Everyone should watch The Dark Knight (TDK) at least once. It matters little whether you are a fan of the Batman character -- this is a movie that transcends its origins and is recommended viewing for one and all.
I watched a 2 pm show on Saturday, and I half-wish I had not seen the movie: Because I wish to experience it again, afresh; and again, and again, and again -- and also because it is the most relentlessly depressing sketch of the human character, from beginning to end.
After a long week, it's not exactly uplifting material.
A common review would be that TDK is the greatest movie based on a comic book, but that would be too-obvious a thing to say, and would also be doing the movie a disservice. The Dark Knight shines as a commendable work in itself. In many ways, the movie is the script. A script that is perfect, flawless, masterful, and drives the movie throughout -- this is one flick that doesn't have to rely on the crutches of action and explosions to carry it forward. The action serves to add to the movie's flavour, but it does not define TDK.
The actors are obviously inspired by the tight writing and exacting characterizations that the script offers -- everyone does a great job with his or her role, there isn't a single actor that brings the show down. And then there's (the late) Heath Ledger playing the Joker. Amongst all the good performances, the Joker -- ever the wildcard in the deck, steals every scene, every shot -- he is electric with his nuanced delivery, frightening through his expressions, hilarious in his body language, a presence through his makeup. It is a performance that is simply put, breathtaking. If there is a character that defines the dark soul of TDK, it is the twisted Joker. I pity the guy who has to fill Heath Ledger's shoes in future outings.
The story itself cuts too close to the bone. Movies (with superheroes or otherwise) routinely take up 'current issues' only to superficially pay lip-service to nebulous ideals of love, freedom, integrity, and heroism. The Dark Knight, however, parades a naked human soul -- afraid and vulnerable, and reveals it to the audience through its many faces: the Joker, the Batman, Gordon, Harvey Dent, and through Gotham City as a whole. It is definitely a commentary on the current atmosphere of terror and fear, but by approaching this fear as an all-too-real makeup of the human condition, the movie does not belittle its characters, nor does it insult our intelligence with corny catechisms.
I am not going to bore you with further analysis on what makes this movie so good. I doubt I have soaked enough in just one sitting to even do a good job at it. Suffice it to say that The Dark Knight is as dark as its title, and even as it pulls you through two hours of psychological fog, it manages to end on an uplifting note. Sort of.
Hey, it's Batman after all, not your everyday comic character: not so much a symbol of hope but instead a vigilante powered by money and driven by passion, a man symptomatic of the hopelessness that is Gotham City -- just a Dark Knight doing a dirty job. You can't write a happy ending for someone like that.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch the movie. Amidst the depravity and depression are some great action sequences, markedly better choreographed than in Batman Begins. There are also gadgets galore and although there is the usual product placement of Nokia cell phones and Dell monitors, nothing seems out of place and everything is all-too-real. The movie is also strung along by an excellent score.
In the end The Dark Knight is what you want it to be: it's a comment on fear and the frailty of civilization, if you want it to be; it's a popcorn flick, if you would rather see it that way; in summation though, it's a bloody good movie, and a must-watch.