Not serious, Mr. Ledger, but really sad that you are not around to soak up all the adulation you so rightly deserve for your portrayal of The Joker. I was amongst the cynics who thought, you, a pretty boy, wouldn’t be able to replace Jack Nicholson as joker, that nobody could. And that Christian Slater could have been a choice to play Joker, if anybody were to at all try. But Christopher Nolan and you had a better plan. You make Jack Nicholson, who I thought was the best batman villain till date, look like a caricature. Powdered face, an evil smile carved with a knife, darting eyes and lulling tongue and a drawl, all make up for one of the most chilling, ruthless villains of all time. Heath Ledger’s Joker is evil personified. Evil without a reason, one who likes to “watch the world burn”. When the joker is on screen you are never too sure of what will happen next, only that something very nasty, mindlessly sinister is about to happen. The palpable tension is brilliantly complemented by the siren wailing as background score.
After setting the mood and establishing the characters in his first batman movie, Christopher Nolan plunges straight into the heart of action from the very first frame of this one. The dizzying pace is set from the beginning. In The dark Knight, the mythical Gotham city is toned down to a more believable modern day city infested with crime and terrorism which the Americans can relate to better, post 9/11. The Dark Knight not only is struggling with the Italian, Chinese mafia and imposters dressed like him, but Joker, a villain who needs no reason or motive to kill and plunder. Who in his own words is, “a dog chasing cars. I don’t have plans. I just do things. I’m not a schemer.”
The others in the cast include the new crime fighter in town, District Attorney Harvey Dent, the white knight (played very believably by Aaron Eckhart), as opposed to batman, the dark knight. Gary oldman returns as Lt Gordon and does a wonderful job again. In fact this film so belongs to the Joker, Harvey Dent and Lt Gordon that Batman, the vigilante is at times just one of the characters, and not THE character. Morgan Freeman, as Lucius fox, batman’s gizmo expert and Michael Caine as Alfred do their job effortlessly. And Maggie Gyllanhal looks much more believable and mature to handle the role of a woman torn between the two men she loves.
The film works at so many levels. It questions the very need of a superhero. Does Gotham need a man in suit to protect it? The virtuous and brave district attorney Harvey Dent-a hero without a mask, doesn’t think so. Batman, on the other hand wants to retire and pass on the mantle “to a man with a face”, Harvey Dent, so that he can pursue his lady love. He doesn’t like the man he’s become “to stop the men like him (The Joker).” Rachel Dawes, Batman’s love interest meanwhile is torn between him and Harvey Dent, the man of justice with a face. She finds herself drifting more and more away from Bruce Wayne and doesn’t want him to make her, his “only hope for a normal life”. And The Joker, well, he has a dark past of bad things done to him, but he has a new story every time he decides to describe it.
This is the best superhero film of all times. It is the Godfather II, the Taxi Driver or the Blade Runner of its genre. It’s a film which takes a comic book hero and turns it around into a major movie force. A crime and justice story turned into the greatest morality tale, all within the guise of a summer blockbuster. It’s quite a feat. Sure the film has its clapping and hooting moments like the overturned trailers and buildings blasting off, but they’ve been perfectly balanced by the emotional angle and psychological twists. The other ‘selling’ angle seems to be the exclusion of the Asian angle in both the Batman films, maybe because Asia is a huge market for Hollywood films now. So this time Batman glides over Hong Kong skyscrapers. Sure the studio expects Nolan to deliver a blockbuster but he doesn’t compromise on his storytelling. He, together with his brother Jonathan Nolan (co-scriptwriter) and cinematographer Wally Pfister bring us this brilliant superhero tale of all time.