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At the Movies: Out of the Darkness: The Dark Knight ****

All Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel, The Dark Knight, had to be was kind of good to make money. The Batman movies have a built-in audience, and the Nolan brand of the Bat has yet another faction of devotees. That it also featured the last, and great, performance by the late Heath Ledger only added to the appeal. But no one would have ever dreamed that the film would break the box office record opening weekend and that it would show no signs of slowing down. What is it about The Dark Knight?

What The Dark Knight is not: a run-of-the-mill action movie or comic book movie or superhero movie. What it is: an inventive, brooding thriller with captivating characters and heart-stopping action sequences. If at all possible, this is a film that should be seen on the big screen, as in IMAX.

Nolan has come a long way since Batman Begins, which first introduced audiences to the Christian Bale version of the caped crusader. That film was dark and odd but it wasn’t nearly as gripping, nor as visually exciting, as The Dark Knight.

Nolan co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Jonathan, and the story seems to bleed with thoughts on war and terrorism, though nothing is ever stated outright. Aaron Eckhart plays Harvey Dent, Gotham’s one chance at a good man leading the city out of darkness. Spilling out of the manhole of hell is The Joker (Ledger), who covers a massive scar across his face with lipstick to make himself appear to be smiling at all times. Unlike other Jokers, though, Ledger’s villain doesn’t smile very often. Ledger plays him like a freak, a low rent and often charming freak, but a freak nonetheless.

Dent is the one who cannot be corrupted, though he has also captured the heart of Bruce Wayne’s beloved Rachel (played this time by Maggie Gyllenhall). She finds herself pulled in different directions by two men, but one, she knows, can’t possibly give up the bat suit.

This is a film where the Batman and the Joker battle for the souls of all involved. The Joker, in particular, is interested in proving to all human beings out there that they are as rotten throughout as he is. Someday film critics will look back on this era and see our modern times reflected in our films. The Dark Knight doesn’t take the expected anti-war view, in fact, it takes on the need to withstand terrorism and be a hero even when people are dying.

The film is deep if you’re looking and paying attention, but it is also just a fuel-injected good time if you are there to be entertained. No other film released this year will give you as much bang for your buck. Do spend the extra time and money to see it on IMAX. Sit high and close to the top of the theater.The supporting cast must compete with the shimmering Ledger but hold their own, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman reprising their roles from the first film. If there is a weak link it’s Gyllenhall, partly because she’s not quite right for the part of Bruce Wayne’s love interest, but also because she isn’t given enough character development. But it hardly matters. This is one that will have you rushing right back to see it again.

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