ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008), Part Two
Each week, Chris Sims, David Uzumeri and Andy Khouri take a look back at one of the most successful and influential comic book movie franchises of all time, in ComicsAlliance’s in-depth retrospective on the Batman films.
Chris: Welcome back to Cinematic Batmanology, everyone! In our last installment, we were introduced to the new status quo of Batman, Jim Gordon and — most importantly — Gotham City itself, as well as the two forces trying to change that status: Harvey Dent and the Joker. All of the characters and conflicts that are going to drive the movie were introduced, leaving us to pick up where we left off after a mere 25 minutes of tightly plotted filmmaking.David: We kick off with the Long Halloween-inspired rooftop scene, where Dent’s using the Bat-Signal to talk to Batman about the fact that Lau’s just totally chumped the entire police department and is currently laughing his way to Hong Kong. But as we learned in the last installment, Batman has no limitations or jurisdictions.
David: The scene is especially notable in that Gordon and Dent bicker at each other like schoolchildren for the entire duration while Batman just stands around looking gruff. Everyone knows there was a leak to the mob, but Gordon’s blaming Dent’s office and Dent’s blaming Gordon’s, especially Detective Ramirez, a.k.a. Not Renee Montoya.
Chris: Their argument about which office is corrupt is a great bit of character for them, especially considering that, in Gotham, the real answer is probably both.
David: Oh, they both know it’s both. They just want to think the best of their own people, even if they know deep-down basically everyone’s corrupt but them. And, maybe most importantly, Batman is more than aware that both offices are corrupt.
Chris: I don’t know if it’s so much that they want to think the best of their people as it is that they’re both indulging in their own egos, fed by an instinct to protect those closest to them. Gordon will not believe that his hand-picked squad could contain someone who was on the take, because that would mean he screwed up in the most important thing he’s done since becoming a cop in Gotham. Same for Dent — he won’t believe that corruption so close to him could escape his notice.
Andy: I’m always impressed by the 360 tracking shot that opens this scene. It’s not just the camera move, it’s the performances. The actors stutter a little bit and Oldman’s accent is obviously inconsistent, but the scene is so raw, it seems so real. I think Nolan must have reshot it but it never came out quite as powerfully, despite the imperfections.
David: I also love Gordon’s visible exhaustion from running up the stairs when he saw that Dent had turned on the Bat-signal. The entire scene he’s huffing and puffing.
Chris: One of the things that I really love about this movie is how it sets up this arc for Dent that’s a total classical tragedy.
David: THE DARK KNIGHT. Script by: AESCHYLUS.
Chris: We see his rise and fall, and this scene reveals the flaw that it all hinges on. Gordon warns him that “it’s going to get ugly” — a nice little reference to how Dent’s handsome face is going to end up — and Dent says “I knew the risks when I took this job.” That’s exactly the thing that’s going to lead to his downfall: The hubris of thinking he knows what’s in store for him in a place like Gotham City. He deals well with Old Crime and the Mob, but he has no way of preparing for the Joker, and no knowledge of what he will become if pushed to his limits.
David: It’s pride before the fall, man.
Chris: He’s not the only one illustrating the point, either: Everyone has pride in this movie that comes back to hurt them in the worst way. Dent’s pride in his ability to resist corruption, Gordon’s pride in the Major Crimes Unit, Batman’s pride in knowing that he’ll be able to take Rachel back from Dent… even the Joker’s unwavering belief that he’s good enough at what he does to manipulate the entire city into doing what he wants.
David: And lord knows the mob has more than enough pride to go around that ends up biting them in the ass. Anyway, Batman Batmans out and leaves them talking alone, so he can go talk to Lucius about his sweet new gear. I wish they’d put out an Extradition Batman action figure.
Andy: Yet another hidden elevator. What is with this city?
David: Bruce asks Lucius for a way to get out of a plane and back on it without the plane landing, and Lucius recommends a ’60s CIA program called Skyhook. Bruce also gets a new Batsuit that’s more maneuverable but more vulnerable, decreasing his armor class but increasing his initiative modifier.
Chris: For those of you who aren’t aware, Skyhook was a government project that was put into place after top military scientists saw Game of Death, and it mostly involved having Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accompanying agents on missions and kicking the living hell out of any opposition. In the movie, of course, it’s changed around a little bit.
David: And now, to blow your mind: Skyhook is real.
Chris: Oh wow. I thought that was total made-up movie stuff.
David: Nope. $50 the Nolans were hanging out watching a History Channel special while writing the script and went “YEAH! THAT!”
Andy: The new costume was on display for us during the set visit, and its ingenuity is remarkable.
Andy: As nearly everything in these films, the Batman costume is practical — i.e. real. The notion of separating the armor plates seems so simple, but it improves not just the wearer’s performance but also makes it look a lot better than the version from Batman Begins. I’m afraid I can’t find in my notes the name of the gentlemen who walked us through it, but he said that if someone was wearing the Dark Knight costume in a street fight with several thugs and knew what they were doing in terms of self defense, they would kick a lot of ass (unless someone just shot them, of course).
Chris: The costume’s also interesting in that it’s specifically stated that it leaves Batman more vulnerable to knives, right before he’s getting ready to fight a guy who uses knives all the time.
Andy: The scenes where Lucius, Bruce and Alfred plan the skyhook operation are entertaining but also clever because they demonstrate that there is logic and reason behind these fantastic sequences. Imagine if Batman had simply executed the skyhook move without any of this setup? It would have seemed awfully circuitous a plan and maybe more like something from the earlier films. But Nolan gives you just enough background to make it seem plausible, at least in movieland. We don’t see the Joker’s efforts along the same lines, just the results.
David: That’s the thing, this movie is utterly dedicated to telegraphing anything that could possibly be a surprise. And I mean this in a good way — it plays completely fair with the viewer.
Chris: I think not seeing it is one of the reasons so many people came away from this movie thinking that the Joker wasn’t a planner, when he clearly is. With Batman, we see it all — what we don’t see is that the Joker’s doing the same stuff at the same time, figuring out angles, how to move from one intricate piece to the next.
David: It’d totally ruin it if they showed it, though.
Chris: Oh, I totally agree. The fact that we have clues and reasons for everything that Batman does, but have to figure out for ourselves what the Joker’s doing and why is one of the things that makes him such a great villain. Batman surprises the hell out of Lau when he puts him in a Full Nelson and gets snatched by an airplane, but we know that’s coming. The Joker isn’t just surprising Batman, he’s surprising US.
Andy: People also forget that the Joker now has financial resources beyond that of basically every criminal in the city.
David: Bruce Wayne then somehow magically manages to both save Dent’s career and completely cockblock him in one fell swoop. To make his way near enough to the Hong Kong border that Korean smugglers can get him into the country, he needs an alibi to be in the area. So he absconds with the entire Russian ballet to a boat cruise in the Pacific, the same week he KNEW Harvey Dent was taking Rachel to the ballet.
Chris: It’s pretty amazing, but, in the interest of making Bruce Wayne seem like not quite so much of a hilarious dick, it’s actually Alfred’s plan. Which is equally hilarious, because this is his Meddling Dad way of trying to get those crazy kids back together. I imagine that he and Lucius have these crazy Parent Trap meetings about Rachel and Bruce all the time.
Andy: Credit where credit is due, gentlemen: the ballerina boat was Alfred’s idea, and look what happens, he gets them all to himself.
David: I love the caption on the picture. “Bruce Wayne’s 100 foot yacht has been nicknamed ‘The Love Boat.'”
Chris: In a movie full of metaphors, “Bruce Wayne’s 100 Foot Yacht” is perhaps the most evocative.
David: Yeah, the Korean smugglers show up and Bruce dives off the side of the boat (something none of the ballerinas seem to find at all notable, which is weird) into a seaplane and flies off to Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Joker decided to just totally screw with Gambol for giggles, having himself delivered in a bodybag so he can freak Gambol out with the first “you wanna know how I got these scars?” monologue.
Chris: Like everything the Joker does in this movie, there are two purposes to his actions here. Gambol was the crook who decided to put a price on the Joker’s head, so he had to be dealt with. Taking him out nullifies the bounty he set for the Joker, but it also shows that the Joker, who we’ve previously only seen as a robber, is very, very good at exactly what he said he was good at: Killing people that should otherwise be untouchable.
David: So Joker successfully creeps everyone out, breaks a pool cue in half, drops one piece on the floor and tells everyone there’s a single spot open in his organization. Presumably, they then proceed to kill the hell out of each other until one person’s left standing.
Chris: I have to admit, if there’s one thing I’m a little torn about in this movie, it’s the fact that the Joker cuts peoples mouths into the Glasgow Smile as his signature. It’s very much in keeping with the film and its universe, but it’s also such an easy transliteration of what he does in the comics to a “realistic” setting, you know? If it wasn’t done so well, I’d hate it for being so ridiculously over the top.
David: Let’s be fair: Joker had started doing that in the comics a few months before. Morrison continues to swear up and down it was a coincidence.
Chris: I mean, it doesn’t exactly take a huge leap to get from one to the other, and it’s not like it would be any more appropriate for this Joker to use poison delivered via rabid cat or anything.
David: Well, there’s also the fact that the entire chemical component of the Joker is removed completely. It’s very clear that he’s actually wearing facepaint, this isn’t an accident that happened to him. Whoever this Joker is, he CHOSE to be the Joker.
Chris: Exactly. As Andy said, there’s no explanation, which makes him a far more sinister charater. And because we have no origin, he’s impossible to figure out, which is why the “do you know how I got these scars” scenes are so important. Just when you think you have an idea of why he does what he does, that’s revealed to be yet another lie.
Andy: It’s very easy to imagine him applying the makeup without a mirror, just spreading it on his face with his bare hands and then wiping his hands on his clothes. He doesn’t give a f*ck.
David: But now, it’s time for another dope-ass heist scene. This one is ALMOST as good as the opening Joker heist, as Bruce cunningly invades Lau’s tower and drags him back to America kicking and screaming.
Chris: Batman dragging Lau by his shoe is one of the best shots in the entire movie, bar none.
David: Now, first off, there are obvious ethical questions here, since Batman is totally illegally invading a foreign country to steal a dude and bring him home. This is absolutely where we start to see the beginning of the thesis, which was VERY popular when the movie came out, that the movie was a neoconservative defense of George W. Bush. Now, I’d argue that thesis is complete crap, largely because if you look a little deeper into the movie it’s clear that Batman’s lack of limitations was his folly, since it caused the escalation that led to the ascendance of the Joker. What’s really great about this movie, though, is that even though Batman is kind of a terrible influence on everything and his entire mission goes completely awry, it all comes totally out of character. As badly as things end, every choice Bruce makes in this movie makes total sense for the character as established in Batman Begins AND as established in the comics. He’s arrogant, and he loses almost everything as a result.
Chris: You call this a heist scene, but to me, it’s very much the classic World-Traveling Batman-As-James-Bond style set-up. Nifty spy gadgets, government secrets. If this scene ended with the big 007 music sting, it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.
David: He’s breaking into a building to steal a dude with a carefully crafted plan. That’s a heist. A human heist.
Chris: Semantics! But you see my point, right?
Andy: It definitely has that jet-setting vibe you think of when you remember comics by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, where Batman often seemed to be in some exotic location on some harrowing mission.
David: And the plan is clever: first, he sends in Lucius to meet with Mr. Lau, who brings two cellphones and gives one to security. He then gets a phone call while in the meeting with Lau, establishing to everyone that he had his phone on him, and leaves, with a confused guard putting the phone Lucius gave him in a drawer. This phone is essential to Batman’s plan, and, in fact, essential to the movie, as it turns out to be emitting a sonar pulse — “like a submarine,” Lucius corrects Bruce, who’s about to compare it to a bat — that he can use to get the lay of the building. Then, Batman shoots some plastic explosive on a window, glides into the building, wrecks a whole bunch of dudes, grabs Lau and, in front of the police, just as timed (just like the Joker heist!), detonates the plastique, launches Skyhook and gets the hell out of dodge on the Korean smuggling plane. Those Korean smugglers must have gotten a lot of cash to keep their mouths shut. Because they just sent Bruce Wayne there and picked up Batman with a Hong Kong national.
Andy: The cellphone plan is highly dubious. We don’t even see how Batman uses it in his plan to get Lau. All it seems to do is turn off the lights, which I think is a perfectly cool thing for a super cellphone to do. The sonar thing doesn’t come into play here, and I don’t know that we really need such a tedious explanation of how Batman would locate a person inside of a building. He’s Batman, I buy it.
David: It does seem almost awkwardly inserted to set up the later usage of it. But yeah, that’s true, he also uses the batphone to send out an EMP. So yeah, Batman lands back in Gotham with Lau and leaves him tied up outside police headquarters with a “For Lieutenant Gordon” sign.
Chris: I straight up love it when super-heroes leave notes on dudes.
David: Dawes basically scares the hell out of Lau by threatening him with county jail, and Lau folds almost immediately, offering up every single mobster involved in the communal investments he managed, which will allow Dawes and Dent to arrest everyone under the RICO act. One criticism I remember of the movie was that there’s no way in Hell Gordon would need the RICO act explained to him, but that’s nitpicky enough for me to let pass, especially since a lot of the audience probably had no idea what the hell it was.
Andy: Explaining RICO to Gordon doesn’t bother me as much as Lau having invested the mob’s money in such a way as to make them vulnerable to RICO. It’s awfully convenient. However, this is a Batman movie, not The Wire. They say the word “calculate” a lot in reference to this guy. Is he meant to be the Calculator?
David: No, he’s just an in-retrospect-insanely-stereotypical Asian Smart At Math.
Chris: Once again, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the scene amazingly well. Her delivery on “I’m just assuming your client’s cooperation with this investigation… as will everyone.” has just the perfect threatening undercurrent in it. I can’t imagine Katie Holmes being able to pull that off.
David: Maroni and the Chechen are reflecting on how maybe the Joker was right all along, and they should have hired him to kill Batman, when Gordon shows up like the cock of the walk and takes everyone out in cuffs. They take all the mobsters to court at once, and it’s as much of a racket (ho ho ho!) as you’d expect. I especially love the shot of the exasperated stenographer when five hundred odd dudes and their lawyers are trying to scream “NOT GUILTY!” at once.
Chris: I love this scene. It’s such a perfect example of Dent’s hubris — bringing EVERY MOBSTER IN GOTHAM CITY into court at once. It’s also genuinely hilarious. You’d expect this scene in a comedy, like a Police Academy movie. If they were, you know, any good.
Andy: In deference to our readers who believe we’ve sold our souls to the church of Christopher Nolan, I’ll pick the following nit: I don’t see any reason for the Judge to discover a Joker card in her paperwork in the courtroom scene. There are plenty of Joker cards to be found when she’s exploded later. There, the whole movie is sh*t.
Andy: There’s no delivery of the court materials, but there is delivery to the Judge later. So she gets two Joker calling cards.
David: Just as the Mayor is chewing out Dent for causing an unsustainable stage show in the courtroom again, one of the fake Batmen falls and hits the window hanging from the roof, except the dude’s dead and covered in Joker paint. Joker sends a video to the media of him torturing the guy, and it might be the most straight-up chilling part of this entire movie. Because this is the one scene where the Joker completely loses it. When the guy won’t look at him, he screams “LOOK AT ME!” in the most astonishingly demonic voice. I remember it scared the sh** out of me in the theater.
Andy: The Batman wannabe is called Brian Douglas and he is played by an actor called Andy Luthor. Around the time this film was in theaters, I was having lunch here in Hollywood at the ArcLight Cinema Cafe. My waiter turned out to be Luther’s roommate at the time. Apparently he was a chill bro.
David: This leads to maybe the most important part of the video: the Joker declares that every night Batman doesn’t reveal who he is to the world, someone will die. He’s now reached the second stage of his plan; literally all competition is out of the way. He’s completely manipulated the destruction of the mob. He’s the only criminal force in Gotham City with money. Heroin junkies must have gotten really frustrated at this point, since I don’t think the Joker was interested in filling that void with the mob gone.
Andy: I forget who pointed this out but it was one of our colleagues in the geek media: the hanging carcasses in the background of the Joker’s torture porn could be seen as a reference to the work of Francis Bacon, whose paintings, you’ll remember, are the only ones Jack Nicholson’s Joker refused to deface in Batman ’89. This may be Nolan’s one and only reference to the Burton films. I can imagine Nolan watching that film and thinking it was cute that the Joker liked the Bacon paintings.
Chris: I love the Joker’s video, especially coming so quick on the heels of the comedy of the courtroom scene and the triumph of Dent (temporarily) bringing down the entire mob. It’s horrifying, especially in that you don’t see what the Joker does to the guy. You just get the demonic yelling and the creepy way that the Joker touches him. It’s extremely sinister in implication and execution, and it’s exactly the sort of thing the Joker’s known for doing in the comics. He’s a theatrical villain, there’s always notes sent to newspapers in the Golden Age, or TV broadcasts (like in The Man Who Laughs) or websites (Soft Targets). He thrives on the fear that his announcements generate, as much as Batman thrives on the fear he instills in criminals.
David: Right now, Bruce and the cops are making the same mistake the mobsters did: they’re focusing on the wrong target and letting the Joker go unchecked. This is about to change.
Andy: This is also the first explicit instance of the Joker’s activities moving from what we’ll designate as “crime” to what is plainly terrorism.
David: Eckhart pulls a great bit of facial acting at the beginning of the Fundraiser party, when he asks Alfred if he should worry about any psycho ex-boyfriends of Rachel’s, and Alfred tells him “oh, you have no idea.” The look on his face is priceless. Then, Bruce shows up via helicopter with three models, because he just can’t stop whipping it out in front of Harvey.
Andy: Caine also delivers a grim bit of foreshadowing about not knowing Rachel for literally her entire life — yet.
Chris: This scene is so well-played in every way. The dialogue is so sharp, and the way Gyllenhaal plays Rachel so clearly frustrated with Bruce’s act and the way she thinks he’s trying to embarrass Harvey is great, as is the fact that Bruce is actually trying to do exactly what he says he is. He just can’t do it without dropping the Bruce Wayne persona.
Andy: Bruce’s suit doesn’t fit right around the neck and shoulders and his jacket’s not buttoned. Man, this movie sucks.
David: Bruce is also so emotionally oblivious that he doesn’t realize the hell he’s putting Rachel in. “Hey, I totally want your man to succeed so I can steal his girl!” He delivers an appropriately dickish and sarcastic but actually pretty effective speech repping Dent, and Rachel basically accuses Bruce of making fun of him, when he drops that brilliant plan on her.
Chris: That’s great, too. I love that he’s doing the right thing for the wrong reasons and the right reasons at the same time. Bruce also says, about Harvey, “Look at this face. This is the face of Gotham’s bright future.” Much as I love this movie, that’s laying it on pretty thick.
Andy: I love that line because he said it as part of that elaborate double-triple-talk speech. If Batman had said it, sure, I’d say it was cheesy.
Chris: He follows it up with “Gotham needs a hero with a face,” too. Bruce seems legitimately taken with the idea that Harvey could bring down the mobs by the book, using the actual law against them rather than operating outside it, but he completely ignores the fact that this was only possible because Batman was there to go to China and drag a guy out of a skyscraper window onto a smuggler’s airplane. So is he just taken with Harvey’s personality, or is he glossing over his own role in order to convince Rachel — who, by the way, is completely not buying it.
David: And the little detail where the second he hits the balcony he pours his champagne out over the edge. It’s also amazing that we’re now a movie and a half into an entire Batman film franchise and Batman has not had sex once. That’s how weirdly asexual Nolan’s movies are. And, spoilers, he doesn’t by the end of this flick, either.
Chris: Hey, he kissed a girl one time.
Andy: You can’t prove that he didn’t have sex with every ballerina on that boat.
David: Also, if Nolan decides to go in this direction, the way Bruce sort of casts aside his morals, or uses them as justifications, to get what he wants in a woman, will work very well to setting up his relationship with Selina Kyle. I totally believe that this Batman will let a cat burglar do what she wants in the name of getting laid. Oh, the next scene actually explains why he sent the card to the judge. He did it so that her DNA would be on it, therefore allowing him to re-send the card to the cops to tip them off that she’s on his hit list.
Andy: So somehow the Joker retrieved the card from the Judge, passed it along to the Commissioner, retrieved it from him, and then pinned it onto Brian Douglas’ body.
David: I… guess. Maybe those were the people who read the papers?
Chris: With the corruption we’ve seen evidence of in these two movies, that’s not actually difficult to believe.
Andy: I think if the card were meant to do that, we’d see a sequence along those lines. We’d see each of those people touch it. If you’re right, we’re meant to infer that fairly elaborate scheme, which seems a bit much even for this movie’s elaborate schemes. It seems easier to believe the Joker got the DNA some other way. Maybe you’re right, but in any case it’s awkward.
David: Oh, actually, no, he did get it some other way, as Loeb asks Gordon how they got his DNA, and Gordon states someone must have had access to his house just as Loeb drinks the glass that’s poisoned to kill him. While they move everyone into protective custody, Harvey asks Rachel to marry him, and she doesn’t give a straight answer — so at least at this point, she’s still slightly entertaining Bruce’s offer. Harvey asks Rachel who his rival is, and just as he goes “please tell me it isn’t Wayne,” Bruce walks up right behind him, nerve strikes him to knock him out immediately, and locks him in a closet. The look on Rachel’s face is amazing.
David: Loeb dies of the poison and the judge, who’s supposedly on her way to protective custody, is blown up in her car. Then the Joker shows up in person to the party for the final kill.
Andy: There’s a line in this scene that reminds you to take stock of the people of Gotham: not everybody is afraid. This old man defies the Joker, the wannabe Batman defied the Joker even when faced with certain death, and people were calling the Anthony Michael Hall news show to talk about how the Batman has made things better. Nolan is defining the people of Gotham as not uniformly terrified and, as we’ll see later, not uniformly brave. This is crucial to the climactic Joker plan and also the big lie about Harvey.
Chris: It’s hard to pin down a favorite scene in this movie, but Bruce Wayne’s reaction to the Joker showing up at his party is up there. When he’s walking down the hallway and the thug tries to stop him with a shotgun, and Bruce just knocks him out and takes the gun apart without even breaking stride, it’s the most Batman thing ever.
Andy: Absolutely. That shotgun moment is where a lot of people cheered in the theater.
David: The shotgun scene is perfectly directed; Nolan keeping the camera totally steady rather than 360ing it like he did with a lot of this scene was a very good choice.
Andy: Ledger’s acting in this scene is phenomenal.
Chris: According to Wikipedia, Michael Caine hadn’t met Ledger before they filmed this scene, and Ledger was so intense that Caine forgot his lines.
Andy: I love the Joker scrambling around on the floor for the gun. He’s as sloppy as Batman is graceful.
David: And yeah, Ledger is absolutely virtuosic here. The loss to the world of acting from his death is incalculable. And his performance in this movie is the greatest I-told-you-so to fans in the history of adapted movies. I’ve never seen a fandom turn around on an opinion so fast. Gyllenhaal is great in this scene too, with the way she resists the Joker. I absolutely can’t imagine Holmes pulling this off. They would have needed a stuntwoman to knee him in the groin.
Andy: I’m not sure how Batman and Rachel survived that fall but I’m willing to believe it was some Batman trickery. What bothers me more is that we don’t see anything more — Batman doesn’t get up, the Joker doesn’t leave. It’s all left to our imagination, which in this case was a mistake, in my view. Some kind of “he got away” beat would be nice. Just having the Joker say “Everybody out before he gets back” would solve a lot of people’s understandable problem with the way this sequence ends.
David: Batman gets a total “F*** YEAH” moment here too, when the Joker’s telling Rachel he likes the fight in her, and he just shows up out of nowhere, goes “then you’ll love me,” and cold-cocks him. It’s a perfectly executed superhero one-liner. Joker takes Rachel to the window after scrapping with Batman, holding her at gunpoint, and ends up throwing her outside. Then Batman leaves an ENTIRE PARTY OF PEOPLE STUCK IN A BALLROOM WITH THE JOKER to save Rachel. The cops hadn’t shown up, he had no backup. And the Joker was holding a gun.
Chris: This is a crucial moment in the film as far as the Joker’s understanding of Batman. He immediately knows that, for whatever reason, Batman values Rachel’s life above others. This is the moment where you can see him forming his plan — he’s already decided to bring Harvey down, Rachel hadn’t figured into it. But now she does.
David: And it also highlights why she has to go so he can truly be Batman.
Chris: But at the same time, there’s no way that Batman could’ve done anything else. It’s not like he could’ve allowed Rachel to plummet to her death even if she was just some other random partygoer.
David: That’s very true, but there was absolutely zero hesitation. This is the moment the Joker figures out how to use this love triangle to ruin everybody.
Chris: So Batman acts as he has to, and the Joker realizes that because there’s a way that Batman has to act, there’s a way that he can exploit that. In short, there are Rules to being Batman, which means those rules can be broken. Meanwhile, the Joker has no rules. He operates outside of everyone’s moral structure. He’s the man who has no limits.
David: The next scene has Batman and Alfred talking about the Joker’s possible motivations, with Bruce stating that “criminals aren’t complicated,” you just have to figure out what they’re after. Alfred points out that the Joker isn’t just a criminal, he’s a nihilist, and tells a story about being in Burma and dealing with a bandit who stole a huge bag of precious stones and then threw them all out. “Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” It’s a great piece of dialogue, and as one would expect from Michael Caine, delivered excellently.
Chris: It really reinforces the idea of a criminal who exists in response to a force like Batman, who defies any limitations in pursuit of an ideal. The Joker, meanwhile, is in opposition to not just that ideal, but all ideals, with a belief that everyone can be made to feel the same.
David: To say this movie’s take was inspired by Killing Joke would be an understatement.
Chris: But not the origin parts, as we discussed earlier.
David: Yeah, but the entire plot of the Joker putting Gordon through hell to prove a point about human nature, that’s basically the plot of this movie, transferred to Harvey Dent. And the entirety of Gotham, really.
Chris: And in Gotham’s case, it works out the same way as it does in Killing Joke.
Andy: Have you guys noticed? Alfred is always right. Know your limits, some men just want to watch the world burn, and later: endure.
Chris: Don’t forget “Why do we fall!” I also think it’s interesting that Alfred completely lays responsibility for the Joker right on Bruce’s head. “You crossed the line first.” It’s only Batman’s presence that allows the Joker to thrive, which is a key to understanding their relationship.
Andy: Indeed. I think Alfred believes in the endgame of Batman, as he notes that it was always going to get worse before it got better. I think that’s in stark contrast to the Alfred of the comics and the animated series, who seems to go along with it simply out of love for his de facto son, and out of obligation to his former employers. I think that Alfred wishes more than anything that Bruce would quit. But Michael Caine’s Alfred believes in the mission.
David: Alfred’s a right badass in these movies, and I have a bad feeling he might not survive Rises. Alfred absolutely believes in Bruce’s mission, and I almost feel like he’s as angry about what happened to Thomas and Martha as Bruce is. And I don’t know if I believe that the comics Alfred isn’t behind it either; see Last Rites, for instance.
“…but when I saw what he meant, when I watched how he sacrificed himself to an ideal… how he used each ordeal, each heartache and failure, to become a better man, in the service of others… what could I do but stand in humble awe?”
Andy: Remember Michael Gough? “I have no wish to spend my few remaining years grieving for the loss of old friends. Or their sons.”
Chris: I don’t fully agree with Andy on that, but I can definitely see where he’s coming from. I’d say that the Alfred we know from the comics believes in the mission, but mostly because he believes in Bruce. Here, it feels a little more balanced. Also, we’ve had 70 years to synthesize what Alfred in the comics believes out of various portrayals and takes, so like Batman himself, there’s a lot that’s open to interpretation. But Nolan’s is, unsurprisingly, a much more tightly woven portrayal, as we see here with the emphasis on his time as a military man.
David: Yeah, I’ll agree with that. In these movies, I think Lucius is more the character who follows the mission for Bruce’s sake.
Chris: I agree. I think it basically comes down to the scene in Begins where he tells Bruce “the way I see it, all of this stuff belongs to you anyway.” It’s only when he feels like Bruce is crossing a moral line — like he does at the end of this movie — where he comes out against him. But in the end, he doesn’t need to, which is the beauty of Nolan’s take on Batman. Because he’s surrounded with moral pillars, like Alfred, Rachel, Lucius, Gordon, and so on, those checks are already there as part of his personality.
David: The Joker sends a message to the cops for a location Harvey Dent’s at, and Batman’s tapping the police phones, because he’s just as cocky as Harvey. We then skip to a crime scene with Gordon and Ramirez, where a Patrick Harvey and Richard Dent have been killed in an elaborately staged scene. Ramirez yells at Batman for not unmasking already, and Batman takes a portion of the wall for fingerprints. Then comes what might be my favorite little detail in the movie, which is that the Joker’s apparently paid off people at the freaking Gotham Times so he can get an obituary for the mayor in the next issue. The obituary is courtesy of “Joe Ondrejko,” and in it the Joker calls himself a “criminal mastermind,” and then writes a loving, honoring obituary about the dude he’s going to kill the next day.
Andy: I’m afraid this entire sequence of events strains credibility for me. The Joker killing a Dent and a Harvey, the fake obituary, calling it in, and knowing that somehow someone would follow the trail to the fake-out sniper window. It’s a bridge too far for me.
Chris: And then we get to Batman’s crazy bullet-shattering recreation.
David: How do you even do this without having the same gun? Batman cuts out a section of the wall and takes it back to the bunker for a ballistics test, where he shoots a bunch of bullets at some blocks and then uses some crazy 3D imaging technology to compare the blast patterns. I really have no idea how this works. I thought you could only do this if you had the same gun. And that that was the point, to prove a gun was at a scene. I’m confused as to what he gains from this ballistics test.
Andy: As many times as I’ve seen this film I still don’t think I know what exactly Batman is doing with that bullet.
Chris: The best/worst part of it is that Batman is able to determine which is the best recreation by eyeballing it. That cracks me up.
Andy: Well presumably Batman can tell what sort of gun was used and can approximate it in his lab. But examining the blast pattern to estimate how to recreate the shards and discover a fingerprint is just too super science for me to believe. Although that may actually be something the real-life CSI people do, I don’t know. But were it not for the consistent tone Nolan maintains throughout the film, I think I would have been really pulled out of the movie by this.
David: I think the way he did it is by shooting a very similar bullet into a very similar block of wood and comparing the differences in the blast patterns, with the delta being the fingerprint. Which seems awfully deterministic to me, but I guess that’s how ballistic works. Commenters?
Chris: I know he’s looking for fingerprints, but I don’t know whose, or why. I mean, they’re not the Joker’s, and they know the Joker did it anyway.
David: Well, I guess he’s hoping to find one of Joker’s goons and use him to work his way up the chain.
Andy: If it was anything but the bullet reconstruction, I’d be completely fine with the Joker setting a trap at the fake sniper location, but as it is we’re meant to believe the Joker knew someone would put the bullet back together?
Chris: Like Andy said, it’s a weird scene, and one that stretches credibility even in a movie with sonar cell phones.
David: That’s very true regarding the bullet reconstruction. At times, the Joker seems almost precognitive. He’s not the Midnighter.
Chris: It’s a major weak point, and one that feels really sloppy when you consider the rest of the movie. I get the idea, that Batman has science the cops don’t have access to in his Bat-Crime-Lab (which kind of makes him a dick in that he’s not sharing it with them), but the execution fails completely.
David: The next scene brings us back to Mr. Coleman Reese, who decides it’s a great idea to blackmail Batman with the fact that he’s figured out Wayne Enterprises made the Tumbler and most of Batman’s equipment. Fox gives him the nicest, most Morgan-Freeman-delivered veiled threat ever in return, basically saying blackmailing Batman is the worst idea in the world.
Chris: I love the scene with Reese, just for how smarmy he is, and how utterly unconcerned Lucius is in response. He has no problem whatsoever with making this guy think that Bruce Wayne will make him disappear or worse.
David: He’s preying off of fear. I hear Batman does that sometimes.
Chris: For me, it really hearkened back to a story Kurt Busiek did in Astro City, where a guy sees one of the heroes with his mask off and then realizes he has no idea what to do with this incredibly valuable information. Who do you go to?
David: Yeah, I remember that. I guess he could go to the news, but that does come up later. Now, it’s Commissioner Loeb’s funeral, and they’ve got the bagpipes and the entire cop funeral going on. Bruce rolls out there in street clothes on a red motorcycle, since Batman doesn’t operate in the day, and at the apartment of the dude who shot Harvey and Dent at the crime scene whose fingerprint was on the bullet, he finds all the ten-gun salute cops tied up around a pillar, with a telescope there so Bruce can watch the actual murder.
Chris: And keep in mind, it’s Bruce doing all this. No mask. Just the richest dude in the world cold walking around. Good thing those dudes had blindfolds on.
David: There’s a timer set in the apartment to open the blind at a certain moment, at which point a police sniper starts shooting at Bruce. This thing is insanely planned. Gordon figures out something’s wrong and immediately dives to protect the mayor, taking the Joker’s shot. This entire thing’s gone to hell, and now Jim Gordon is dead.
Andy: With the parade sequence, we’ve come from heist movie to mob movie to spy movie to terrorism movie. From the first time I saw The Dark Knight, I was taken aback by the level of anxiety the filmmakers were able to convey in this sequence. We have a terrorist making videos and threats, cops everywhere, media people fueling fear, and people running in the streets and looking into the sky waiting to see what happens next. This felt very real to me. Just on a filmmaking level, that they created something that even invoked those feelings is really remarkable.
Chris: They do an incredible job with the frantic, hectic scramble just after the shots are fired. It feels incredibly intense, and the first time I saw it, I bought the death of Jim Gordon hook, line and sinker. All these rigid lines of people suddenly breaking into this chaotic crowd, which is a pretty obvious metaphor for exactly what the Joker wants to do.
David: Yeah, I really thought they were serious about killing off Gordon. Harvey goes to go interrogate one of the Joker’s goons, who just doesn’t reply to any questions and shows his Officer Rachel Dawes nametag. Dent freaks out and takes control of the prison transport van, while Ramirez and the other cop dude whose name I always forget go to inform Barbara Gordon that her husband is dead. Batman watches this happen, and then the other cops decide to try using the Bat-Signal to call him, and also think it’s a fantastic idea to be downing beers on the roof while they do this.
Chris: The scene where the cops deliver the news to Barbara and the kids is just brutal — both to the audience and the characters themselves.
Andy: Gordon’s wife becomes one of the Joker’s victims, she turns against the Batman.
Chris: So with that, our second segment of the film comes to a close. Jim Gordon is dead, the city is in chaos, Batman and the Police have eliminated the mob and allowed the Joker to take over, and he’s playing them all into his own master plan. Where will it lead? Join us next week as Batman takes a trip to the club and goes for a drive in the next Cinematic Batmanology!