FROM the outset, this was always going to be about Heath Ledger.

And, to be honest, he proves that the unrivalled hype surrounding his performance was justified. Playing The Joker, the sadistic criminal mastermind, he is unrecognisable when compared to Jack Nicholson's character in Tim Burton's effort.

Ledger's high-pitched voice and nervous mannerisms culminate in The Joker exhibiting the characteristics of a frighteningly- twisted madman. But behind the smeared make up and harrowing laughter, Ledger brings some much needed comic relief to the film, which includes a disturbing trick with a pencil and attending to Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) in hospital dressed as a nurse with a strawberry blonde wig.

The opening scenes are explosive with The Joker and his mob of clown-masked criminals ransacking a bank in a perfectly executed raid.

But this is where the action is curtailed. From here on in, the film moves jauntily through a plot that leaves you feeling as though something's missing.

The trailers for The Dark Knight scream from the rooftops that it's a cut above in dramatic stakes, but the scenarios that unfold, which should be the pinnacle of action sequences, fly by so quickly that you're left feeling robbed of any satisfaction or real entertainment from the supposed action scenes.

Comic book heroes have their stories unravelled by imagery. Comics are, essentially, the storyboard of a film, which tell a story visually, rather than relying on unnecessary dialogue to entwine scenes. Director Christopher Nolan, however, is insistent on incorporating lengthy monologues, which at times leave you having to strain your hearing to comprehend the often-mumbled dialogue, which detracts from the stunning backdrop of Gotham City.

There's no doubting that Batman Begins was amazing. Nolan gained credibility for his interpretation of DC Comics' hero. But although Gotham City and all characters are visually stunning in The Dark Knight, there is little connection between the characters on screen and the audience. It becomes difficult to grow attached to any individual as they do little to stir any emotions. This is especially true of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), whose death doesn't even flutter an eyelid.

That aside, there is still some great acting from Christian Bale, as he continues to impress as the Caped Crusader, Michael Caine, as clear cut as ever as Alfred and Aaron Eckhart's performance as District

Attorney Harvey Dent is phenomenal, and is only second in the performance battles to a sublime Heath Ledger, in his penultimate performance (his final performance will be as Tony in The Imagination of Doctor Parnassus, which is released next year).

Although there are elements that let the film down theatrically, there are enough truly stunning scenes which more than make up for the disjointed narrative.


bout Heath Ledger.