As a child, Bruce Wayne falls into a well filled with bats, causing him to develop a phobia. Later, he watches as his parents are murdered by a mugger named Joe Chill, leaving him to be cared for by the family's butler Alfred Pennyworth. Years later, Chill is given parole for agreeing to testify against mob boss Carmine Falcone. Bruce goes to the courthouse planning to shoot Chill, but one of Falcone's assassins shoots him before Bruce has a chance. Bruce confides in his childhood friend Rachel Dawes, now Assistant District Attorney, who is disappointed by his desire for vengeance. Bruce leaves Gotham to become familiar with the criminal underworld, intending to learn skills that will help him rid Gotham of the crime and corruption that threaten to ruin it. In prison, he meets Ducard, who offers to train him as a member of the League of Shadows led by Ra's al Ghul. After finishing his training, Bruce learns the League's true plans, which are to free Gotham from the evils that corrupt it by destroying the city. He burns down the League's temple, killing Ra's in the process, while saving the life of Ducard.
Bruce then returns to Gotham. While appearing as a reckless playboy in public, he takes an interest in his family's company, Wayne Enterprises, a technology and defense corporation run by CEO William Earle, who wants to take the company public. Bruce meets Lucius Fox, head of research and development, who shows him some of the company's prototypes, including an armored car and a protective bodysuit. Bruce uses these to create his crime-fighting persona, Batman. As Batman, Bruce disrupts an illegal drug shipment, allowing Sergeant Jim Gordon and the Gotham police to arrest the untouchable Falcone.
During his birthday party at Wayne Manor, Bruce is approached by Ducard, who reveals that he is the real Ra's al Ghul. Bruce makes his guests leave by pretending to be drunk and obnoxious, leaving him alone with Ra's and his ninjas. Ra's informs him of the League's plan to destroy Gotham. Using the Microwave Emitter that was previously stolen from a Wayne Enterprises cargo ship, Ra's and Crane intend to vaporize the city's poisoned water supply, resulting in mass hysteria and mayhem. The League burns the mansion, leaving Bruce trapped inside, but Alfred saves him. As the League starts releasing the toxin, Batman rescues Rachel from a mob of people inflicted by the drug and reveals his true identity to her. He then leaves the Batmobile with Sgt. Gordon and goes after Ra's, who is using Gotham's train system to reach the city's central water hub in order to spread the toxin throughout the city. Batman fights Ra's on the train and escapes just as Gordon uses the Batmobile to destroy the elevated tracks, leaving Ra's to die as the train crashes.
Batman becomes a public hero, but loses Rachel, who can't love Bruce, knowing of his dual life as Batman. Bruce buys a controlling stake in Wayne Enterprises, which is now publicly traded, then fires Earle and appoints Fox as the new CEO. After being promoted to Lieutenant, Jim Gordon shows Batman the new Bat-Signal and mentions a new criminal who has "a taste for the theatrical" and leaves Joker cards at his crime scenes. Batman promises to investigate, then disappears into the night.
With the rise of organized crime in Gotham, new District Attorney Harvey Dent successfully places more and more criminals in jail. Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon decide to include Dent, who is dating Rachel Dawes, in their goal to eliminate the mob from Gotham. Mob bosses Sal Maroni, Gambol and The Chechen are told by their accountant Lau that he has securely hidden their money and fled to Hong Kong. The Joker interrupts their meeting by telling them Batman is not limited by jurisdiction. When the Joker offers to kill Batman for half their money, the mob laugh at him and decline the offer. Later, the Joker kills Gambol, while Batman captures Lau and returns him to Gotham where he agrees to testify.
The Joker then informs Gotham that innocent people will die every day until Batman reveals his identity and turns himself in to the police. This results in the killing of Commissioner Loeb and Judge Surillo. The Joker targets Dent at a fundraiser hosted by Bruce Wayne, but Bruce hides him, while Rachel is taken to be protected by Alfred Pennyworth. Later, the Joker, disguised as a police honor guard, tries to assassinate Mayor Garcia during Loeb's memorial service, but Gordon jumps in front of him, taking a bullet to the chest. As a result, Bruce plans to reveal his identity, but Dent instead names himself as Batman to protect the truth. Dent is taken into custody and, during transport, is pursued by the Joker as Batman comes to stop him using the Batmobile and Batpod. Gordon, who faked his death, helps apprehend the Joker which earns him a promotion to Commissioner. However, Dent and Rachel disappear. Batman confronts the Joker who tells him that each are on opppsite sides of the city in buildings filled with explosives. Batman finds Dent moments before the buildings explode, killing Rachel and scarring half of Dent's face. The Joker then uses a bomb to escape from the police department with Lau.
Coleman Reese, an accountant at Wayne Enterprises, discovers that Bruce is Batman and intends to blackmail him. The Joker kills Lau and The Chechen, and threatens to blow up a hospital unless Reese is killed. Gordon rescues Reese, while the Joker visits Dent in the hospital, convincing him to seek revenge. Dent uses his burned lucky coin to decide the fates of those he considers responsible for Rachel's death, killing some of the corrupt cops and mobsters. After exploding the hospital and escaping with hostages, the Joker gives the passengers of two ferries, one carrying citizens and the other carrying Arkham Asylum inmates, the choice to blow up the other ferry. This choice expires at midnight, at which time both ferries will explode. Batman asks Lucius Fox to use a tracking device to locate the Joker. Fox reluctantly agrees, but says he will resign afterward. Batman rescues the hostages, who are disguised as Joker's gang, by fighting off the Joker's real henchmen and Gordon's SWAT team. The ferry passengers refuse to kill each other and are rescued as Batman captures the Joker. Despite this, the Joker claims he has won, saying that Gotham's citizens will lose hope when Dent's rampage goes public.
By holding Gordon's family hostage, Dent lures Gordon and Batman to the building where Rachel died. Dent then judges the fates of himself, Batman and Gordon's son with three flips of his burnt lucky coin. As a result, he spares himself, shoots Batman, then flips the coin to determine the boy's fate. Batman, who was protected by body armor, tackles Dent over the side of the building before the coin lands, resulting in Dent’s death. Batman convinces Gordon to hold him publicly responsible for the murders so that Dent will continue to be a symbol of hope for Gotham. A manhunt for Batman begins, as he flees the city. As the movie ends, Alfred burns a letter written by Rachel to Bruce stating her engagement to Dent, Fox watches the signal tracker self-destruct, and Gordon destroys the Bat-Signal before delivering a eulogy at Dent's funeral.
Eight years later, Gotham has recovered from the Joker's killing spree, enjoying a time of peace. After a message from Selina Kyle that warns of a coming cataclysm, Batman returns to the city where he must stop the new villain Bane who plans to destroy Gotham.
In the speculation and gossip department, one of the more notable rumors is that Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member, is actually Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra's al Ghul. Another juicy piece of speculation is that John Blake, a Gotham city beat cop, is Christopher Nolan's take on Robin, or may even put on the cape and mask taking over from Bruce Wayne as Batman.
• Bruce Wayne/Batman portrayed by Christian Bale
• Alfred Pennyworth portrayed by Michael Caine
• Commissioner James Gordon portrayed by Gary Oldman
• Lucius Fox portrayed by Morgan Freeman
• Bane portrayed by Tom Hardy
• Selina Kyle/Catwoman portrayed by Anne Hathaway
• Mayor Anthony Garcia portrayed by Nestor Carbonell
• John Blake portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
• Miranda Tate portrayed by Marion Cotillard
• Ra's al Ghul portrayed by Liam Neeson