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The Art of Darkness: Comic book icons reconvene in chaos-ridden Gotham 

one more time, kids. Who stole my damn wig?After a record breaking weekend at the box office the question is: Does the Dark Knight live

click to enlarge one more time, kids. Who stole my damn wig?
  • one more time, kids. Who stole my damn wig?
one more time, kids. Who stole my damn wig?After a record breaking weekend at the box office the question is: Does the Dark Knight live up to the hype? The answer is yes and no.

In the latest and best installment of the long-running serial, writer/director Christopher Nolan plunges ever deeper into the realm of madness and self-doubt, adding more evil and more complexity to the story. The result is a film so dark, at least by the series' standards, that not even the director can find his way through to a consistently coherent plot.

When a triumvirate of crime-fighters-Batman (Christian Bale), Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, who also plays Two-Face)-believe that they've finally mopped up a notorious mob crime-ring, a demonic Joker returns to spread chaos throughout the city. From then on, the challenges of betrayal, corruption, and sadism, combine to generate a relentlessly nerve-wracking sense of dread.

Presumably emerging from the tar-pit of human nature, Heath Ledger's Joker licks his scarred lips (covered with a creepily smeared-on, crooked clown smile), while cruelly taunting his victims, one-by-one. The image of his tongue, darting out like a serpent, marks him as a kind of devil. Ledger died soon after making this film, bringing speculation that the actor-allegedly so disturbed by this character-had become overly agitated and sleep-deprived, causing an accidental prescription drug overdose. Such a scenario isn't hard to fathom; his masterful performance gives the Joker a malign complexity similar to that of the dark angel Beelzebub, in Milton's novel, Paradise Lost. Both characters share greediness, not for worldly goods or money, but for power. Both are menacing, but also likeable at times-the Joker displaying a playful, albeit sick, sense of humor; Beelzebub reeling the reader in with artful speech.

Bale is an intense, brooding Batman who materializes out of the darknes and recedes back into into-both physically and emotionally. He's tormented by the personal tragedy revealed in Batman Begins and torn between perceived duty to his city and his love of a woman. He wrestles with temptation as the Joker tries to prove that everyone, even Batman, can be corrupted.

Batman's butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) remain steadfastly devoted to Wayne, while offering relief from an otherwise pervasive menace with their sensible advice and sly humor. Maggie Gyllenhaal's version of the lawyer/heartthrob Rachel Dawes is much more interesting than Katie Holmes' character in the previous film, while Eckhart plumbs the intricacies of a double personality (District Attorney Dent/Two-Face) with startling agility.

In contrast to Ledger's Joker, the movie itself lacks a clear narrative. And despite its overall superb characterizations, the film gets mired in its own complexities and contradictions. It feels as if Nolan is conflicted, unsure what a hero's role should be or how he wants the story to end. Except for a brilliant turn of events on a bomb-laden barge, he sidesteps indecision by plugging in multiple formulaic explosions and convoluted chase scenes. The audience is left to determine for itself who the real hero is, if there is one. Other recent films have carried this formula off with success, but The Dark Knight comes up short. The moral ambiguity of No Country for Old Men, for example, seems intentional; here it just feels muddled.

Does The Dark Knight live up to its hype? Not entirely, but for sheer fast-paced entertainment, spectacular special effects, and a frightening examination of the human psyche, climb onto Batman's wings and go for the night ride.

The Dark Knight ★★★✩✩

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Rated PG-13.


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