As a massive fan of the Tim Burton Batman films, I wasn't particularly overwhelmed by the first of the new Christian Bale series, though it certainly didn't approach the monumental awfulness of the Val Kilmer and George Clooney films which had appeared in the interim. Fortunately, however, The Dark Knight had a lot more to offer than Batman Begins.
Heath Ledger really made this film. The role of a psychotic madman is very hard to play in any kind of original or interesting way, but he certainly succeeds here. Neither Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal nor Gary Oldman really had a lot to work with as such in terms of characterisation (though Michael Caine continues to amuse, even if I haven't quite figured out why the butler has a working-class English accent). As with the first film, visually this work is gorgeous, though I preferred the gothicism of Burton's Gotham to the gleaming tower blocks of Nolan's.
However, there are a number of serious flaws. The film sprawls over two and a half hours or so, and both the storyline and the moral issues which are being explored become amorphous and unsatisfactory. A number of scenes simply finish unresolved and hasten us on to the next. Anyone with a low tolerance for long car-chase scenes will exit with a headache (though I've seen worse in terms of interminable action - we're not talking Peter Jackson's King Kong here). Ultimately, however, the largest issue lies in the film's take on morality. An attempt is made to seriously problematise the standard morality of the (super)hero, and in itself this is laudable; it also means that the film carries its own gravitas rather heavily. However, some serious intellectual rigour is required in order to resolve the attempt to complexify something which is usually oversimplified, and it's that which is missing here; the follow-through, in other words. An interesting work, but one which sets its sights too high for the effort made in pursuit of their resolution.