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'The Dark Knight' examines his morals/Directed by Christopher Nolan/Grade: A-

Continuing my Favorite Films series, let's take a look at my favorite Batman movie ever, and what became a definitive moment in cultivating my taste for superhero films growing up.

I've always been a fan of the superhero genre. As a child, my taste for them was discovered early on through seeing Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004). But Christopher Nolan's followup to Batman Begins (2005) changed everything for me. It showed to me exactly what a sequel to a huge blockbuster action film should do: take the characters and overarching story to even darker, more emotionally complex places, as well as up the ante when it came to spectacle. Christian Bale was a knockout as Bruce Wayne/Batman, exploring the billionaire crusader's moral dilemma with extraordinary nuance. Aaron Eckhart (who I've always found to be a criminally underrated actor) works wonders as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, creating not a cartoon villain but a genuinely damaged, once good-hearted man who has just been totally twisted by tragedy, allowing his more unsavory side to spill out. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's score ranges from absolutely nerve-jangling to positively devastating. I can't see this movie's title without hearing The Joker's theme 'Why So Serious?' in my head.

Also, the action sequences in this film are incredible. The rightly-iconic opening, with The Joker and some goons stealing some money from a mob-owned bank, is white-knuckle cinematic craftsmanship at its finest. A chase scene with The Joker and two SWAT vans is one of my favorite chases ever.

Lastly, let's talk about the man himself: Heath Ledger. This man, in his performance as The Joker, has created my favorite movie villain of all time, full stop. from his creepy makeup, hairstyling and costuming, to his disturbingly cynical worldview, his knack for monologuing, and his ability to both plan everything a hundred steps in advance but also completely change plans on a whim, make a truly potent concoction of evil. If it wasn't Ledger delivering those lines, though, or carrying out those maniacal schemes, it wouldn't be as effective. He absolutely deserved that posthumous Oscar win for his work, and it makes me genuinely sad that we will no longer see any more performances from him.

In the end, this is one of my favorite movies because it does what it's supposed to do, but even more, and does it all exceptionally well. It is perfectly acted, perfectly crafted from a technical standpoint. The only big issue I have is its final third, which feels very overstuffed plotting-wise, but that's it. It showed me a wider range of possibilities for what comic book movies could be as an art form, and I've never looked at them the same way since.

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