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Review: 'The Dark Knight'

The latest Batman movie is a relentlessly bleak take on the comic book, with a superb performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker.

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Heath Ledger’s character, the Joker, represents an implacable villainy that seems horrifyingly up to the minute.

STEPHEN VAUGHAN/WARNER BROS. PICTURES

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Even by the pitch-black standards of its genre, Chris Nolan's "The Dark Knight" is dark indeed. At close to 2-1/2 hours, that's a lot of doom and gloom.

What differentiates this new Batman epic from most serioso hero/antihero comic-book movies, including its predecessor, Nolan's "Batman Begins," is that the blackness this time seems fully earned. We are watching not simply a glorified expression of adolescent funk – dweeb angst – but a full-scale vision of depravity.

This depravity is personified most conspicuously by the Joker, portrayed by Heath Ledger in his last completed performance before his death in January. But the Joker is by no means the only demon in this deck. Batman (Christian Bale), of course, is famously riven: Regarded as a vigilante by the denizens of Gotham City he swoops in to protect, he'd sorely love to bequeath his dirty job to Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the crusading district attorney who also happens to be tight with Batman's old girlfriend Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal, a welcome replacement for Katie Holmes from the first installment).

Central to this movie are dark dualities. Batman's public persona as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is none too light, but at least he gets to swing in his luxury penthouse while far below him the city rots. (It's official, folks: Money doesn't buy happiness.)

Harvey Dent, with the profile of an eagle, is a valiant crime-buster who, hideously disfigured in his battle with the Joker, becomes the notorious Two-Face.

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