First, let's clear up the thing that everyone wants to know. Does Heath Ledger go out on top as the mask Joker? Absolutely. This is the greatest performance of the year, as Ledger mixes in influences stretching from Alex in A Clockwork Orange to Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs. He puts Jack Nicholson's Joker to shame.
The film doesn't give you a moment's breath. It begins with no introduction to any of Batman's past. We've already seen five films about Batman and his huge condition of post-traumatic stress (due to his parent’s tragic death when he was a child). Now it's time for Batman to evolve into something else. It is true what the Joker says: people look at Batman like he's a freak. That draws the Joker to him, as the two characters play an action packed, steroid abusive cat-and-mouse game that starts with haste and ends in tragedy. The process is a 2-hour and 32-minute masterpiece with without an ounce of fat.
A midnight premiere is a good test for a film. It has to work even harder to make sure it keep an audience member in focus. It does not make the mistake Spiderman 3 made. Spiderman 3 took way too much time redeveloping a relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane while also trying to introduce three villains. That leads to boredom, frustration, and disappointment. The Dark Knight already knows where Batman and Bruce Wayne need to be. His girl, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has a new man in her life. District Attorney Harvey Dent (a very strong Aaron Eckhart) has taken Rachel from Bruce while also becoming an iconic hero to the city. He is reducing violence and boosting the economy. The Dark Knight manages to avoid a cliched act where Batman purposely seeks revenge. There are much bigger things happening for that to occur.
The Joker likes to play games with themes of morality and choice. He creates situations where good people have to make decisions that will save one but hurt another. That what happens to Harvey Dent, turning him into Two-Face. The effects of this character are perfectly executed.
What makes these two villains work in this movie is that the Joker lays a profound effect on Harvey Dent. Both villains mature through the actions of one another, leaving Batman no choice but to use questionable logic to stop them. If a villain like the Joker is this menacing and hellish inside a comic-book film, imagine how it feels to the audience in an ordinary world? It's as though Ledger's Joker has become the definitive face of the world's strongest evil. It is absolutely fascinating.
Director Christopher Nolan made a great decision to create this piece of cinema as an ensemble. Everyone has their moment. Even Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is spiced up in this one, giving another character to fall back on when the story isn't revolving around Batman and the Joker. Other plotlines include Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Both are very small and almost feel like cameos, but like the Return of the King, everyone's story serves a purpose, and the film would be incomplete without them.
By the end of the film, we understand why it is called The Dark Knight. The word Batman is out of the title because Batman is no longer himself. Everything that is happening is a translucent vision to an epilogue Batman and Bruce Wayne soon must face. With the Joker blowing up buildings and killing people like a child with G.I Joe's,
We have finally seen what everyone has been waiting for: Ledger's final portrayal. While watching him perform the simplicity of acting, we are left with a thought of tragedy and triumph. In his final moments as the Joker, I will find it absolutely appropriate to find each individual audience member who sees The Dark Knight, create their own emotion to an ending as apocalyptic as the actor's. Why? Because we will never know what could have happened next.