Written on July 18, 2008
First things first:
Christopher Nolan, thank you for doing the Batman series justice. If he was here now, I would give him the best handjob that he would ever have the displeasure of receiving. I would have to give it out of respect and admiration. "The Dark Knight" isn't just good, it's amazing. It is (at least in terms of sequels) to "Batman Begins" what "Aliens" was to "Alien", and "The Empire Strikes Back" was to "Star Wars".
Sycophantic fanboy hyperbole on my part? Hardly.
Anyone who knows me can vouch that I'm a huge Batman fan. Damn near bordering on fanatical obsession. And over three years ago, I was convinced that the Batman series on film was dead. I mean, after the steaming pile of cinematic turd that is "Batman and Robin", I didn't think the franchise could rebound. How do you come back from a bad-pun filled movie with bat-nipples, lame gags and goofy characters? Then, I was reading that they were going to reinvent the franchise with Chris Nolan's take on Batman (from David Goyer's script). I was curious because I thought Christian Bale was a perfect choice because he had the abilities to be both Batman and Bruce Wayne.
I walked out of "Batman Begins" absolutely knocked for a loop. It not not only resurrected the Batman franchise but finally Batman was done right. The character arcs were developed and the tone was as serious as the comics/animated series. Also, Gotham itself was a character in the movie. It didn't feel like a cheap prop that was just in the background. But I was even more excited after seeing the ending with Gordon showing Batman the Joker card. I was anxious to see their interpretation of the Joker and if it was going to be accurate. The Joker after all is my favorite character in the Batman world (Harley Quinn is tied up there as well for my love) and if you do this character, it needs to be done right.
People- Heath Ledger is the only Joker that matters (the only other Joker that I love beside him is Mark Hamill's Joker in the cartoon). He IS that character. I nearly did a backflip at how well Chris Nolan (and co-writers Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer) understood this character. Unlike Tim Burton's 1989 movie, we have no simplistic way of explaining the Joker- he isn't some thug named Jack Napier who falls into acid and then becomes a homicidal arch-nemesis to Batman. In this film, he is how he is portrayed in the comics- he's just a nameless sociopath who put on clown makeup and decided to wreck havoc on the city.
The way Heath is able to become this character is truly superb and I think it would be sacrilegious for anyone other than Heath to portray Joker in the Nolan-produced Batman movies. This Joker is some comedic goofball, this man is a deranged, brilliant psychopath who the mob of Gotham unknowingly put their trust behind. And what misplaced faith it will ultimately be.
I love how every rendition of the story of how he got his mouth to be cut is different than the other. I think the Joker is such a compulsive liar- that he actually believes each version he tells. Perhaps, because the story seems better when he tells it. I think my favorite one is the one he tells Rachel, just because of how passionate Joker gets when he tells it.
When I think of this movie, I remind myself of Yeats, "The Second Coming" poem. "The center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world". Batman has unleashed that anarchy on the world, and that anarchy is The Joker. And like a great painter, the Joker paints on a canvas of chaos with gunpowder and explosives being his paint. He cannot be bought, reasoned to, or bullied. He is as devoted to his cause as Batman is devoted to his. And Ledger's performance is so brilliant, you almost feel sympathy for the character. I had to remind myself at how the Joker is just a mass-murdering monster- and that the plane that the Joker is coming from is madness.
But ahhh, does he ever look good in a nurse's get-up and my God, can he ever do a magic trick (hide your pencils).
Unlike Bruce Wayne, who tries to see the best in people- the Joker only sees the worst and can only view the fallacies of mankind. He views life as a constant joke and the only point a person's life has is their punchline in death. Operating on sheer unbridled hatred, the Joker is a force of nature that cannot be stopped. And his motivation is to try to push people (mainly Batman) over the edge and become as corruptible as he is. Although, he doesn't succeed with Batman, the Joker does find a surrogate with Harvey Dent. The Joker wants to destroy every institution- criminal syndicates, the law, etc. Nothing would amuse him more than watching the citizens of Gotham turning on each other. And for a while, I was convinced that he would do it. Flicking his serpentine tongue throughout the film, the Joker is the closest thing to Lucifer the Batman world has experienced.
As dark as this movie is (and I love how Nolan makes this film a genuine film noir), I love how there are slivers of hope. Humanity will still triumph in the darkest hours (kind of paraphrasing Harvey Dent's speech).
The scenes with the Joker and Batman actually talking with each other is some of the best dialogue I've heard in cinema ever. You have two men diametrically opposed to each other but laying everything out on the table. It's damn near literary-worthy.
Heath better get an Oscar for this performance. It's not just Oscar worthy, it's a career-making performance. He has done something never done with the character and the Joker leaning outside the police car listening to the symphony of destruction he is creating, is haunting. Jack Nicholson's Joker doesn't even fucking exist to me. Heath's Joker is the only one that matters.
I would say the movie is dominated by the Joker and Harvey Dent. Actually, Harvey may have the biggest character arc of the film. When we see him, he's an idealistic district attorney who is dating Rachel Dawes, but commands Bruce Wayne's respect. He is "the white knight of Gotham" and perhaps, what this town needs to clean up the mob and make Gotham no longer need Batman.
Aaron Eckhardt's performance is nothing short of remarkable and he makes you love Harvey Dent so much that when he eventually becomes Two-Face, and will lead to the inevitable conclusion, you cannot help but feel heartbroken. You really get to love Harvey and admire the man's gusto and dedication to cleaning up the streets. And he does keep with the flipping coin bit, however, when he is Harvey he has control. He doesn't let chance control him. When he is Two-Face, he is so torn by duality, he allows all of his decisions to be controlled by chance. His evolution is fully fleshed out. There is no Spiderman 3-rushed development as with Venom. This is a well-written arc.
Chance, sacrifice and the duality of man are all themes that play into this film and by the end of the movie, you feel that every character cannot walk away unscathed. Everyone has their hands dirty by the end and The Joker is pulling the strings the entire time, watching as men devour each other in calamity.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, steps in for Katie Holmes in the Rachel Dawes role and gives the character depth and range that Katie had no ability to convey. She is spunky, smart, conflicted and a ray of hope that Harvey and Bruce cannot help but gravitate to. And there will be a crucial moment for Rachel's character, which is so rich in tragedy, that you cannot help but feel torn up. Mainly because of the consequences the scene will create.
Michael Caine- what else can I say? Has there ever been a better Alfred? He remains Bruce's truest ally and his constant in his worst moments. And Morgan Freeman steals every scene as Lucius Fox, who brought the house down with his line after a man was trying to blackmail Wayne Enterprises about Batman's real identity.
No plot thread is left dangling.
We see how the criminal underworld has changed and the climate will never be the same. There is a brief scene with Scarecrow (played beautifully by Cillian Murphy) as we realize that Nolan's world will have continuity. While the regular criminals are concerned with the effects that the drugs Scarecrow is distributing are having on their customers- the Scarecrow doesn't care. He is all about bringing out fear. The old school mob cannot comprehend the Rogues Gallery of villains that are taking control of the city.
Gary Oldman brings new depth to Gordon and he and Batman both play off each other wonderfully. And the climax involving Gordon, Batman and Dent is so intense, you may bite your nails off from the anticipation.
Also, I love how Melinda McGraw got to show her talents as Gordon's wife. To those uninformed, Melinda played Melissa Scully on "The X-Files". Take that Chris Carter for killing off my eye candy on that show!
What else can I say except that this movie is a masterpiece. Go see it! I need to rest and figure out when I am going to see this film again (most likely on an Imax screen).