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Set a number of months after the events of Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne aka Batman, Lieutenant James Gordon, and new District Attorney Harvey Dent are succeeding in rounding up all the criminals that plague Gotham City. But the rise of a mysterious new criminal mastermind called the Joker creates a new reign of chaos in Gotham. Bruce's conflict with Joker becomes personal, making The Dark Knight "confront everything he believes in" and further improve his suit and his technology to stop the Clown Prince of Crime. During this time, Bruce is determined to win back Rachel Dawes, who is being pursued by Dent. Meanwhile, the Joker forces Sal Maroni, who is now in charge of the criminal mafia following Carmine Falcone's arrest and fall from power, to battle his enemies, which include a rival gangster named Gambol and Batman himself.
The film opens with a five man clown mask-wearing gang robbing the mob-owned Gotham National Bank. They proceed to rob the bank in groups, and at each step, one of the men finds out that the other was assigned by the Joker to kill him, which continues until only two are left in the lobby with the bags of cash. A school bus suddenly bursts through the bank wall, killing one of them, and the only remaining clown pulls off his mask, revealing a face painted white with makeup, his scarred lips forming an unnaturally wide smile, which is painted blood red. This man is the Joker, who proceeds to load the bus with cash and drive out of the bank into a row of buses, making his getaway among them. That night, a meeting taking place between several mobsters and the Scarecrow is cut short by the arrival of multiple Batman impersonators—a group of vigilantes who are inspired by Batman's efforts and seeking to lend him a hand. The real Batman shows up and subdues everyone, but suffers injuries which lead him to design a more versatile suit. After the conflict, Batman meets with and Lieutenant James Gordon, and the two discuss recruiting Harvey Dent, Gotham's newly elected D.A., to take part in their plan to eradicate the mob and the Joker's involvement with the bank heist; Batman can continue his vigilante-style law enforcement, and Dent can be the face of the campaign to end criminal activity in Gotham, becoming the type of hero that Batman cannot be.
As Batman keeps to the shadows, he uses his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, to promote Dent in the campaign. Bruce's difficulty is compounded by the fact that Dent is dating Bruce's would-be girlfriend, Rachel Dawes. This puts a strain on Bruce and Harvey's relationship, as well as on that of Bruce and Rachel. Meanwhile, the mob bosses meet to discuss how to handle Batman, Gordon, and Dent. The meeting is interrupted by some men who bring in a TV, on which Lau, a Chinese mobster accountant, appears via conference and tells the mobsters that he has moved their money to Hong Kong to prevent the police and the new D.A. from seizing it in an imminent bank raid. The Joker arrives unexpectedly, offering to kill Batman at a price of half of the accumulated money. Joker then proceeds to kill an opposing mobster, Gambol, to further his operation and hire more men. With the help of Lucius Fox, Batman follows Lau to Hong Kong and successfully and brings him back to Gotham, depositing him on the doorstep of the Gotham City police department. This turn of events motivates the mobsters to agree to the Joker's terms. The Joker uses the local news to declare his intention to kill people each day until Batman turns himself in to the police. When the Joker begins killing public officials, including Commissioner Loeb and Judge Surillo, who presided over the mob trials, Bruce decides to turn himself in. Before he can do so, however, Dent announces that he is Batman, and allows the police to take him into custody to draw the Joker out of hiding. When the Joker attempts to kill Dent in transit, Gordon and Batman intervene and arrest him.
Gordon is promoted to commissioner for his efforts, and heads to an interrogation room to confront the Joker. Gordon gives the Joker an opportunity to talk, and when the Joker refuses, Gordon turns him over to Batman for interrogation. Batman beats the Joker, who finally reveals that Rachel and Harvey have been abducted and each of them has been taken to an address on a side of the city opposite the other. He taunts Batman, telling him that he does not have time to save both of them. Batman speeds off to save Rachel, while Gordon and the police head after Dent. However, the Joker deliberately gave Batman false information, and unbeknownst to either Batman or Gordon, Batman is going after Dent and Gordon after Rachel. Harvey and Rachel each awake to find themselves tied to a chair, and while each is in a warehouse that is rigged to explode, they find that they can talk to each other via some audio equipment that has been set up near them. Harvey tries to escape his bonds by knocking over a chemical-filled oil drum nearby, but causes his chair to fall to the floor in the process. The left side of his face makes contact with the cement floor, and the chemicals from the tipped drum rush toward him, causing him pain as they start to burn through the skin. Back at the police station, the Joker, who has planted a cell-phone bomb inside one of the prisoners, detonates it as a means of escape, taking Lau with him.
A few minutes later, Batman arrives at Dent's location in time to save him, but Dent is upset that Batman isn't rescuing Rachel. The building explodes, exposing Dent's face to the ensuing flames, which ignite the chemicals on his face, severely burning him. Gordon does not arrive in time to save Rachel, and she is killed when the other warehouse explodes. Dent is taken to a hospital, where he is driven to madness over losing Rachel. The Joker frees Dent from the hospital and Dent, who blames the Joker for Rachel's death, flips a coin to decide whether to kill the Joker with a gun that the Joker provided. Joker, however, convinces Dent to exact revenge on the cops, mobsters, Gordon, and Batman. While Dent, who has decided to call himself "Two-Face" because of his new appearance, confronts the corrupt cops and the mobsters one by one, flipping a coin to decide their fates, the Joker burns Lau along with the mob's money and targets one of Wayne's employees, Coleman Reese, who knows that Bruce is Batman. Reese is saved by Wayne from angry citizens bent on killing Reese in order to save Gotham General Hospital. While hte hospital was being evacuated, the Joker, disguised as a nurse, came to Dent, informing him he was not completely responsible for Rachel's death, as there was a wider chain. Since Reese survived, the Joker blows up the hospital, taking all patients hostage in a bus. The Joker uses the news again to announce to the public that he will rule the streets and that anyone left in Gotham at nightfall will be subject to his rule. He also claims to have booby-trapped the bridges and tunnels out of the city, leaving only one option for evacuation—the ferries—by which the police begin evacuating people. The Joker has also rigged the ferries with explosives—one carrying convicts, and the other filled with regular citizens—and tells the passengers on each that the only way to save themselves is to trigger the explosives on the other ferry; otherwise, he will destroy both ferries at midnight.
Batman and the police locate the Joker, his goons and the hostages. Suspicious, Batman told Gordon to wait while he took a closer look. He soon finds out that the clowns are actually the hostages and the doctors are the goons. He prevents SWAT teams from killing the hostages before going for the Joker. He faced his opponent in a fight in which he was defeated. Joker then prepared to watch the fireworks. But the occupants of both ferries decide not to destroy each other, so the Joker decided to destroy them both. but before that, he playfully decided to tell Batman on how he got his scars. Batman said, "No. But I know how you go these." and fired a few shrapnels at his foe, causing him to fall. Batman catches the Joker by the ankle with a wire, hanging him upside down, a long fall below him. The Joker expresses with disgust that Batman really is incorruptible, but taunts him again, saying that Dent was not. He goes on to explain to Batman how he has unleashed Dent's madness upon the city. Batman leaves the Joker to dangle and rushes off to where Two-Face is planning to avenge the death of his "family" (Rachel) by using his coin (the only justice he believes is left in the world) to decide whether to kill Gordon's family atop the now-decimated warehouse where Rachel died. Batman arrives, and Dent proceeds to judge Batman, himself, and Gordon's son by the flip of his coin. Dent shoots Batman in the stomach, but before he can determine the boy's fate, Batman rushes at him, taking him over the side of the building and saving Gordon's son. Dent falls to the ground, followed shortly by Batman, and as Dent lies motionless on the ground, Batman and Gordon discuss the loss of morale the city would suffer if Dent's acts of murder became known. Batman convinces Gordon to blame him for the murders to preserve Dent's image. Gordon issues a manhunt for Batman, and though he destroys the Bat-Signal, he knows that Batman will continue to fight for justice as Gotham's "Dark Knight".
- Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces actress Katie Holmes in the role of Rachel Dawes. Dawes was the romantic love interest in this film's predecessor Batman Begins.
- David S. Goyer wrote two treatments (script outlines) encompassing Batman Begins and this movie, The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan collaborated with Goyer on the story of this film while he and his brother, Jonathan Nolan wrote the screenplay.
- The Batsuit has been redesigned to allow Christian Bale the ability to freely move his head. It was constructed from 200 unique pieces of rubber, fibreglass, metallic mesh, and nylon (producing an impression of sophisticated technology), with elastic banding added for tightening the costume to fit Bale.
- Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker was inspired by Sid Vicious, the film A Clockwork Orange, and other anarchist attributes. Ledger wrote his Joker's thoughts and feelings in a journal to help guide him through the acting.
- Heath Ledger died in January 2008, six months before the film's release, but Warner Bros. later announced he had completed all of his work.
- The publicity used two websites for a viral marketing, http://WhySoSerious.com , focused on the Joker, and http://IBelieveInHarveyDent.com , focused on Harvey Dent's campaign for District Attorney.
- The film broke box office records in his weekend of release, grossing $158 million in three days.
- Batman (1989 Movie)
- Batman Returns (Movie)
- Batman Forever (Movie)
- Batman and Robin (Movie)
- Batman Begins (Movie)
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