Four things you should know before you read this article: I've seen "The Dark Knight." You haven't. I promise not to spoil anything in the paragraphs that follow. And yes, I do realize what a lucky bastard I am.
Rather than a traditional review, when it comes to the year's most anticipated film, you just want to know one thing: Is it good? With that in mind, here are eight key factors that make a superhero movie sink or swim, and the movie's ratings — from 1 to 10 (10 being best) — in each category:
The "Wow" Factor
This is the strongest category for Christopher Nolan's new masterpiece. Your mouth will drop every time Heath Ledger's Joker walks onscreen, you will want to own a Batpod, and you'll marvel at the increased powers and flexibility in Batman's new outfit. Nolan engineers some brilliant chase scenes, cuts together violent montages reminiscent of "The Godfather" and mixes in enough beautiful cinematography to make the film feel Oscar-worthy. Do yourself a favor and see it in IMAX. Rating: 10
The "Cheese" Factor
Nolan's greatest triumph with "Batman Begins" may have been banishing any semblance of camp from the franchise. History has shown, however, that the longer a "Batman" incarnation continues, the more cheese begins to sneak in. While "Bam!" "Pow!" "Biff!" and nipple-suits are nowhere to be seen, there is an increased reliance this time around on evil henchmen. As these faceless minions are beaten to a bloody pulp time and again by Batman, you might find yourself a bit concerned. While it's doubtful that Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze will be the villain in the next film, all those lackeys seem like a baby step toward Schumacher-ville. Rating: 7
The "Quote" Factor
Like Jack Nicholson before him, every line out of Ledger's mouth feels like it should be on a T-shirt. Every word from the mouths of Michael Caine (as Alfred Pennyworth) and Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox) are pearls of wisdom. But the Batman himself speaks a bit stiffer than in the last film, and Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent/ Two-Face won't have you changing your e-mail signature anytime soon. Rating: 7
The "Surprise" Factor
Even if you're the sort of Internet geek who has read every MTV.com Batman story over the past few years, freeze-framed the trailers obsessively and participated in all the guerrilla marketing, you'll still find plenty of unexpected pleasures in "Dark Knight." My only hesitation in this category's grading is that the ending isn't nearly as surprising or unpredictable as that of "Batman Begins." But suffice it to say: Chris Nolan has no problem killing any character at any time. Rating: 7
The "Comic Book vs. Movie" Factor
Much like "Batman Begins," Nolan continues to reinvent the characters as he sees fit. When it comes to the Joker, every move made by Nolan and Ledger is a masterstroke. Unfortunately, Two-Face often pales in comparison. For the most part, however, all of Nolan's choices are as good as, if not better than, his source material. Rating: 8
The "Repeat Viewing" Factor
When this movie ends, you'll want to leave the theater, buy another ticket and go back in for the next show. The film moves very fast, and the plot often becomes quite complicated for a "comic book" movie. Repeated viewings should provide further insight into the motivations of certain characters and will also allow you to savor the finer moments of Ledger's bizarrely beautiful performance. That said, is this the kind of movie that places a reference to the Flash way in the background, fueling team-up talk for sharp-eyed fans? You'll have to go see "Iron Man" again for that kind of thing. Rating: 7
The "Darkness" Factor
There is some messed-up stuff in this movie, and I mean that in the best possible way. Conversely, there are also a few too many deaths that occur off-camera. Ultimately, the film uses Joker's insanity, Harvey Dent's honor and Batman's struggle somewhere in the middle to explore the thin line between hero and villain. You'll leave the theater not only discussing all the cool gadgets, toys and action scenes, but also the psychological tipping points of these men. Ultimately, such intelligence is the most powerful weapon in the "Dark Knight" utility belt. Rating: 8
The "Sequel" Factor
Overall, "Dark Knight" is superior to "Batman Begins." Much of this stems from the film's eagerness to pick up within moments of the last film's conclusion, without any need to explain the origins of anyone. Once the film gets going, you'd better keep up, because things move more rapidly than in "Begins." It's the best "Batman" movie ever made, hands down. Rating: 9
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