ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008), Part 4
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 and our extensive review of The Dark Knight, everyone! In our last installment (one, two, three), a whole lot of bad things happened to a whole lot of good people. Rachel Dawes has been killed, Batman’s faith in his mission has been shaken, Harvey Dent has been scarred in more ways than one, and we’ve all realized that a normal jail is nowhere near up to the task of containing the Joker.
David: Most importantly, the Batmobile has lost its wheel and the Joker got away, hey!Andy: The death of Rachel closes a subplot that’s been lingering since the end of the first film, which is the nature of Bruce vs. Batman. As Katie Holmes, Rachel looked Bruce right in the face and said, “The man I fell in love with never came back.” At times in this film she wanted to believe that Bruce was still in there, but by letting Dent perpetrate his ruse, Bruce proved to Rachel that he is the Batman before anything else. Rachel made her call, as she explained in that devastating letter that Alfred cannot allow Bruce to read. Without Rachel as his anchor back to the real world and with Dent on the precipice of doom, Bruce seems pretty well locked in to his destiny as Batman.
Chris: That’s the magic of The Dark Knight: It lets you say things like “In the words of Katie Holmes…”
David: Perhaps most importantly about Rachel making her call is that she knew that whatever call SHE made, she’d never end up with Bruce. She’d always just see him for two hours a day, usually when he’s recovering from getting the crap beaten out of him.
Andy: It seemed so odd at first that Nolan would recast the Rachel Dawes role rather than simply create a new love interest, but when you look at Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as two chapters of the same book, it makes sense that they maintained her role. They had no choice; she served a crucial function in this Batman’s saga, beginning from childhood. Without her influence, he never would have set out on his quest.
Chris: She really was his only true connection to wanting to actually be Bruce Wayne, rather than just Batman. We’ve already seen in Begins that he’s willing to throw his family reputation under the bus in order to help people.
Andy: Did Batman unwittingly drive Harvey crazy by leaving the scarred coin by his bedside? Is this another of Batman’s blunders? It seems like kind of a dick move.
David: Maybe he just thought it was important to him. Bruce is not exactly emotionally mature. This is what little he thinks he can do. It’s not like he’s gonna wear a clown nose and go all Patch Adams.
Chris: But neither we nor Batman have time to properly mourn Rachel, because the events of the movie keep spiraling further and further out of control. With the Joker still threatening to kill people unless Batman reveals his identity (and having succeeded in taking out Rachel and severely injuring Dent), Coleman Reese goes on TV and announces that he’ll tell everyone exactly who Batman is.
Andy: I love the Reese-on-TV stuff because it’s another opportunity where we hear the voice of the people. “How much are they paying you to say this?” The citizens are divided, but they’re not entirely surrendered to the Joker’s reign of chaos and terror, not yet.
Chris: What I’ve never been able to really decide, though, is whether Reese is motivated entirely by self-interest, as he was in trying to bribe Lucius, or if he actually thinks he’s helping. Is he one of the Gotham Citizens who thinks things are “worse than evah?”
David: I got the vibe he just finds the entire idea of Bruce Wayne flouting the law in repurposed army equipment offensive to him as a Gothamite and American.
Andy: It’s hard to say with Reese. In the beginning, he was motivated purely by greed. But now he’s saying that the violence has gone far enough and that the killing needs to stop. It’s not an unreasonable position, turning in Batman like the Joker wants. The killing will stop, right? Right? But as Anthony Michael Hall says, “Harvey Dent didn’t want to give into this madman. You think you know better?” There we are again to what Alfred said so succinctly: endure. You have to stand up to terror. The alternative: turning in the Batman, cops flooding the streets, snipers, fear — these are the equivalents of Alfred and his friends burning the forest down trying to stop that man in Burma.
Chris: Reese’s involvement, and what happens between him and the Joker, is another key in seeing how twisted the Joker’s plan is. It’s not that he wants to know who Batman is; he wants to make Batman reveal himself, because that means he’s defeated. It’s like that great scene from Batman R.I.P.: “Now repeat after me: ‘I must put away my Batman costume, and retire from crime-fighting.’” He doesn’t win by killing Batman or revealing his identity, he wins by getting Batman to break his rules or by psychologically destroying him so thoroughly that he quits.
Andy: These moments are so brief in the film but they are crucial to its themes, and to the resolution that occurs on the ferries later.
Chris: It’s also a nice commentary on media that they tease the big reveal of Batman’s identity in a commercial. “We’ll be live at five with the identity of the Batman” cracks me up every time.
Andy: There was a lot of this Anthony Michael Hall character in the alternate reality game, a whole Gotham News Network website with debates about the Batman and security and civil rights.
David: Yeah, this is a movie that really demands you pay attention. Every sequence is important, and the Joker only reveals his methodology in snippets. They included those GNN episodes on the Blu-ray, I just haven’t watched them yet.
Chris: While that’s going on, Gordon visits Dent in the hospital, and we find out that despite horrifically painful burns, Harvey’s refusing medication. He is… pretty upset.
David: Medication and surgery. He asks Gordon what the boys used to call him back when he worked in Internal Affairs, and Gordon finally reveals what basically every viewer knew: it was Harvey Two-Face.
Andy: While Harvey’s future actions are thematically justified, I like that Nolan made sure to introduce the concepts of “agonizing pain” and the traumatic reaction to the coin to justify in-story the fantastical elements. Everyone has some kind of plausible explanation for why they dress up in a costume or something and go do crazy stuff.
Chris: I love the way that Nolan directs this scene. There’s that first time that Harvey turns his head to look at Gordon straight-on, and he cuts right as we see the burns start coming into view, instead showing us Gordon’s reaction. It’s this great move — we all know it’s coming, but drawing it out like that makes it seem far more horrifying than it otherwise would be. And then, when we do see it…
Chris: It works so well. I remember there being actual gasps in the theater.
Andy: Did they release any stills of Two-Face before the film’s release? If so they waited until the last minute, because I don’t remember any during the major media push.
David: They did, and it was the last minute. This is CGI, right? Because it’s astonishingly well-done.
Chris: I don’t remember seeing any, but I was actively trying to avoid spoilers for this one.
Andy: I got to talk with Eckhart during my set visit and he said the film used “all of today’s technology to create this character.” With respect to the terrorism theme and Harvey’s role in the film’s examination of it, Eckhart had this to say:
“I think it’s interesting about human behavior that under certain circumstances, in one minute you can believe in one thing and then the world can change and you believe another thing. I think 9/11 is an indication of that. I mean, the world can turn on its axis in a second. I think Harvey is not such a bad person. He does bad things but hopefully we’ll see the reasons why Two-Face is doing was he’s doing. I think it’s important that you know he just didn’t become Harvey Two-Face in a vacuum. It’s interesting to show that there are reasons for his behavior and I think the comic books show it. It depends on which character you think is more attractive and exciting. I mean, obviously, a guy who goes out and murders people, that’s vigilante justice really, and is probably more cinematically exciting. But I think knowing why he got there and that he was a cool dude before is important as well.”
Chris: But still, it’s one of those things where you know it’s coming. Being surprised when you see that Harvey Dent’s face is scarred is like being surprised when Batman’s parents get killed, or when Krypton explodes. But the way it’s drawn out here sells it so well as a reveal. Not to mention what it actually means within the movie — I know I said they laid it on thick, but there’s a lot of “Harvey Dent is the face of Gotham’s future!” in the first part of the film. And now, we can see that’s pretty much accurate. I will say that it bugs the hell out of me that they call him “Harvey Two-Face,” though. They did that in Batman Forever, too, and I never understood why.
David: It makes more sense as a name cops would call a dude who is totally cool to their faces and then screws them behind their backs. It’s a great scene, but the justification for Harvey refusing skin grafts based on his old IA nickname seemed kinda weak to me. I realize it had to come in somehow, but he basically goes “well, now at least it’s literal,” which seems too superstitious for the character so far. I mean, even his one superstition about the coin ended up being a farce. Or maybe it’s a sign of how screwed up he is right now.
Chris: Yeah, I don’t think Harvey’s in a very rational place at the moment.
Andy: I think Harvey is just nuts at this point. He’s in “agonizing pain,” remember. He’s basically been fear-gassed with fire, making him the Joker’s next henchman, just like all those other poor bastards from Arkham.
Chris: As Gordon leaves Harvey, he runs into Sal Maroni in the hospital hallway, who tells him that things have gone too far. Once again, we see the idea of Old Crime going against the Super-Villains that have risen in response to Batman. Maroni’s the last of a dying breed, and he knows it. We see how far gone things are for the mob in the very next scene, when we finally see that the mob has started paying off the Joker with their gigantic money pyramid. This is, of course, a pretty impractical way to store your money, but a) it’s not like they can just transfer something over to the Joker’s bank account, and b) it’s fantastic to see the Joker slide down that thing like Scrooge McDuck.
David: Don’t forget that Maroni gives Gordon the location of this meet, too. This has gotten too screwed up for even him.
Andy: It’s easy to forget, given the grim tone of The Dark Knight, but the Joker does a lot of classically Joker things. He slides down money piles, he has a knife in his shoe, he hops around like a kid when he’s beating up Batman, he laughs maniacally while he drives. Hell, he even dresses in drag.
Chris: Yeah, he’s really funny too, which is a great element of the character. It’s something Batman: The Animated Series did a really good job with, too, and it’s tricky. You need to be able to laugh at him and be absolutely terrified of him at the same time.
David: I think this does a much better job than The Animated Series, personally.
Andy: How dare you.
Chris: Send those letters to firstname.lastname@example.org, fans. [Editor's note: Not real address; do not send these to me.]
Andy: BREAKING: Comics Blogger David Uzumeri Said Mark Hamill Can SUCK IT
Chris: I’m actually curious as to your reasoning here. Is it that in the movie, he’s allowed to be a scarier figure than in a cartoon for kids? Because in “Joker’s Favor,” where he basically threatens to murder a dude’s family as part of a deceptively elaborate plan (sound familiar?) he’s pretty frightening.
David: Apparently, I was wrong. I dunno, there’s just more dimensions to the Dark Knight iteration of the character. The TAS version had murderous and flamboyant, but there are way more modes to Ledger’s Joker.
Andy: They’re different characters. The Dark Knight’s Joker would not throw Harley Quinn out of a window for making a funnier joke than he did. Ledger’s Joker does not give a f***.
David: Ledger’s Joker is honestly my favorite interpretation of the character. Above Morrison, above Finger, above O’Neil, above Dini, above Englehart, above Miller…
Chris: I don’t necessarily think you’re wrong. The Nolan/Ledger Joker is pretty phenomenal, especially given how much he’s able to pack into two and a half hours, as opposed to 20 years of cartoons and video games. But if I may be allowed to play the role of Wise Earth Mother for a moment, I definitely think they both excelled at making him funny and menacing.
David: The TAS Joker is too much of a conventional comedian for me. He’s kind of the Dane Cook of Jokers.
Andy: WHOA WHOA WHOA
Chris: Okay, NOW we’re going to fight.
Andy: Your mom is the Dane Cook of moms!
David: And Ledger Joker is the Louis C.K.
Chris: I cannot even comprehend what you mean by that.
David: He’s not a conventional jokester. He creates comedy from situations and subtleties, not straightforward jokes.
Andy: I’m offended on behalf of our readers that Uzi is participating in this session whilst completely f***ing high on hardcore intravenous drugs.
David: Okay, you know what? I was wrong about the Dane Cook reference. I was trying to think of a conventional comedian, and instead thought of someone totally offensive.
Chris: That’s because you’re the Dane Cook of this review. Anyway, the Joker, in true anarchist fashion, burns his half of the money with gasoline, which of course has the effect of burning all of the money, effectively bankrupting Gotham’s mobs in one fell swoop.
Andy: It’s a truly breathtaking expression of contempt for, well, everything, burning a mountain of cash like that. [Editor's note: Does anyone remember the time a British band did this?]
Chris: It also literalizes Alfred’s comment about wanting to watch the world burn.
David: I thought he actually separated them to only burn his half for some reason. He also gets the Chechen given to his dogs, conveniently giving him an army of rottweilers to have attack Batman later, because for some reason fighting dogs is a big thing in this movie.
Chris: Batman has a long and beautiful history of fighting animals. I assumed that the money was still together based on the Chechen’s reaction to the Joker burning it all. I mean, yes, it’s a pretty shocking sight, but if it was all his, you’d think he wouldn’t be quite so upset. Or maybe he would, watching their investment going up in smoke (haw haw) like that. Plus there’s that line about “I’m only burning my half.”
Andy: The dog motif starts to get a bit silly. I started remembering John Witherspoon’s dog catcher character from the Ice Cube comedy “Friday,” in which he explained that there is no greater pleasure in life than “Grabbing a dog and choke him and kick the sh*t out of him — all day long, my foot up a dog’s ass. Bang bang bang.”
Chris: The Joker flat-out states that “it’s not about money; it’s about sending a message,” and calls up the TV station to put a hit out on Coleman Reese before he can reveal Batman’s identity. On live television, the Joker tells Gotham City that if they don’t kill Reese in an hour, he’ll blow up a hospital. This, of course, derails Gordon’s plan of raiding the meet — he now has something far more pressing on his plate — but the Joker has already done what he, Batman and Dent set out to do at the beginning of the film. He’s shattered the mobs.
David: Which raises a lot of questions about the upcoming Dark Knight Rises, because it’s going to have to start off with a total vacuum in Gotham’s crime. With Joker and the entire mob gone, who’s going to fill that?
Chris: Is it? Or is that vacuum going to be filled by guys like the Joker and the Scarecrow? Sure, the Joker gets locked up at the end of this movie, but we all know that Arkham can’t hold him. Even if we’re not going to see him for the obvious reason of Ledger’s death, he’s still a presence in the city, just as much as Batman is.
David: Joker’s in jail again at the end of TDK, and I think this time they’ll take him more seriously. Scarecrow’s a joke.
Chris: Scarecrow’s a joke because he was a drug dealer peddling fear gas from the back of a van. He was still tied to Old Crime. It’s entirely possible that he was just waiting to see a new way of doing things come down.
Andy: I’d be disappointed if there weren’t some kind of obnoxious youth culture centered around the Joker, celebrating him as some kind of counter-culture hero and saying all his 9/11-style attacks were inside jobs.
Chris: That would explain why Dark Knight Rises was shot on location in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois.
Andy: For completion’s sake, I hope we see Scarecrow one more time, maybe even getting away at the end. Anyway, The Joker has successfully screwed Gotham up so badly that ordinary citizens are attacking an innocent man just because some voice on the television tells them he’s their enemy.
Chris: Exactly: As much as Batman is mean to inspire hope in Gotham, the Joker’s tearing all that down. He’s inspiring sheer, amoral terror.
Andy: Again, it seems like the pragmatic thing to do. Terror and death will stop if we take these extreme measures.
David: There’s absolutely no metaphor to real-life circumstances here, no siree.
Chris: Bruce, who is keenly aware of how severe it is to endure the death of a family member, tells Alfred to check on which of Gordon’s cops have family members in hospitals. He needs to know who could get close to Reese and be motivated to take him out, but the interesting thing here is that he has utter faith in Gordon’s ability to keep Reese safe from the regular citizens.
David: There’s a selfish side to this, too: Bruce wants to be the one to save Reese so Reese can see what Bruce does and feel indebted to him.
Andy: Is that Bruce’s plan? I thought that just sort of happened.
Chris: But there’s another interesting balance. He’s saving a man even though it’s entirely possible that Reese could go “hey, that dude is definitely Batman,” since if Reese dies, anarchy and terror gain another foothold in Gotham. The only way he can defeat the Joker’s plan is to keep Reese alive, while once again, the Joker gets away. There’s also a great moment when Bruce drives by in his Lamborghini, and is able to identify all of the uniformed cops in Gordon’s unit on sight. It’s a really nice example of Batman as a detective.
David: It’s really a way more well-rounded Batman in this film than the last, absolutely. And Bruce’s “what, for trying to make the light?” excuse continues to show how he’s willing to flush his family name down the toilet for Batman.
Andy: Bruce’s playing dumb is awesome here.
Chris: It really is. Bruce finds out that there are two cops with relatives in hospitals — including Ramirez, another big clue to her heel turn — and one of them is in the car with Gordon and Reese. But before we can get to how that ends, it’s time for one of the best scenes in the film: The Joker and Dent in the hospital. This is, I believe, the only time these two characters interact with each other in the entire movie, and it is amazing.
Chris: The Joker pretending to forget Rachel’s name just to push Harvey even further… that alone is an amazing bit of character, and the scene’s full of stuff like that.
David: It’s a brilliant scene, but a lot of moviegoers were convinced that this was Joker’s one moment of truth in the movie, that this was his actual M.O. The reason this scene really works so well is that it’s total B.S.
Chris: Which is crazy, because it’s based on the premise that the Joker didn’t kill Rachel, which we know from the interrogation scene — the Joker’s actual one moment of truth — is a complete lie.
Andy: For some people this is the Architect speech of The Dark Knight; too on-the-nose, too much literalism.
David: He’s telling Harvey what Harvey needs to hear to do what he wants, which is obvious with that final line, “Chaos is fair.”
Andy: I don’t think it’s total B.S. I believe the Joker when he says he wants to expose how pathetic all these systems and philosophies are, because that’s precisely what he does at every stage of this film, from robbing a mob bank to burning millions of dollars to blowing up buildings.
David: Yes, but he’s not a dog chasing after a car. He’s a schemer himself, the ultimate one, the one who schemes to not look like one.
Chris: The Joker also has a great line that you can take so many ways in this: “When I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I’m telling the truth.” In a way, it’s true — it’s nothing personal with Harvey, it’s all part of his battle against what Harvey represents. But it’s also intensely personal for Batman, whom he knows had some kind of affection for Rachel. Harvey as a person — not a symbol, but a person — is completely incidental to the Joker’s plan. Until now, that is, when he sees him as another wrench he can throw out into the vast machine that is Gotham City.
David: What’s happened to Harvey as a consequence of this scene represents the Joker’s greatest opportunity yet for chaos. He turns Harvey over to the dark side. He’s manipulated Dent into believing his allies are the villains, which plays on something we know Harvey already believed: You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Dent, now broken and maimed and basically out of his mind, knows that he, Batman and Gordon aren’t dead.
Chris: That plays directly into another great line: “Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.” The Joker is a master at using what he has to further his plans, at taking things and getting as much horror and chaos as he can out of them through elaborate schemes. And right now, he has Harvey Dent. Every bit of this scene is beautifully written and acted. I just can’t say enough good stuff about it — it’s darn near perfect.
David: The scene also has a real turning point in the film, which is Two-Face doing the coin flip FOR REAL for the first time when he has the gun to Joker’s head. Harvey’s played with the coin before, when it was double-headed and it was a gimmick to make what he wanted look like chance. This is different, this is real. And Joker’s totally into it.
Chris: Because of course he would be! Even if Dent shoots him in the face, he dies getting what he wanted. Gotham’s White Knight has become a hideous murderer who kills a defenseless man, not even out of revenge, but because of a coin flip. The law is officially dead in Gotham City. It’s been replaced by random chance.
Andy: The awesomeness of Heath Ledger being right there in the middle of a real-life demolition is self-evident. Beautiful stuff.
Chris: Almost as awesome as the Joker taking the time to Purel his hands as he leaves.
David: The hand sanitizer bit is absolutely brilliant, and the kind of thing I could see being ad-libbed.
Chris: But back with Reese and the cops, Gordon tackles the cop with the shotgun to keep him from killing Reese, while another Gothamite attempts to ram the car with a truck, and is stopped when Bruce puts his car between them.
Chris: It’s also worth noting that even the evacuation of the hospitals was part of the Joker’s plan. Gordon has enlisted “every school bus” to get patients evacuated, and as we saw way back in the opening sequence, the Joker has a school bus of his own, meaning that he’s easily able to gather a bunch of hostages for the next step of his plan. That’s the thing about this movie: Not only is everything there for a reason, everything’s there for two or three reasons. So while Batman and Gordon are occupied saving Reese, the Joker blows up Gotham General. Everyone gets out, but 51 people are missing: 50 hostages on the Joker’s bus, and one Harvey Dent.
David: The explosion scene for Gotham General is brilliant, especially Joker’s frustration with the last detonator while it’s outside. Was this an actual demolition, or CGI?
Andy: The demolition was completely real. They found a location that was being demolished anyway, so they cooperated with the various parties involved to enhance the destruction with loads of special effects explosions. They did have to CGI some of the windows on one floor because some people had actually stolen them prior to shooting.
David: Ha! That’s amazing, though. I had no idea. I mean, it looked very real, but I figured it was just that they blew their whole CGI wad on the movie for that one shot.
Andy: What was completely CGI was the Batpod ejection sequence.
Chris: You mean they didn’t build a giant tank that could shoot a transforming motorcycle out of it?
Andy: They f***ing tried.
David: Dear Lord.
Andy: On the DVD you can see all their designs and pre-visualizations of the ejection sequence, but it proved too much for our earthly technology. They were incredibly proud of themselves for creating the Batpod. Basically everybody we spoke to on the set wanted to talk about it. But when we asked them if it did actually eject from the Batmobile or whether it was a separate vehicle, they straight up lied. I don’t blame them, of course.
Chris: During news coverage of the explosion, the Joker sends another video to the station, wherein the kidnapped reporter issues the Joker’s newest ultimatum to the people of Gotham: This is now his city, and if you’re still in it by nightfall, you’re fair game. He also tells them that “the bridge and tunnel crowd are sure in for a surprise,” and at this point, even though there’s no evidence, they’ve got no reason to doubt it. This guy just blew up a hospital, after all.
Andy: At this stage of the film, we’re living on Earth 9/11. People are trying to get out of the city, the bridges and tunnels are bottlenecked with security, everybody is panicking.
David: Yeah, the Joker’s ultimatum does what it’s meant to do, which is manipulate the richest Gothamites onto a ferry. And convince Gordon to go convince Mayor Garcia that the prisoners need to get out of Gotham too, since they’re probably part of Joker’s plan. Of course, the fact that Gordon would be worried about the prisoners being part of Joker’s plan is part of Joker’s plan.
Chris: Batman summons Lucius to the R&D room, where he unveils his secret weapon in order to find the Joker: A giant sonar scanner using the same technology that he and Lucius used back in Hong Kong — once again, two or three purposes to that device — only on a much larger scale. And, not coincidentally, much more privacy-violating.
Andy: Harvey executes one of Gordon’s corrupt police detectives. There’s no coming back from this for Dent. When that coin fell with the scarred side up, The Joker won.
David: The Joker won the moment Harvey used the coin for real, I think. Back in the hospital room. But you’re largely right. He’s made the fairest man in Gotham come to depend completely on chance.
Chris: As we said, Gotham’s White Knight, the man who represented the law in Gotham City, has fully abandoned it. There are helicopters with armed men flying through the city. Everyone wants to get out, but things have been shut down due to threats of an unstoppable madman. Things really are worse than ever.
Chris: Next week, we find out if they ever get better!
David: One to go, guys!
Chris: So join us next Monday as we finally finish The Dark Knight in the fifth part of our exhaustive review!