The Dark Knight (Rated PG-13) FIVE STARS

    Batman Begins had a better story, but in every other way The Dark Knight (152 minutes) surpasses the previous film. Christopher Nolan does everything right; Christian Bale manages to capture both Bruce Wayne and Batman; Gary Oldman plays Gordon with the perfect mix of cynicism and optimism; and, Maggie Gyllenhaal is a welcome replacement for the clunky Katie Holmes. Heath Ledger does the seemingly impossible, playing The Joker as a psychotic anarchist, without inviting unfavorable comparisons to Jack Nicholson’s take on the character. The only fly in the ointment is the somewhat inadequate characterization of Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent. In an otherwise passable film, no one would notice that Harvey Dent is poorly written, but this film is spectacular, which makes all the errors, however minor, stand out.
    Bruce Wayne/Batman (Bale) continues to terrorize the criminal’s of Gotham with his intense raspy voice and newly redesigned Batsuit. Both Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) work behind the scenes, supplying him with wisdom and nifty gadgets, respectively. Lt. Jim Gordon (Oldman) has teamed up with new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart) to take a decisive stand against Gotham’s organized crime, which is working well until The Joker (Ledger) surfaces. The Joker is not interested in money, but in destroying the tenuous moral fiber of Gotham’s embattled citizenry and corrupting symbols of law and order. The primary plot is nicely supplemented by two subplots: a love triangle and a morality play. 
The love triangle between Wayne, Dent and Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhaal) treads dangerously close to cliché, but is redeemed when it is resolved in a somewhat surprising way. There is a slight issue with Gyllenhaal’s “damsel in distress” character; even so, she manages to inject some empowerment into a relatively small role.  {mosimage}
    While The Joker represents the ultimate in murderous evil, there are shades of gray to Batman, Dent, and even average citizens. Are symbols more important than truth? Is it moral to suspend civil rights to save lives? Audiences will leave the theater pondering these types of questions, and it is safe to leave — sadly there are no nifty extras awaiting the vigilant during the credits.
    From an artistic standpoint, Gotham is filmed as a city in balance between night and day. While Batman Begins seemed to focus on the city at night, here there are some truly startling transitions between the light and the dark. There is even one scene in which The Joker is briefly shown without his makeup in the full light of day — so briefly that the entire audience seemed to gasp.     
    Despite the flawlessly balanced components, nothing is perfect. Some scenes went on a little too long without adding anything to the overall impact. Towards the end of the movie, when “Batvision” (really) is introduced, I started getting a headache. The Harvey Dent subplot is weak, and played with a little too much square jawed heroism to make the character’s action later in the film truly believable. 

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