It almost lives up to the hype. The effects are breath-taking. The technology is a blast. The story is sharp, and the acting strong. So, why an almost? Well, all this talk of Heath Ledger posthumously winning an Academy Award for his role as the Joker makes the uninitiated believe that this two-dimensional comic book character might have a little back story; a small little moment poking at audience sympathy, to make him just slightly human. Think back to Danny DeVito’s Penguin character in past Batman movies, for instance. For as horrible and vile as the Penguin was, your heart broke for the little deformed child, growing up in Gotham’s sewer system. But the heart is the one place The Dark Knight doesn’t go with The Joker, and Ledger’s character is bad all the way through. Which is not the stuff of Academy Awards, but in this case, it is still a pretty good thing.
“Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I'm an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair.” –The Joker
This new Joker is especially fascinating because he is a psychological terrorist, as well as a physical one. The Joker’s single failing is in his believing that everyone, deep down, is as evil as he is. He doesn’t want money. He doesn’t even really want power. He just wants to fuck things up; to blow the world apart and watch the debris scatter. Even more interesting, he wants to break the soundest minds, the pillars of society that represent goodness: Gotham’s District Attorney, Harvey Dent--and Batman. And he does have some success.
“I took Gotham's white knight, and brought him down to our level. It wasn't hard. Y'see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little...push.”—The Joker
The script for The Dark Knight is as brilliant as this movie’s stunning effects, with the smartest, wittiest and most intelligent lines also going to The Joker role. Every scene is memorable with Ledger’s impeccably sick delivery of dialogue. Playing with a famous Nietzsche line, he says, “I believe that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you… stranger.”
If you haven’t guessed, this is The Joker’s movie. How could it not have been? There is something about The Joker persona that has always kept the audience riveted, whether he’s played by the emotionally complicated Heath Ledger, or the sleazy, sinister Jack Nicholson back in the 1980s, or Cesar Romero on the silly TV show of the 1960s. Playing upon the human confusion over the match of pranks and laughter with evil, with the creepy-clown feeling we’ve all had as a child, or whatever other unexplainable buttons he pushes in the psyche, DC Comics has known that The Joker owns both the page and the screen every time. And for all his madness, The Dark Knight’s Joker talks a little bit of sense:
”Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just, do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon's got plans. You know, they're schemers. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I'm not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how… pathetic… their attempts to control things really are. So, when I say, ah, come here, when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I'm telling the truth…
“It's the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and uh, look where that got you. I just did what I do best. I took your plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did, to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hmmm? You know what? You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then, everyone loses their minds!” --The Joker
Without spoiling too much for the few who still haven’t seen it, The Dark Knight leaves the ending open enough for a sequel, with Joker’s fate unresolved and the new villain of Two-Face firmly established. It is so sad that Heath Ledger won’t be able to do a repeat performance. Christian Bale is a good, brooding, dark Bruce Wayne/Batman, and of course, the back-up cast of Michael Caine (as Alfred) Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox), Gary Oldman (as Commissioner Gordon) and Aaron Eckhart (as Harvey Dent/Two-Face) can do no wrong. The offbeat-looking Maggie Gyllenhaal seemed slightly miscast as the powerful legal support and love of Dent (and Bruce Wayne)—but she pulled it off.
The character Harvey Dent sums up the psychological game of this movie nicely:
“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”
The Dark Knight is bleak, beautiful and not to be missed.