Why so serious? Christopher Nolan likes his movies to be that way, so whey the hell not? This superhero crime thriller saw a worldwide release on July 18th, 2008, going on to gross just over $1 billion in box office receipts. Having found great success in the previous installment, Nolan followed up with this film, supported by an interesting viral marketing campaign. Some months after the events of Batman Begins, The Caped Crusader and Lt. James Gordon continue their war on crime. And with the help of recently-elected district attorney Harvey Dent, this triad seem destined to clean up the streets of Gotham from its damnation. But a new criminal, The Joker, strolls into town and becomes hell-bent on plunging the city into chaos. One of the smartest moves that Nolan made in the previous film was that he saved The Joker for the second movie. It could have been so easy to open up his trilogy with the most iconic Batman villain in the mythos, but no. He instead gave a tiny teaser at the end of Batman Begins and marketed the shit out of it. And he created The Dark Knight, one of the very few sequels that not only improves upon but also completely overshadows the original. Most of the cast from the first entry return here for a second time, and still feel right in their roles. Aaron Eckart is one of the newest additions as Harvey Dent and feels right at home with his performance. One of the most tragic characters in both comic book and film history, you really empathize with his struggle to remain moral in such a decrepit environment. And while I normally am cautious of recastings, Maggie Gyllenhaal was great as Rachel Dawes. Her character was given much more to say and do this time around, adding a great foil to both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Every line of dialogue she delivered felt genuine and made me glad that Katie Holmes didn’t sign up to return. But folks, let’s get right to the point: Heath Ledger as The Joker. Even though his performance is the focal point of almost every other critical review for this movie, it’s absolutely deserved. He created a screen presence that was so wholesome and thoroughly original; there is not a single actor or actress before or after this film’s release who gave a performance quite like this one. His voice drips in menace and his backstory is mysterious and contradictory, making him scarier than any villain with superpowers. Then you start hearing stories of how he kept a diary with creepy doodles- almost like the demented offspring of Alex from A Clockwork Orange -and it becomes clear why Ledger posthumously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the only time a superhero movie won a nontechnical Oscar. It’s just a shame that this role also killed him. In all honesty, I could spend this entire review raving about his performance alone. But The Dark Knight is also a great technical achievement. A stickler for film, much of the movie was captured on camera using practical effects. One of the most famous moments in the film was an intense chase scene involving a SWAT car, a semi-truck, and the Bat-Pod. Through the use of real sets and tricky wiring, the semi flip over onto it’s back, without the use of CGI. Similarly, The Joker later tries to burn up a hospital using explosives. And while a misfire made for some great improvisation from Ledger, the resulting explosion leaves you with the impression of “How did they do that?” It matches Lee Smith’s brilliant editing job, making the action easy enough to follow without including too many cutaways. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard team up once again for the musical score. Much of the same themes and sounds return for a second outing. One of the new leitmotifs and certainly the most memorable one is that of The Joker. It consists simply of a single note drawn out on an electric guitar and strings. Not only does it keep the audience aware of his presence, but it really makes them hate The Clown Prince of Crime. But to call The Dark Knight just a comic book superhero film is severely undercutting it. This is a crime drama in every sense, as well as a political allegory for the inherent flaws of the Patriot Act and government corruption. The Joker is an anarchist who will do anything and kill anyone, including himself, to get his message across. Similarly, both the titular hero and Harvey Dent are struggling to keep their moral codes in check as things keep accelerating and going from bad to worse. Half of the time, you’re wanting them to break their rule, the other half, you want to see them stay unbent. Their morality is tested, with the oft-repeated mantra, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” Each time I watch it, I can’t help but grip my seat and wait to see when these two men are going to snap. A tense, unpredictable thriller with some haunting and unforgettable moments, The Dark Knight is a ferociously exciting character study that’s also the best superhero film ever made. If you etched away from the D.C. Comics brand and Batman logo, you still have a brilliant drama to sink your teeth into. Excellent storytelling and one of the most chilling acting performances ever put to film cement this adventure’s status not just as Christopher Nolan’s best film to date, but one of the greatest films of all time. A personal favorite.