real world, some critics have taken the same characteristics to be negative. Comic books are full of striking colors, somewhat silly storylines, and people running around in brightly-colored tights, right? The Dark Knight does not fit that mold and breaks from the stereotypical image of what a comic book should be, and perhaps that is what is so bothersome. The Dark Knight respects the work of comic book writers and illustrators as real art, not just kitsch that ends up filling boxes in the attic, and this is upsetting to the guardians of “real literature.”
The Dark Knight is dangerous for another reason because it invades the territory of more “acceptable” film dramas, a comic adaptation that dares to have a solid story being anathema to some critics. Is it Shakespeare? No, of course not, but it is much more authentic than just about any other comic adaptation you care to name. Batman would probably consider most of the moral challenges faced by the recent film incarnation of Spider-Man a vacation compared to his dilemmas, every decision seeming to require some sacrifice or leading to unintended consequences. There’s plenty of issues to consider and depths to plumb, but while I had the luxury of discussing the choices made after I left the theater the characters themselves had sparingly little time to make excruciatingly difficult decisions. This is what makes the film so compelling; our heroes don’t always make the right choice or even know what choice to make, and the tension escalates as characters separate from each other and then unexpectedly converge in the final act.
The Dark Knight is not a perfect film, nor will it win a major award for best picture (the old guard of the film industry have to keep some genres out of the club, after all), but it is certainly one of the best films I have seen in a long time. It stands in sharp contrast to the overflow of silly, “let’s blow stuff up and not think about the consequences” type of superhero films we have become accustomed to, something much more gritty and authentic. (I apologize if I have been somewhat vague in this post but this is a film where the less you know going in, the better.) The literati may sneer and be aghast at the film, but I say ignore their imagined self-importance and check out a truly exceptional piece of cinema.