Often superhero movies deliver in the way of special effects, sometimes a good plot line and, every now and then, a decent acting performance. Rarely - if ever - has a superhero film been worthy of the moniker "all-around great film."
"The Dark Knight" delivered on all accounts - from amazing special effects to stellar on-screen performances by all central characters to a story that keeps watchers on the edge of their seats to the very end.
"Knight" is definitely the best film of the year and quite possibly the best superhero film of all time.
Not only has "Knight" shattered all previous box office records for its opening weekend ($158.3 million), it has garnered critical success unparalleled by the likes of other 2008 blockbuster releases ("The Incredible Hulk," "Ironman" and "Indiana Jones").
Many will attribute the opening success of "Knight" to the unexpected death of actor Heath Ledger, who portrays the Joker in the film, and the desire of many to see his last film. The true test of the film's staying power will come in the number of repeat customers.
Many, who were drawn to the film initially by the mystique of Ledger's ghostly act, will go back because of the quality of the performance - not only Ledger's but that of the entire cast.
Christian Bale ("The Prestige") makes his second appearance as Bruce Wayne, and solidifies himself as THE Batman for all time with his performance in "The Dark Knight."
If Bale's portrayal of the Caped Crusader in 2005's "Batman Begins" gave credibility to the Batman franchise, his current performance will put it in the books as one of the most successful theatrical renditions of any comic book hero ever.
Both Ledger and Bale's performances are only highlighted by those of Gary Oldman ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix") as Lt. James Gordon, and Michael Caine ("The Prestige") as Alfred.
Oldman in particular adds to his character new depth not seen in "Batman Begins." Gordon's efforts to rid Gotham of crime and corruption takes a personal twist, which, in turn, gives him added dimension as a character with whom the audience can identify.
New to this film is Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Stranger than Fiction"), who takes up the role of Rachel Dawes, Batman's long-time friend and love interest. Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes, who portrayed Dawes in 2005.
Gyllenhaal, whose acting chops are much bigger than that of Holmes, also rounded out a character who appeared to be a flat archetype in the 2005 film.
The Rachel Dawes of "Knight" is not just the no-nonsense assistant district attorney fighting to rid Gotham of its criminal element; she is a love-torn woman struggling between her affection for both Bruce Wayne and District Attorney Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart ("Thank You for Smoking").
Eckhart also delivers a performance worthy of mentioning. His dual role of hero and villain, foreshadowed during the first 15 minutes of the film, provides yet another surprise to the audience and provides the setup for the third film in the series.
"The Dark Knight" will live on - not as just a good superhero film. It will live on as a great piece of American cinematography - one that will be remembered not only as Ledger's last film or the film that smashed all previous box office records, but a film that struck a balance between big-time special effects and a great screenplay, a film that did not sacrifice top-notched acting for campy lines of dialogue.
When major awards are handed out this winter "The Dark Knight" should be a contender - not just out of pity or reverence for Ledger, but because director Christopher Nolan and the entire cast created a work to be remembered.
"The Dark Knight" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace.