The Dark Knight: ***

I missed out on seeing The Dark Knight during opening weekend because of a series of misadventures involving a bachelor party. This was upsetting not only because I was looking forward to seeing it with my friend the groom-to-be, but because I had been looking forward to this movie since I saw Batman Begins at the Lorraine back in 2005. Now, a week into its release and dozens of hyperbolic movie and media reviews later, I finally found a couple of friends and made it to the theatre to see it for myself.

A bit of background: I have always enjoyed Batman, and that movie had fulfilled the promise that others might understand what makes the character so interesting; so now, without an origin story to deal with, a true Batman story could be told.

Given that level of attention, I find it somewhat surprising that I'm not entirely sure what to say about the movie, or even what I think about it.

I can say, for starters, that this was an excellent movie, amongst the best superhero movies ever made. I can also say that is not the same as most other superhero movies; it may have shared many components (costumes, outrageous plots, heroic self-sacrifice and other themes, etc), but it wasn't told the same way, at least not through all of it. And I can say with even less fear of contradiction that Heath Ledger did an excellent job as the Joker - probably too good for a PG-13 rated role, really - and will be the iconic version of the character for some time to come, at least in my book.

On the other hand, the movie was far from perfect. It felt like it was paced for a mid-sized television mini-series; it was even episodic enough to support it. Starting in media res was a good idea and all, but it still felt like we were jumping too fast, too often, to get through too much plot. The plot was convoluted in a way that was trying to be smart, but really wasn't. And as many others have said, it seemed like Batman was a guest in his own movie.

But those points didn't really detract much from the movie, they just knock the movie from "perfection" down to "almost as good as Batman Begins". The special effects, the gadgets, the characters, the unrelenting darkness - these points were glorious and wonderful. Even the humor was genuinely funny. And, perhaps relevant only to me, the shots filmed in Chicago made me once again feel at home.

It was a bold attempt to merge a superhero movie with a crime drama. I don't think this movie particularly succeeded in that; but I'm glad that it tried. And I'll probably see it again this next weekend - though perhaps only after watching Batman Begins again.

*** 1/2