I'm going to start off this weeks article with a moment of disturbing realism that many of us may be afraid to admit to.  On January 22nd 2008 when Heath Ledger died due to an accidental overdose, about 95% of people reacted to the news in this manner: "Oh my God…did they finish The Dark Knight?"  The level of anticipation for this movie has been just as high as, or higher than any other film in recent memory.  Batman Begins was a movie that not only redeemed the entire Batman franchise from such horrific failures as Batman and Robin, and Batman Forever, but also redefined the comic book movie genre by adding levels of intense realism, dark protagonist character conflict, and situations concerning the morality of man. 

Everyone has been sitting on pins and needles over this movie for the past 3 years, and why not? There's a lot that has been hanging in the balance.  Is it possible that this movie will be able to stand up to the greatness of Batman Begins? Or will it be a gross disappointment that tarnishes the series we fell in love with, like Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, and Spider-Man 3?  Will Heath Ledgers acting stand out since the last great portrayal of the Joker; Jack Nicholson in the 1989 Batman?  

Gather 'round, children, and lets find out.

-For those of you who want to skip the little plot setup, go ahead and skip this paragraph-  

The Dark Knight
opens up in the middle of a heated bank robbery.  We are introduced to the Joker (Heath Ledger), a twisted and very scary criminal who double-crosses his own accomplices during the robbery.  Meanwhile, Batman (Christian Bale) is still working himself to the bone cleaning up the streets of Gotham.  In addition to the usual slew of thugs, drug dealers and murderers, Batman now has to deal with vigilante 'Batman' impersonator gangs with guns who "want to help", but at the same time do very little but get in the way.  A light in the darkness appears with Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham's new no-fear attitude district attorney.  Soon, Lieutenant Gordon (who, unbeknownst to the public is working hand in hand with Batman at this point), Harvey Dent, and Batman come together with a plan to bring down the last of Gotham City's mob underworld, and make Harvey Dent the public hero that will always 'uphold the law the "right" way' that Batman can never truly be.  While Gotham's remaining mob bosses meet to discuss how to handle Batman, Gordon and Dent, the Joker arrives and proposes that he himself will kill Batman for them for a price.  Soon, the Joker tells all of Gotham that if the Batman does not willingly turn himself into the police, he will begin killing innocent people every day as a penalty, and soon starts to target high power public officials.  

After all the anticipation, all the nail biting and trailer watching, it makes me happy to tell you, that this movie is nothing short of incredible.  The Dark Knight reaches and surpasses practically every expectation you could have in a movie imaginable.  When I say that this movie does absolutely everything right, I mean it.

The directing is excellent.  While Batman Begins focused on the origins of Bruce Wayne and his transformation into becoming Batman, The Dark Knight focuses on the inner conflicts that Batman now faces in light of the new Gotham that he himself has created.  Christopher Nolan makes everything so real and true to life, you almost forget that you're watching a movie.  Batman's struggle between doing the right thing, the desire to live a normal life, and the protection of what matters most to him all mix together for a serious level of powerful drama.

The casting was perfect.  Christian Bale is the best Batman to date, hands down.  His flashy, playboy Bruce Wayne persona, and his dark portrayal of a conflicted Batman is excellent.  Aaron Eckhart, who I've been a big fan of since Thank You for Smoking, surprised me with his depiction of Harvey Dent, Gotham's new 'white knight' of justice.  You take him so seriously on screen; it pains you to see him slowly go over the edge as the movie progresses and he makes his transformation into 'Two-Face'.  Maggie Gyllenhaal makes us care more about the character of Rachel Dawes than Katie Holmes ever managed to do, and her moral dilemmas between Harvey and Bruce start pulling us in as well.  Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are two supporting characters who are crucial to the action and progression of the story.  Guiding Batman in his times of desperation as the scientific 'Lucius Fox' and loyal friend/butler/assistant 'Alfred', Freeman and Caine also enlighten the audience with their natural senses of charm and wit.  

Finally, we have the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker.  I'll admit, way, way back when it was first announced that Christopher Nolan had decided on Heath Ledger to portray the Joker, I was skeptical to say the least.  In my opinion Ledger was a good enough actor, but for the most part all he ever seemed to have a talent for was smiling on camera and being a pretty boy.  However, once production stills and trailers started popping up for The Dark Knight, I started getting interested.  Very interested.  Not only did ledger look anything but his usually pretty boy self, the Joker looked dark, disturbed, and not campy in the least bit.  Last but not least, advanced viewers of the movie started buzzing about Heaths acting.  

I've heard a lot of Oscar buzz about The Dark Knight. I believe it was the E! channel that said Heath Ledger's acting was genius. All this talk has led me to wonder if a Oscar has ever been awarded to someone who has died before? Hmm…
- Megan Jones

After having seen the movie, I can honestly say that Heath Ledgers depiction of the Joker is pure brilliance.  It's unquestionable.  His portrayal of the Joker runs similar to the original performance of Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  I'm not exaggerating in any way, it's seriously that good.  Every time he appears on screen you're flooded with a mix of nervous laughter and fear.  Any questions you may have had, such as "How could someone as skinny and physically non-threatening as the Joker intimidate anyone, let alone big mob bosses and Batman?" are IMMEDIATELY thrown out the window after seeing one of my now top 20 movie scenes, the Joker's 'pencil magic trick'.  Ledger sends shivers down your spine as a character so creepy and disturbing, his presence on the screen leave you in awe every time.  When the credits start rolling, the grief hits you extra hard knowing that such a brilliant and talented actor's life was cut tragically short.  

In answer to Megan's question, yes, 'posthumus oscars' have been nominated before, and only one actor to date has received such an honor " Peter Finch for his role as Howard Beale in Network (1976).  In my personal opinion, not nominating Heath Ledger for his performance as the Joker would simply be an insult to such a fantastic performance.  

The Bottom Line: Chances are that if you liked Batman Begins, you already saw this movie either opening night, or over the weekend.  To anyone still skeptical about if Dark Knight lives up to the hype, I can only answer with an astounding yes.  The level of drama, moral dilemmas, and action is strong enough where I can literally recommend this movie to people who aren't even fans of the comic book movie genre.  

Grade: The directing was creative and attention grabbing.  The casting was perfectly chosen, role for role.  The acting was strong from everyone on screen – not simply does only Batman have important decisions to make, every character does.  Harvey Dent, Gordon, Rachel Dawes, Lucius Fox, and even Alfred all have moments on the screen struggling with issues of nobility, right and wrong, personal choice, ethical decisions, and the dark side of man.  Despite the fact that all this is going on, it doesn't at all take away from the excellent performances of Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, who clash with each other in ways that are so true to the comic books and even the old animated TV series, its astounding.  The action sequences are amazing.  Even the music in the film is so intense it gets your blood pumping through every chase scene, and every fight sequence.  I could go into the bathroom with a plunger and unclog my toilet with that music blasting, and I'd be breaking an epic sweat shouting 'YEAH!!' because of the level of intensity.  This movie has done everything right, and for that reason Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight gets an unquestionable A.  If anyone tells you they did not like this movie, remember what you learned in Elementary School concerning predators: say 'no', run away, and tell a grown up.  

I want to encourage everyone reading this to partake in the discussion down in the comments section this time around.  I'll be making appearances here and there, and adding to the discussions when needed.  This movie is just so good, I want to hear how everyone felt about it (and why was the mayor wearing guy-liner…)

Next week is Step Brothers, followed by The Rocker.  As always, questions go to CHMovieReview@gmail.com.