The much anticipated sequel to Batman Begins delivers a ton of story for your dollar, clocking in at 2 hours and 30 minutes and not wasting any time. A combination of great performances, realistic special effects and solid writing bring another Batman experience grounded in realism, but still able to deliver some exciting thrills.
Director Chris Nolan brings his gritty sensibility to the film again, although a little inconsistently this time. While the Joker has to wear make-up in order to assume his iconic look, there are some technological gadgets that stretch the suspension of disbelief further than the first film did. For my taste, I prefer a joker whose skin is stained white across his entire body, and stays that way. In "The Dark Knight", the Joker's make-up and hair-dye would fade from wear and tear on the character, resulting in a few moments where he didn't quite look like the Joker as much as a weird guy who just got home at 6am from a really crazy party.
Add to that Ledger's performance. Although I was sad to hear about his death, I'm removed enough from it that I feel l can judge his performance without being too easy or too hard on him. Ledger brought a dark and creepy sensibility appropriate to the famous maniac, but lacked the outlandish, larger than life aspects of the Clown Prince Of Crime. Jack Nicholson carried this part of the character, but on the flip side, Nicholson lacked the creepiness the Joker needs that Ledger brought so effectively. Overall, I felt the "Nolanized" version of the Joker in this movie was just getting started, never quite reaching the grand, insanely operatic potential of the character. With luck, we'll see a more evolved Joker in the next film. But don't be dismayed. Ledger's Joker still has some wonderful moments. Darkly funny and sometimes just weird. I'm not crazy about the strange chewing and lip-smacking he does so much of in the film, but Ledger's performance is still one that takes risks, tries new things and results in an interpretation of the character that definitely has appeal.
Another bright spot in the movie include Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. To my mind, any change of casting in that role would be an improvement, so welcome Maggie! Aaron Eckhart does a wonderful job as D.A. Harvey Dent, and though the film doesn't delve as deeply into Dent's psychology as I would have liked, Eckhart also handles the progression of the character well.
There's a surprising amount of daylight in this movie, considering that Batman is a character associated with night and darkness. Gotham City is an even more realistic looking place than it was in Batman Begins. In fact, much of the movie feels so realistic that when there are no heroes or villains on screen, you forget that you're watching a "superhero movie". For my personal taste, I'd like a more stylized approach to this kind of film, a good example being Spider-man, where they showcased some of the more interesting buildings you might find in the Big Apple and the colors were just a little less dry than in "Dark Knight". Certainly nothing like Batman Forever or even the first two Batman movies, but something just a little more eye-catching would have been nice.
As I said before, you get a lot of movie for the price of admission. There are some cool action bits from early in the film that feel like they were from a different movie by the time the credits roll. I was never bored, but you recognize the length of the thing when you finally get up to leave.
The action in this movie is similar to the first. It's not stylized with lots of slow-mo. The combat is quick, brutal and lacking any fanfare. This has its pros and cons. The best action moments of the film result not from breath-taking special effects, but from the clever concepts that bring these moments about. Both the heroes and villains are smart in this movie, and victory comes not because of a bigger gun in each battle, but because of a better plan.
There are a ton of subplots to digest, but none of them seem rushed through. Again, there's just a LOT of story going on here.
As for Relevance, there's a great theme running through the movie about what a hero truly is, and a valuable reminder that doing the right thing is often not easy and doesn't come with any appreciation or credit from those around you. You may even be hated for it.
The movie ends not with massive explosions, but dramatic intensity, reminding you that you care a great deal about these characters. For that, my hat goes off to the writers, directors and performers.
Not the coolest or flashiest superhero flick, but one that pulls you into Gotham City and makes you care about the people who live there.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace