WARNING!! This is not a PG-13 movie. It is at least an R. Parents are threatened in front of their kids, children are almost murdered in front of their parents, bombs are placed in stomachs, hospitals are blown up, heroines die and villains reveal shocking histories. This Batman is brutal and the Joker totally psychotic. There are also far too many allusions to real world events including our county’s privacy issues, terror, and torture in this over-long film, which hurts its escapism value.

As entertainment, this movie unfortunately removes the essence of why this comic book icon, whose psychology is so credible for plugging into our own personal traumas, has lasted nearly 70 years. In this film Batman seems to have little to do and almost no inner life. There is no Bat Cave, little use of the Utility Belt and Alfred (Michael Caine) merely baby sits. It’s as if the director and his co-writer brother, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, who did such a great job on Batman Begins, saw a marketing opportunity after the tragic death of Heath Ledger and edited the film to feature his Joker character. Christian Bale plays Batman as an empty cowl* who is more sadistic and less thoughtful than any of his previous reincarnations.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is stunning as Rachel Dawes and Aaron Eckhart is charismatic as the often ambivalent Harvey Dent. But these very good actors are all background props next to Heath Ledger’s Joker. The Joker’s first appearance in the film is one of the all time great entrances in movie history. It is up there with “Bond, James Bond,” and “I’m Batman,” as he asks ”Do you want to see this pencil disappear?” while committing an unspeakable act of violence. He is as sinister as Hannibal Lecter, but with a chaotic, disorganized style all his own. He is evil in a clown’s suit with a frozen, badly painted smile gesturing with strange body and tongue movements.

The film does have some great chases and really loud music, but over all, does little to promote the myth of The Batman, a pop culture hero that usually (but not here) sheds light on all our stories.

Disclaimer: In the interest of transparency, the author of this review has written multiple articles about Batman, the latest in –Using Superheroes in Counseling and Play Therapy, Springer Press.

*For more on the Caped Crusader’s outfit visit: Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit on Superheroes: Costumes and Fashion, NYC.

Michael Brody M.D.