This Batman a very 'Dark Knight'

By: Jean Cress Special to The Press-Tribune
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Between the criminal element, car chases and explosions, Gotham City looks like a very undesirable place to relocate. Good thing there’s a caped crusader lurking in the shadows. Shadows don’t even begin to describe the dark tone established by “The Dark Night,” the highly anticipated follow-up to 2005’s “Batman Begins.” Though far from perfect, “Night” offers non-stop, roller coaster action along with a dream-team cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. “The Dark Knight” takes up where “Batman Begins” left off: Determined to rid Gotham City of organized crime, Batman joins forces with Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the newly-elected district attorney. Dent is the shining new hope of Gotham City, the “White Knight,” who starts out full of optimism and enthusiasm, until his altruism is changed in a very significant way. The trio’s biggest threat: a rising criminal mastermind known as the Joker, who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and chaos, forcing the Dark Knight ever closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante. Much has been made of Heath Ledger’s final role as the Joker, and the buzz is well deserved. Ledger’s Joker will forever erase memories of Jack Nicholson in the part. Though his performance in “Brokeback Mountain” will remain his finest work, Ledger’s Joker is truly haunting, by turns mesmerizing and horrific. No prankster in a satin suit and clown face, this Joker is an evil psychopath, clothed in tatters with a ruined face; clearly a man gone mad. “Dark Night” marks the third time around for director/screenwriter/producer Chris Nolan and star Christian Bale (“Batman Begins” and “The Prestige”) and the bond between the two is evident on the screen. No one does dark, tortured souls like Bale, and one of the film’s major strengths is his fine acting – that and the fact that he looks as good in his sculpted bat suit as he does in Bruce Wayne’s Armani suits. Nolan has crafted a thrilling story with David S. Goyer, as well as a taut and frenetic screenplay with his brother, Christopher, and his direction is solid. But for all the positive things Nolan brings to the party, he must be faulted for the things that are wrong with “Dark Night.” While “Batman Begins” had many huge action-packed scenes, it also had some slower, thought provoking moments. For a roller coaster to be truly thrilling, it must occasionally veer away from the spectacular highs to allow riders to catch their breath. “The Dark Knight” comes out of the gate at full throttle, and rarely lets up during its 2 ½ hour running time. All performances in “The Dark Knight” are impressive; Gary Oldman as the solid Lieutenant-turned-Commissioner Gordon, Aaron Eckhart as the idealistic district attorney-gone-bad, and Maggie Gyllenhaal (taking over for Katie Holmes) in the thankless role of assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, who had pivotal parts in “Batman Begins,” deserve considerably more screen time. Expanding their roles would have added some much needed ballast to the film. Of course, no Batman movie would be complete without great cars and gadgets, and “Dark Knight” doesn’t disappoint. In addition to a new-and-improved batsuit, Batman has a nifty new Bat-Pod, a high-powered, heavily armed two-wheeled machine. And speaking of gadgets, part of the film is set in Hong Kong, leaving me to wonder how Bruce Wayne managed to get his assorted bat hooks and bat ninja stars though airport security. Maybe Super Heroes have special security clearance. Running time: 2 hrs 32 min MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace. Now Playing: UA Olympus Pointe 12 Jean’s Rating: 3 Stars