Little to do with Ledger . . .
"Evil is the nature of mankind." Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"
I have a strong urge to downgrade Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight to a B for BEING too long, for BEARING too many anti-climaxes, BUT it also happens to BE the best super-hero movie of the summer and one of the BEST comic book adaptations ever. This praise has little to do with Heath Ledger's memorable turn as The Joker, so good it will instantaneously make you forget Jack Nicholson's famous rendition.
What really qualifies Dark Knight is the titular fulfillment: Not only does Christian Bale's Batman become dark, almost every major character goes through a dark night of the soul, except the ruleless Joker, for whom evil is a playful way of living out his days. The characters are challenged by the evil and goodness of humanity and of themselves. Like many of us, being good for these characters ironically involves personal vanity and a vulnerability to love.
So ingenious is the script that at any one point, multiple good guys could be bad with the flip of a coin. District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is a case in point: He becomes the new Gotham hero by rounding up the usual mob suspects; he becomes a problematic warrior in the real struggle of the soul, whereby he must reconcile his inherently virtuous soul with the requisite means of fighting evil, a moral trap The Joker plays well.
Dark Knight easily buddies up with Iron Man's ambiguity this summer as it pokes the audience with quandaries about the endless and tiring clash with evil (read 9/11 and the Iraq War) and the means to revenge or end the mayhem (read Neocon strategies). However if you don't wish to indulge these allegorical fancies, just enjoy cinematographer Wally Pfister's transformation of Chicago into a fantasy land almost better than a comic book's art.
But the film doesn't leave the people of Gotham and presumably the audience out of the mix either, for they all must make choices from as banal as blowing up a boat to as profound as tracking down their saviors, The agent of evil, the Joker, makes believable the racking decisions he maneuvers for private citizens and public officials. In the end, they are in control of their moral choices?the joke's on them.
As Joker says, "What doesn't kill you makes you stranger."