Batman returns to the big screen in a tremendous way in The Dark Knight. In a summer with a large number of quality superhero movies -- Iron Man, Hellboy 2, The Incredible Hulk -- The Dark Knight stands out with all-around quality, from the edge-of-your-seat action to an impressive script backed by equally impressive acting.

At the start of this movie, things are going well for Gotham City. Batman (played by Christian Bale) is both popular with the people and has the mob on the ropes by attacking their money sources. Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is officially denying involvement with the Batman while shining the Batsignal and working with him. And the city's "white knight" is Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the district attorney who's fearless in taking on the mob. Dent is such a popular, courageous, and overall good warrior that Batman is considering retiring his superhero ways and finally being with Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal, taking over from the role from Katie Holmes in Batman Begins) -- even though Rachel is happily dating Dent. Meanwhile, Batman still gets moral support from Alfred (Michael Caine) and hardware support from Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

Absolute chaos hits Gotham City with the Joker (Heath Ledger), a scarred psychopath in makeup. From the heist on a mob-owned bank to destroying buildings and killing people, the Joker is a perfect portrait of madness and homidice. While there were fears that the sensation surrounding the actor's death would create hype that his performance could not meet, Ledger creates the perfect Joker.

His performance is one of many great ones in The Dark Knight. It's somewhat ironic that while Batman is the protagonist and star of the movie, Christian Bale has some of the least challenges as an actor here; it's not that his performance is weak, but he speaks gruff as Batman and doesn't offer much tension as Bruce Wayne considers hanging up the cape and cowl. As I mentioned earlier, Eckhart is amazing as Harvey Dent, the unmasked face of justice for Gotham City. He isn't flawless, and his intense focus hints at his ultimate fate. Gary Oldman shines again as James Gordon, an honest cop thrilled to be working with men like Dent and Batman -- and struggling to keep things together as the Joker's madness and destruction wears away the hope of Gotham City. Caine and Freeman are fine in their supporting roles, and Gyllenhaal provides Rachel with some backbone as she both fights the good fight and reminds Bruce Wayne not to pin his hopes for a normal life on her.

Did I mention how exciting The Dark Knight was? The movie opens with an intense bank robbery and keeps on delivering. There are amazing fist-fights, nail-biting vehicle chases (including a game of chicken between the Batcycle and a huge truck), and much more. Unlike Batman Begins where most battles were a series of dizzyng quick camera cuts, The Dark Knight shows the Batman as a skilled warrior.

My only complaint with the movie is its length -- over two and a half hours -- and reducing some of the time spent on the romantic triangle could have cut this down a little. That's a very small complaint from an amazing movie. The script is smart, the action and acting is truly impressive, and this could be the best movie of the summer -- as well as an example of everything a summer blockbuster can and should be. The Dark Knight is not just a great "comic book movie" but an epic adventure by any standard.

Overall Grade: A+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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