Times are tough for everyone in Gotham City in "The Dark Knight."
The criminal underground " once led by big-time mob bosses and established thugs " is facing problems from every direction.
First is Gotham's new lead district attorney, Harvey Dent, an innovative, incorrupt do-gooder whose city vision and reckless determination are starting to net big arrests and criminal unrest. Making matters worse is The Joker (the late Heath Ledger), a twisted criminal newcomer who makes a name for himself by robbing a mob-owned bank.
The Joker makes a deal with the mob to kill Batman (Christian Bale) and decrees a public relations scheme of his own: People will die every day until Batman takes his mask off and turns himself in.
"The Dark Knight" is Batman at his best " a stunning example of how powerful the character can be. The superhero's struggle is palpable, and we see the cracks in his character widen. Flaws and vulnerability are what make a hero super. The matte-black bat suit might make the hero, but the chinks in his armor make him a man.
Ledger performs stunningly as The Joker. Compared to Jack Nicholson, his version has less polish, prancing and preening, opting instead for a staggering, breathy psychopath with perpetually wet hair; smeared, faded makeup; and mouthy, greasy dialogue. But the new Joker is scarier when he is silent.
The fight and chase sequences are dynamite, but thankfully don't steal scenes from the actors, who bring performances that truly make this sequel explosive.