Sucks for you, Hellboy. Hellboy II: The Golden Army was tons of good, insanely imaginative, monster-filled fun, but its reign on the top of the box office will be short like leprechauns. The Dark Knight is about to smash records this weekend, and having just seen the flick myself, I couldn't be happier about that. The levels of anticipation and speculation surrounding this Batman Begins sequel have made the pre-release buzz of The Carter 3 seem like Terminate on Sight. And despite the early reviews being predominantly slob-job-like in their praise, there was a part of me as I walked into the Imax theater (by the way, do your best to catch this one on Imax, it's quite breathtaking) expecting a huge letdown. There was no way the film could live up to its hype, 100-percent, right?

Well, about 85-percent isn't too shabby, is it? Don't get me wrong—I absolutely loved the film. Save for a few qualms that I'll address later, The Dark Knight is easily the best movie of the summer, if not of 2007 to date. And, even though distinguishing The Dark Knight in this way is actually trivializing it, it's the best superhero movie ever made. Yes, I've said it. What the brilliant and ballsy director/co-writer Christopher Nolan has done here is make a mean, dark, and anarchic crime drama in the vein of The Untouchables, but rather than slick suits and tommy-guns, you have elaborate costumes and a super-cool Bat Pod. It transcends being a mere "superhero movie,” in fact, into something much more adult and edgy. Iron Man was a great time, fun and full of verve and personality; The Dark Knight, on the other hand, is like the anti-Iron Man. While you're meant to enjoy yourself, of course, you're really strapping yourself in for one hell of a psychological and moral ride.

What makes that ride a true "holy shit” rollercoaster: the late Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker, the main—and really, contrary to Two-Face's presence, only—villain here. Please believe all of the hype about his work here, because it's truly iconic. If anybody ever attempts to portray The Joker after this, they should be committed to Gotham City's Arkham Asylum. Ledger pretty much destroys every other Joker incarnation that's come before, and not to mention superhero villain, that's come before him. It's sick stuff—the way his tongue uncontrollably wags around like a lizard; how his eyes appear empty and lifeless at times without any CGI effects; the soliloquies of chaos he delivers soon-to-be-victims as he grips their faces. The Joker bobs and weaves in and out of the movie, but after the genius opening heist scene that introduces him, you're basically waiting in anxiety any time he's not on camera. Kudos to Nolan for adding that shrieking string music every time Joker appears; it turns him into an almost-horror-movie-like presence. Amazing. And wait until you peep his magic trick with a pencil.

I fear that, in light of Ledger's overpowering excellence here, that Aaron Eckhart's work as Harvey Dent will be overlooked. If so, it's a damn shame, because he's pretty damn great here. Truthfully, this movie would've been ten times better if it had solely focused on Dent's rise as Gotham's noble and beloved District Attorney to the vengeful beast that is Two-Face, rather than centering on Batman/Bruce Wayne. But hey, it is a Batman movie, so that'd never happen anyway. But Eckhart gives Dent the perfect doses of charm, personality, and heart, that when he becomes Two-Face, it's truly a tragic event. Part of me was hoping he wouldn't turn to the dark side, because he was such a good guy prior. Yeah, I'm soft like that.

And there in lies my biggest problem with this Batman movie: Batman himself. Now, Christian Bale is one of my favorite working actors. He's yet to give a bad performance, and The Dark Knight is no different. He's as watchable as ever, but it's just that the Bruce Wayne character's arch here is tired—hero struggles with his role, wants to live a normal life with his one true love, Rachel Dawes (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal here, not wack-ass Katie Holmes thankfully). Reeks of Spiderman's Peter Parker, huh? The Dark Knight is so much the "Joker & Harvey Dent Show” that you almost wish Batman would go on a vacation from Gotham City and let them run the show. And one more complaint: is it me, or is the overly-gruff voice Bale uses when in Batman costume a bit goofy? I don't remember it being so exaggerated in Batman Begins, but I could be wrong. Regardless, it's slightly laughable at times. Just saying.

Again, though, don't mistake that last nit-pick as this writer dismissing The Dark Knight. It's just one issue I had that prevented the film from reaching "masterpiece” status. Hate or no hate, it's still going down as my favorite superhero movie ever and a film I'll undoubtedly be revisiting and analyzing for years to come. There's just so much going on within its two-and-a-half hour running time (which hardly feels that long). I won't even get into the beefed-up storyline given to police chief-turned-commissioner Gordon, played the outstandingly-understated Gary Oldman. I wish I could mention in depth how cool it was to see "D-Bo” himself Tiny "Zeus” Lister play such an impactful character in a Hollywood blockbuster. So much coolness to go around.

Most importantly to me, though, is the uncompromising bleakness that Christopher Nolan has shrouded this movie with. Those who know me know how much I prefer films that are a bit twisted and disturbed, so seeing a superhero movie take as much license in the darkness was really something. In the same breath, here's some words of advice—keep little kids away from this one, unless you think your little brother is ready to see a gun jammed against a ten-year-old's forehead, The Joker in women's hospital garb, more death than most horror flicks, and people being shot at point-blank range.

Yeah, Iron Man this surely isn't. Oh, and just wait until you see that 18-wheeler truck flip in mid-air. Nuts, I tell you.