The sequel to Batman Begins blew us all away. The first of this new re-invention of the Caped Crusader and his never-ending war on crime was a modest film, but whetted our appetite for more. The set up brought us an incredible buildup for the second film that many of us Bat-fans would not have guessed was possible. An incredible teaser campaign began, with nothing more than the sound of Mr. Heath Ledger’s terrifying voice as the Joker. Those first words, which most of us (myself included!), have memorized by now, “Starting tonight, people will die. I’m a man of my word. HAHAHAHAHA!” And so it began.
The months following were equally exciting. The first trailer scared the hell out of me. After all, what we were anticipating more than anything was the new Joker, Mr. Ledger. His interpretation did not disappoint, as we discovered and earned him a post-mortem Academy Award. That’s right kids. The Joker won an Oscar. Damn. Now, to business.
Christian Bale’s take on Bruce Wayne is still one of the best, out of all of his predecessors (though I admit I try not to compare him to Keaton, who is the first man I ever saw don the cape and cowl). Bale brings vulnerability and realism to a character long associated with madness. Bale’s Bruce instead is trying to make sense of the madness of his world. He has trained himself: mind, body, and spirit. All meant to combat the crime that has plagued his city all of his life, and claimed his parents lives before his eyes. He even dares to love. This is uncharacteristic of the Bruce Wayne most of us know. In the comics, as most of you know, Bruce does not have time to even let his mind wander to such a place that he could consider starting any kind of romantic relationship. Not with… normal women, anyhow. (So here’s hoping Catwoman carries this trait in Bale’s Bruce a bit further, as it is a unique take on the character’s odd love interests.)
Also, allow me to give some serious athletic credit to Mr. Bale. Bale has photographic memory (as he reveals in an interview on the Batman Begins DVD special features) and learned most of the moves usually after one sitting, or after practicing it once or twice. And though some people I’ve seen the film with have said that they disliked how the action was presented (in both films) I would point out how precise his movements in the costume are, especially given this information. The complexity of learning martial arts and especially large choreographed scenes requires tremendous concentration and precision (so the stunt guys don’t get hurt too bad). Cheers, Christian.
Heath Ledger. What hasn’t already been said about this man? His Joker is brazen, scary, dark, twisted, and sadistic. He enjoys hurting people just as much for his own amusement as it is meant to further his own sinister plans for Gotham. And he even nearly wins in the end. Now that is scary. Heath portrayed the Joker so differently than anything we’ve seen, and yet still captured the essence of the Joker in all his nuances. Killing his own men, leaving his own twisted smile and makeup on his victims, taunting and baiting Batman and the police, and more. It is so sad, that we will not see his return to Gotham. But what a ride!
Gary Oldman. I cannot begin to describe how excited I was when they cast him as Lieutenant James Gordon. The mustache and glasses sold it for me. What strikes me most is that this Gordon is not the old man we’ve seen depicted in the Adam West show, nor even in Burton’s series. This Gordon has seen the dark side of Gotham and has had to hide his good nature in order to protect his family from the corruption within his own police department. The best part of this performance may be the friendship he forges with Bale’s Batman. Though his true identity is a secret, Bale’s Batman trusts Gordon and knows him to be a good man. And Gordon, despite Batman’s rougher way of doing things and his secrecy and mysteriousness, trusts Batman. He is saddened at the end of the film to place the blame on Bale’s shoulders. But he understands his ally. It is this understanding of what Batman stands for that is so essential to James Gordon’s character. Oldman nails it 100%!
Morgan Freeman. We are blessed as Bat-fans in that Lucius Fox was added to the characters that affect Bruce Wayne and Batman’s life. Freeman continues the performance he originated in Begins. His Lucius is calm, cool, and covers Bale’s ass. In fact, he so completely trusts that this young man he barely knows will always do the right thing, that Bale’s Batman shoulders such responsibility and tries to raise the bar Lucius has set for him. Freeman keeps Bale honest. In this, it will be good to see him return for the third installment.
Michael Caine. Quippy, witty, wise, and fatherly. All of the things necessary to the character of Alfred Pennyworth. He is less Bale’s butler than he is a kindly uncle that reminds him of his duties and his morals. Another man that keeps Bale’s Batman, and Bruce Wayne, honest and grounded. Caine’s Alfred constantly reminds Bruce what his true purpose is and even defines what Batman must be as things in Gotham begin to change for the worse with the Joker’s involvement with the mob. Bottom line: Caine outshines even the late Michael Gough who preceded him as Alfred. Caine’s Alfred isn’t afraid to bluntly tell Bruce how full of it he is and calls him out on every detail of everything. Kudos to Mr. Caine.
Aaron Eckhart. I can’t think of another actor having portrayed the ill-fated District Attorney better and with more vulnerability. This may be why I felt that he stole some of Bale’s screen time. Eckhart’s Harvey Dent is (prior to his tragic incident) is tough, bold, ballsy, and just barely walks the fine line between justice and what it takes to get the job done. His scene with the Joker’s henchman in the alley (after he stole an ambulance just to get some alone interrogation time), bridges the gap for us as an audience. We are convinced that Harvey is already on an edge, despite his “lucky coin” and the fact that it’s double-sided. We’re not completely sure if he would have killed him or not. He throws that coin up so high before Batman shows up that it just feels like Two-Face.
Then it happens. The incident we waited an hour and forty minutes for. What a transformation. Here’s where Eckhart really shines. Harvey Dent is shattered, broken, disfigured, and alone. And the Joker lets him know it, and gives him a new credo to carry out. And he takes it to like a fish to water. With his “new” coin, he sets out dealing out his own brand of justice. He has truly fallen, and as an audience the agony is evident in his voice, and in the right side of his face. Much respect to Christopher Nolan for the incredible look to Harvey’s scarred side. It could not have looked more accurate nor more appropriate. Thank you, Mr. Eckhart. You have redeemed the last two Harvey Dents in one single performance. (Though to be fair, Billy Dee Williams doesn’t really get much screen time himself in Batman, so it is hard to say that he was bad.)
Maggie Gyllenhaal. Despite some people’s arguments, I felt that she actually brought some weight to the character of Rachel Dawes (despite her non-existence in Batman continuity). She has to play opposite Bale and Eckhart, and holds her own well. Especially considering she knew the character would be killed off in the film. But she is a welcome change from the plasticity of Katie Holmes.
Christopher Nolan’s reinterpretation of Batman is grounded in realism, and as far as the rest of us are concerned, that’s the way it should be. What Nolan has realized is that although Batman is a lone figure, it is the people around him that affect him the most. His tough exterior is nothing, it is merely what he wants us to see. Bale’s Batman is still the scared child in the alley looking upon his dead parents with ambivalence and fear. He is still looking to make sense of it. And we’ll hope he finds it in The Dark Knight Rises.
This is the best Bat-film to date.
The Dark Knight:
Reviewed by Chris Gering