Another uproar was to start when Heath Ledger's testimonial film failed to garner a nomination for Best Picture, despite being one of the most acclaimed movies of the year, the snub of "WALL·E" didn't help either. So the Academy expanded the number of nominees to ten, an effort as laughable as laudable, since not many new movies of the caliber of "The Dark Knight" were made after.
That's to establish how pivotal the film was and how much I anticipated it. But I needed to re-watch the first Batman movies. And my ecstatic reaction after "Batman Begins" convinced me that I had another thing coming with "The Dark Knight".
Indeed, the film is not just a good sequel but so good it makes you totally forget about it being a sequel. It's a continuation in terms of the narrative but it accomplishes something that a few sequels actually do, not the first anyway: it deconstructs all the values Batman stands for. If his heroic quest brings up the worst possible psychopaths, what good can he be for "Gotham City"?
The film destroys whatever the previous film built up in a sort of constructive chaos, just when you thought that it would 'consolidate' Batman's heroic status, it does the exact opposite. Why? Well, the script has a saying about 'how things working according to a plan' can be as debatable and questionable than so-called chaotic turns of events, so our expectations are contradicted for their own good. And for our fun... if "fun" can be applied to the film. I think it can. But let's get back to the question of heroism.
The film dissects it as if it was some philosophical essay and the answers are provided of course by the two most memorable characters: the Joker (naturally) and Harvey Dent. It's fascinating how Bruce Wayne aka Batman becomes almost a peripheral character but the deeper we get in these two alternative arcs, the more it questions the existence of the iconic vigilante in Gotham City, and the more it does so, the more it justifies its status as one of the most fascinating and iconic comic-book character. It's one hell of a virtuous circle thanks to a remarkably written script and a magnificently executed action-movie.
Speaking of the awards, contrarily to its predecessor, it garnered many Oscar nominations and grabbed every possible award for Best Supporting Actor. There's no doubt that today, the Best Picture nomination would have been a lock, but I think the Writing deserved a nod as well, and even Aaron Eckhart is unfairly underrated as "Two Face", perhaps not as flashy and creepy as the Joker, but as tormented and complex as Wayne. And I love how Nolan doesn't keep on zeroing on Batman, he handles the supporting cast as importantly as the hero, because they might say more about him than he would himself.
The film, along with "Spider-Man II" and "Iron Man" were said to have revived the popularity of comic-book movies, but I don't know if they are as daring as "The Dark Knight" in their critical approach to the hero. It seems like today, whoever is in the poster must be admired, glorified, must stand for something immediately deemed as inspirational and empowering. "The Dark Knight" puts these so-called strength and power into an equation whose resolution is a triumph of intelligence-within-entertainment. Batman becomes a hero in the way he acknowledges that the general public isn't ready for his heroism and would benefit from a hero like Harvey Dent despite this latter having surrendered to the temptation of vileness.
But even this vileness isn't your typical "mua-haha" trope, although it features a lot of it. Like heroism, vileness relies on a state of a mind starting with feeling such as deceptions and resentments, we all have "scars" behind our smile so to speak. And the Joker isn't much a villain to be defined by what he does, unlike the 'hero', but evil by the way he enlightens us about the darkest abysses of our soul. See, some people can be funny by saying funny things or making points in a funny way. The Joker makes points in an evil way, and that's why he's so mesmerizing, and that's why Heath Ledger's performance is one of a kind.
Many things can be said about Ledger but I loved that line from the New York Daily New by Joe Neumaier: "It says something about the curious nature of film, that someone can be so alive onscreen, when we're all too aware that they've passed away, how we are mortal, and films are immortal." I guess this is why this film is immortal and why Ledger had left this world with a performance that enriched our lives, featuring a villain who drives not only the action or the (anti)heroes' arcs but becomes a philosophical force whose appeal rises above the movie.
Now, I ended the my previous comment about "Batman Begins" with an unlikely connection with the adventures of Scrooge McDuck, I'll say in the same fashion about "The Dark Knight" that it reminded me of that "Simpsons" episode "Lisa the Iconoclast" when she refused to reveal the truth about Jebediah Springfield saying that the myth has brought up the good in everyone, and that's what Batman and Harvey Dent indirectly stated, and what the extraordinary "bomb" sequence has illustrated (and God, what a plan!). It also reminded me of that sacrifice of Rocky Sullivan in "Angels With Dirty faces", one I wouldn't spoil here.
Destroying your legacy is perhaps the greatest mark of heroism, when great causes are worth fighting for them... and being fought. Seriously, what can you do when the greatest figure is disfigured and the mastermind out of his?