You all will probably be shocked to hear that . . . I thought this was very good.
My reaction may have been helped by my having ramped my expectations down. I inferred from reviews (and confirmed from someone who'd seen it) that I could expect two plot elements, one of which is not to my taste and the other of which I really doubted could be done well. But the first was handled relatively non-sporkily, even if I still would have preferred something else, and the second worked much better than I expected. And I'll give a movie a lot of leeway for head-on engaging with hard questions that Iron Man, for instance, just shrugs aside.
(Speaking of which, I highly recommend The Kids Aren’t All Right: Politics & Power: vanityfair.com, which is fanfic set a year after the end of the movie and done as a pitch-perfect article by Christine Everhart, complete with glossy magazine page mockups. If the movie had been half that smart and complex, I wouldn't have been so bored with it.)
Back to The Dark Knight—so, plot better than I expected, and also, really quite an intense experience. Even at two and a half hours—at one apparent-lull I got up to go to the bathroom, looked at my watch, and said to myself, "I can't believe we still have another hour to go." But when I got back things had jumped into high gear and I don't think I looked at my watch again.
Anyway: Heath Ledger's Joker is indeed astonishing (and, good grief, people, not something to subject your five year old to! There were points at which I thought the movie was almost too dark for almost-thirty-one-year-olds!). The low-key supporting players (Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman) were delights. Christian Bale was unobjectionable, which is all that I ask in a Batman, considering, as were Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The action sequences were exciting and visually impressive without killing the entire movie under their weight, and while occasionally they did rely on action-movie lack-of-logic, I was willing to roll with it.
In short: good stuff. And since I suspect this is the end of our new-release summer movie viewing, yay, ending on a satisfying note.
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(Oh, and it stands alone just fine. There's one little bit in the beginning that doesn't make sense if you haven't seen Batman Begins, the drug dealer in the odd mask, but it really doesn't matter.)
(Additional note: there is a series of special effects late in the movie that I found motion-sick-inducing, but if you're prone to that, you'll spot them almost immediately, and you won't miss anything by squinting through them.)