The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Warner Bros.

As good as Spider-Man 2 and X-2 are, The Dark Knight is better. And like all Christopher Nolan movies, it gets better on repeat viewings. It’s a shoe-in for our list of sequels better than the originals — and the original, Batman Begins, was outstanding.

The film follows a terroristic villain named The Joker (Heath Ledger) who — you only realize on the second or third or tenth viewing — is the opposite of the spontaneous, disorganized madman he appears to be. He enlists Art of War tactics (Sun Tzu wrote, “All warfare is based on deception”) to trick the citizens of Gotham into believing he’s making it up as he goes along. In his most telling line, he asks, through macabre clown makeup, “Do I look like a guy with a plan?”

No, he doesn’t — but he is. It doesn’t quite succeed, but it does turn one of Gotham’s greatest heroes into a villain while turning the other into a pariah.

It takes all the themes of Batman Begins — can one good person bring justice? — and inverts them to show how one bad person can make, in the words of Michael Caine’s Alfred, “the world burn.”

At least for a little while.

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