Study Guide

The Dark Knight Summary

The Dark Knight Summary

Eighteen months after swooping dramatically off of a roof at the finale of Batman Begins, everyone's favorite brooding vigilante (Christian Bale) is hard at work making life safer for Gotham City. The bad guys are running scared… until they get a visit from the Assassination Fairy, wearing a purple suit and calling himself the Joker (Heath Ledger). He promises to get rid of the Batman in exchange for a literal mountain of money, as well as putting the kibosh on crusading district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

Meanwhile, Batman and Dent team up with Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) to put the mob's last remaining money launderer out of business. They think they've finally nabbed him when the Joker escalates his campaign in earnest: assassinating a judge, blowing up a hospital and executing Gordon's big witness against the mob. Batman tries to hang on as best he can, but when his best friend (and Harvey's best gal) Rachel gets killed in the middle of it all, even he questions how far he'll have to go to bring this guy down. When the Joker puts the kibosh on Harvey's sanity for good, it turns him into the villainous Two-Face. Batman has to stop not one, but two madmen intent on destroying any semblance of order in the city.

The Joker gets ready for Batman by wiring a pair of ferries to blow up, one filled with good citizens and one filled with imprisoned criminals, then giving the detonator for each ferry in the hands of the other and threatening to blow them both up if someone doesn't pull the trigger. The Batman bets otherwise and he's right: after stopping the cops from inadvertently killing a separate group of innocent hostages (the Joker's a busy guy in this one), he subdues the Joker and they both watch while neither ferry blows up.

Sadly, the Joker now has Harvey on his side, and in taking down the Clown Prince of Crime, Batman has forgotten about Two-Face. Ole Scabby Chin has taken Jim Gordon's family hostage, leaving Batman to rush off once again and save the day. In the ensuing scuffle, Harvey falls to his death, and while Batman saves Gordon's family, he can't stop what's about to happen. Word of Harvey's insanity will get out and all of those criminals he put away will be back on the street.

There's only one way to stop that from happening. Batman takes the blame for Harvey's crimes. That leaves Harvey's prosecution intact and the people of Gotham safe, but at the cost of the reputation of the one man who made it all possible. Yeah, we know, it's kind of a downer. If you want something happier, stick around for The Dark Knight Rises, which brings Nolan's Batman trilogy to a somewhat more upbeat conclusion.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    Business as Usual in Gotham City

    • Masked men are seen staging a bank heist in broad daylight. As each criminal finishes his assigned task, he is killed by one of his partners until only the Joker is left.
    • That night, we find Lt. Gordon on the Gotham Police Department roof manning the Bat Signal. He comments that Batman doesn't show up most times, hopefully because he is busy.
    • Out in the wilds of Gotham, the Scarecrow is selling fear-based hallucinogens to the Russian mob. The Russians are unhappy with the product, having not read the "this product will bring your nightmares to life" warning on the package.
    • The altercation is interrupted by a small army of Batman wannabes, most of whom sport demonstrable paunches. It doesn't go so well for them.
    • Then Batman makes an official appearance and the whole "pound the bad guys" thing gets real.
    • He begins by rescuing his Mini Me's from some very scary dogs, then dispatches the local gangsters and the Scarecrow. He leaves everyone trussed up for the police to sort out.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    Big Harvey

    • Alfred finds Bruce in an underground concrete chamber (serving as his headquarters while his mansion gets rebuilt) where he is sewing up an injury.
    • Bruce and Alfred discuss Rachel, and her purported boot-knocking with the new DA, Harvey Dent. Alfred warns Bruce about his limits, though Bruce maintains that the Batman can't afford to have any.
    • Over in the courthouse, Harvey Dent and Rachel cross-examine a mob goon who tries to shoot him mid-sentence. The gun jams, and Harvey knocks him flat with one mighty blow. Behold, the power of justice!
    • Jim Gordon meets Harvey at the DA's office. Harvey insists on meeting the Batman, and generally has his cranky pants on about Gordon's Special Crimes Unit.
    • They make a passing joke about a nickname that GPD has for Harvey, but don't tell us what it is. (We bet you can guess it, though.)
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    Let's Lock Up the Mob!

    • Lucius Fox talks to the board of directors at Wayne Enterprises, while Bruce catches some much-needed sleep at the other end of the table.
    • It's all a sham, however, and when the others leave, Bruce pops up and tells Lucius to scuttle the deal. Mr. Lau stinks like low tide.
    • Harvey and Rachel are at a fancy dinner when Bruce shows up to crash their date with a Russian ballerina on his arm. The four discuss Batman and why a city celebrates someone who should probably be in a rubber room.
    • Later, the leaders of Gotham's underworld attend a meeting to basically wring their hands and wonder what they're gonna do about this Batman guy. Mr. Lau joins them by closed-circuit TV, assuring them that their money is safe with him in Hong Kong.
    • The Joker interrupts their meeting, killing one guy with a magic pencil trick, then offering to kill Batman for half of everything the Mob has. They balk and one of them—Gambol—offers a million dollars for the Joker's head.
    • He regrets that a short time later when the Joker sneaks into his headquarters, pretending to be his own dead body, then dispatches Gambol with a creepy (and probably fake) story about the Joker's father.
    • Harvey stands on the rooftop with the Bat Signal as Batman and Gordon appear. Lau managed to flee to China, a country that will not extradite a national. Harvey and Gordon argue a bit, and Batman diffuses it by offering to get Lau for them if Harvey honestly thinks he can put Lau in prison.
    • Bruce meets with Lucius Fox in the basement of Wayne Enterprises (the perfect place for clandestine skulking) where they discuss a solution for covertly airlifting a person without having to land the plane.
    • Bruce Wayne heads out after Mr. Lau, covering it up by absconding with the entire ballet company on his yacht. He then sets off for Hong Kong, leaving Alfred to fend off those vicious ballerinas by himself.
    • Fox arrives in Hong Kong where he meets with Lau. He leaves a dummy phone at the front desk, then informs Lau that Wayne Enterprises cannot do business with him.
    • He runs into Bruce on a crowded street tunnel where he explains that the phone he left sends a radar pulse that will allow him to map the building and pinpoint Mr. Lau's location.
    • Batman broods at the tippy top of a Hong Kong skyscraper for a bit, then swoops into Lau's little fortress, and takes him for a ride using that nifty airlifting thing that he and Fox discussed back at Wayne Enterprises.
    • Gordon discovers Lau neatly giftwrapped on the step of the GPD.
    • Rachel questions Lau and is delighted to discover that they can indeed get to the Mob by prosecuting Lau under the RICO Law (an actual law that was used in the '70s to bring down the American Mafia). High fives and arrest warrants all around!
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    Here Comes the Joker

    • The mob leaders decide to hire the Joker just as Gordon crashes the party and arrests everybody.
    • Mayor Garcia congratulates Harvey on getting hundreds of mobsters indicted at once, but makes it clear that Harvey's got to stay on the golden path. Otherwise, it all goes up in a puff of smoke.
    • A body hanged by a noose hits the window while they talk. It belongs to one of the copycat Batmen from the beginning of the film.
    • Bruce and Alfred watch in horror, along with the rest of Gotham, as a tape airs showing the Joker torturing and killing the copycat. He threatens to keep killing people until Batman reveals his identity.
    • Bruce arrives in his helicopter at the fundraising party he's throwing for Harvey, three gorgeous women in tow, and makes an elegant speech about why Harvey Dent is the future of Gotham City.
    • Rachel and Bruce have an intense discussion about their possible future if Harvey can clean up the city.
    • Gordon finds out that the Joker is targeting Judge Surillo, Commissioner Loeb and Harvey Dent, then he tries to secure their safety.
    • Harvey and Rachel talk about their own future. Rachel waffles, and then Bruce suddenly appears and puts Harvey in a sleeper hold to lock him in a closet.
    • Surillo's car blows up, Commissioner Loeb drinks from a poisoned glass, and the Joker crashes the fundraiser all at the same time. You guys ready to play a little defense?
    • The Joker torments Bruce's guests as Bruce slips off to grab his tights. Rachel stands up to the Joker who tells her a scary (and probably fake) story about his scars.
    • Batman shows up, and Joker monologues for a bit before throwing Rachel out a window.
    • Batman plunges after her, and manages to slow both of their falls and save them.
    • The Joker gets away… as that childhood Jingle-Bells riff once warned us.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    "We Gotta Nab This Guy!"

    • Gordon's sure that no one will stand up and do the right thing now. Then Harvey appears ready to fight, so that answers that question.
    • Alfred and Bruce discuss the Joker, with Alfred opining that the Joker couldn't care less about normal bad-guy things like money and power.
    • Gordon busts into a tenement where the bodies of two Joker victims lie decomposing.
    • Batman investigates the scene while Gordon discovers that the Joker's next target is Mayor Garcia.
    • Alfred and Bruce run forensic evidence in hopes of finding the Joker.
    • Lucius Fox meets with the accountant from Wayne Enterprises who threatens to reveal what he's discovered about applied sciences. He's convinced that Bruce Wayne is Batman, but Lucius shuts him down by suggesting that Batman may not be intimidated by blackmail.
    • Bruce travels to the address his forensic analysis points to, just as the parade for Commissioner Loeb's memorial commences.
    • Bruce discovers the honor guard bound and gagged in an abandoned building. Guess how the Joker's going to kill the Mayor?
    • Gordon leaps in front of the bullet intended for Mayor Garcia, apparently killing him.
    • In the confusion, Harvey manages to sequester one of the gunmen alone.
    • Gordon's dead, everyone's shocked, and Big B goes looking for some answers.
    • Batman crashes Maroni's club and pummels a large private security force before tossing Maroni himself off the roof.
    • Harvey does some questioning of his own, flipping a coin to intimidate his apprehended gunman and threatening to kill the man if tails comes up. Batman appears and is not happy with Harvey doing the sort of thing that he himself does all the time.
    • Batman informs Harvey that no one can ever see him pounding on bad guys like this. Otherwise, all those mobsters they landed in jail will get out.
    • Batman decides to turn himself in, then departs. Harvey yells after him that he can't give in, displaying a level of crankiness that some would find disturbing.
    • Harvey Dent holds a press conference concerning the Joker's demand. When the crowd cries for blood, Harvey claims that he is the Batman, and turns himself over to the police.
    • Rachel leaves a note for Bruce, explaining that she's going to be with Harvey. He's going to have to be happy with the cape and tights. Alfred promises to deliver the note.
    • Rachel meets with Harvey as he's being taken away.
    • Harvey gives his coin to Rachel, and she sees that it has two heads... allowing him to win any manner of bar bet on a whim.
    • The GPD transports Harvey Dent through the streets of Gotham before being diverted down a detour thanks to a fire truck engulfed in flames lying across their path.
    • The Joker attacks the caravan with a huge 18-wheeler, and quickly makes mincemeat out of the cops.
    • Batman rides to the rescue, and doesn't even let the disabling of the Batmobile dissuade him.
    • He flips that 18-wheeler over, but crashes his bike after the Joker dares him to kill him.
    • Gordon reveals himself by pointing a loaded gun at the Joker before the Joker can knife the Caped Crusader. Surprise! He was alive all along!
    • Harvey has a brief encounter with the press, and Ramirez puts him in a car home. She has a troubled look on her face that certainly doesn't foreshadow anything bad.
    • Mayor Garcia stops by MCU to congratulate Gordon, and makes him Commissioner.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    Anarchy in the GC

    • Commissioner Gordon tries to question an uncooperative Joker about why Harvey never arrived home.
    • When that goes nowhere, he leaves the room to let Batman take a turn.
    • The Joker opines that there's nothing all the different about the two of them and that Batman's going to have to kill somebody if he wants to save Harvey… and Rachel, who was apparently nabbed too.
    • After some heavy threats that seem to go nowhere, the Joker reveals Harvey and Rachel's locations… in two separate buildings. Batman sets off to rescue Rachel while Gordon speeds towards Harvey's location.
    • Harvey awakens surrounded by barrels of explosives, with Rachel in the same predicament. They can talk to each other over a radio.
    • The Joker engineers a master escape, first by holding a policeman hostage with a broken shard of mirror, then detonating an explosive he kept hidden in the stomach of one of his henchmen downstairs.
    • He nabs Mr. Lau and takes off, reveling in the anarchy he's caused.
    • Batman arrives at Rachel's location only to discover that the Joker switched locations. There's no Rachel, only Harvey.
    • Batman rescues Harvey in the nick of time, but Harvey's face is badly burned in the process: earning him a free ride in Mr. Ambulance.
    • Gordon arrives at the other location, too late to keep Rachel from joining the Dead Girlfriends We Must Avenge club.
    • Batman finds Harvey's lucky coin, with one of its two heads now pitted and scarred. He leaves it with Harvey in his hospital room.
    • Gordon visits an altered Harvey Dent. His scars are terrible, and he wallows in the reality of the cruel nickname the GPD had for him: Harvey Two-Face.
    • The Joker burns his half of the money, and cuts up one of the last mobsters standing in the way of his hold on the underworld.
    • That angry accountant at Wayne Enterprises shows up on the evening news, ready to reveal Batman's identity.
    • While burning up all the money the mob gave him (along with Mr. Lau), the Joker calls into the news show and tells them he doesn't want anyone knowing who Batman is.
    • He threatens to blow up a hospital unless some good citizen out there murders the Wayne Enterprises accountant.
    • Someone tries. But Bruce stops them through the timely sacrifice of a really expensive Lamborghini.
    • Meanwhile, that whole "hospital blowing up" thing is still on. The Joker pays a friendly visit to Harvey in the hospital and gives him the push he needs to really go nuts. The freshly minted Harvey Two-Face heads out to get even with Maroni, and the Joker blows the place to kingdom come.
    • The Joker has another video to share with Gotham. This time he tortures the news anchor who was willing to reveal Batman's secret identity. His message: he has taken control of Gotham, and he will make the rules
    • Gotham City goes berserk, setting the stage for the final conflict.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    Batman vs. The Joker

    • Two-Face takes down the corrupt cops who kidnapped him and Rachel, then settles Maroni's hash with a literal flip of the coin.
    • Fox walks into a vast room at Wayne Tower filled with monitors and a single chair. Thanks to the technology Fox used to help him nab Lau, Batman has turned every cellphone in Gotham into a camera to find the Joker.
    • Fox is not down with the plan, which is cool with Bruce, provided he gets a little help on this one task.
    • The Joker reveals his endgame: two ferries—one full of criminals and one full of normal citizens—are wired with explosives; each one has the detonator to the other.
    • The Joker will spare whichever ferry blows up the other one first, or blow them both up if neither one has acted before midnight.
    • Batman crashes his party, stopping the nearby SWAT team from accidentally killing the wrong people, then watching with the Joker as neither ferry blows up.
    • He trips up the Joker before the clown can blow up both ferries, and even saves the Joker's life by catching him with his grappling gun as the Joker plummets to his doom.
    • It seems like we might have a victory, hard won for the good guys, until the Joker points out that Harvey's officially gone 'round the bend.
    • Gordon arrives where Harvey is holding his family hostage: the gutted warehouse where Rachel died.
    • Harvey, Gordon, and Batman have a tense game of "It's All Your Fault" in front of Gordon's terrified family.
    • Harvey flips his scarred coin—now the only way he makes decisions—and shoots Batman when the bad side comes up.
    • He then flips again with the gun pointed at his own head. The clean side comes up.
    • Finally, he points his gun at Gordon's son, intending to punish the boy for Gordon's failure.
    • Before he can fire, Batman tackles him—body armor works, kids—and the trio goes toppling over the side of the building.
    • Batman saves Gordon's son, but Harvey plummets to his death.
    • Batman decides to take the rap for everything Harvey did as Two-Face in order to maintain the honor of Harvey Dent. Gordon reluctantly agrees to hunt him.
    • We see Alfred burning Rachel's final letter and Fox destroying the phone sonar device as Batman rides off into the night alone.