I’m sure you’ve heard many of the ‘experts’ speculating that come Oscar time Heath Ledger is a lock for a best actor nomination.

But truthfully, “The Dark Knight” should be up for a lot more awards than that.

From its brisk opening to its phenomenal closing voice over, the sequel to 2005’s “Batman Begins” is a tightly coiled thriller that never
slows or disappoints.

“The Dark Knight” is “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Godfather: Part II” of the comic book world.  It’s a sequel that, against all odds, utterly
obliterates its very good predecessor.

And one of the main reasons is because of what everyone is talking about.  Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker is phenomenal.

On the script page, this is a great villain, and Ledger takes that and runs with it.  The voice, the mannerisms, the makeup, the costume, this
is a great villain.

He is also a downright terrifying one.  As Alfred puts it, “Some people just want to watch the world burn.”

In Batman Begins we knew the motivations of the villains and they made sense in a certain extremist way.  Here, the cracked and insane
logic of The Joker is infinitely more threatening.

Oh, but there may be more than one threat in store for Batman in the form of Gotham City’s district attorney, Harvey Dent.  I won’t spoil
anything for those unfamiliar with the Batman universe, but the eventual ‘transformation’ results in some incredible makeup effects that I
have to assume were digital.

Is it strange that I haven’t said a word about Batman himself yet?  I guess if there was one issue with the film, it’s that it simply packs a bit
too much into its already hefty running time.

The film screams by at a furious pace, and some elements and characters seem a bit rushed.

The film is much less about Christian Bale this time around, and with a bit less pressure he is able to give a more natural performance than
his somewhat stiff debut in “Batman Begins.”

Director Christopher Nolan has also improved his game from the previous film, even if he uses the circling tracking shot a few times too
many.  His action sequences, which I was very disappointed in last time, are markedly better, although they can still be difficult to
comprehend at times.

Where Nolan truly excels is when things get tense.  There are multiple nerve-wrenching sequences, and Nolan allows the audience to drink
them in without remorse.  He allows the intensity to build to the breaking point before allowing the audience to exhale.

Unfortunately, Nolan’s choice in music remains weak, as Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard deliver a completely forgettable score
that is more noise than anything else.

But when a film is as good “The Dark Knight,” a disappointing score is barely a blip on the radar.  This is a truly exceptional film that is
intelligent, thrilling and features a soon-to-be classic villain performance.

After suffering through some truly horrific film experiences in the mid and late 90s, Batman fans have been rewarded with the finest comic
book film ever made.

It’s hard to believe that any good could have ever come from the atrocious “Batman & Robin,” but if it meant that it led us to this point, it
was well worth it.  That’s how good “The Dark Knight” is.

* * * *
(out of four)
THE DARK KNIGHT
Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart,
Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman

Cinematography by: Wally Pfister

Music by: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Released: July 18, 2008; 150 Minutes