Fashionably “dark” comic-book movie, the first one to think of putting the darkness right up in the title — a synonym, that, for “the bat man,” as he is frequently and unfamiliarly referred to, or simply Batman to you and me. Aside from the title, the second installment in Christopher Nolan’s restyling of the DC Comics superhero earns no points as a trailblazer. It would earn none even were it the first installment, although we must acknowledge that this trend-follower sets itself apart as an exceedingly oppressive, grinding, grueling, torturous experience. (The relentless, rumbling, theater-rattling background music alone could be a health hazard to anyone with mild depressive tendencies.) It requires the stock figure of the Joker — banish all memories of Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 edition, “dark” though it was itself, as well as Cesar Romero in the glaringly light TV series from the Sixties — to carry the banner and the burden of the post-9/11 terrorist. “Some men,” Batman’s manservant succinctly sums up the emblematic evildoer, “just want to watch the world burn.” To strive to invest some psychological realism and topical relevance into this figure — the parched and cracked face paint, the raccoonish circles around the eyes, the greasy stringy hair, the obscenely writhing tongue, the adenoidal voice pitched somewhere between Al Franken and Bugs Bunny — is not only a losing battle but a foolish one. (Heath Ledger is the vanquished.) However high Nolan might pile on the gravity, however long he might stretch out the agony, the comic-book iconography inevitably simplifies and trivializes the moral debate: Can you fight fair when you fight terrorism? The truth is that Nolan’s lack of faith in the superhero of olden days — the White Knight — goes hand in glove with a larger lack of faith in the fairy-tale form. He can’t trust it to convey its import (in spite of all the scholarly efforts of Bruno Bettelheim, Joseph Campbell, et al.) without an additive of grand-operatic bombast. Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman. (2008) — Duncan Shepherd
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