Batman, again played with gritty determination by Christian Bale, has his hands full in THE DARK KNIGHT with his arch nemesis, the Joker, played with menacing glee by the late Heath Ledger, who’s destined to receive a posthumous Oscar trophy. The plot is multi-layered, convoluted yet not impenetrable, and steeped in crime movie mythology that speaks both to classic film noir and the graphic novel roots that Nolan is working from. The Joker is out to bring down Batman, while also trying to put a stranglehold on Gotham’s City’s overall criminal element. From the steely, Mann-esque precision of the film’s opening bank robbery sequence; you get the sense that Ledger’s Joker isn’t a playful clown, but rather, a certifiable psychopath. The way he licks his scarred lips and the way his sinister cackle fills a room with eerie rage are just two of the ways that Ledger left an indelible mark on this classic comic book icon; I wonder if any other actor will be up to the challenge in future installments. Harvey Dent, an excellent Aaron Eckhart, is trying to clean the streets up from city hall, and Jim Gordon, played with low-key integrity by Gary Oldman, is working his way up the police chain of command. Various gangsters figure into the plot and there is a morally complex chain of events that figure into the film’s gripping climax. But the real show is the duel between Batman and the Joker, and it’s here, with two of the comic-worlds most beloved characters, that THE DARK KNIGHT really excels
Nolan, again working with his phenomenal cinematographer Wally Pfister, bathes the film in shadows and blacks; this is a dark movie, both in theme and in appearance, but in the end, serving a stylistic and narrative purpose. The tragic nature of Dent’s character is highlighted in a powerful character arc that exposes the character’s many faces. There are a few surprises along the way from a story stand point, and the major action scene, occurring at the half-way mark, is a tour de force of choreography, seamless CGI integration, and old-fashioned movie magic. By the end of this haunting and beautifully crafted piece of propulsive entertainment, the viewer can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. THE DARK KNIGHT is the first superhero film to never feel like a traditional superhero film. And it’s the first time that a film of its sort could potentially be a factor at the various year-end awards ceremonies. And with good reason: it’s a massively successful (both on a creative and business angle) motion picture with ambition, smarts, and style. It’s one of the best films of the year.