101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

“Some men just want to watch the world burn.” More than summarizing the anarchic nature of the Joker, this observation by butler/confidant Alfred Pennyworth challenges the worldview of his employer, Bruce Wayne, aka Batman. It’s one thing for a superhero to fight crooks with rational agendas; it’s another to battle chaos created for its own sake. This dilemma drives the epic script that Christopher Nolan assembled with Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer for the second chapter of a blockbuster trilogy. Paralleling the Joker’s crime spree is competition for moral high ground between Batman and Gotham City’s DA, Harvey Dent: one man seeking change within the legal system, the other without. By the end of the dizzyingly paced ordeal the writers put these characters through, Batman and Harvey are victims of the Joker’s pointless malevolence—and the superhero genre has reached unprecedented levels of thematic ambition.