The Dark Knight (2008)

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight

When Batman Begins came out in 2005, I raised my fist and yelled. Move over Spider-Man, you nerdy geek; sod off Superman, in your posing breeks – here was a superhero I could really get excited about. And if the film sucked, well, it was still Christian Bale in a rubber suit – what could possibly go wrong?

Christopher Nolan's first foray into the Batman saga exceeded all my expectations. But can The Dark Knight rise about the hype (not to mention the morbid speculation over the tragic death of its star, Heath Ledger) and go one better?

Ooooh yes. Opening with one of the most explosive and shocking heist scenes committed to celluloid, The Dark Knight grabs you by the jugular and never really lets go for the next two and a half hours. Yes, our lantern-jawed vigilante is back, continuing his ongoing vendetta against Gotham's crime lords. As fine, upstanding, Harvard-blonde, too-good-to-be-true DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) fights a political battle to keep the streets clean, Batman is slugging it out in car parks and on roof tops, a minister of defence without portfolio, a judge dread who knows no jurisdiction.

And then, between these two counterbalanced and opposing heroic archetypes, strolls, with jaunty nonchalance, a whole new breed of villain, a psychotic anarchist with a scarred, painted face, a natty line in purple suits and a truly twisted sense of humour; the Joker.

Why so serious? Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark KnightOh, Heath Ledger. Only now do I really realise what Hollywood lost the day you died. At just 28, he has pulled off a performance that an actor with the stature of a De Niro or Pacino would be proud of. Like Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man, John Hurt's Merrick or Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, his Joker is an inspired creation, a perfectly rendered character behind which the actor himself is almost entirely invisible. Ledger's Joker is a contorted, twitching, volatile, violently unpredictable sociopath who wants nothing more but to cause complete chaos.

Alice Cooper greasepaint running into rivulets on his seamed and sneering face, he's the reason children have nightmares about clowns, and he makes Jack Nicholson's urbane take on the villain look about as threatening as Christopher Biggins. He doesn't so much steal the show as ravage it at gunpoint, then rub his hands in glee, smirking, as it explodes behind his back.

In fact, my only criticism of The Dark Knight is that, once the Joker's out of the picture, it does start to drag a bit, stretching out the final showdown just a little too much.

Christian Bale examines his 'silly batsuit'

But that aside, this is a real powerhouse of a movie that'll blow the rest of this summer's blockbusters clean out of the water. Dark, smouldering and sinister, at times it's so gritty, streetwise and psychologically credible that it's more like a Scorsese movie than a superhero flick, and you can't help catching yourself wondering why Bruce Wayne has to wear that silly batsuit – what does he look like?

But fantastic stunts, superb performances from a top drawer cast make The Dark Knight a real cut above. The caped crusader is back with a vengeance. Just a shame that his new nemesis will never be back again.

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