Big, bold, and bruising, this is a prime example of how a high-budget, high-profile comic-book sequel can still be an actual movie -- well-made, exciting, invested, and engaging. Yes, it's going to sell tickets and toys, but credit has to go to director/co-writer Christopher Nolan for making a strong, rich film that gives audiences plenty to talk about and mull over even after the initial adrenaline rush wears off. Like the other filmmakers who've tackled Batman in the modern age, Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher, Nolan has an obvious enthusiasm for the character; unlike Burton and Schumacher, Nolan also has an obvious respect for the character's history, grounding the costumes and action with real character development and focused storytelling.
The actors are all excellent, as well; Ledger's work as The Joker is earning Oscar buzz, and that's not just post-mortem sympathy talking. His swaggering, unhinged take on the character makes for an unsettling, compelling interpretation. As Dent (who, as comic-book fans know, eventually becomes the scarred villain Two-Face), Eckhart also delivers a strong performance that goes much deeper than the special-effects makeup he winds up wearing. Bale's performance is also terrific, whether he's portraying Batman's driven crime-fighting exploits or the quieter moments of Bruce Wayne's struggles behind the mask. Supporting players Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Maggie Gyllenhaal also deliver in their smaller roles. The Dark Knight is two and a half hours long, but it never meanders or wastes time; instead, it's packed to the brim with action, ideas, well-drawn character moments, and surprisingly effective drama.