Batman Begins, with Christian Bale taking the helm of the caped crusader, was pretty melodramatic, unimpressive business. Finally, after watching the second installment of the revisionist franchise, I realized what had been lacking in the first film – a quality villain. No matter how mentally tortured and physically obliterated Batman may be at the end of a scuffle, we want a deviant being, even more malignant than the last, to test the Dark Knight. Call it a liking for the macabre, but I wasn’t really offended or perturbed by Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow. Director Christopher Nolan, at some point I imagine, tried to envision something demonic about his Joker character for the sequel. Something that would be a catalyst for shock and devastation. Eventually, with the right motivation, they found it in Heath Ledger. And somewhere, in the darkest depths of Ledger’s mind, and in the deepest cackle of his voice, Ledger found something so carnivorous, so transformative, that it ends up consuming the entire audience.
The Dark Knight, which is the first movie to be filmed almost entirely in IMAX, takes full advantage of its new technology. Some of the shots, for instance the ones above the city, make you feel so impervious to fiction, you feel like you’re being pushed out the doors of a moving helicopter. Exploitation has never been more fun for the film crew, I’m guessing. Many of the special effects, done by actual stunt crews, seem crisp and refreshing, not clunky and cheap. It brings moviemaking back to the days of Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, or Gene Hackman’s French Connection, but with a better plotline, and more convincing camerawork.
The synopsis, as one would guess in a comic-book movie, involves a city in danger and a hero in peril. You know the drill. Instead of catapulting into danger by himself, Batman gets a little help this time around. Fortunately for us, it’s not Chris O’Donnoll or Alicia Silverstone, but Aaron Eckhart, also known as Harvey Dent, a DEA for Gotham City.
Batman, in all of his usual skepticism and borderline nihilistic attitude, is weary of Dent. That’s okay, because I don’t really like Aaron Eckhart either, it’s called The Black Dahlia. Nevertheless, the real reason for Batman’s gripe is never really explained, but that’s okay, he’s Batman, you have to take his bad attitude with a grain of salt. Eventually, after Dent shows himself to be a loyal patron of the crime force in Gotham, Batman obliges to assist the DEA when necessary – until he finds out that Dent is hooking up with his old flame, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). This, as you can imagine, leaves a bad taste in the superhero’s mouth.
To make things hideously worse for the already cankerous and self-destructive city, the scarred and maniacal Joker arrives on the scene. Ledger, masked to look like a leprous clown, waltzes into Gotham while spinning a dinged up switchblade and wearing a coat full of hand grenades. Flickering his tongue like a viper, and speaking like Hell warmed over, the only thing left to our imagination is the wonderment of where the actor portraying him has gone. This character, expertly crafted by Ledger, is probably one of the best, most clever incantations of evil to ever be put on film. Yep. This was pretty vile work, indeed.
The joker, content on simply mutilating people, has only one goal – to unmask Batman. Promising to kill a civilian everyday until Batman turns himself in, our antagonist wails with congeniality, snickering every time he straps a bomb to an automobile, or poisons a politician’s glass. And because of this, Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) and company panic while attempting to find a solution.
From what I’ve been hearing – and I really don’t care about what I hear – Ledger may be up for an Oscar nod. He deserves it, I don’t know what else to say. Finally, and everyone knows how much I hate summer blockbusters, here is a movie that deserves your recession money.