The Dark Knight is a new breed of filmmaking. It’s a summer blockbuster about morality, an action film with emotional heft, a popcorn flick that takes pride in the chiaroscuro of each shot, a weighty tale of justice and valor told with an unflinching honesty, a thrill ride driven by impeccable acting ... and it’s all based on a comic book. In short, there has never been anything like it.

Christopher Nolan’s second film in the Batman series is immeasurably darker than its predecessor, but so is the broadening of scope and deepening of complexity. Christian Bale returns to the franchise he helped resurrect with a distinctively heavier burden. The humanity and fragility, so often forgotten in comic book heroes, shimmers to the surface in Bale’s portrayal.

Playing his nemesis is Heath Ledger as the Joker, the most talked about role of the year. Ledger’s performance is haunting, thought provoking and inventive. There’s no doubt, if he were still alive his career would be a skyrocket and Oscars would be in his future, though we doubt he’d win one for this role.

At two and a half hours, the film is grueling, but incredibly visceral and leaves the audience giddy, titillated and delightfully overwhelmed.

Grade: A

The Dark Knight is currently in theaters.