Batman defers retirement when a maniac with a sense of the sublime begins to wreak holy terror on Gotham City.
Rarely has an action movie full of preposterous characters, feats and action been so heavy hearted. In The Dark Knight, Batman is not the Caped Crusader, but a lonely outsider, burdened by his sense of responsibility and the moral limbo in which that places him.
In fact, while British director Christopher Nolan's first outing, Batman Begins, was gritty, Dark Knight brings an emotional realism and intensity seldom seen in any film, let alone an action movie.
The characters's struggles with the nature of social order and individual freedom, morality, duty and justice, would not be out of place in the Art House.
The film plays with themes and images of duality throughout. Batman has several 'others', such as Gotham's white knight, hotshot DA Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon, Batman's liaison in the civilian world, and of course the chaotic Joker.
At the heart of Dark Knight are compelling turns from Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart, in a cast full of great actors. Ledger's Joker is frighteningly alien and veteran character actor Eckhart, gives a nuanced performance as Dent. And while Christian Bale and Gary Oldman shine, as usual, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman are underused.
The action scenes and sequences in Dark Knight are markedly improved from Batman Begins. Kinetic, muscular and unmarred by CGI tells, a couple of the set pieces are astonishing. While the film is largely well-paced, at two and a half hours it can hardly avoid a few longeurs.
The most amazing feat is that a Batman film full of references to the War on Terror™ - extraordinary rendition, meticulously-planned acts of terrorism by a villain with a 'higher calling', video footage of terrorist hostages and a hero who must sometimes play a villain etc. - could be made in America, in its current hysterical mood.
It does Nolan credit that he has made a film that goes straight to the essence of the Batman mythos and the American mythos.