The Dark Knight set an impressive box office record this weekend.

But that’s not the only list it topped.

(Thanks to Scott Derrickson, who sent the link and prompted me to post this.)

Granted, this IMDB list is vulnerable to surges, and as time passes, I’m sure it will drop in the rankings. The integrity of the list is quite suspect anyway; if memory serves, The Shawshank Redemption was #1 for quite a while. (Best movie ever? Really?) But still, this is quite a feat for a superhero movie on opening weekend.

So far, I disagree with almost every complaint that’s been made by major U.S. critics about the film.

Too long? Not for me. The story aimed high, and in order to wrap up all of those substantial plot threads adequately, there was a lot of cleaning up to do.

Too political? Too conservative? Come on. Myth-making is one of history’s most rewarding avenues for exploring and illustrating the conflicts of the age. There’s no subject that needs more thoughtful attention these days than how a society responds to terrorism. The Dark Knight gives us a wide range of characters with different philsophies, tactics, and responses, then leaves us to decide who we admire and why. It affirms the value of “white knights” who inspire us with lofty ideals, but it also acknowledges also the need for “dark knights” … brave, selfless men who will make the tough decisions and get their hands dirty in order to save innocent lives. It does not oversimplify tough questions. It leaves plenty of room for debate. It shows both the advantage, and the cost, of putting great power in the hands of a few during times of crisis. It shows us men who fail, men who become selfish animals when put to the test, and it shows us men who heed the call of conscience even at great risk to themselves. It reminds us of the need to resist the assault of fear in order to remain clear-eyed and intelligent in a time of crisis.

Reveling in nihilism, violence, and anarchy? Forget it. Consider the film’s pivotal scene, the first of two climactic confrontations (Batman’s last face-off with the Joker). What is that scene about? How does it conclude? This is a film about evil, but it is not an evil film. It is a film about virtue, but it admits that the path of the righteousness man often becomes difficult to discern in the darkness.

Yes, it has its rough spots. For example: When Batman dives out the window of a cocktail party, the film gives us no information about what happens to the traumatized partygoers he leaves behind. And the fate of one “supporting villain” is left uncertain, probably for the purpose of pacing. And the film’s most unfortunate failing is that Bruce Wayne is far less interesting in this film than he was last time around. When Batman’s in action, he’s riveting… but Gordon, Joker, Harvey Dent, and even Alfred prove more engaging than the unmasked Dark Knight. But these are minor quibbles.

This isn’t just great comic-book moviemaking. This is great moviemaking.

(By the way, did I mention that Todd Hertz gave it four stars in Christianity Today? I would have done the same, devil take the mail that would have come in accusing me of “relishing nihilism and bloodshed.”)

(P.S. Ken Brown has written up an excellent summation of the film’s powerful themes.)

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