If you’re reading this post, then you most definitely love superheroes. Why though? When we’re kids everything is easy. Saturday morning rolls around and we grab our big bowls of cereal, plop right in front of the TV and the magic begins. We love Batman because he’s cool, Superman for his powers and his suit, and the X-Men have Wolverine, who doesn’t want metal claws as a kid? As adults, we evolve however. Democrats and Republicans. Christians and Muslims. Rich and Poor. We all grow up eventually. Still, throughout all these differences, some of us have stayed faithful to superheroes. We want superhero stories to reflect our experiences. No more fluff, just reality and thought provoking stories. A mix of the two is always healthy. Movies like Civil War and Days of Future Past appeal to both for me. As the two teams charged each other in Civil War, I was literally jumping up and down in my seat. I didn’t care who was watching me or who heard me squeal like a child. For those 10 minutes, I was a kid on Saturday morning again, and it felt great. On the opposite end, the morality of Team Cap or Team Iron Man is a topic that definitely would be relevant in our society today if superheroes were real. Movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man have depth but mainly appeal to the kid in me. Although this movie is fun, the Dark Knight appeals to our inner most adult thoughts when it comes to superheroes. Batman vs. Joker. Good vs. Evil right? Or is it always that simple? Is Batman his own worst enemy? Has his own selfishness and hubris plagued Gotham so much that normal men don’t stand a chance anymore? Nolan expands on these questions and then some in his classic sequel to Batman Begins.
An Introduction To Chaos
There haven’t been many opening scenes like the Dark Knight’s. We see a simple bank robbery where Joker’s men break into a sizable bank. They start killing off “specialists” within the crew after they’re done with their job (alarm guy, vault guy, etc.) It is later revealed that Joker is with the crew the whole time! He kills the last member of the crew and the reveal is shocking. Nolan establishes Joker’s character right away. This scene also works because it seems like it would fit easily into the opening of a comic book. We don’t see Batman, Alfred, Gordon, or anyone else we know. Gotham is an important part to the story and to understand Batman, Nolan knew he had to understand Gotham. This scene shows the hectic and chaotic nature of the city. The plot moves on nicely after that. We are introduced to a new crime wave in Gotham. The mob has sunk their teeth into the city and people like Scarecrow, who were major players in the last movie, have been demoted to small arms dealing.
For a long time now, especially to me, Batman’s villains have always had this weird obsession with him almost to the point of love. Spider-Man is the same way as well. Nolan sheds this weird dynamic by inserting Joker directly into the mob scene. It is a brilliant move because I’ve always wondered how Joker was so connected in the shows and comics. This also gave Nolan an opportunity to make Joker more brutal than he is in the comics or shows. The scene where he scares the mob bosses is hilarious. Through all of his charades, by the end of it Joker seems to be getting through to some of the criminals. We then get Batman meeting with Harvey Dent and Gordon. Gordon and Dent argue the bulk of the time claiming there is corruption within the others unit. Batman just stands there. The scene before is an indicator of the overall message of this movie. We saw Joker unite the “bad” guys over a single cause, where as in this scene, the “good” guys can’t even talk like civilized people. Batman then travels to Hong Kong to get a mob member and Dent secures a legal victory by locking up the most criminals in Gotham’s history. All is well right? Nolan isn’t let this go on without us knowing his message. Joker makes his presence known in a terrifying torturing of a man on live TV. The man dresses like Batman because he believes in the message. Joker isn’t impressed. He turns and says “This is how crazy Batman’s made Gotham.” The lines are creepy no doubt. Joker promises to kill people unless Batman takes off his mask. This is a joke if I’ve ever heard one. Nolan is showing here how intelligent the Joker is. He has way too much fun with Batman. Knowing who he is would spoil the game for him. He also knows Batman has too much moral fiber in him to ever take the mask off. He knows Batman wants to stand for something which is exactly why he’s doing this. To prove to Batman that with or without the mask, you’re going to get people killed, and that you stand for nothing. Such an interesting, bold concept to insert into this superhero battle, which for years was simply the nut vs. the good guy. So Joker kills the judge presiding over the mob case and the police commissioner. Let me stop you right there. If that happened in a city the size of Gotham, the city is shutting down. I respect Nolan for taking a chance here. A funeral is held for the commissioner, and the Joker reveals his next target is the mayor. An assassination attempt is made but Gordon is shot and presumed dead.
This next part of the movie illustrates another step down for Harvey Dent. I love how gradual it was. He realizes the next target is Rachel. He loses it and drives the ambulance with one of the shooters in it, to an abandoned part of town. He threatens to shoot the man. Batman then shows up and Dent stops but not because he wanted to. Nolan is slowly showing us that even a great man like Harvey has a breaking point. He’s portrayed earlier in the movie as this super cool guy from a special Law and Order episode, but slowly becomes more human. Bruce feels terrible about what has happened and wants to turn himself in. Dent won’t allow it. He says he’s Batman. A chase scene with Dent’s convoy that arrested him and Joker ensues. The scene is magical to watch. Eventually Joker is captured by a healthy, and alive Gordon!
In the jail, we get the best dialogue between a superhero and a villain in a movie (Superman and Zod and Iron Man and Whiplash are close.) Here we see what makes their dynamic so great. Batman tries to get information out of the Joker. Joker tells him stop acting like “one of them.” He goes on about how much of a joke it is to try and help them. That he’ll show everybody societies true colors when they have no other choice. It’s an interesting concept to think about. I think this is Nolan’s subtle way of telling us his views on society. We then see Batman snap as Joker tells him Rachel has been taken with Dent as well. Joker laughs hysterically as he realizes Batman cares for Rachel. Batman punches him over and over again, but Joker laughs. He isn’t laughing because he’s on drugs or anything, but because he’s loving the fact that Batman is losing it. He realizes that Batman, the man part, can be corrupted. Joker then lies and mixes their two locations up. Batman gets to Harvey, but Gordon and crew fail to get to Rachel. I never cared for Rachel too much in these movies, but boy does Nolan make you feel it here. The scene where Batman stands over the debris is my favorite shot in any movie ever!
The movie could have ended here easily. Joker continued his antics though. He burns down all the money he got recently with the mob, furthering his motivations for change not cash. An accountant at Wayne Enterprises says he knows who Batman is. He wants to tell the world. Joker calls the show he’s on and says he’ll blow up a hospital if someone doesn’t kill the accountant. What?! Masterful commentary on the weak-mindedness of our society. The paradoxical nature of this situation is fascinating. You have people who would kill a man they don’t know, just to prevent their loved ones from being blown up, even though this man is doing people a service by stopping the killing Joker is doing by revealing who Batman is. It’s mind boggling to think about. People begin shooting at the accountant and someone tries to ram their convoy. Bruce intervenes and the accountant is saved. Before he blows up the hospital though, Joker pays Dent a visit. If you look up the definition of chaos, you see it is complete disorder and confusion. Dent says the blame is on Joker because it was his plan to kill Rachel. Joker then explains that he doesn’t have plans. He says he just tries to show the “planners” of society how silly their efforts to control things are. He tells Dent that Rachel wasn’t personal. All Dent wants to do is kill Joker. Joker then talks about how people only freak out when things happen that aren’t part of the plan. He references gang members dying and soldiers getting blown up. That if those things are reported, no one cares because it makes sense. But when the mayor dies, everyone freaks out. This scene gives Joker a weird sense of compassion. It feels as if he cares for the little people out there who die every day. He wants everyone to be a part of the plan, not just what the “planners” say is part of the plan. It is a powerful message on the media and how they set agendas. Joker hands Harvey a gun and tells him to kill him to upset the established order. This is exactly what the movie is about. Batman Begins was about fear. The Dark Knight is about chaos. Chaos in its most brutal form. Harvey then flips the coin to decide Joker’s face and we witness the birth of Two-Face. It was gradual, it was paced correctly, and now we’re here. Harvey Dent is no more.
The last part of the movie includes a scene where Joker rigs two boats with explosives. The boats have two different types of people on it. Normal everyday people and criminals. Joker tells them that both of their boats are rigged to blow at midnight, but they both have detonators to the others boat. If one decides to blow up the other, they live. Finally, and I mean finally, Nolan gives society a win. They decide not to kill each other and Joker is extremely confused. Batman then taunts Joker for his failure, but Joker says Dent was the ultimate goal and that he succeeded there. Joker is taken out of the movie at this point and it’s a lame ending to a spectacular villain. I think they had more plans for Joker in a third movie, but obviously we couldn’t get that. Batman then goes to find Dent who has Gordon’s kids. He’s holding them hostage. Batman intervenes and saves the kids. Dent dies from taking a huge fall. At the end, Batman tells Gordon that he’s the one who the cops need to chase. That no one can know that Dent won because all the hard work he put in would have been for nothing. Batman wants everyone to know that he killed Dent, the good Dent. It’s a tragic ending.
Overall, you can’t get much better than this movie. The real sets and practical effects make it look tremendous. Every actor has their moments in this movie (Alfred is always great.) The plot is amazing. It moves from A to B to C so smoothly that it doesn’t feel almost three hours long. My only complaints about the movie are Two-Face really. I loved that we got him in here, but his death didn’t need to come. They wanted to nail home Joker’s theme of chaos but it could have been done without making Batman public enemy number one. Because of this, and Rachel’s death, we find Bruce broken at the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises. I don’t mind it, but Two-Face simply didn’t need to die. He could have teamed up with Bane or something. Joker stole the show here though. I love how we get something from him we don’t get from most villains ever. We get an understandable “why” for why he does what he does. I always thought of him as just some idiot with paint, but this movie digs deep into his mind. We learn that his views on authority and government may not be that much different than our own. His methods of course may not be reasonable, but are his thoughts so wrong? Is Batman the greater evil that Gotham needs to fight? I’ve never asked myself those questions so much in my life before until I saw this movie. The Dark Knight gave us one of, if not the deepest and most interesting villain in a superhero movie. It makes me sad that Marvel is still producing villains like Loki and Ultron. Is Joker right? That’s the main question I ask myself after this movie. Bale was an awesome Batman obviously, but it’s amazing to me how in a superhero movie, I don’t care about action or really how the main character acts, but rather the message the movie is trying to send. It’s a perfect 10/10
Hopefully, I helped you recapture the magic of this movie and relive a great film. Remember to follow me on Twitter @Hero_Review for news tweets as well as updates on my next review. Dark Knight Rises will get a review next Thursday!