The Dark Knight is a superhero movie the way a graphic novel such as The Sandman is a comic. There is the tight storytelling, relentlessly paced; the flawed hero, who must deal with the consequences of his all-too-human choices; the not-quite-Hollywood ending. All the principals turned in better-than-good performances: Christian Bale as Batman was laconic, brooding, troubled; Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent was quite flawless; Heath Ledger probably was the Joker in another, slightly more warped dimension. His rendition of one of the greatest creations in comicdom – unpredictable, callous, full-bore psychotic and loving it – introduced tension into scenes the way Javier Bardem’s badly coiffed killer did in No Country for Old Men (one Joker scene got me tense as a coiled spring, like many of those in No Country for Old Men, as I recounted in my review), and he did this without overt violence of any kind: all the slicing of the edges of mouths and decapitation occurred off-screen, imagined.
In the end, I think The Dark Knight is best watched after having savoured some of the Batman comics and graphic novels. The history between Batman and his nemesis is a rich one – one created the other, and the Joker’s continued existence, occasionally abetted by Batman because he is just too principled to kill the clown, is a big part of why he continues dressing up like a winged rodent – and the movie captures many of the ambiguities and hope reflected in the best Batman stories. I also think that the script – featuring (i) the Joker’s threat to keep killing unless Batman reveals himself and the latter’s unwillingness to take off his mask and (ii) the Joker’s “social experiment”, in which he rigged up two ferries, one of normal citizens and one of prisoners, with bombs and forced them to kill or be killed – represented a measured step forward for superhero movies. Yes, you don’t need CGI galore to make blockbuster supervillians. Yes, the audience doesn’t mind being asked to contemplate difficult questions with no straightforward answers. And yes, the movie is well worth watching. Go go go watch it if it’s still on.