A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although The Dark Knight is an excellent movie, this sequel to Batman Begins is also much darker and more violent than the first one. Remember: Not all Batmen are created equal. Even though this movie is about a comic-book character, neither it nor its flawed hero and villain are aimed at younger kids or appropriate for them. The film is loaded with intense action, from bombs and bullets to martial-arts fighting and hand-to-hand combat. In addition to the hard-hitting action, expect some drinking and a bit of sexuality. And The Joker's nightmarish appearance has the potential to frighten viewers of all ages. Much of the movie's buzz surrounds actor Heath Ledger's excellent work in that villainous role -- his final completed part before his January 2008 death from an accidental drug overdose.
What's the story?
Following 2005's Batman Begins, THE DARK KNIGHT continues the adventures of billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), who poses as a playboy in public -- and in private takes to the streets as costumed vigilante Batman, working to clean up the beleaguered city of Gotham. This time around, Batman has allies, including up-and-coming district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), whose own crusade to stop Gotham's gangs and organized crime families is almost as effective as Batman's -- and, more importantly, carried out within the letter of the law. Weary and battered, Wayne is eager to help Dent so that he can retire Batman's shadowy efforts, but the arrival of a new player, the giddy and grim anarchist known as The Joker (Heath Ledger) tosses a very wild card into the game.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Dark Knight's violence. How does the film differentiate between "good" and "bad" uses of violence?
What distinguishes Batman from the Joker? Both are angry and dark; why is one a hero and one a villain? Is the rule of law more important than the rule of force?
What does it take to maintain order in the face of those who try to create chaos? Does keeping the public safe from harm justifying curtailing their right to privacy?
Talk about the media coverage around Ledger's role in the film. How does a tragedy like his death affect a film's marketing and publicity?
- In theaters: July 18, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: December 8, 2008
- Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger
- Director: Christopher Nolan
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Superheroes
- Run time: 152 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of violence and some menace
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.