The Dark Knight ★★★★½

Why not 5 stars? Isn't this the GOAT superhero movie? Doesn't it delve into the darkest areas of the human soul, and question the ethical shortcuts we are willing to take to maintain order? It is a really good movie if you don't look too deep, but that's my problem with this, and nearly every movie that makes the assumption that dark correlates to deep. There are plenty of dark movies that have no real depth, and light comedies that have plenty. The main conflict here is not Batman versus Joker. They both represent chaos because they both kick the hornets nest. This is Gotham, remember? A city that runs on the intersection of crime, law enforcement, politics, and business, so both Batman and Joker are stirring the pot and testing loyalties. The real conflict is between Joker and Harvey Dent, and that's where I can't fully climb on board. First, I don't buy that Batman is all ready to decommission the Batmobile because an honest guy has become DA, and second, I don't buy Harvey going over to the dark side. Angry and hurt, yes, maniacal and murderous, no. I think Nolan and his brother wrote themselves into a corner and took the easy way out, but many will disagree. Dent is a protector of order and the sworn enemy of everything the Mob and the Joker stand for, so while I would believe him opposing and deposing Gordon, I thought his turn to a vengeful, depraved killer was not only unbelievably sudden, but contrived.
Unlike the police, Batman is not there to “protect and serve.” He is an agent of vengeance; he's sort of the antidote for the “tyranny of evil men.” Dent would be a hero in the traditional sense of bringing criminals to justice, but even he understands the benefits of a dark figure that gives pause to those who prey on the innocent and intimidates them. Evil isn't going away because a new crusader for justice is in office. Batman might be able and very willing to tone it down, but as is pointed out, he has a sense of the theatrical, and I don't see the character as a guy that just wants to sleep through board meetings at Wayne Enterprises.
Heath Ledger's Joker is what sets this apart from the pack, and his performance is pretty amazing. It's the most effective when he's the least over the top. Nihilism isn't really a very strong or consistent philosophy, and the fact that there is a Harvey Dent, a Lt. Gordon, and certainly a Batman, tends to deflate the whole concept. Ledger is at his best when he's closest to being lucid, because then he is a pretty frightening fiend, and completely unpredictable.
So, it sounds like I don't really like “The Dark Knight,” but I like it quite a bit. I don't think it's a brilliant masterpiece, but maybe if I was 18 when I saw it, and hadn't seen a lot of truly great movies before it, I might be sufficiently blown away. I can fully engage with it as a super hero movie with a much better script than most, and generally stronger acting, cinematography, set design, and direction that nearly any other I can think of. If it doesn't reach the summit of magnificence, I never expected it to, so while the things that I mentioned bothered me, they certainly don't gnaw at me or ruin it for me. This was my fourth or fifth time seeing it, so it obviously has plenty to keep me coming back every couple of years.

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