Mr. Movie

'Dark Knight' too long, but Ledger's Joker makes you stay

The Dark Knight is a complex and violent tale of clashing egos.

The disturbed vs. the disturbing. And in the title, underline the word “dark.” Add an asterisk. Italicize “dark’s” font. Make it bold and bigger.

The Dark Knight is definitely not for the squeamish or for children prone to nightmares. This is an ugly, brutal and sadistic thriller that — with a four-letter word or two and a dash more blood — could easily be rated R.

My how things at the Bat Cave have changed.

Each succeeding generation has added its twist to Batman since comic maestro Bob Kane introduced him in a DC comic in 1939.

In the 1943 and 1949 serials, Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery played it straight.

Victimized by the abstract art craze of the psychedelic 1960s, Batman got camped up and trivialized by Adam West.

When the genuinely artistic Tim Burton resurrected the franchise in 1989, he totally switched gears and the focus of Batman and its three sequels became the villains. Michael Keaton’s hero was the center of the creative storm of Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer’s villainy.

With nowhere to take the series, Burton passed the utility belt to Joel Schumacher. Val Kilmer and then George Clooney were cast as the "Caped Crusader." They added nothing, and neither did villains Jim Carrey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, and Tommy Lee Jones.

At that point, Batman movies were mercifully banished to the Bat Cave.

In 2005, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins breathed new life into the franchise. The tale of the source of the scourge of Gotham City villainy is a great movie. At the time, I said it was an ironic and perfect place to forever end the series and end it on the highest possible note.

Once in awhile I’m wrong. Nolan — against impossible odds — has topped Batman Begins. Some will argue that The Dark Knight is the best Batman of them all, and they have a strong case.

The Oscar buzz for Heath Ledger as the Joker is not just studio hype to sell tickets or because his life was tragically cut short. His performance will blow your mind. When not stuck in commercial studio crap, Ledger was an acting force.

There is the temptation to compare his interpretation to Nicholson’s. Both are brilliant, but one is cartoony, fun, and over the top. The other is scary.

Very scary.

With impossible tongue twists in inventive dialogue schemes, perfectly placed punch lines as well as facial ticks and expressive stances that scream layered but controlled madness, Ledger has taken comic-book character villainy to an entirely new level.

Like Keaton, Christian Bale’s Batman serves no purpose other than to be the film’s anchor. He’s the fulcrum balancing the outstanding supporting performances of Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who replaces Katie Holmes.

The Dark Knight does have warts. After an hour-and-a-half of being pounded senseless, you’re ready for a break. The film goes a headache-inducing 50 more minutes with Nolan unwisely still introducing new crises in the last reel.

That leaves no doubt there will be a sequel to the sequel.

Yes, The Dark Knight is too much movie, but if I am forced to sit through something that is way too long, please let it always be this good.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars

Rated PG-13 for extreme violence, mature themes. It opens Friday at the Carmike 12 and at Fairchild Cinemas.

Mr. Movie ratings

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself