I was pretty sure The Dark Knight was going to be the best Batman movie yet and it was. I wasn’t fully prepared to be quite so blown away though. For me, Batman Begins raised the bar and The Dark Knight jumped over that bar on a souped up rocket-bike. Pretty much left the bar in favor of a low orbit cheerfully yelling ‘look ma no hands’. I was going to write a full review but what I really want to talk about is The Joker.
There were whispers and mutterings before the movie wrapped about what they were going to do with The Joker. When Heath Ledger died those whisperings grew into full blown hype. For once the hype was not only deserved, but understated the case. This is The Joker’s movie and The Joker belongs to Heath Ledger, possibly forever.
Like a legion of Batman fans, I like my Batman dark. Grim, bleak, possibly psychotic. I can go the rest of my life and never see the Batusi again, thanks. My favorite Joker story is The Killing Joke by (shock) Alan Moore. That book takes alot of time to ask why The Batman and The Joker are tied together. It’s a ghoulish Joker and a dark brutal Batman but it’s a thoughtful story, even melancholy, but it takes place at a time when the two have had a long, painful relationship.
The Dark Knight covers the same questions. What makes The Joker do the things he does? Why are he and Batman so drawn to each other? If Bats hates Joker so much why doesn’t he just kill him, moral code or no? But here this all takes place when The Batman is just getting started. He has barely begun to understand what it means to be this knight for Gotham and he’s confronted with an adversary apparently his equal.
So it’s The Joker’s origin story. But the writers go ahead and put a bit of a wrinkle there. Even though it’s an origin story there’s really no origin. We don’t know his real name. We don’t see how he got this way. His face is disfigured but his ‘joker face’ is makeup. We get the idea he probably wasn’t some loser that fell into a vat of chemicals with a red helmet on his head (the oldest Joker origin). The Joker himself plays tricks on us when he gives differing accounts of how he got his scars. He just appears, like a force of nature. Intentionally or not he has been summoned or drawn. He is (fanfare) an archetype.
We’ve seen the Trickster plenty of times in movies. Jack Sparrow is a Trickster. Bugs Bunny is too. So is Fletch. But those guys are pretty likable. Mischievous scamps. What we don’t see much is the dark side of the Trickster. Chaos gods like Loki, someone who tricked a blind man into killing his own brother. This Joker is chaos unleashed and Ledger goes at it without campiness, reservation, or fear. The dude is scary. There were several ‘gags’ like the disappearing pencil trick that would be funny in a regular action flick. But this Joker is not a schizo, or a sociopath, or a criminal genius. He’s outside all of that. By making himself an archetype of justice and order The Batman summons an opposing archetype of chaos and misrule. And, oh yeah, he’s a scary mofo.
So here’s the review: go see this movie. Now.