While I was pleased with Tim Burton's vision, the subsequent films had proved disappointing as they kept adding more and more villains and neglected the importance of a story. It just became a farce under Joel Schumacher's direction, with his homoerotic fascination over adding nipples to the Batsuit. In my late teens/early adulthood, I became a fan of the darker "Batman" comic books and wanted to see a film that was geared towards adults. My all-time favourite comic book is "The Killing Joke" because it dealt with the nature of insanity. I wanted to see a "Batman" film that featured Arkham Asylum and cover insanity (is it sane for a man to dress up as a bat to fight crime? Are Batman and the crazy criminals more sane than average humans stuck in the rat race?). "Batman Begins" was the perfect "Batman" film. The director brilliantly captured my vision of what a "Batman" film could be and he did it flawlessly. Because I don't think you can create a better superhero film than that one, I lowered my expectations for the new one.
Like Tim Burton's "Batman", "The Dark Knight" is upstaged by the Joker. Back in 1989, critics all said that no one will ever be able to outdo Jack Nicholson's Joker. He truly made the film what it was. But that was then (I can't believe it has been 19 summers ago when Batmania first hit). Now, Heath Ledger has raised the bar even further. He is simply fantastic in his (sadly) last role. Back in January, there were quotes that he struggled with this role, as he seems to be a bit of a method actor, and if there's one type of role a method actor should not play, it's a crazy person. How do you keep your sanity if you feel the need to become the character during the duration of the shoot?
Anytime the Joker is on screen, Ledger owns it with his crazy clown. What are his motives? Well, there's a certain deja vu quality to this film in that he challenges Batman in similar ways that Nicholson's Joker did to the 1989 Batman. The difference is that this new incarnation is geared towards a mature and intelligent audience. There are several scenes that are relevant to political debate in our country today in regards to war and spying on citizens. The current that runs through this film is the idea that an insane person (think of it as "Joker bin Laden") without moral qualms most desires to see a person who claims a superior moralty lower himself to the same level of brutality. It's a victory of sorts. The kind of film our misguided president needs to see (though I doubt he has the depth to understand nuance).
Overall, though, this film won't dislodge "Batman Begins" from its status as my favourite superhero film of all-time. It's infinitely better than the previous series of four films, which is no surprise. They don't overkill it with too many over the top villains. Only the Joker and his goons are allowed to act crazy, bringing mayhem to Gotham. I have a feeling, though, that the filmmakers are going for continuity between the previous one (Scarecrow makes an appearance) and hopefully the next one (the set-up makes me excited to see where they'll go with the third one). In a summer lacking in interesting movies (this is the first one I've seen since "Prince Caspian" on Memorial Day weekend), I might see this again in theaters before Labour Day (there aren't any other interesting films on the horizon until Oliver Stone's "W" comes out in October).
The director (Christopher Nolan) knows how to add characters to the ongoing saga without diluting the story. Harvey Dent added an interesting angle to the story. In 1995's "Batman Forever", I thought having both the Riddler and Two-Face weakened the story, and the purple half of Two-Face's face looked like some cheap plastic mask. Fans of the comic book know Harvey Dent as "Two-Face" so that's all I'll say about that.