Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine
PG-13

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

THRILLER
From its exhilarating first frame to its bittersweet last, The Dark Knight sets a new standard for superhero films—and redefines what a summer popcorn movie can be.

After starting to clean up corrupt Gotham City by becoming the caped crusader in 2005's Batman Begins, billionaire Bruce Wayne (a superb Bale) has the city's bad guys on their heels. He's joined in the fight against crime by the equally committed district attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart)—fated to become the ghastly Two-Face—who is romancing Wayne's old flame Rachel (Gyllenhaal, a spry upgrade over Katie Holmes). Enter the Joker (a fearless Ledger, see sidebar), a jittery, terrifying fly in the ointment who goads Batman into a battle for no less than the soul of Gotham—and its residents. Fulfilling Begins' promise, director and cowriter Christopher Nolan skillfully weaves first-rate action and suspense with a stirring, startling emotional undercurrent.

Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Amanda Seyfried
PG-13

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MUSICAL
Drop Meryl Streep into a musical of cheesy-but-addictive ABBA songs, and to quote this movie's title tune, "My, my, how can I resist you?" It's easier than you'd think. Streep plays a headstrong mom whose engaged daughter (Seyfried) secretly invites her three potential dads (Brosnan, Firth, Skarsgård) to her Greek isle wedding. The actors are a hoot (some of their singing voices also inspire laughter), but overmatched first-time film director Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the hit London and Broadway stage productions, loses herself in slow-motion sequences and clumsy camera work. You'll have fun—and Streep's rendition of "The Winner Takes It All" is a stunner—but you'd have had even more just singing along to your ABBA albums at home.

Back in 1989 Jack Nicholson played the Crown Prince of Crime for laughs. Heath Ledger's take on the role is no joke.

THE LOOK: Natty Nicholson's whiteface was immaculate, while Ledger's angrily applied makeup accentuates the hideously creepy scars carved into his cheeks.

THE PRANKS: Nicholson was a merry, scary jokester, frying a foe with an electrified joy buzzer. Ledger's gags, like making a pencil "disappear" into a victim's skull, are even darker.

THE HOBBIES: His love of balloons and Prince music made Nicholson's Joker seem clownish. Ledger's baddie craves nothing but chaos—and is positively chilling.

SPACE CHIMPS
This animated romp about heroic chimps on a planet-saving mission is The Right Stuff for the post-Care Bear set, but the best jokes (nods to David Bowie and Bill Gates) will make parents chuckle. (G) —NATASHA STOYNOFF

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MEET DAVE
Eddie Murphy (with Gabrielle Union) is a spaceship disguised as a human, navigating New York in '70s disco garb. He's recycling his usual shtick—physical comedy with whoopie-cushion humor—but some of it works. (PG) —N.S.

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The actor, 47, sings onscreen as one of Meryl Streep's former beaus in Mamma Mia! The Movie

DID YOU DO THE FILM BECAUSE YOU WERE A FAN OF THE MAMMA MIA! MUSICAL?
I didn't know anything about it. I thought it was about ABBA. The script, with normal dialogue and then a bunch of ABBA lyrics, was like reading some kind of encrypted Internet text. But the show won me over completely. You have to give in.

WERE YOU NERVOUS ABOUT SINGING?
I think we were all very apprehensive but within half an hour I was round the microphone like ['50s British trio] the Beverley Sisters with Pierce [Brosnan] and Stellan [Skarsgård] singing "Dancing Queen" and "Super Trouper."

WITH ALL YOUR ROMANTIC ROLES, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING A SEX SYMBOL?
I think I'm outgrowing it. But once you get past 40, to be a sex-anything is somewhat of a bonus.

Due in late August, the actress, 38, plays a mom dealing with a horrible tragedy in the new drama Take.

HOW DID YOUR ROLE AFFECT YOU AS A MOM-TO-BE?
Like a lioness, I've become more protective about everybody because of what's going on in my body. With what my character goes through, I certainly feel that need of protection.

WHY KEEP THE FATHER'S IDENTITY A SECRET?
He's not in the public eye. He shouldn't have to deal with the unwanted attention. I'm not getting married, but he's going to be there for the kid.

THINK YOU'LL LOSE THE PREGNANCY WEIGHT RIGHT AWAY?
That's unhealthy and horrifying to me. Plan on seeing me fat, walking around Malibu, proud of it!