Rating: * * * * *
Verdict: Worth going batty about
You could say it's a bit long. Or that for a movie featuring a joker named "The Joker" it's not big on, ah, jokes. Then again, this isn't exactly the most comic book of comic book movies. And for a superhero blockbuster, it really skimps on the digital special effects that have kept us oh so very moderately entertained in this season's superhero predecessors like The Hulk, Hancock and Iron Man.
Just because Batman doesn't have superpowers - just a really good gadget budget and mad skills - doesn't mean he should have to do all the heavy lifting. Did he really just glide off that skyscraper? If not why are we feeling so dizzy?
But authenticity? Like now? Nearly 20 years and five Bat-flicks since the Joker's first big-screen incarnation? Whatever brought that on?
The answer is, of course, director-writer Christopher Nolan. Here he shows he was just warming up with his great reboot, 2005's Batman Begins. Dark Knight might be the first not to have "Batman" in the title, but it's by far the best of the bunch. It makes the Tim Burton-Joel Schumacher flicks of the 90s look like the 60s tv series by comparison.
No, we're not in a comic book world anymore. It's one where psycho meets psychology and terror meets terrorist against the framework of a best-pay-attention labyrinthine crime thriller. It just so happens in this underworld flick the main good guy looks good in pointy ears and a cape and the baddie cuts quite a dash in lank green hair, smudged facepaint and lipstick.
Everything you've heard about the late Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker is true - it's his unhinged gaze through that clown-in-car-wreck make-up, his lizard mouth with a tongue that has a mind of its own and his rattling voice that will stay with you after the film is over.
He's unnerving even when he's swapped his purple and green duds to go drag in a nurse's uniform.
Though he is blowing up a hospital at the time. It's a simple but startling sequence, one of a half dozen shots in the IMAX format which occur seamlessly during the film and make this well worth seeing in an IMAX theatre as the high-definition image stretches to the full size of the giant screen - you'll notice the difference in conventional cinema too, but not as dramatically.
Otherwise, visually this movie is a study in heart-stopping action of the vertiginous and high velocity kind. Sometimes all that movement can feel a little incoherent. Especially towards the end when Batman gets his own Bat-sonar during which Nolan swaps that authenticity for heavy use of computer effects.
And while the film makes you believe Batman could extradite a Hong Kong baddie from his 70th floor head office using a passing Hercules transport plane, that fat-tyred Bat-bike just feels a little like the film is ticking off its toy-marketing contract.
Interestingly, like Batman Begins - where Bruce Wayne got his martial arts training after a stint in a local jail - it too has a thing for Asia. Its Hong Kong sequences play out as if Batman has dropped into one of HK's police films, even if Lau, the villain he's after, isn't all that interesting.
No, this grandiose show belongs to the lead duo - the Joker doing gruesome things with pencils and knives while toying with his rival to whom he says: "You complete me".
Meanwhile alter-ego Bruce Wayne spends much of his non-caped time contemplating whether his vigilante gig is all worth it, while his butler (Caine) and resident boffin (Freeman) offer sage advice.
Throw into the fray Gotham's crusading district attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart), who has taken up with the love of Wayne's life Rachel (Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes from Begins), but who is inevitably on his way to becoming the "Two Face" of Bat lore.
His transformation is gruesomely impressive and, with that running time, his plotline risks this being not just one sequel to Batman Begins but a couple of them. Which it does in one overwhelming brilliant and thrilling epic.
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: M (violence)
Running time: 152 mins
Screening: SkyCity, Hoyts, Berkeley cinemas