Christian Bale as The Dark Knight... Rocks!

There is so much buzz for The Dark Knight, it seems impossible to escape. I think even Osama bin Laden has heard about this movie, so watch out for some stinky guy with a beard and a dialysis machine sitting in the theater with you this weekend. Seriously, the hype is that big.

So, does the movie live up to this hype? Unlike Iron Man earlier this year, which was pretty darn cool but seemed a bit anticlimactic after all the hype leading up to it, The Dark Knight absolutely delivers a riveting film with tons of action but not at the expense of plot or character. And it is a huge step up from Batman Begins.

I’ll be the first to admit that I had some problems with Christopher Nolan’s first shot at the Batman franchise. First, they suppressed an awesome villain from the comics (the Scarecrow) and focused on a less interesting bad guy (Ra’s al Ghul) who was a tertiary character at best.

It also seemed that while Nolan could construct a tightly woven, intimate story of Batman’s origin, the studio demanded a “big” ending in which Wayne Manor burns down, a high-speed train crashes in downtown Gotham and Jim Gordon drives the Batmobile.

Finally, there was that whole Katie Holmes casting choice.

Well, we all know they got rid of Katie Holmes when the casting of Maggie Gyllenhaal was announced. But the casting notice for The Dark Knight had some other problems… like Heath Ledger as the Joker.

I know, I know. You’ve been hearing nothing but accolades (and even calls for an early Oscar nomination) for Ledger. But I was not sold on him as the Clown Prince until after I saw this movie. And there’s no zealot like the converted.

I have always struggled with the DC characters because those are the comics I read as a kid. They can muck up Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four all they want, and I wouldn’t be the wiser. But screw with the DC mythology, and I fly off the handle.

It was clear early on that Heath Ledger’s Joker would not be the one from the comic books. He wears the make-up, rather than having freakish white skin, for example.

However, I am ready to jump on the Heath Ledger bandwagon right now. His portrayal of the Joker, while a bit different than the comics, is one of the most realistic, visceral and chilling villains you’re going to see on screen in a while. It’s better than the farce of Cesar Romero, and it’s not just a caricature joke that Jack Nicholson gave us. And while the Joker is more faithful in the animated series (with an often spot-on voice portrayal from Mark Hammil), Ledger’s Joker works so well in the story crafted for The Dark Knight that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But the film is more than just a showcase for Ledger’s Joker. This is possibly one of the best casts assembled for a superhero movie ever. Christian Bale gives us the best and most believable Bruce Wayne. He holds back up the Batman as well, giving us a realistic hero. With his acting and the direction from Nolan, you can believe that a guy with almost unlimited funds could pull this off.

Then there’s Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes… definitely a trade-up from Katie Holmes. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman reprise their roles as Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox, both offering acting cred for the film.

But the one guy who always seems to get lost in the wake of Heath Ledger is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. The main movie arc belongs to the Joker, but it is Dent’s ability to be a new breed of superhero to Gotham that really impacts Batman in this film. And unlike other superhero movies that get too crowded with too many characters, The Dark Knight doesn’t clutter itself but rather winds everyone together to make a solid plot.

The Dark Knight isn’t just the best Batman movie out there. It’s vying for the spot of the best superhero movie as well.

Quite simply, when you see The Dark Knight, you’re going to realize how truly awful the first wave of Batman films were.

THE UPSIDE: To paraphrase a line from the marketing for 1978’s Superman… You will believe a rich guy could dress up as a bat and kick ass.

THE DOWNSIDE: Not much, really. Unless you get the 87 oz. drink and need to use the restroom.

ON THE SIDE: Go see it in IMAX. Seriously. This is the best way to experience this film.

Grade: A+


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