…The Joker is so weird his very presence virtually assures an unusual story. He looks so unusual, he acts in such an aggressively peculiar manner, and he is so darn happy about his work that he gives the stories in which he appears an edge that stories populated by more normal people cannot possibly have…the Joker enjoys evil because evil is as deranged as he is.”
—“The Joker’s Dozen” by Mike Gold
The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told
A funny thing happened to me after I saw the first two Quentin Tarantino movies. Both after viewing “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” I actually had no opinion about either movie just after the credits started rolling. If someone were to ask me my opinion at that moment, I could not give an answer. I knew I had seen something fantastic, but my senses were so stunned with humor, violence and powerful storytelling, that it would take at least twenty-four hours before my brain could process all that I had seen. A similar thing happened to me when I saw “The Dark Knight.”
Oh my, what a movie. I hardly know where to begin. So many scenes jump into my mind. The way the Joker makes a pencil disappear. The scene where that truck flips into the air. The scene with the Joker in Gotham Hospital. The Batpod. All of these things are still swirling together in my head, making it tough to even sort out what I saw, how it all came together, and which scene was more powerful than the other.
Director Christopher Nolan gave the Batman franchise a much-needed kick in the pants a couple of years back with “Batman Begins.” His approach was rather interesting and that was to attempt to put some reality into a character and story that is completely unreal. He succeeded. Gone was the camp and ridiculousness of the Joel Schumacher era. Heck, gone was the overbearing music and meandering stories of the Tim Burton era. Here was a Batman that those of us who read the comic books could recognize.
You see, Batman got his start in DETECTIVE comics. He was never really meant to be your standard superhero. He was the world’s greatest detective and he was out there to solve crimes. To make them interesting, the writers created unique and colorful villains for him to track down. Batman has always had an interesting mix of terrifying and ridiculous villains throughout his lifetime. In fact, most of his gallery of rogues resides in Gotham’s Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. At the same time, how sane, really, is a billionaire who parades around dressed as a bat to compensate for childhood tragedy? Insanity has always been a pervasive theme in Batman’s comic books.
Nolan has come back and this time he has moved into areas far darker than just about any has before. This is a Batman who manages to completely rise above the genre from which he started and has become a true detective. This is a crime movie on par with “Heat” and others of its genre.
Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman and proves, once again, why he is one of the best young actors out there right now. For the very first time, and I would even hazard the idea that this applies to the comic books as well, he manages to make Bruce Wayne and Batman as compelling and interesting as the villains around him.
All of the cast is superior. They have obviously committed themselves to this project and, as such, their characters seem entirely genuine. They are not winking and preening before the camera as if to show the audience that they know this kind of movie is silly and they are just doing this to earn a paycheck. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine and Gary Oldman are all back and they all add to Batman’s world and round him out as a character. Without these characters, perhaps the center would not hold.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is now Rachel Dawes, thankfully replacing Katie Holmes from the first movie. Maggie is not your typical Hollywood beauty, but there is just something about her that makes you want to look at her. I can’t exactly say what she does with the character that I liked so much, but I certainly cared more for Rachel Dawes this time around than I did in the first movie.
Aaron Eckhart is Harvey Dent and he finally gets the character right. Forget about Billy Dee Williams in the first “Batman” and, thankfully, erase Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal in “Batman Forever.” Harvey Dent’s descent from upstanding District Attorney to tragic, scarred Two-Face is a tragedy and provides an emotional center for a movie that could have been nothing but spectacle.
Of course, standing in the center of it all, transcendent beyond his own tragic demise, is Heath Ledger as the Joker. Five seconds after he appears on the screen, the tales of his tragic death are forgotten. He IS the Joker. He disappears completely into this character. It is a performance so powerful, so stunning, so outright terrifying that it could be one of the greatest movie villain performances in history. After I saw the movie, I came home and “Silence of the Lambs” was on cable. I watched it again, but found myself, whenever Hannibal Lecter was on the screen, thinking of Ledger’s the Joker, and admiring Ledger over Hopkins.
I have, so far, not detailed the plot to you. Well, that is because the plot is deceptively simple. Now that Batman has burst onto Gotham, he has inspired numerous copycats who dress in versions of his costume and end up hampering his efforts. It is having an effect, however. Crime is down. The mob is running scared. Into their midst comes the Joker, who claims to be an agent of chaos itself. He has no real motives. He is a homicidal maniac who wants only to destroy everything and anything that society has thrown up as rules to live by.
The origins of the Joker are not given. This is as it should be because his origins were never truly decided upon and written in stone even in the comic books. He simply IS. He is insanity personified. He is murderous evil with a face and two legs. He is, and always has been, the other side of the coin to Batman.
This is a movie that MUST be seen on a big screen. Six scenes were filmed in IMAX and if you think the truck-flipping looked cool on the previews you’ve seen on television, wait until you see it on the big screen. The crowd I saw it with, applauded. I don’t care how high the definition is on your television or how wide the screen, this is a movie meant to be seen in a theater.
This movie had my brain working long after I had seen it. The characters, images an scenes played over and over again in my mind. It will haunt you and seep into your brain long after the credits have finished their roll. It is, without a doubt, one of the best movies of the year.