|Directed by:||Christopher Nolan|
|Written by:||Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan|
|Cast:||Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman|
|Genre:||Action, Comic Book|
I spent most of my last review for Batman Begins talking about what I love about Nolan's vision of this world, so here I'm gonna spend some time talking about the character portrayals and what I think makes them great in my opinion. So buckle up gang, "and here we-- go."
Bruce Wayne/Batman - As a fan I couldn't be happier with the portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman in Nolan's films. In Begins we see his journey from an angry young man, to then learning how to focus his anger and channel it into a force for good. Along the way we get a look into the the psychology of the character from his childhood fear of bats, to his need to live up to his father's legacy. We also get to see how he develops his code and where he draws the line. You can define Spider-Man by the famous line "With great power comes great responsibility" and I think Nolan has given us a great line to define Batman "It's not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me." To me it sums up perfectly everything that Batman is about. It's a rich, layered, complex and emotional portrayal of this iconic character by Bale, especially in Begins. I couldn't have asked for a better Batman personally, and Bale now defines the role for me.
Some people like to criticize Nolan's Batman saying he's incomplete because he isn't this or isn't that, and you know what, their right. However they seem to be missing the point, these movies are about the development of the Batman we know in the comics. When you start at the end of the journey you leave yourself nowhere to go, and then you have an unrelatable boring character with no arc. Nolan is building this character from the ground up, and with each movie he grows and hones his skills a little bit more. We get to see how he evolves in the process, why he is the Batman that we know and how he became that way. Were on this journey with him and are actually invested in the character instead of just looking at our watches whenever he's not in costume. In The Dark Knight we get to see Bruce/Bats pushed to his absolute breaking point by The Joker, he's tempered by fire and emerges all stronger for it. Going into The Dark Knight Rises he's a changed, more defined character than we've previously seen, and I can't wait to see where his journey takes him in the next installment.
The Joker - The Joker is like a Charles Manson or Tyler Durdan type of memorizing personality, and Ledger just keeps hypnotically drawing you deeper into The Joker's twisted philosophy with his charismatic performance until you begin to agree with his point of view, and then he has you. You can see in the scenes with Batman in the interrogation room, and Harvey Dent in the hospital how he could inspire a cult like loyalty out of the recent influx of mentally unstable patients released back into the population during the events in Batman Begins. In other scenes like his video challenge to Batman where he's torturing one of the copycat vigilantes, or when he delivers his bullshit story to Gamble before killing him he's just so intense and menacing that he transcends the PG-13 rating and is genuinely unnerving. Ledger deserves every bit of praise he gets for this role, it's an incredible portrayal of a legendary and iconic character that has become a cultural touchstone of our generation.
It would've been safe and easy for an actor to put on the make up and ham it up by acting like a loon just as Nicholson did, but what really stands out about Ledgers Joker to me is just how intelligently he plays him. He's not just some nut ball laughing wildly while on a killing spree, he genuinely seems to loathe the world around him and wants nothing more than to watch it burn so he can have the last laugh. Ledgers Joker is not simply just a giggling madman out for kicks. His intelligence, fearlessness and unpredictability are what make him dangerous. He's a brilliant mind bored by the hypocrisy that is the norm, and he's looking for something to finally challenge him on his level. It's only in battling with Batman that he seems to find any real joy in his existence, a purpose in his life. Before challenging Batman he seems bored by his own antics, like making Gambles men fight to the death and not even staying to enjoy the carnage he's left in his wake, or robbing a bank when he really couldn't care less about the money. It's in Batman that he's finally found something that interests him, a real challenge. Batman is a defender of the establishment that The Joker rebels against, and a worthy adversary in which to pit himself. That's what truly puts a smile on his face, he delights in tearing down Gotham's symbols of hope.
Even in his more grounded interpretation of this world Nolan manages to work in almost every classic hallmark of the character in the movie as well. Whether it's painting Joker smiles on his victims faces or killing phony Batmen in bad costumes, he even has his beloved jackals Bud and Lou by the end of the movie in the form of the Rottweilers he adopts from the Russian Mobster. It's also interesting If you pay attention to the way the trademark Joker's Laugh is used in the movie. Unlike previous versions of this character on film who just cackle wildly nonstop here it actually means something, and speaks volumes about the character in the ways that it's used in the film. The only time the Joker seems to actually be enjoying himself is whenever Batman is involved in the situation, and then he's positively giddy with excitement. The first time we hear the laugh he's using it to unenthusiastically mock the Mobsters meeting in the kitchen, he's more bored and annoyed by them than interested in anything they possibly have to offer. As we find out later when he burns it all the money they paid him to "Kill the Batman" doesn't mean anything to him, he crashed that meeting just to amuse himself by mocking them to their faces. Like Batman The Joker is also rattling the cages, but not for some noble reason like exposing the corruption in Gotham, it simply amuses him to do so. As The Joker says himself he's not a man with a plan, and that's true. He's very good at capitalizing on the moment and twisting it in his favor. All of his scenarios like the one with Harvey and Rachael are nothing but games to him, and rigging explosives and all that is just setting the board. Beyond that though he has no real grand scheme for Gotham. He just wants to overturn the apple cart in a crowded marketplace and watch everybody scramble around in the chaos.
Harvey Dent/Two-Face - While Ledgers Joker gets most of the attention there is another fantastic portrayal of a classic Batman villain in this movie in Harvey/Two-Face. Most of Batman's villains when you break them down are pretty much the same, their gangsters with a colorful persona that have goons to fit their gimmick and usually rob banks or break into museums in the middle of the night for some odd reason or another. What I love about the portrayal of Harvey/Two-Face is that we don't get the same old cliche Batman villain like his previous iteration in Batman Forever, we get to see the rise and fall of a great man instead. In the first act of the movie we see the heroic, self sacrificing idealist that is Harvey Dent. Then in the second act as the pressure begins to mount and the threat hits closer to home we start to see the cracks form in the facade. The white knight then begins to show some shades of grey as he kidnaps one of The Jokers followers and interrogates him at gunpoint, albeit by bluffing. Finally as he loses everything he holds dear he becomes angry, bitter and vengeful and we see a twisted ugly version of the man he used to be with no moral compass or sense of right and wrong other than random injustice. I honestly think it best to leave Two-Face dead because if they did bring him back he'd just become yet another gimmick villain with goons yelling "Get'um boys" after he flips his coin, and we've already seen that version done terribly in Batman Forever. Nolan told the best part of the Harvey/Two-Face story, which is the destruction of a decent man and his ideals. Dent's tainted legacy will continue to reverberate through the series though as Batman and Jim Gordon have built their success on a false idol, and sooner or later the cracks will begin to show.
The Supporting Cast - All the favorites from Batman Begins return with Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as James Gordon and of course Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and there's some nice additions like Eric Roberts as Sal Maroni and a small role by the great William Fichner in the opening scene too. Everyone's favorite Demented Doctor in the form of The Scarecrow makes a cameo appearance as well which is fun. Katie Holmes is replaced this time with Maggie Gyllenhal as Rachael Dawes though. Oddly enough even though Maggie seems more suited for the role I actually think Katie Holmes did a better job with it. As I mentioned in my last review I don't think she was bad in the role as much as she just seemed out of place in that cast. The cast across the board ranges from good to great, with the exception of Gyllenhaal who didn't seem to know what she was doing in this movie half the time, and there were a few annoying Gothamites here and there.
The Moral Conflicts - The Joker is a threat that Batman hadn't anticipated when he began his quest, he is someone that challenges him on a philosophical level. Batman believes that crime is the problem with civilization, and The Joker is saying that human nature is the problem. When The Joker says "These people are only as good as the world allows them be. You'll see, when the chips are down these so called civilized people will eat each other." He's saying essentially the same thing Ra's Al Ghul did in Begins when he said "Create enough hunger and everyone becomes a criminal." The Joker is saying that societies morality code is a joke if nobody lives up to it when times get tough, and that nobody is above breaking it under the right circumstances. It's easy to claim the moral high ground when you don't have to make the tough choices. That is what he tries to prove by threatening to blow up a hospital if somebody doesn't kill Mr. Reese within the hour, turning the average citizens of Gotham into assassins to save their loved ones, and when he rigs the two ferry boats with explosives giving each of them the detonator to the other boat. All of The Joker's games are designed to prove his point by putting people into the position of having to compromise their ideals for their own benefit, or suffer for upholding them. He's forcing them to make the tough choices.
When The Joker is thrown from the building by Batman and laughs while falling to his death because he thinks he's finally succeeded in corrupting Batman's honor before Batman snares him with his grapple hook is a great moment, and says everything you need to know about that character. He will happily die to prove his point, and The Joker does prove his point with Harvey Dent. As he puts it "I brought him down to our level," meaning one of the morally corrupted after Harvey goes on a revenge filled killing spree. He took the face of hope in Gotham and turned it into an ugly reflection of humanity. Batman however proves to be incorruptible in the end by living up to his ideals, he even sacrifices for the greater good by taking the fall for Harvey's crimes. Batman's encounter with The Joker makes him have to redefine his honor code, then live up to it. No longer do we have the morally ambiguous Batman that let Ra's Al Ghul die at the end of Batman Begins. I look forward to seeing him evolve further, and possibly have to deal with the ramifications of that choice to not save Ra's come back to haunt him in The Dark Knight Rises.
Here you have two men who will not compromise their beliefs having an explosive debate about the true nature of humanity playing human chess with lives in the balance. The Joker is questioning everything Batman believes in, everything he stands for and saying it's a joke. That when push comes to shove people will always choose their lower instincts over their higher ideals and act in their own self interest. Batman is saying that people are essentially good, that when given the opportunity people with rise to the occasion and act in their better nature. Batman's point is proved when neither of the ferry boats chooses to blow up the other to save themselves, and it is something we've seen play out in the real world with the passengers of United Flight 93 on 9/11 as well. What exactly was the conflict between Batman and The Joker about in Burton's movie again? Oh right, revenge. Because killing people for selfish reasons is so heroic. Batman Begins tore down that logic with ease when Rachael confronted Bruce about wanting to shoot Joe Chill. See unlike Burton, Nolan actually read The Killing Joke instead of just looking at the pretty pictures, and he drew real inspiration from it's themes and characterizations. Don't get me wrong I enjoy a good revenge flick, but that's not what Batman is all about. Batman is about justice, not vengeance. If that's what your looking for then check out The Crow instead.
In Conclusion - So, there you have it. My complete and exhaustive breakdown of the only four Batman movie adaptations worth examining in a deeper way. There's no doubt to me which is the better interpretation, but in the end it all comes down to taste and I don't begrudge anyone for liking one interpretation over the other. Unless it's Schumacher's, your on your own there. For me personally Nolan's films are more in tune with what I love about Batman. There rich, complex, psychological, sofisticated and EPIC in the true meaning of the word. Burton's Batman films were pop art, and Nolan's Batman films are high art. I believe Nolan has not only elevated the material to a new level, but the genre as well in the process. I look forward to The Dark Knight Rises to deliver more of the great character interpretations, action and psychological complexity I've come to expect from Nolan's vision. Hopefully the next iteration of Batman on film maintains the high quality of Nolan's movies, and if it's a more sci fi take with villains such as Mr. Freeze and Clayface then I'm all for that too. There's been plenty of great interpretations of Batman over the long history of this character to be mined for future Directors to adapt.
Looking Toward The Future - As a film maker Nolan is not interested is just remaking the same movie, so anyone expecting The Dark Knight all over again is gonna be sorely disappointed. It looks as if just like The Joker did Bane will pose a different type of threat in which Batman's never faced before. A conquering war lord that lays siege to Gotham like a modern day Genghis Khan, forcing Batman out into the light to use his symbol as a revolutionary hero to rally the people of Gotham and lead an insurgency against an occupying army. It's gonna be all out war in the streets, viva la revolution. I personally can't wait to see what Nolan has in store for us with The Dark Knight Rises, and he looks to once again be drawing his inspiration from classic Batman stories like The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall, Bane of the Demon, No Mans Land and War Games as well as filmic influences like The Road Warrior and Escape From New York which really excites me as a fan. It's go big or go home time with his final installment in this franchise, and Nolan's vision of Gotham has yet to disappoint this fanboy.