In the “Batman” movies, it’s always the villains who steal the show – and Christopher Nolan’s latest installment is no exception. Heath Ledger is dangerous and demented as the Joker, a cackling symbol of insane, unpredictable anarchy that’s both timely and relevant in today’s grim, chaotic world.
While billionaire Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) has chased gangsters from Gotham City, the criminal community has rebelled, creating a far greater threat by turning to a villainous mastermind known as the Joker, whose cruel savagery is so unrelenting that he twists the souls of the Caped Crusader, District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Police Lieut. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman).
“Criminals are complicated,” observes Wayne’s astute butler Alfred (Michael Caine). “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
While it’s macabre, even tragic, to watch Ledger (“Brokeback Mountain”) in his garish war paint, knowing that he died of a prescription drug overdose after filming ended, his malevolent performance has already generated talk of a posthumous Oscar, following in the footsteps of Peter Finch, who won in 1977 for “Network” two months after he died. And he’s ably supported by brooding Bale, Caine, and Morgan Freeman, as Lucius Fox, who provides Wayne with high-tech gizmos and gadgets, like a Batsuit and new two-wheeled Bat-Pod. Unfortunately, Maggie Gyllenhaal is given little to do but smile and shriek as Rachel Dawes.
Christopher Nolan (“Batman Returns,” “Memento”) – who wrote the script with his brother Jonathan – propels the action-filled crime drama at a brutal, frenetic, often confusing pace. Yet on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Dark Knight” is a thrilling, terrifying 10. Once again, the Joker’s wild!