The Dark Knight ★★★★★

Why so serious?

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

He's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

These are but a few of the great and memorable lines that pervades Christopher Nolan's pulp masterpiece The Dark Knight (2008). I mean, Nolan's film is not only an amazing superhero blockbuster film, but it's also an amazing film, period. It so beautifully manages to be deft in its thematic complexity and seamless in its marriage of substance and style, it's no joke. The Dark Knight still holds up six years after its release and will continue to hold up in the years to come.

First, The Dark Knight is beautiful and superlative as a film because of the various parts that mesh together: the consummate direction by Christopher Nolan, the masterful and first-rate writing from Chris and Jonathan Nolan, the crisp photography courtesy of Wally Pfister's excellent use of both 35mm anamorphic and 70mm IMAX formats (weaving both together to make a cinematic experience that marries the intimate and the grand), the proficient editing of Lee Smith that manages to move this 153-minute film at a fast yet fluid and coherent pace, the sharp and powerful action that packs a mighty punch, and the bombastic music of Hans Zimmer that is just so memorable and, well, epic.

Second, The Dark Knight would not be such a great film without the acting, and boy is the acting fantastic. Christian Bale, reprising his role from Batman Begins, just nails down the roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman, going on to become the definitive cinematic Batman, surpassing Michael Keaton in so many ways and making this role his own. Even if he is more ensemble player than solo actor, Bale still gives his usual Oscar-caliber method acting his all in this role, showing his charisma and masculinity. Gary Oldman and Michael Caine likewise give amazing performances, and so do Maggie Gyllenhall and Aaron Eckhart as Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent/Two Face. I would add that while Katie Holmes from Batman Begins was cuter, Gyllenhall is superior in terms of acting ability. Likewise, Eckhart's Two-Face is one of the most skillfully displayed characters not only in superhero cinema but in cinema, period.

But the real show-stealer, who gives near-perfect chemistry with Bale's Batman is Heath Ledger as the Joker. Everything about Ledger's performance is just flawless. The menacing voice, the devilish mannerism, the demonic persona, the depth that comes from Ledger and from the Nolan brothers' writing—all these are but a glimpse of what makes Ledger's Joker so brilliant. These traits make the character one of the best movie villains of all time, making him more than just a comic-book baddie. Hear, Heath Ledger's iconic magnum opus of a performance, so to speak, has become timeless.

Finally, the ultimate thing that makes The Dark Knight so great is, like I said before, a perfect harmony of substance and style, with neither overshadowing the other. The dark and modern style mixed with the effortless weaving of deep themes and complexity into the entertainment and the drama lifts The Dark Knight up to the heights of the great movies. The post-9/11 commentary is far from heavy-handed, the story is so engrossing, the imagery is just beautiful and engaging, the canvas is broad and grand, and the scale is immense and yet very stable. The Dark Knight is more than a film or even a masterpiece; it's a cultural touchstone and a timeless experience for the ages.

BTW, I do have a soft spot for Bale's infamously iconic Bat-voice. Sure, in some spots it reaches to the point of parody, but the rest of the times, it works just fine for me. Also, the action scenes in this film are riveting and I could generally follow what was happening, despite the complaints of some viewers at the time when the film came out. Moving away from the incoherent shaky-cam in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight instead opts for greater visual coherence and more efficient, brutal and sharp action. The truck-flip scene, the climatic fight on Prewitt Building, the opening bank-robbery, and the rest of the action in this film is just that — sharp, exciting, and realistic. In fact, I think this was where Nolan started to become a better director for action.

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