The Dark Knight is 150 minutes of intensity—a well-done action film that, unlike Batman Begins, focuses less on character and more on the ca-razee Joker (played by a nearly scenery-chewing Heath Ledger) and Batman’s quest to stop him.
The film pretty much lacks comic relief (and lulls), but for such a serious action movie, unintentional comedy is fortunately rare: one such scene where Batman (Christian Bale) and a bystander survive a multi-story fall from Bruce Wayne’s penthouse is punctuated with a joke to distract us from wondering how they just crushed a taxi roof without injury. Another scene is meant to be serious—but it plays in a your kids are really going to love his new badass motorcycle kind of way.
On a related note, Batman’s use of gadgets—traditionally deployed like a rich man’s 007—is scaled down, except for one scene that benefits heavily from mysterious Koreans who can fly cargo planes undetected above Hong Kong skyscrapers. Maybe China’s smog prevents their radar from working.
As for the acting, Aaron Eckhart (we still love him for Thank You For Smoking) is a non-entity until his transformation into the infection-resistant Two-Face. Fortunately, his villainous incarnation isn’t around long enough to do Joker-scale damage–or to make us wonder how he gets through the day without a crate of eyedrops. Maggie Gyllenhaal, although also pretty stiff, remains light-years better than the interminable Katie Holmes—but it’s really a non-issue at this point. Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, Morgan Freeman as himself, and Julia Roberts’ brother as some mobster are all fine, too; as with Batman Begins, the supporting actors aren’t given the best lines, but they’re not the worst, either.
Other reviewers are correct to say The Dark Knight is Ledger’s show—and it is a strange and unsettling way to cap his legacy. It’s hard to figure whether the film’s success has been driven more by Ledger’s death or its actual adrenaline-fueled suspense (if you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to keep an audience rapt for 150 minutes, see The Dark Knight to find out). Both elements make The Dark Knight noteworthy.
The real question is not necessarily how Christopher Nolan will make #3, but how it could possibly be any good without Heath Ledger. Logic says that it should not be done at all, but it will be. The next question is, who will be the villian–since there aren’t any scary ones left?