Page last updated at 07:42 GMT, Thursday, 24 July 2008 08:42 UK

Review: Batman's limelight tussle

By Lizo Mzimba
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

First things first. There has been a lot of talk about whether the late Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight deserves an Oscar.

Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight
Ledger's exuberant performance is of the kind loved by the Academy

Well, there is an outstanding performance in the film, but it actually comes not from Ledger, but from Christian Bale.

That is not to say Ledger is not impressive. He is.

But his is a one-note performance - a pretty good note, it must be said - but one note nonetheless.

Bale's Bruce Wayne/Batman has layers of subtlety to it, and his portrayal of the superhero is so grounded in reality that you almost take it for granted, especially if you are being distracted by the sinister pyrotechnics of his nemesis.

That said, Ledger will still probably win, and Bale will not even be nominated.

Ledger's Joker is one of those performances that the Academy loves to reward, and the public loves to applaud, because it screams "look at me I'm acting".

It is a similar situation to the film Rain Man. There, everyone heaped praise on Dustin Hoffman's Raymond, while ignoring the much more subtle portrayal of his brother by Tom Cruise - the performance that grounds the film and makes it work.

The Dark Knight picks up soon after the events of Batman Begins, developing many of the themes of the first film.

There is a power struggle between the organised crime bosses of the city and the Joker.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman in The Dark Knight
The subtlety of Christian Bale is bound to be overlooked

And you know there is only ever going to be one winner.

At the same time, a new district attorney is taking on Gotham's criminal elements, allowing Bruce Wayne to hope for a time when the city will no longer need Batman.

Director Chris Nolan's vision of a city in turmoil is suitably bleak, and takes the time to explore the moral ambiguities of the main characters against a background of superb action set pieces.

Unusually for a sequel, it does not just repeat the first movie with a different villain. And that is something to be applauded.

Occasionally the gadgetry and special effects go slightly too far. But that is a small price to pay for what is deservedly one of the best films of the summer.

And if you do see it, just take a second to look past Ledger's Joker at Bale's Bruce Wayne/Batman, and appreciate what will almost certainly turn out to be the most overlooked performance of the year.

The Dark Knight opens across the UK on 25 July.

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