In 1939, cartoonist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created the brooding urban vigilante known as Batman as a comic-book rival to the medium's hottest property the brighter, happier Superman. Now, thanks to The Dark Knight, Batman stands masked-head and caped-shoulders above his fictional superfriends as the pinnacle of Hollywood superhero pop. To the filmmakers behind this triumph, we offer this comic-book toast.
July 18, 2008: The Dark Knight opens in theaters across the country. Critics rave and pundits predict box office success...
But $528 million? Nobody saw that coming.
Who gets the credit? For starters, there's Christopher Nolan. Inspired by crime epics like Heat, the British director (aided by his screenwriter brother, Jonathan Nolan) created a visually rich, morally complex experience that was both arty and entertaining our favorite combo.
Then there's Christian Bale, who followed up his brilliantly brooding Batman Begins performance with yet another nuanced turn as the caped crusader.
Bale never gets enough props for his heroic superhero work. Unfortunately, in the case of The Dark Knight, it's easy to understand why...
As the Joker, Heath Ledger created a terrifying monster for the ages...
But the actor's tragic death on Jan. 22, 2008 overshadowed his costars, even as it imbued the film with provocative new meaning and must-see urgency.
In fact, The Dark Knight was cast with a proverbial Justice League of super-actors. Aaron Eckhart's Two-Face deserved to be the marquee villain in a separate Batman film altogether. And Maggie Gyllenhaal as Bruce Wayne's tough and torn one true love made us forget all about Katie Whatshername. There was also Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine. In the words of comic book immortal Stan Lee: 'nuff said.
The Dark Knight was that rare superhero movie that didn't let the action upstage the drama but man, the action was ''Holy James Cameron, Batman!'' awesome. The Batman vs. Batmen fight. The Hong Kong caper. The downtown Gotham truck flip. The Joker's prison escape. All killer, and sometimes literally so.
But if we had to summarize The Dark Knight's greatness in a moment, it would be this one...when Batman looked the Joker in his upside-down face and learned the awful secret of his evil.
The Dark Knight was a movie that peered into the murky heart of our cultural movement and looked for easy answers...and had the guts to say, ''There are none. Now deal with it.''
Where does the Batman franchise go from here? Hell, where does the entire superhero genre go from here? Soon, we're sure, Hollywood will answer those questions. As for all the other questions that so many of us go to the movies to forget about once in a while, don't worry. After all, someone will always swoop in and save the day right at our darkest hour. Right?