See that poster to your left? Notice anything missing? Something tall and dark, with pointy ears and a strapping chin? Don't worry, it'll come to you.
The Dark Knight, which Jimmy and I saw at a midnight showing last night, was one of the more wonderful pieces of cinema I've seen in a long while. I won't say perfect--it certainly has its flaws, and with less stellar acting those flaws would've broken a movie like this--but it's so good, they don't even bother you. (At least, not while you're watching. I'll get to it.)
I'm not sure that I've ever seen a movie which depended so completely on its actors, except perhaps There Will Be Blood. Without the absolute badassery brought to it by Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart and Christian Bale (in this order, for me), it would've been average. Fun, adrenaline-packed mediocrity, but mediocrity nonetheless.
However, the film gods (or Christopher Nolan, I forget which) have chosen to bestow upon us a handful of pants-wettingly amazing performances, and so The Dark Knight transcends the superhero genre and becomes a genuine masterpiece of crime cinema. Gary Oldman, as Commissioner Gordon, is truly his own character in this one; you find yourself really caring about him. Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent is the perfect foil to Christian Bale's Batman: on one hand, the charismatic, good-hearted, blond district attorney; on the other, the brooding, gruff, dark vigilante. It's fantastic casting.
And Ledger? If Bale's performance was a little lacking for me, it's probably just because I was only waiting for scenes with the Joker. From his first swagger onto the screen, he absolutely owns the whole damn film. If I were one of the other massively talented actors in this movie, I would be feeling completely mediocre beside him. He's just so...cool. One twitching, sweating, greasy ball of concentrated crazy. He'll win you over ten minutes in, when he demonstrates a "magic trick" with a pencil. It's unforgettable.
One thing that always annoys me about villains is this: they often appear willing to die, but when death is staring them in the face, they snivel and whimper and wring their hands like everyone else, thus proving themselves not really that insane, just malicious. The Joker, on the other hand, really, truly doesn't give a bat's ass if he lives or dies, and that's sort of exhilarating to watch. He treats death like bungee-jumping or eating sushi; it's something new and exciting, and he might like it. He certainly doesn't treat it like a permanent condition.
Really, I could go on all day about Ledger's performance, which certainly ranks up with Hannibal Lecter as one of the creepiest, most deliciously freaky villains of all time. But I'm sleepy from getting just three hours of sleep, so I'll just urge you to see that for yourself.
Now, to the things that weren't so hot--or, rather, thing, as only one really bothered me. This may be a bit spoilerish, so you've been warned. The lead-up to Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face is long and slow, until the incident which actually turns him; after that, he immediately becomes crazed, bitter and remorseless. The elements were present before, so it's certainly not akin to, say, Anakin Skywalker's inexplicable transformation in Revenge of the Sith. It does work; it's just that it could have worked better, and it's too bad to see them rush that. One other small item I wasn't terribly fond of was a small cameo by Cillian Murphy, reprising his Scarecrow role; at best it was unnecessary, and at worst, a bit confusing. But it was short enough to fade into the background and be forgotten.
Finally, Batman as a character was not as important in this film; I think The Dark Knight was more about Gotham City than about Batman. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. From the intricate settings to the human moments (one involving boats and convicts is particularly touching), Nolan is determined to make you care about Gotham's salvation, and he succeeds, with flying...er...bats. There's plenty more that can be said about it, but instead, I'll just implore you to go see it yourself, and drink in the chilling, sadistic beauty of Gotham's darkest hour.
Final rating: A