An outstanding achievement in pulp cinema that will leave every single last audience member soaked in sweat, wishing it would never end. Heath Ledger isn't as good as the hype surrounding his performance, he is above it and better than any single quote that has whor*d his name.
About forty minutes in, you will be looking at your watch, dreading the fact that there is only an hour and forty minutes left to go. Nolan uses each and every spare second to build a beautiful superhero template the likes of which we've rarely ever seen. This is a grown-up look at the comic book world of "Batman". The same tired old structure has been used to fence a pitch-perfect script that makes sense in all that right ways. Sure, we've seen the Joker escape from jail before. But never with so much conviction and truthful talent. These outlandish creatures of the night have been given a genuine existence and a certain sense of humanity that hasn't ever quite crept into the "Batman" cannon before. Nolan has seemingly fixed the flaws of his first caped crusader effort "Batman Begins". He's ditched a lot of the drab downtime, and he's actually taken some of the high camp ideas we first saw in the Adam West TV show and turned them into a few frightening character sketches weaved within the fabric of a very authentic Gotham. He's even thrown in a few laughs for good measure. Don't worry, they are perfectly constructed and fit within the context of the story at hand.
First and foremost, I must implore you to visit this film at the IMAX Theater. That is really the only way to see it. Nolan has shot six of "The Dark Knight"'s major action sequences using the IMAX camera, and the vistas it recreates are awe-inspiring. The experience is euphoric; and you almost reach a drug buzz sitting there, trying to take it all in. One might compare it to an out-of-body experience. You feel as though you could step out of your chair and walk right into the actors' mouths. Watching "Batman"'s face at forty stories high, you come to understand how important Bat Chaspstick must be to "The Dark Knight". With every single establishing shot of the city rendered in this sensory heightening format, you truly feel as though you are floating over the proceedings like a lost ghost lingering just on the outskirts of nirvana. I have never really experienced anything quite like it. And to see the movie on a conventional screen isn't really seeing the movie at all.
About Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, it almost comes on like a horrible Catch-22. When he was first announced at Comic Con, fanboys and casual critics alike scoffed at the idea of him playing this central villain. No one quite understood what Nolan was doing by casting this young, handsome man. Then word slowly leaked out that Ledger was giving one Hell of a true to life performance. "A signature bad guy that will seriously scare your pants off. Nightmare educing!", so said Michael Cain. And thus, the hype began to build. Sadly, and without warning, Heath passed away. You could suddenly sense that certain people were praising this gifted young man's Joker on sympathy alone. To honor his name, of course we're going to say he's great. We are going to say, "Give him a posthumous Oscar." Even if his role as the Joker isn't as excellent as the hype suggests. But this is truly one time when no amount of hype can prepare you for what you will see this man doing on screen. He has crafted and constructed one of the most truly amazing on-screen villains of all time. There is no denying that. It is a bit of flawless character work that will leave your teeth stinging with appreciation. You seriously want to savor every single moment he is on screen, and when he isn't around, you can't wait for him to pop back up again. The most amazing thing about the work is, you are never thinking of Heath Ledger when you are watching the Joker. He has become this wicked, insane lunatic. He truly got lost in that skin. It's a tremendous showcase for the unseen talent this kid was hiding, and it's a spectacular curtain bow, the likes of which most actors don't ever get a chance to leave us with. It's a great gift he has shared, and it makes the movie re-watchable on so many levels. Trust me, you'll want to probably buy two tickets on opening day.
That said, "The Dark Knight" is already tracking as one of the highest grossing films of all time. It is poised to beat Spider-Man 3. And it deserves a tender spot at the top of the box offices charts. This is one of the best films of the summer. And there is no doubt about it, is the best "Batman" film ever made. (Thought, I still have a soft place in my heart for the big screen 60s outing staring Adam West and Burt Ward.)
Should you see "The Dark Knight"? Should you pee when you have to go really bad? The answer to both questions is, "Yes!"