The Dark Knight
With The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan delivers not only a jaw-dropping superhero epic but also one of the best crime dramas of the millennium. Batman (Christian Bale) and DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) interchangeably play the role of Elliot Ness, noble do-gooders determined to bring an unruly city into line by removing various mobsters from power via a combination of dark-alley head thumpings and the RICO Act. Backing them up are Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Assistant DA Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes from Batman Begins). However, one of these characters anticipate what will happen when they push organized crime so far; in the absence of adequate leadership, mobsters like Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts) turn to a mysterious, violent new player--the Joker (Heath Ledger)--whose anarchic appetite quickly turns the streets of Gotham City into a battlefield where the line between good and evil becomes increasingly blurred for Batman and Dent. Both find themselves questioning how far they can go to stop a force like the Joker, who represents chaos to their order, before they become as bad as him.
As with Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, the Joker is Knight's true star. Unlike Burton's take, though, Nolan views the character as cut from the same cloth as Batman. The two are opposite sides of the same coin, freaks who became what they are more because of chance than anything else. Batman, thus, as the Joker sneers, "completes" him; they are bound forever since Batman will not kill him and the Joker couldn't kill someone who makes life so entertaining. Dent comes to represent these two characters' dichotomy when, courtesy of the Joker's shenanigans, half of his face is horribly burned and he becomes the homicidal Two-Face--a supervillain who decides life and death with the flip of a coin. Their triumvirate represents a philosophical battle for the soul of Gotham City, where notions of heroism are questioned daily and lives depend upon how those on each side of the law interpret themselves.
As much as the story behind Knight works on a character level, the movie also represents a triumph for traditional filmmaking techniques. Imax cameras provide a depth of vision and clarity to cityscapes that CGI can't compare with: when buildings explode, that's really wood, metal, and burning flame racing at the screen. The semitruck that flips back over front on a downtown street is really a semitruck flipping back over front on a downtown street. In a medium where CGI has become synonymous with superheroes, the limited presence of it adds a degree of startling reality to The Dark Knight that makes a person believe a billionaire could dress up as a bat and kick ass on a city's streets.