First off: if you haven’t seen this film, just stop …. go see it …. you don’t need to see the rest of this, no matter how TEMPTing it might be to peer forward. Skip down and read about the Space Elevator.
First off, it is a great film. For all of the hype, it is a very good film. The writing and performances are solid top to bottom. The plot does get a little complex at times, and you sometimes catch yourself saying, what is going on here. But then again, this is not a film about “plot”. It is a film that has everything to do with character. I find it important to shut off the problem solving part of the brain … stop worrying about where the film is going and follow the characters.
Unlike the portrayal with Jack Nicholson (and as alluded to at the end of Batman Begins, the Joker has already made a name for himself. There is no origin story. While Nicholson basically took the Cesar Romero TV Joker and made him a little more sadistic, Heath Ledger starts anew. His Joker is far less openly psychotic and far more of an anarchist. The Joker’s usual slew of deadly toys and props are totally missing. Except for the makeup, there is nothing comical. As a matter of fact, while the Joker himself is normally seen as an ironic character (that is, a clown who is a sadistic killer), in this case, I think it is the clothing and makeup that are ironic. Everything underneath is very much psychotic. While on the surface he appears clownish, he is also intelligent, well spoken, to the point, and generally tells the truth. While the Nicholson Joker is more monstrous, Ledger’s Joker is more of a monstrosity … more calculating; he almost never acts without thinking clearly. With Nicholson’s Joker, you could figure out from the beginning that he would eventually slip up because his psychosis would cause him to make a mistake. That is not the case with Ledger’s …. a man with nothing to lose, a man of clear intelligence, and a man who wishes to give life to chaos. It is a brilliant portrayal. I won’t go as far as to say that it is an Oscar slam dunk, but if he were nominated, I would not think it simply a move of kindness to a late actor.
What has not been widely discussed in the media is another great performance: Aaron Eckhart as District Attorney Harvey Dent. It is a critical role in the film, and was written and pulled off greatly.
Oh, the plot:
Chicag …. er .. GOTHAM City (anyone who has lived in Chicago will tell you that no matter how hard they tried, this was Chicago) is at a turning point. A lot of small time criminals are on the run, but the mob is still standing, though new D.A. Harvey Dent is hell bent on bringing them down. He is nearly as tenacious as Batman, though does not wear the mask. Citizens are starting to see him as a hero.
With their option running thin, the Mob has turned to a Chinese businessman, Lau, to launder their money. When the Batman goes to China and haul him to justice, the Mob has only one more option: the mad man in purple who has been robbing them, and volunteers to return things to status quo by killing the Batman.
However, with Lau in jail, he breaks and gives up most of the mob. While seemingly working for the Mob, going after Dent, the mayor, and the police commissioner, he is in fact working for himself to spread absolute chaos.
Bruce Wayne has to deal with that, plus the fact that his girlfriend Rachel has fallen for her new boss Harvey.
The film is really a contrast of three: the Joker, Bruce Wayne, and Harvey Dent. Dent is the real hero (even called “The White Knight”). He is the law, he does not hide behind a mask, he is incorruptible, and does not back down. Wayne is the antihero: while he stands for what is right, he is not the law, and breaks many of them to accomplish his goals. The Joker is of course the villain, a living embodiment of chaos. The characters are, paradoxically, parts of each other, and it is in their comparisons and interactions that the film’s center is found. Dent follows the law, but in doing so gives crime the time to counter. Wayne is more chaotic, and “gets things done”, but at a cost to his personal life. The Joker wants to play …. have fun destroying things, and it is made only more fun with an adversary like the Batman. In the end, all of them lose, though some lose more than others. I’ll leave it at that. It is a far different film than most super hero films, and in most ways, far better.
edit: I did forget to mention: comic book film or not, there is a lot of intense stuff going on. Not a lot of blood, but there is a lot of shooting, people blowing up, stabbed, and for those that know who Harvey Dent is, let’s just say that the effect of “Two -Face” on Tommy Lee Jones was simple Halloween makeup compared to the rather grotesque disfigurement that he suffers in this film. There are scenes of children being held hostage, There was one scene that even caused me to jump, and two women to scream. This is absolutely not a film recommended for the youngins. The film is rated PG-13 … there’s a good reason. Lock up the kids, send the dog to the neighbors, and go out for a nice film night with a friend or significant other, but make sure that the young kids are not in the theater watching this.