"The Dark Knight" takes the superhero genre to new heights by bringing horror and suspense to an epic tale filled with heroes, villains and everything in between.
Picking up from where 2005's "Batman Begins" left off, we find our caped crusader dealing with the consequences of his war on Gotham's underworld. Not only does Batman (Christian Bale) have his hands full with criminals, but with Batman fanboys who try to take on the mob with guns, Batman costumes and pot bellies. In their zeal, they put their lives and his at risk. And he's none too happy about it.
As a result of Batman's one man war on crime, the various mob bosses turn to a psychotic wildcard in the Joker (Heath Ledger), a scarred, lip- licking bit of a man with makeup that looks like it was applied during an earthquake. Unlike the mobsters, the Joker is a unique villain in that he doesn't rob or kill for money or power, but sees himself as a perverse social scientist with Gotham City as his walking, breathing petri dish.
The late Heath Ledger gives a masterful performance that exceeds any mere posthumous Oscar talk. To prepare for his role, Ledger spent a month secluded in a hotel room working on the character's psychology, voice and posture. What makes his performance so moving is that he adds a realness that could come from anyone pushed over the edge. His performance isn't over the top camp, but instead a look inside the mind of a true sociopath. From the creepy way he licks his lips when talking to the way he utters lines like "What does not kill you, makes you stranger." Ledger's Joker evokes less of Jack Nicholson (who was great in his own way) and more Hitchcock in creating the scariest kind of villain: a brilliant one.
Christian Bale delivers a great performance as a man who duels both moral demons as well as physical ones, risking the lives of friends in the process. While his throaty-voiced Batman brings to mind a watered down Dirty Harry at times, he brings a perfect duality to billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and to the fearless Batman.
Having studied dual personalities for the role, Aaron Eckhart does surprisingly well representing both the yin and yang of the Batman & Joker. Portraying the dynamic and handsome District Attorney Harvey Dent and later as the amoral and disfigured 2Face, Eckhart captivates as the character that is the literal and figurative bridge between the two antagonists.
Christopher Nolan does a fantastic job directing perhaps the first true superhero epic since the 1978 Superman. While the camera work can be dizzying during the fight sequences, Nolan manages to bring out the best not only in Ledger, but also in Bale and Eckhart. Thanks to a story constructed by himself as well as his brother Jonathan and writer David Goyer, they delve into the psyches of all three characters and challenge all three actors to push the limits of their abilities and the genre.
Billy Tatum gives The Dark Knight 5 Scoops (out of 5)
Running time: 2 hours, 32 minutes. Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace.