Before I dive into discussing Christopher Nolan's often-sensational "The Dark Knight," a brief word of thanks to everyone who turned out for the midnight event at the AmStar Cinemas 16 in Macon. With the crowd lined up so deep it almost stretched out of the parking lot, a radio van playing really bad slow jams at a thoroughly unnecessary volume and folks decked out in their best Joker attire to hand out free pizza in the lobby, it was just the biggest geekfest I've been to in many years, and a thorough blast.
And as to the movie itself, I'll get my one or two minor quibbles out of the way first before I shower it with praise. The opening sequences involving Christian Bale's Batman were just a letdown and could easily have been cut without me missing anything at all. Did we really need to see the Scarecrow again or see Batman go all James Bond in pursuit of a mob money man in Hong Kong?
Even though the latter was surely sweet eye candy (and must have been rather amazing in IMAX, which I just can't justify driving 2 1/2 hours to experience), these set pieces just detract from what Nolan is going for here, the first movie I can think of in a long time that so successfully creates a feeling of chaos from (almost) start to finish. And - thankfully and paradoxically enough - Nolan establishes this mood not by shaking his camera all over the place but instead keeping it under tight control even as Gotham is just melting down all around him.
As you well know by now, Heath Ledger's Joker is Nolan's main co-conspirator in wreaking this havoc, and the best thing I can tell you about his amazing performance is to believe all the hype you've heard about it and expect to find even more to draw you into his weird world. It's the most uncomfortable I've felt while laughing at the screen in many years, because what Ledger and Nolan clearly understand is that - despite his name - Joker isn't a jester or a clown, but just a really sick and twisted f***. You'll hear no morbid speculation from me about whether Ledger let this madness consume him, but he clearly threw himself into the role completely, and for that we can only say thanks.
And he also delivered what, for me, was one of two signature shots from Nolan's flick, when he's driving down the street in a police car, head out the window and clearly reveling in what he's just unleashed. The other came when Maggie Gyllenhaal (who makes the most of not much to do as Rachel Dawes) looks at Bale's Batman with a look of horror/relief/exhilaration after he's managed to save her life from the Joker's grasp. Those two will stick with me for a long time.
What I wasn't ready for, however, was that - as much as this is the Joker's show - the character that really gets to have a real arc as far as character development is Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent, making this also the first flick I can think of in a long time in which the two characters who matter most aren't the "hero."
Bale's Bruce Wayne and Batman - and this isn't a knock of any kind - are just very static characters in "The Dark Knight," as Nolan and co-screenwriter brother Jonathan invest all the ideas they've honed through the years about identity and the obfuscation of it in the story of Gotham's crusading D.A. Much of the fun of "The Dark Knight" comes in seeing how much they've progressed as a team since concocting "Memento" while still exploring similar themes. And the only time their hi jinx just left me scratching my head this time came in the saga of Gary Oldman's Lt. James Gordon, which you won't hear any more about from me just in case you're the last person in America to actually see this flick (if I have my calculations right, it made a rather whopping $60 million Friday alone, and is hopefully now well on its way to eclipsing the first-weekend record set by the simply dismal "Spider-Man 3.")
I've seen "The Dark Knight" twice already, and I'm glad I did, because there's a lot to take in in Nolan's bleak but often blissful ode to chaos. I must confess, however, that I was also happy to hear the strains of ABBA's "Dancing Queen" coming from the screening of "Mamma Mia!" next door as I was lined up to use the restroom afterward. A much-needed dose of levity which brought a smile to my face. Peace out.