Thank god it's good. After all the hype and the inevitable media frenzy after the unfortunate death of Heath Ledger this film had so much weight bearing down on it I was worried that Batman might not fly after all. Christopher Nolan's second film is a dark, complex and allegorical work which gives blockbusters a good name and breathes life into a character which might never have recovered from the diminishing returns of the films from the nineties.
As Alfred says, Batman must 'endure' and it shows what an endurable character he is that with each successive incarnation there is something fresh to be said about the society we live in. The phrase 'post 9/11' is bandied about nowadays to mean all sorts of things but it is clear in this film that New York, oh I'm sorry, I mean Gotham City is traumatised and trying to find a way to deal with terror. Again it is Alfred, in a touching performance from Michael Cane, who explains that 'some men just want to watch the world burn' and how terrifying to be up against an adversary who can't be reasoned with and doesn't mind if you kill him in the process. Heath Ledger is indeed impressive in his role as the Joker; the make-up there like war paint to intimidate, the rough scars showing underneath (but with us unclear as to how they got there) and, with his rough voice breaking to reveal that unmistakeable cackle, a genuinely chilling psychopath. That the film's length doesn't drag is in part due to his performance but also to his devious character which allows Nolan to elongate the plot with the ingenious Joker one step ahead of Batman, the police and the city itself.
The acting is strong throughout. Bale growls his way through more action and smarms away as Bruce Wayne. The soul searching about what makes a hero, or indeed what a hero can be was a little heavy handed for me but Batman is after all not a super hero, just a man, albeit not like us. Maggie Gyllenhall brings far more to the role vacated by Katie Holmes and Aaron Eckhart is solid as Gotham's white knight Harvey Dent. Gary Oldman is great again in a role which could easily have been filled by a corpulent character actor and shows us what is at stake for so many of Gotham's residents. Nolan continues his serious approach to the production creating a complicated thriller which feels more like a film by Michael Mann than a comic book blockbuster. He's left things finely poised for a third movie having set up Batman to be whatever Gotham needs him to be. Hero or villain. Let's just hope that he does return.