The Dark Knight (2008)

(In theaters, July 2008) This may not be a perfect movie, but it’s almost as good as blockbusters ever get: There are ridiculously big explosions, car chases and fist-fights, but also a generous amount of thematic ambition, symbolism and subtext. Christopher Nolan’s camera seldom missteps and the cinematography finds a happy medium between credible grittiness and the slickness we expect from big-budget cinema. This is an unusually smart superhero film, and the script does amazing things within the constraints of the Batman mythology: The Joker’s origins remain blissfully unexplained, Batman struggles with his own actions, and we get a full-blown tragic character with Harvey Dent. The acting is often spectacular, with bit roles going to good actors (William Fichner!) and the headliners handling themselves with skill. For the fears that Heath Ledger’s Joker may have been over-hyped, the actual performance itself is remarkable. The rest of the film meets the high standards left by the script, acting and direction: Special effects? Top-notch. Dialog? Better than you’d expect, except when the action stops for a few grandiose and unnecessary speeches. Sadly, the film’s own success leads to a number of quibbles we wouldn’t notice in lesser films: The sound editing is terrible and drowns out dialog (and that’s when we don’t get the ridiculous Batman growling). Some of the plot points are glossed over in the film’s hurry to get from beginning to end. Finally, the last act of the film feels notably less interesting or urgent that the rest: The climax, in particular, falls flat after the dramatic peaks hit earlier during the film’s two-and-a-half hours. But it’s rare enough to see films succeed so well both on a popular and critical level: Let’s just revel in what’s been achieved here.

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