This movie should be called "The Joker - the rise of the most sinister villain ever seen on film". He is so dark that Batman (Christian Bale) seems a pale shade of grey in comparison! Heath Ledger's Joker is the consummate anarchist, creating chaos just so that he can revel in it, cackling with glee as the morally uptight Batman struggles to prevent disaster after disaster. The Joker casts such a powerful and menacing shadow over The Dark Knight that its easy to overlook the central theme of the movie - how far can a man go up against evil before he either gets tainted by it or loses his humanity in an attempt to persevere?
In The Dark Knight, Nolan's vision of Batman expands into a struggle of man versus vigilante as Bruce Wayne tries to grapple with an alter ego that is increasingly taking over his life. As old flame Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhall) puts it, Wayne needs Batman more than Gotham does. At some level, Wayne realises that, which explains his misguided attempts at giving Gotham a legitimate hero. But even as Batman resists the The Joker's temptation to cross the line, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhardt), Batman's candidate for Gotham's hero succumbs to the same. In other words, Dent's humanity makes him cross over to the dark side, even as Batman's own is compromised by his refusal to respond to similar emotions.
A lot of the movie's underlying message gets eclipsed by an electric Heath Ledger, whose interpretation of the Joker is beyond all glowing descriptions. Unlike (a highly overrated) Jack Nicholson's buffoon, this Joker is by no means a cardboard villain. He is the kind of guy who shoves grenades into mouths and rigs up bombs inside stomachs. To top it all, he is totally insane. One of my favourite Joker moments is when he tells Batman, "you make me complete" - a great spin on the cheesy Jerry Maguire dialogue played to extremely interesting effect. Absolutely perfect!
The Dark Knight leaves some dramatic opening cues for the next Batman movie - TwoFace, a grittier (and possible more embittered) Batman, and a potentially more interesting female lead. I'll leave you with my favourite lines from the movie:
"Do I really look like a man with a plan, Harvey? I don't have a plan. The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do if I caught one. I just *do* things. I'm a wrench in the gears. I *hate* plans. Yours, theirs, everyone's. Maroni has plans. Gordon has plans. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I am not a schemer. I show schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So when I say that what happened to you and your girlfriend wasn't personal, you know I'm telling the truth!"
Verdict: I want to watch it again, and again!