After the exciting little tease of the Joker at the end of Batman Begins, I was more eager than ever to see a follow-up. Seeing how Nolan crafted such a dark and gritty version of Batman made me wonder how far he would go with the Joker. But I wasn’t necessarily sold from the outset.
Heath Ledger was an actor I was familiar with but hearing he was cast as the Joker did not line up with MY vision. In fact, my first choice for this darker world was Crispin Glover. I felt he was the right kind of weird for the role as well as the right build. I’ve always seen the Joker as a gangly character. Ledger, last I checked, was pretty darn fit. But this wasn’t my movie and Nolan saw something in Ledger I didn’t. Which is why he’s the one making movies, not me.
Ledger blew me away as he did so many people. He was a unique take on the Joker, one that felt much more sinister which built the tension along with his unpredictability. Look no further than the “making a pencil disappear” moment upon his entrance and you know you’re in for a legendary performance. Everything about it is so intricately crafted. The make-up. The voice. The little lip licking tic. And his well-crafted plans. Tour de force I think is the term here and he earned that Oscar. Whether or not he would have actually won the award had he still been alive is the real question. I don’t want to believe it was just given to him.
Furthermore, the man didn’t become so engrossed in the film that he killed himself or whatever lie the internet leads you to believe surrounding the circumstances. He had problems prior to the movie and unfortunately it caught up with him. Considering the Joker survived the end of this film and was planned to return in the sequel, it really makes you wonder what that film would have been.
Bale gets a lot of flack for his Batman portrayal in this flick, because the voice is so gravely. But I like to think it’s a progression from the last film. In Batman Begins, he speaks with a slightly modified tone. Not quite gravely but not Bruce Wayne. Here, we see that Batman is working overtime and perhaps the voice is a byproduct of that. It doesn’t bother me. The man plays the role to perfection.
All returning cast members are a welcome sight and none of them feel under utilized which can happen with larger ensemble casts. Maggie Gyllenhall is equally good as Rachel, replacing Katie Holmes. Again, just wish the cast was consistent.
Aaron Eckhart feels like an actor we should be seeing more of because he put in an equally compelling performance as Harvey Dent. His story arc beautifully weaves into the chaos of the Joker and nothing about it feels wrong. Usually with characters taking such a huge heel turn, something can always feel amiss and make you question why. Here, this is a man doing his damndest to clean up the city, to do right by its citizens, seemingly infallible. But when it gets too personal, we discover his achilles heel and see that like most people, he has a dark side. And the Joker exploits that. The personification of Two-Face is also beautifully grotesque. That’s about as real as you could get and stomach looking at it.
The opening scene of the film begins with Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s perfect score for the Joker. Tight, grinding violin strings alluding to something more sinister, creating this uneasiness in the air. The track best known as “Why So Serious?” encapsulates so much of this film and is one of my favorite pieces of cinema composition. The rest of the score is expertly crafted by the composers, but that piece stands out for me.
The film is so expertly paced that even at two hours and thirty minutes, it never felt like a drag. The way the bank robbery goes down, it had Joker written all over it. His first appearance with the most bosses is intense as hell. Shout-out to Eric Roberts as Sal Maroni. The man is a better actor than he’s given credit for.
The truck chase through the tunnels of Gotham is probably one of the biggest highlights of the film, which introduces the Batpod. Not as great as the Tumbler but I like it all the same. It allows for more maneuverability. But then there’s the scene where Batman has to infiltrate the building where Joker has hostages with guns and the goons are the hostages. Then the cops shoot at him too. Good stuff. Then the tension between the two boats. I genuinely thought someone was going to turn the key.
Then the final scene with Two-Face holding Gordon’s son hostage. Once again, I thought they were going to go there. I kept asking myself, “Are they really going to kill this kid?” Everything in the scene made me believe he was going to pull that trigger. Jesus, that was so intense. Which makes the ending all the more tragic yet satisfying watching Batman take the fall for the sake of the city. It has to be done. We all know it. But what else can he do. Makes you yearn for that sequel even though you know its not gonna top what you just saw.
I really love this movie and feel like I saw it more than once in theaters but cannot remember. I do remember watching it several times when it was released on home video. In fact, this movie in particular made me jump on board the HD bandwagon, converting all of my DVDs to Blu-ray because upon viewing the film in true HD on cable, I was blown away by the rich colors and sharp picture.
In my opinion, this film is the highmark for Batman films. Top this film and you’ve done the impossible. This may show my hand for the upcoming episode on the Batman, but I’ve got plenty of good things to say about that. In saying that, I’d rather not see Joker in a Batman film any time soon. Unless a fresh new approach can be done that’s still true to the character, then let’s see some new villains. What Ledger did here was not emulate Nicholson, but find his own way. I have no idea what the fuck Jared Leto was doing, but it didn’t fit within the “Three Joker” rule. I know that’s not officially canon, but dammit it should be.
In any case, I think this might be my favorite Batman film ever.