So, I've been debating about writing this review since I've seen it. The Dark Knight The newest, biggest, most anticipated summer blockbuster of the year. It's out, and I find myself dumbfounded, trying to figure out how to think about it.
Mainly, I think this is because I enjoyed Iron Man so much. But, as I've thought about the two films more and more, I find myself nearly unable to compare them. However, I'll do my best, here, as I give my review on The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight begins scant months after Batman Begins--the mob families of Gotham are in disarray, and the appearance of The Batman has caused several "copycat vigilantes" to pop up, to say nothing of "the freaks"...including a perennial psychopath called The Joker. However, rising to the occasion is also District Attorney Harvey Dent, played by a grimly determined Aaron Eckhart.
If Iron Man was a film that was driven by Robert Downey Jr.'s performance, The Dark Knight succeeds in spite of Christian Bale's presentation. This is not to say that Christian Bale does badly, but the film itself is not about him--The Batman's already been established, and the screentime focuses more specifically on Dent and the late Heath Ledger's Joker. Batman becomes second fiddle in his own film, growling menacingly at any who come by, as he simply reacts to the Joker's threats as swiftly and mercilessly as possible.
And it is Ledger that absolutely steals the show. Something of a combination of Sid Vicious and "A Clockwork Orange"'s Alex (both of whom were inspirations for Ledger's character), with a touch of Kevin Spacey's "John Doe", The Joker comes across as a man possessed. Licking the corners of his facial scars with frentic abandon, Ledger slinks his way through the part like a predatory cat. The writing for the Joker, particularly, crackles like a loose high-voltage cord. Jeff Bridges' Obediah Stane has nothing on this guy--while Bridges made for a suitable industrial businessman, Ledger brings a genuine insanity to the part that no villain in recent memory can match.
The plot of The Dark Knight moves subtly and (to a degree) slowly, starting first as a bust on mob money launderers, then spiraling further and further out of control as the Joker turns his anarchic vision to judges, Police Commissioner Gordon, and D.A. Dent, as he goads The Batman to dare to stop him, mainly by breaking his "one rule"--no killing. While the film maintains a taut sense of tension throughout, the side-plots and continual layered machinations run just a little long. I actually began to wonder, by about the 2 hour mark, where they were getting any more Gotham policemen or Joker henchmen...
Believe it or not--and trust me, this is going to sound odd--I found myself somewhat bored with The Dark Knight's fight scenes. Oftentimes, they felt unnecessary and rushed, and I felt myself longing for them to end as soon as possible, so we could get back to the high tension. This was a massive departure from most superhero movies, where the actions scenes pile up like one of Michael Bay's wet dreams. Again, Iron Man had a good balance here, but the action drove the plot, rather than vice versa, as in The Dark Knight.
I suppose this is another major point of differentiation. Iron Man and The Dark Knight both shared PG-13 ratings, but for very different representations. Iron Man had the various expected explosions, but was not afraid to kill--I remember particularly when the Armored Avenger punches one of the Gulmira terrorists and he crumples into a wall about 20 feet away. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, has the exact opposite effect. While Batman refuses to kill, this movie is dark. Yes, I know you've heard that already, but let me put this straight...
...early on in the movie, the Joker kills a mob thug. With a pencil. The camera speed is moved up, so that the action happens in a flash, as the Joker literally slams the mobster's head down, impaling his skull on a sharpened pencil.
That's grim. That's dark. That's psychotic. It's ground that superhero movies have never trod before. It's more reminiscent of films like Se7en or Saw than of Fantastic Four, and doesn't let up through the whole film. The irony of this is not lost on me--Iron Man kills people, while Batman does not...yet Batman's film is so much darker, most likely for that fact.
I have no problem with this direction in films, but it shows a grim darkness that is almost unfitting with other superhero movies. That said, I cannot believe whatsoever that parents would let their children under 10 or 11 see this, particularly unsupervised.
The Dark Knight is an absolutely fantastic film. While it runs long, and Bale's Batman gets somewhat lost beneath Ledger's schizophrenic symphony, it deserves every ounce of hype it gets. However, it is not a true superhero/comic-book movie. It's a psychological thriller, complete with sociopathic serial killer, with just enough of a superheroic twist to get kids in the seats and action figures in the aisles.
Long story short?
Iron Man is utterly a superior superhero movie. It centers on Tony Stark as Iron Man and doesn't let up, it follows comic book conventions to a T, and it shows the necessary action in high fashion. Take it for what it is, and you'll never be disappointed in it.
The Dark Knight, to the opposite point, is a superior "film". It's a brillant character study of a psychopathic villain, and two heroes (Batman and Dent) who must walk a thin line when chasing their adversary or risk becoming equally psychopathic. It's an absolutely brilliant piece of celluloid, but it's not a superhero movie--don't treat it as such, and you'll absolutely love it. Try to categorize it with Iron Man and you'll be disapointed.
For the sake of posterity, let me put down one last thought. Coupled right before The Dark Knight was the trailer for Zak Penn's Watchmen, which I've been drooling over for months. I get the feeling, knowing the story of Watchmen, that I'll be saying most of the same comments about it, as I've shared about The Dark Knight. Time shall tell, friends and neighbors!