Review in a Hurry: Holy transcendence of genre, Batman! This epic struggle between the caped crusader (Christian Bale) and his nemesis the Joker (Heath Ledger) has a lot more on its mind than biff, bam and pow—and delivers on every operatic promise it makes.
The Bigger Picture: It's almost unfair to call The Dark Knight a sequel. Director Christopher Nolan has crafted a Batman film of such devastating impact, it practically obliterates the memory of its predecessors—including Nolan's own Batman Begins.
When we last left Gotham City's dark protector, his life and home were in a shambles, but so was crime in the city. Now crusading DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is looking to finish the job Batman started—but there's still plenty of fight left in the mob, not to mention the matter of a certain psychopath in smeared clown makeup who wants to make life interesting for everyone.
And so begins a sprawling, thrilling story of revenge, redemption, and the definition of heroism. Everything about The Dark Knight is definitive, in fact. Bale is essentially playing three roles—dapper, vacant playboy Bruce Wayne, his more contemplative private self and the simmering superhero—and nails them all. And there's almost no way to praise Ledger's bravura take on The Joker except to say that you've got to see it to believe it—not since Hannibal Lecter has a villain been so terrifying, so engaging and so memorable.
Between them, Batman and The Joker are doing battle for the soul of a city—and it's never clear who's going to be the winner. It's a titanic battle between not just men but ideas, a grand thing indeed for a dynamite summer film about a masked vigilante, and so good, it's a pity you'll only be able to see it for the first time once.
The 180—a Second Opinion: This may be the year's most heartbreaking film. Ledger's performance is so incandescent, it hurts to know he won't ever have the chance at it again.