Following Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan set about the 2nd part of what would become a 3 film arc of his Batman story, The Dark Knight.
With only one main exception from a returning cast, with Katie Holmes being replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal for the role of Rachel Dawes, the team take on the story of Batman vs. The Joker.
For the Joker, the actor Heath Leadger was cast, which was met with controversy at the time with surprise at the casting of the young Australian actor in the role that Jack Nicholson had made his own in the 1989 Batman film.
The film lands with a 152 minute plot which is slightly longer than its predecessor of Batman Begins, with this time, Nolan and his brother Jonathan writing the screenplay (with only a ‘story’ credit to David S. Goyer who had co-written the screenplay of the previous film).
The plot of this film sees the emergence of the Joker (Heath Ledger), a mysterious criminal whose motivations seem far more driven by the desire for chaos and disorder rather than the traditional money and power than has driven previous Gotham criminals.
As Batman has now established himself as the crusading force for justice in Gotham, it is to his destruction that the Joker strives, offering this as the true target for gangsters in the city who have seen their business impacted by the caped crusader. Meanwhile, District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is establishing himself as a ‘white knight’ in his quest to take down the criminal fraternity of Gotham, potentially offering a way for Bruce Wayne out of the life of being Batman.
Heath Ledger steals every scene that he is in, in this film. His performance is compelling and has you on edge in every scene that he is in. He would go on to win the oscar for best supporting actor, and whilst I know comments have been made about his untimely death having an impact on the voting members of the academy, when you re-watch the film, its hard to argue that regardless of this, he fully deserved the accolade.
What this film manages to create which is rare for coming book films, it true tension and jeopardy. Rather than trying to do so with Batman alone, it achieves it with set pieces such as a funeral gun salute, boats crossing a harbour and within a courtroom setting. In each there is a sense of real instability.
This film is the greatest superhero film ever made. It strikes exactly the right balance throughout with some exceptional performances, huge action sequences, strong characters and genuine moments of tension.