The Dark Knight – in cinemas now

Anyone expecting the standard superhero CGI-endowed spandex suit romp should take note of the title; they warned you up front that this film was going to be dark. And at nearly 3 hours long, The Dark Knight certainly feels like a long, dark night of the soul.

The film comes lumbered with the albatross of the much documented and unfortunate passing of actor Heath Ledger, who practically steals the show as the Joker – at times the film feels like Silence of the Lambs in that it is dominated by the presence of a character whether he’s on screen or not. And, like Dr. Lecter, the Joker knows how to put stationary to effective use and how to win an audience over via sheer charisma and an arsenal of wisecracks. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stranger,” he quips.

With a plot as winding and labyrinthine as the corridors of Gotham’s own Arkham Asylum, the follow up to 2005’s Batman Begins is a relentless and intelligent superhero movie that demands your attention.

The movie dispenses with the typical posturing ‘with power comes responsibility’ fare and instead presents moviegoers with complex questions and characters whose morals and actions are dubious at best. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) plots the film like chess master, expertly moving his characters into the required places and mercilessly sacrificing them where necessary.

It doesn’t help to render characters in a typical ‘good versus evil’ light, as pretty much every one of the so called ‘good guys’ in this film compromises their beliefs in order to achieve their ambitions, accumulate power, save the day, or do whatever it is they have to do. The corruption which comes with power is visually represented by the decline and fall of DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) the ‘white knight’ of Gotham who, after falling on his sword for his people once too often, transforms into the villainous Two-Face, hell bent on revenge on the people who betrayed him.

Visually, the film is as stunning as its plot and themes are rich and rewarding – a high-wire scene set amid the rooftops of Hong Kong is strongly reminiscent of Ghost in the Shell, the opening bank heist scene has echoes of both Michael Mann’s Heat and Roger Avery’s Killing Zoe. The Joker’s slapdash and ragged appearance adds to his feral and anarchic personality and the deformed left half of Two-Face’s mug is pretty shocking when it is first revealed.

If there’s one sour grape to bring up about The Dark Knight, then it’s the final showdown set amid the construction site – that typical action movie duke-out location – where the Joker and his cronies have holed up. Batman tracks his nemesis by way of a special night-vision style visor built into his suit – the resulting confrontation is a mess of zoom-lens infra-red nonsense that can only really be understood if watched by freeze frame. Compared with the precision pacing of the rest of the film, it stands out like a particularly sore thumb.

Those who have criticised the film for being overly long were those who were expecting another superhero movie. Those who have praised the film were those who went to see it as a movie in its own right. This is the second time I’ve been to the pictures and seen people rise from their seats to applaud at the end (the other time was The Two Towers).

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