SPOILERS OBVIOUS DUH
It is damn hard to create three interacting characters in a single film who are equally interesting. Some films have shown us it is hard enough to even do two (Iron Man), and for some films, even one (Spiderman III). To be controversial, I will make the absurdly incorrect remark that The Dark Knight accomplishes this feat., solving the (coined by myself) Three-Body Problem of Film. Nobody who watched the film will agree with me (even myself), so I will have to do do some fast talking and redefine “equal,” by analyzing the film through three different foci:
Style: Heath Ledger’s Joker surely gets his cut of the style points, especially with the crossdressing scene, but Christian Bale still stole this one. This film, like Star Wars, is one of those rare films with an intended and expected audience that spans everyone from comic nerds to artsy types to your grandmother, i.e. not just ‘literary’ film critics. To get such attention and to keep it for 2.5 hours, it had to do what an action film does – asskicking, adrenaline, rushes of violent manly frenzy. Christian Bale oozes so much badassness that even though he doesn’t really do anything he didn’t in Batman Begins except being able to turn his head (and having a scene that justifies this), he brings the Keysi Fighting Method into short, visceral, and brutal fighting scenes that made Batman Batman (and not this Batman). The Lau kidnapping scene, serving obviously no plot value, was thus placed to make Bale earn his keep by being the good guy you hate to love, especially when the guy kidnaps an entire ballet troupe and crashes his own party in a helicopter with two gorgeous chicks.
Acting: After leaving The Dark Knight there is no f***ing way that a viewer, unless asleep or abducted by aliens, would not agree that Heath Ledger needs to have an Oscar placed respectably on his grave. “Why so seriousssss” would be a catchphrase by now if it didn’t have to compete with “my preciousssss” because of the trailing sssses, and that laugh gave me nightmares. If you seriously just woke up or are really still hurting from the cattle prod, go back and watch the scene where The Joker leaves the hospital room, or where Batman plays Bad Cop. Then lick your lips a bit and think about why that innocuous action just made you shudder.
Plot/Character development: …but the movie is not about Batman or the Joker. This was probably a very conscious choice, since if they gave the joker an any more interesting backstory we might as well name the film Why So Serious. The movie’s plot is about Harvey Dent. Nobody else. Even the Joker’s climax, a version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, was about showing that anyone can change, a 200-people magnified version of what he did to Harvey Dent. When the awe at the movie or the shivers from the Joker blows over after the night wind outside the theater chills you down from bat-shock, you are still sad for Harvey Dent, whose transformation, reminiscent of Anakin’s from Episode III but much more believable in motivation, is one of the most convincing attempts I have seen in cinema recently.
So… I think depending on what you are looking for (a blockbuster, a ‘deep’ movie, a good actor) and how you weight these values in a movie, you come away with a different idea of the main figure of the film. What an accomplishment!
P.S. … probably the Joker, but I don’t want to undermine my own theory, else all my setup would have been in vain.