If it's crap ... We'll tell you
In the second pairing of director Christopher Nolan and the titular Dark Knight, Batman (Christian Bale), we find the caped crusader battling a new foe: The Joker (Heath Ledger). In contrast to his previous task of bringing down an elite team of highly skilled killers trained to follow very specific rules, Joker has no rules and works as a force of nature against Gotham City. While Batman and the new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) fight the mobs, Joker plays the mobs to send a message of chaos and anarchy to the people of Gotham.
After the wild success of Batman Begins, it only made sense for Nolan to not only continue the series but to bring in the single most recognizable Batman villain. He does so flawlessly, making him fit perfectly into the story and creating an incredibly unique villain in the process. The Joker concept is there but it's taken to a whole new level, mixing in extremely dark humor to make him a deadly force to be reckoned with. Ledger's performance is like nothing that's ever been done before, and while there's a sad story behind this film in his passing before its release, he left behind possibly the single most iconic film persona of the past decade.
But while a lot of the fun and the social commentary comes from Joker, the emotion comes from Harvey Dent. He's the symbol of justice that can stand up before Gotham in contrast to the lurking, shadowy Batman vigilante, but he's also got a dark side to him that plays heavily into the story. His relationship with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal this time) creates a nice rift between Bruce Wayne and himself, while also giving them both a common interest. He is essentially the polar opposite of Batman, and the contrast works brilliantly.
What seems to make this film work so much better than its predecessor (its predecessors, in fact) is that they had so many characters playing off each other that it made it possible to even out the dialogue a bit better. With Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman), Harvey and Mayor Garcia (Nestor Carbonell) playing off each other, each of the mob bosses becoming frantic due to the Joker's schemes and Batman having to juggle all of them, it makes this behemoth of a film flow more smoothly than it could have. Everybody plays a part and nobody feels unnecessary or out of place, much like the first. But where Batman Begins failed at making its dialogue work, The Dark Knight exceeds exponentially. Most of the dialogue is through speeches, but the speeches actually flow well together, creating an interesting narrative and some fascinating character work.
This movie is also a spectacle, with some of the best cinematography of the last decade. The sound is incredible; every explosion and every punch leaving an impact. It's also a very long movie, but the pacing is perfect for a rare five-act film structure. There is a ton of story to tell and it all fits in nice and neat together without any filler. The only problem I had with the editing came around the end of the fourth act, where it's not made exactly clear whether a character lived or died, and when this is actually addressed it feels sort of awkward. It's not enough to hurt the movie long-term though as any confusion it may have caused is tossed aside for an incredible finale.
The Dark Knight is pristine film making at its finest. It stands as not only the single greatest superhero film to date but as one of, if not (dare I say it) the greatest movie ever made. Everything falls into place to tell a brilliant story with fascinating characters, incredible acting, ingenious moral dilemmas and top notch action.