Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Heath Ledger gave one of the most iconic performances of all time as The Joker. It’s incredibly remarkable how this was the same actor who gave us Brokeback Mountain and A Knight’s Tale. He completely transformed himself for this role and offered us one of the best performances in cinema history. He steals the entire movie from the whole cast even though it includes Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gylenhaal (replacing Katie Holmes for the role as Rachel Dawes) and Aaron Eckhart (whose performance is very underrated as Two Face). The cast of this film is incredible and there is not one weak link. Everyone is on their A-Game and gives it their all. This film is an excellent crime drama (yes, crime drama) with Batman in between. Maggie Gylenhaal is a great additon to the film and a huge upgrade compared to Katie Holmes. Michael Caine is once again terrific as Alfred, Morgan Freeman is great as Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman is fantastic as Jim Gordon.
While this is not a perfect film, it’s damn close. Every scene is almost perfection. The opening robbery scene is probably the best of all time, where The Joker and his thugs rob this bank and they start picking each off one by one until there’s only the Joker left and puts a fake bomb inside William Fichtner’s mouth and declares “I believe that what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stranger.” He removes his mask and leaves and this was our first look at one of the best villains of all time which was portrayed brilliantly by Heath Ledger.
Batman, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent are all trying to rid Gotham of it’s shitty damnation and trying to make it a better place by locking all the criminals and not paying attention to The Joker, not believing him to be the problem. Bruce Wayne believes that with Dent now as the white knight of Gotham, he can retire as Batman and he and Rachel will marry and live happily together, unaware that she is going to marry Harvey.
And then comes the meeting, where The Joker proposes his plan to kill the Batman. This scene is movie gold. It’s masterfully crafted and is a great introduction to how The Joker operates. He’s a wild card and doesn’t take crap from anybody. And he then does the magic trick and who doesn’t laugh at that? I remember being at the Thursday midnight opening for this movie and just laughing my ass off and everyone else in the theater was laughing as well. It was glorious.
And then there’s the scene, where The Joker searches for Dent and grabs Rachel Dawes by the face and asks her if she wants to know how he got the scars. He then tells her that he had this wife that tells him that he worries to much and that one day she gets surgery on herself and that she doesn’t like it. The joker tells her that he then carves the scares on his face to make her smile again but she can’t stand the sight of him anymore. “Now I see the funny side… now I’m always smiling,” which completely contradicts his earlier story that he tells one of the mobsters he’s about to kill, which is fantastic. In previous Batman lore like The Killing Joke, The Joker never likes talking about his past. Now, the way this scene ends is very abrupt and nobody ever mentions this. Batman and Rachel fall down on car and they’re both safe, but The Joker is still there at that meeting looking for Dent and… Nothing happens. There is no fallout that happened after this scene ends. He wouldn’t just leave without Dent. It just cuts to the next scene with no resolution. Did the cops arrive? But I digress.
The Joker wants Batman to reveal himself to the public and targets the Commissioner and the judge involve with the mob trial. He manages to kill the Judge, but Jim Gordon sacrifices himself to save the commissioner.
Due to these recent tragedies, Batman is forced to finally come out of hiding and decides to turn himself in. He almost does, before Dent takes his place and announces to the world that he is Batman, which leads to the highway scene, which is fantastic and pinpoints the two opposing forces to face each other in an epic showdown. The Joker tries to kidnap Dent but Batman arrives and manages to flip over Joker’s truck. The Joker gets out of the vehicle with his firearm, shoots at a couple of vehicles as Batman arrive with his motorcycle towards him. The two are about to face off and Joker declares “Hit me!” since he knows that Batman does not kill and he desperately wants him to break his rule, wanting to prove that humanity is as dark and as twisted as his is. The Batman can’t hit him and crashes his motorcycle, which knocks him out. The Joker walks toward the fallen hero and one of his thug’s tries to take off his mask but is electrocuted in the process. The Joker laughs and is about to it off himself, but is arrested by Jim Gordon, who has faked his death.
The Joker is arrested, Gordon is promoted to Commissioner and The Joker is interrogated by Batman who claims that Harvey Dent is missing and never made it home. This is one of the best scenes in cinema history: this confrontation is masterfully done. There are no explosions; no special effects. It’s just these two characters talking and it’s completely riveting to watch.
The Joker tells him the address that Harvey Dent and Rachel are at, but also warns him that he can only save one of them and break his main rule in the process, not knowing that The Joker told him the wrong addresses by reversing them, resulting in them saving Dent instead of Rachel. Rachel gets blown-up; Dent gets half off his face burned and becomes Two Face.
Aaron Eckhart was fantastic as Two Face. He was overshadowed by Heath Ledger, which is understandable, but he nailed the character and was truly menacing nevertheless which leads me to my biggest complaint of The Dark Knight, which is we don’t see Two Face that much. He’s not shoehorned in the story because the story builds up too him and he is important to the overall plot but I would have loved it if he survived and came back in The Dark Knight Rises. I guess He would have died either way since his face would have gotten infected sooner rather than later. Oh well. He was still terrific in the role. The Joker visits Dent in the hospital and tells him that he isn’t a man with a plan.
You know what I’ve 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
This scene is fantastic and I love that we don’t see them together again and that the story doesn’t feel like it needs to have them team up. They go their separate ways and Two Face seeks revenge by killing everyone that was responsible for Rachel’s death.
The Joker manages to escape prison and tells everyone in Gotham that this is his city and that they must play by his rules. The majority of people decide to leave, unaware that he has put explosives on two ships, one of them containing ordinary citizens while the other contains prisoners, forcing one of them to blow the each other up. Meanwhile, Batman finds the Joker by using every cellphone’s in the city as a sort of GPS system, and the two face off. This confrontation is absolutely fantastic, it’s emotionally engaging and incredibly well done. The Joker manages to get the upper hand on Batman. He then eagerly awaits the fireworks.
The Joker: If we don’t stop fighting, we’ll miss the fireworks.
Batman: There won’t be any fireworks.
The Joker: And here we go.
The Joker waits, patiently, his hand in the air, Batman struggles to keep the beam from breaking his neck…
The clock strikes midnight.
The two ships finally make their decision and decide not to kill each other, which leaves the Joker disappointed.
Batman : What we’re you trying to prove? That deep down, everybody’s as ugly as you? You’re alone.
The Joker takes the trigger. You can’t rely on anyone these days. That’s ok. I came prepared. You know how I got these scars?
Batman : No, but I know how you got these.
Batman’s blades jump out of his gauntlet and hits The Joker in the chest and arm. Batman, now freed from The Joker’s grip, throws The Joker in the depths, The Joker still laughing as he falls. Batman manages to grab him with his grapple and pulls him up and the two exchange these pieces of dialogue :
The Joker : Oh, you. You just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.
Batman/Bruce Wayne: You’ll be in a padded cell forever.
Joker: Maybe we can share one. You know, they’ll be doubling up, the rate this city’s inhabitants are losing their minds.
Batman/Bruce Wayne: This city just showed you that it’s full of people ready to believe in good.
Joker: Until their spirit breaks completely. Until they get a good look at the real Harvey Dent, and all the heroic things he’s done. You didn’t think I’d risk losing the battle for Gotham’s soul in a fist fight with you? No. You need an ace in the hole. Mine’s Harvey.
Batman/Bruce Wayne: What did you do?
Joker: I took Gotham’s white knight and I brought him down to our level. It wasn’t hard. You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push! [the Joker laughs hysterically as Batman races off and the cops come to take the Joker into custody].
This exchange of dialogue explains these two characters perfectly. It shows how they’re on the opposite side of the same coin, but they need each other nonetheless. This film is written beautifully. The Joker is arrested and Batman goes back to the place Rachel Dawes died, where Two Face has Commissioner Gordon’s family at gunpoint. He points it to Gordon’s son, and Batman tells him that he must point it to people that are responsible, meaning him and Gordon. He tells Dent that The Joker chose him because he was the best of them and that he wanted to show that even the best of them could fall.
Dent agrees and flips his coin and shoots Batman. He flips his coin again, points the gun at his head, fires and nothing happens. He looks a little disappointed, but points the gun at Gordon’s son. He flips the coin a third time and Batman pushes Two Face off the cliff, Two Face dies but Batman manages to save Gordon’s son before falling off the cliff himself but survives.
Batman and Gordon decide to blame the murders on Batman so that the criminals will stay in prison and everything they’ve built doesn’t get destroyed so that The Joker doesn’t win. Which is fantastic, since the two get corrupt anyways and The Joker still wins. They’re forced to lie about what truly happened to Dent, which feeds at them both and they end up corrupt because of it. This is amazing, The Joker actually won in this film and I feel like not a lot of people realize it. But even though that happens, the film still ends with a sense of hope. Fox destroys the sonar device and Alfred burns Rachel’s letter. The two villains have been stopped and Batman goes on the run.
Gordon: Because we have to chase him. Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it, because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a dark knight.
Overall, all the credit goes to Christopher Nolan. He directed the hell out of this film and wrote a brilliant crime drama. The direction is fantastic, the score is brilliant, the acting is incredible and the special effects are enthralling. This is by far the best superhero movie ever made and The Dark Knight is one of the best sequels/movies ever made. It is filmmaking at it’s finest and Heath Ledger gave one of the best performances of all time.