The Dark Knight 
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
The Dark Knight is a brilliant film and a masterpiece of its kind. But more than that, it’s also superbly entertaining. It is a dark, brooding film, hearkening back to the true roots of the original Batman comics, and is, without a doubt, the best film of the year so far, and the very best comic book and super hero movie ever made. With it, Christopher Nolan has completely raised the bar for what constitutes both categories, of “comic book movie” and “super hero movie.” While I watched it, I was drawn in, from the very first second to the very last, and my fascination with what unfolded never wavered. For a movie of its length (152 minutes), it was amazing for me to walk out of the theater feeling as if at least half that time had passed. Its ability to do this, to not feel overlong or as if its overreaching its material is a testament to the film’s unwavering brilliance.
The film starts out some time after Batman Begins ended. Batman (Christian Bale) has almost completely cleaned up the city. The criminals have been chased into a corner, and have been forced to take drastic measures to continue their “business”. A new District Attorney is in town. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and his Assistant D.A., Rachel Dawes (played here by Maggie Gyllenhaal in a huge step up from Katie Holmes) have been doing their part to clean up the crime through legal means. And of course, the infallibly good cop, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) has been doing his part in collaboration with Batman.
But Bruce Wayne has been struggling with his alter-ego. Other people are putting on “bat costumes” and trying to fight crime, copying Batman. “This is not what I had in mind when I said I wanted to inspire people,” he says to Alfred (Michael Caine, wonderful as always), who provides the voice of reason in the ensuing chaos. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) also returns, in much the same role he played in the first film, and providing a new and better suit for Bruce Wayne. He’s been struggling with his purpose as The Batman. Is he just a vigilante, as the public thinks of him? No better than the other criminals out there, because he thinks he’s above the law?
These questions, and the issues surrounding them, only become greater when a new criminal, The Joker (the late Heath Ledger) shows up and starts his rampage across the city. “People will die,” he says, “I’m a man of my word.” The Joker is brilliantly and perfectly presented and imagined in this film, a complete compliment to Batman. His “jokes” are true morality plays, bringing not only Batman’s, but the concept of morality itself into question.
As for Ledger’s performance; it’s maniacal, insane, seemingly limitless, and absolutely brilliant in every way. As the film unfolds, he draws us deeper and darker into his madness. There is much talk of a posthumous Oscar for him, and if he were to win it, he would be completely deserving. It is quite unfortunate that he is no longer with us, as this film only bolsters what many of us figured out after Brokeback Mountain: here was a ripe young talent who could go on to do great things.
Nolan has crafted for us a film that feels real, and feels plausible. Not many super hero films have accomplished this, and it’s to his credit that he’s done it so well. It doesn’t feel like a super hero movie, but a crime drama in the vein of Michael Mann’s Heat, a film for which Nolan has admitted was an influence. Actions have consequences, not just results. The city itself feels real and lived in, thanks to Nolan’s on-location filming in Chicago for the site of Gotham City. Nolan makes us feel for his characters, and for their roles in the events as they unfold. He makes us ponder why they do what they do, and why they say what they say. He makes us question the actions the characters take, and analyze the motives behind them. It is again a testament to Ledger that his Joker is impossible to fully comprehend, if comprehend at all.
Is this a summer blockbuster? Yes. And one can tell in the chase and action scenes, and the explosions. But it’s not played as one. It’s thought-provoking and insightful, something that is sorely lacking from most films. It doesn’t look for cheap thrills, and in the end, we’re satisfied, because it’s given us more than we ever thought possible from a “movie of its kind.”