Tag Archives: The Dark Knight

Michael “Size of a Tangerine” Caine as Alfred

   Michael Caine punch to cameraWe’re each others’ good luck charms. I always say to him, I’m not your good luck charm, you are mine!  

Michael Caine

Father figure, mentor, friend, guide, conscience, bad ass, gentleman.

Alfred is all of these and more to ‘master’ Bruce.

Alfred as portrayed by Micheal Caine in Chris Nolan’s Batman Trilogy is the character whose essence is perhaps most true to the comic book source material.

Caine embodies the best qualities of Alfred.

Alfred is loyal, passionate, tough, loving and kind.  He is the father that Bruce conveniently forgets he has, the man who actually raised him.

The Alfred /Bruce relationship is at the core of the Nolan Batman films, their relationship is the core dynamic that binds the three films together thematically and emotionally.

Michael caine Alfred Bruce Wayne Batman Dark Knight Christian Bale

Micheal Caine’s Alfred eases us into our Batman cinematic journey.  The transition of Bruce Wayne boy billionaire to Bruce Wayne masked avenger is also the relationship of Bruce and Alfred.

Alfred is there at the beginning to hold our hand and guide us in the dark, he travels with us along the way through the hard times and the good times, he’s quick with a joke and a smile, he stands up to and questions Bruce’s journey as all good mentor figures do, and Alfred is there to shed a tear at the end of the journey, the lone figure standing over the empty grave of a strange man the world truly never knew.

Christopher Nolan began his cinematic relationship with Michael Caine in the film adaptation of the novel The Prestige.

Nolan has included Caine (his “good luck charm”) in every subsequent film from Batman Begins and Inception to Interstellar.

In Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, Caine plays Alfred to Christian Bale’s Batman.  Alfred is a father figure, mentor, guide, conscience and a friend to Bruce Wayne.  Alfred is Bruce’s rock in a chaotic life, he is Bruce’s only family, and primary care giver, even though they are not related by blood.

Michael Caine dapper gent 2

In the Batman source material, Alfred Pennyworth has been portrayed as a bungling amateur detective and failed actor for comedy relief.

Alfred later died and then turned into a super-villain called Outsider in one of the silliest and ill-conceived ideas in comics history.  Of course the idea would be repeated with Jason Todd / Red Hood as well as other ludicrous stories that make no real sense.  Alfred got better better and reverted to his normal self after Batman punches some sense into him (see the image below, top left panel).

Alfred over the years evolved into the sarcastic but warm hearted mentor/father figure to Bruce Wayne that we are most familiar with in the modern era of the Batman mythos.

Detective Comics 356 Alfred revealed as Outsider 1
Alfred gives up his short career in super villainy

Alfred is an essential of element any great Batman story.  Without Alfred, Bruce is just some spoilt rich manchild in a silly costume who takes out his anger on criminals and refuses to move on with his life.   Alfred is Bruce’s conscience, stand in father figure, mentor and friend.  Without Alfred, Bruce would rapidly descend into his own self-invented Batman persona, leaving behind the ‘Bruce Wayne’ parts of his personality.

As a character, Alfred has never been more vibrant, wise, sarcastic, kind and loving as when Sir Michael Caine brought the cheekiest, toughest and most loyal Butler in town to life in Chris Nolan’s Batman Trilogy.

Michael Caine Dapper Gent

If there is a valid criticism to be made of Nolan’s Batman trilogy it is perhaps they are TOO serious, too grim, too dark and depressing.  Batman is a dark character, but not one hundred percent of the time.  Spawn and The Shadow are darker characters (and both are killers), lets say not one hundred percent, but around ninety-nine percent.

I see Batman as more like 60-70% dark, in my hypothetical ‘just imagined for this sentence‘ scale of darkness for popular fictional anti-heroes, vigilantes and masked avengers.  Otherwise Batman becomes too much like Spawn or the Punisher.

There has to be a line somewhere, and I think maybe Nolan went over that line.  But I still love the films, even when they are not being true to the comics by having Batman kill, or when Bruce gives up being Batman after The Dark Knight to go sulk in his mansion like a bratty child.

Batman basically kills the main villains in each of the Nolan Batman films, something that doesn’t sit right with the comic book version of Batman.  Most of the time when I watch The Dark Knight I forget that he kills Harvey Dent / Two-Face at the end of the film by knocking him off a building, which muddies the character of Batman in a film I really love.

The thing you have to accept to really enjoy Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, is that this is HIS Batman, not our communal (comic book) Batman.  It is Nolan’s version of the character, and the internal film logic makes sense to him,but not always to us.

Alfred Bruce Wayne The Dark Knight Nolan Movie

The cinematic Batman is its own thing, you can’t hold a director/writer accountable for following their own vision in telling the story they wanted to tell.  Whatever the story ends up being, it is basically the writers/directors subjective opinion/interpretation of the character, so can not be “wrong” in any absolute sense.

You can argue “Batman doesn’t kill” and pick plot holes in the Nolan Batman Trilogy all day long, I have no issue with that, but remember that you can do that with any film ever made.  You could say, in an imaginary heated exchanged with the tea drinking heavy coat wearing Nolan:

“Wait a minute, I don’t think you are really being true to the essence of the Batman character here.”

And you would have a valid point.

But the counterpoint is that Nolan went with his version of Batman, his cinematic Batman – a character based on the source material that was never intended to be the same literal Batman from the comic books.  So calling out errors based on what people like in the comics is just irrelevant, because it is a movie, NOT a comic book!

I do have issues with Nolan’s Batman, – such as Batman killing Two-Face – but overall I love the films.

As Batman’s conscience, Alfred (Michael Caine) helps Bruce Wayne reach the outer limits of his psyche, harnessing the power of the villain / shadow archetype without fully giving in to the darkness he feels inside himself.  Batman owns his demons, they don’t own him.  It would be easy to just kill criminals and be done with them.  But Batman holds himself to a higher moral standard.

At the end of the day, Batman values life, and the lives of all people.  He is not an executioner, nor a judge.  Batman is more like a cop, bounty hunter or sheriff in the old West.  He chooses to operate outside of the law, because of the high level of Police corruption and all around ineffective law enforcement at all levels in Gotham City due to the stranglehold of the mob, serial killers and masked maniacs.


Some may call Alfred an “enabler”, in that he at first resists Bruce, then ultimately supports and helps Bruce to become Batman.  He enables Bruce Wayne’s particular brand of madness.  Alfred is such a highly principled character, so strong, motivated, caring, loving, and yes – wise – that I feel it speaks volumes about the rightness of Bruce Wayne’s choice (or mission / calling) to become Batman.

In ordinary terms becoming Batman is basically an insane choice.  It would not be the choice of a well adjusted person.

But Gotham City is no ordinary city, it is the most crime ridden most corrupt city in America.  Extreme times call for extreme measures, and given the depths to which  Gotham City has sunk, and the cities genuine need for some force outside of government and law enforcement to allow for genuine change and progress, progress here meaning not capitalism, but a return to wellness, in this situation the invention of the mythic “Batman” may be a very reasonable response.

Any system that is so corrupt as to be completely ineffective has lost any sense of wellness, or sanity.  A return to sanity, or wellness then requires either abolishing the current system, or change from outside of the system itself that ultimately pulls the old system down by proxy, or coerces it the old system to change by demonstrating a superior model.  A city that lives in its own Shadow (as in the psychological term, not actual shadows) and refuses to evolve becomes a cancer on the land, and Batman is like an immune system response to the overwhelming attack of corruption (cancer) on the body of Gotham City.

Batman Robin Comic Alfred with Shotgun

Sanity and wellness then are ultimately the same thing.  Once the city has been rehabilitated, then in theory there is no need for Batman, or if Batman is to continue, he becomes no longer an emergency response to a sick body, but a worker preserving the healthy status of the city.  Batman becomes a defender of life, wellness and sanity, despite appearing to be a bit of a loony.

People in all times and places respond to Mythic characters, not with their intellect, but at a primal instinctual gut level. Mythic characters and archetypes bypass our everyday rational mind and penetrate our subconscious, they haunt our dreams and fantasies, they live in the space between worlds and flow from our intuition speaking to us of timeless tales and life lessons.

In this sense, Batman is an idea whose time has come.  He is the antidote to the sickness of Gotham.  He is Gotham’s underbelly given form and shape come back to haunt them, he is a wrathful deity determined to drag us kicking and screaming out of darkness and into the cold hard light of truth, showing us what we refuse to see or acknowledge for ourselves.

harry-brown michael caine

Michael Caine’s accomplished career has seen the actor staying the course in more iconic roles than most of us can even remember.  Early films such as Alfie, The Ipcress File, The Italian Job, Zulu and Get Carter established Caine as a versatile actor.  He could be an effortlessly charming ladies man, a tough guy, a quiet spy, a soldier, an upper class gentleman, or a lovable James Bond-like rogue.

Caine’s seventies roles were stereotypical male power fantasy roles that later led into his more intellectual roles in eighties cinema. Caine featured in further dramatic and comedic performances in the nineties, and a surprising return to both action and thrillers in the post year two-thousand era amidst the resurgence of aging male action stars in B grade films such as Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Arnold and Sly Stallone.

Throughout his career, Caine has played a mix of heroes and villains. He has every bit the talent and ability to play a Bond, Batman or Bruce Wayne.  Caine is well suited to a variety of roles, but he is not limited by those roles, nor afraid to do something different.

From working with Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters to boldy strutting around with a shotgun in Get Carter to being Austin’s dad in Goldmember, and the pseudo-father to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Caine never really felt like a “young man” even when he literally was a young man on screen.

Michael Caine seemed to appear fully formed on screen, full of wit, bravado and effortless class.  The seasoned veteran is a thoughtful actor whose acting style has changed and grown over the years, while still remaining effortlessly charming and unique.  Caine is a perennial favourite among impressionists.  The list of celebrities and laypersons who love to impersonate his distinctive voice are legion.

Alfred Pennyworth Batman comic sarcastic

Caine can play a tough guy loner, spy, mild mannered intellectual, charming thief, father figure, mentor or just a lovable rapscallion that you can’t help but enjoy on screen no matter what mischief he gets up to.

The Italian Job while a relatively boring film, is memorable for two reasons – the fantastic car chase getaway scene in the iconic mins through the stunning shops and streets of Italy, and leading man Michael Caine.  Remove either of those two elements and the movie would be a totally forgettable sub-par Ocean’s 11.

Even when playing a villain or amoral selfish character, Michael Caine remains very likable.  There is something about his face that he just seems trustworthy and reliable.  At this stage of his career, he literally is the archetypal Wise Old Man.  It is hard to imagine Michael Caine in his younger days being a scoundrel running around with Sean Connery picking up women.  Michael Caine starred alongside Sean Connery in the John Huston directed The Man Who Would Be King (1975).  Caine and Connery remained lifelong friends.

There is something of a retired James Bond feel to Micheal Caine’s Alfred in Batman Begins.  Beneath the cool and fatherly exterior is a man of remarkable depth and insight.  While Batman despises guns, Alfred has no issue with them, and will not hesitate to shoot an attacker.

As much as we learn about Alfred over the three films, by the end of Dark Knight Rises we still know next to nothing about his personal history.  The original Alfred introduced in Batman #16, 1943 was a fat bumbling Detective, a failed actor and son of Thomas Wayne’s butler Jarvis.

Batman 16_First appearance Alfred Pennyworth

Later revisions of the character saw Alfred slimming down, changing his name and becoming the slender snooty sarcastic butler we are more familiar with today. Another retcon of the character made Alfred a former cold war spy.  In yet another take on the character – Geoff John’s Earth-1 Alfred is a former Royal Marine, sharpshooter and martial artist who trains young master Wayne in martial arts.  It will be interesting to see which version of Alfred turns up in the next Batman live action film.

Michael Caine Get Carter Shotgun
Gangster, Ladykiller, Thief, Lovable Rogue

When Micheal Caine made Harry Brown following his success in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, it instantly reminded me of his seventies film roles such as Get Carter.  It is easy to forget that Michael Caine is not just a classy English gentleman, but is also suave, sexy and charming on and off screen.  Just as dangerous as BOND on screen, and real life friends with BOND (Sean Connery) off screen.

Harry Brown was a return to the anti-hero character made popular in revenge films by Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood.  A senior citizen who grows tired of the endless street gang violence and drug dealing in his neighborhood, Harry Brown is set on a path of destruction when his best friend is murdered.  Being a former soldier, Harry is more than familiar with guns, and goes to town like a senior citizen version of Marvel’s Frank Castle / The Punisher.

The Four Horsemen of Awesome 1
The Four Horsemen

Michael Caine makes a difficult role believable. It is Alfred’s role to convince us that Batman is plausible, that it is not completely insane to dress up like a Bat and punch crime in the face.  Alfred is the cinematic bridge between our everyday world we inhabit and the realm of the unknown world, or underworld that Batman makes his own.

When Bruce decides to dress up as a giant bat and punch crime in the face, Alfred is the voice of reason.  Micheal Caine sells this role by being a very warm, gentle and yet tough no nonsense mentor.  Alfred’s acceptance of Batman ultimately becomes our acceptance of Batman, we want Bruce to succeed  in his insane quest.

Alfred helps us to make the unknown known, he helps us to see the shadow that is Batman is not some threat, but an essential part of our personality that we have been afraid to explore.  The power of Batman is not just about fear, but that there is a little of Batman in us all, we all have a dark side, and we all have hidden strengths demanding to be expressed.

Batman is an also an explorer of the human psyche

Batman then is not only a highly trained martial artist, scientist, criminologist, strongman, gymnast and detective.  He is an explorer of the human psyche, making his home in the place where most of us fear to explore within our own lives, he not only journeys to the mythic underworld daily, he embraces and empowers himself with the symbols of shadow.  Batman uses a criminals own fear against him by appearing to him as an otherworldly wraith, an invisible ninja, an unkillable spectre of the night.

Alfred doubts Bruce Wayne’s reasoning, methods and motivation.  He is the sounding board to Bruce’s eccentricities.  By running up against barriers and resistance in life, we are better able to gauge our actions, and know when we are moving beyond a barrier through the natural growth of our personality, of whether we are pushing ourselves in a direction which ultimately does not serve our best interests.  Bruce butting heads with Alfred over his decision to become Batman only leads Bruce to further solidifying the idea in his mind.

Bruce Wayne becomes determined to become Batman, despite Alfred’s well reasoned and sane pleas not to.  When Bruce later decides he no longer wishes to be Batman, Alfred reminds him that once you start something, you should really follow through.  Alfred suggests to Bruce that the city may need Batman after all.  Of course by the third film, Bruce Wayne has lost his way.  He has given in to his own ignorance and self-delusion.  He has walked away from his quest and Alfred, again the voice of reason pleads with Bruce not to be Batman.

After years of being idle, Wayne has lost his edge, and he faces new dangerous enemies he knows nothing about and fails to understand. Rather than retreating from his enemies, instead Batman charges head on into situations in which he has no hope of being victorious. This is where the movie version of Batman departs from the source material.  The comic book version of Batman would have retreated, studied his enemies and their tactics, and eventually moved in like a ninja, catching his foe unaware to kick ass and take names.

Michael Caine get carter shotgun2 resized

Instead, the Nolan movie version of Batman goes further down the rabbit hole.  He gives in to his own selfish false needs, his gives in to his own anger, desperation, rage, his need to prove to himself that he can still be Batman, and Bruce fails spectacularly when he is beaten physically and mentally by Bane.  Bruce is robbed of all his wealth and resources, cut off from his allies and then dumped in a third world prison.  Bruce then is his own worst enemy, and his spectacular failure seems to be what he needed to get him out of his Howard Hughes inspired self-exile.

Eventually Bruce Wayne comes back, he redeems himself.  He trains and reinvents himself like Rocky and other movie heroes.  But Bruce loses the one companion he has known his entire life. Alfred warns him not to continue his insane quest, and walks away, leaving Bruce to his fate.

Bruce Wayne redeems himself as Batman, but betrays his relationship with Alfred.  He destroys his relationship to the man who raised him and cared for him his entire life.  Bruce betrays Alfred by not telling him that he is alive after the resolution of the terrorist actions by Bane and Talia that threatened the city.  The crisis has passed, and what possible reason could Bruce have for not telling his friend, father and mentor that he is in fact still alive, and did not die in the bomb blast, we, the audience never find out.

At the end of The Dark Knight Rises Bruce/Batman is revealed as still alive, but the pain and anguish that Alfred went through because of Bruce’s deception will take a lifetime to heal, if at all.  The ending is bittersweet, as we see no evidence of Bruce Wayne attempting any reconciliation or re-connection to Alfred, the man who has been by his side his entire life, and whom he conveniently cut loose when the relationship no longer suited him.

On the one hand, we can say Bruce Wayne is a spoilt rich brat, on the other hand we can see his dedication and commitment to being Batman and serving the common good is total, and he is willing to sacrifice his friends, father figure, his wealth, resources and ultimately his own life.

Alfred Pennyworth Butler Batman the animated series

Starting in Batman Begins, Alfred supports Bruce in his one man war on crime, but he never really fully approves of Batman.  When Bruce insisted on becoming Batman, Alfred reluctantly supports him in his choice, but his loyalty is never in question.  It would be quite reasonable for Alfred to walk away and have nothing to do with “Batman”.

It would be reasonable to go to the cops when your former employer starts punching criminals in the face while dressed up at night because of his childhood trauma rather than going to therapy or burying his misery in a bottle of booze.

The fact that Alfred never does any of these things speaks volumes of his character and integrity.

Alfred’s actions also suggest that he is not just the Wayne family Butler,  but also Bruce Wayne’s primary care giver, the man who raised him more than his own father did.  The man who has been by his side his entire life, supported Bruce, loved him and never let him down.

Few of us in the real world have it so good.  Despite Bruce Wayne going through a terrible trauma and loss of his parents as a child, he was never truly without parents in the sense that Alfred was always his third parent, and continues to be his parent, mentor and counsel even as Bruce begins his career, obsession and calling as Batman.

The conflicting nature of the Bruce / Alfred relationship is one that has been tested to the limits in both Chris Nolan’s films, and in various comic book stories.  Most people have heard of Batman and Robin, but few appreciate how integral Alfred is to Bruce Wayne.  Robin, whether Dick Grayson, or any of the subsequent people to take up the role of Robin, can never be Batman’s equal.

Bruce Wayne found in young Dick Grayson the boy he thought he had lost, his inner child.  The child he so desperately lost in himself, who never got to grow up with his parents.  The death of Dick Grayson’s parents (also a murder) means Batman reliving his trauma, and knowing how it affected him, wants to guide young Richard Grayson to a happier, healthier life than Bruce had after the death of his parents.

Richard Grayson looks up to Batman, and sees the man he wants to become, while Bruce looks at Dick as the child who he never got to be, the child who died along with his parents the day Thomas and Martha Wayne were brutally murdered in a back alley.  Bruce, Richard and Alfred then are an impromptu family.  Alfred is the wise elder in the family, and guardian of the family traditions, while Bruce Wayne is the progressive rebel who cares nothing for tradition, and insists on doing everything his way.  Alone, Bruce, Dick and Alfred are broken men, but together they are a great team, and family.

While the Robin we know from the Batman comic books was not part of Chris Nolans Batman Trilogy, Alfred very much is, and that core relationship remains, proving to be the most emotionally resonant and satisfying relationship in the three films.

micahel caine smoking black and white still handsome bastard he is

Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face: Gotham’s White Knight B

harvey-dent I belive in harvey dent Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale Ledger

Aaron Eckhart could have been Batman.

He has the square jaw and intensity of Batman, the charisma, charm, slick confident attitude and good looks to be Bruce Wayne.

It seems fitting that an actor who could have easily played Batman / Bruce Wayne ends up becoming Two-Face.

Two-Face has been handled differently in the comics according to the values of the day, and who was writing the character.  In his original inception, he is a knock off of a Dick Tracy era “ugly gangster with a gimmick”.

The split in half suit of contrasting colours, double sided coin and split personality were a gimmick that made Two-Face distinguishable from other comic book or pulp villains.  The classical look of Two-Face speaks to the era of guys in suits, Al Capone era bad guys, mob enforcers and other similar crooks and made men.

The modern day version of Two-Face plays up the similarities and differences between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, and gives more emphasis to the psychology of Two-Face rather than just the gimmick clothing, coin and gangster schtick.

In Batman: The Animated Series the early years of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent show the two of them as friends and contemporaries.  Both men are passionate about law and order, and genuinely care about proactively fixing the corrupt city they live in.

Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale Ledger

The relationship of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent was retroactively established in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Comics are a strange medium where time is fluid, where events can change seemingly without warning.  The next retcon (retro-active continuity) is only just around the corner for most modern characters.

When the friendship of Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne was established in the Batman comics, set during his earlier years in Millers Year One, it retroactively meant that every story before that was now affected by this new continuity.  It meant the relationship had always existed, even if stories  in the previous decades had failed to mention it.

That Harvey Dent / Bruce Wayne relationship endures in most modern interpretations of Batman.  Nolan’s The Dark Knight takes it cues from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Miller’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween.

The movie version of Two-Face is played by Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s White Knight, a bastion of goodness, moral virtue and incorruptibility.  He is a day time version of Batman, who needs no mask and operates within the law, he exists as a bold contrast to Batman’s Dark Knight.

Thank you for smoking Aaron Eckhart Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale 2 sm

In some ways The Dark Knight is more the story of Harvey Dent than Bruce Wayne.  The entire film sets up Harvey Dents’s inevitable fall from grace, he is used as the Joker’s example (one of his many pawns) of how even the best of us can become rotten inside, if we were not already rotten to begin with.

Even the best of us can turn our backs on our own highest values and dreams, and instead be overcome with anger, grief, depression, vindictiveness, the need for revenge or to take out our frustrations on the world, rather than owning our behavior, and accepting the roles and responsibilities as authors of our own lives.

Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face comes about not because of the scars on his face, the damage to his body, but because of the unbalancing of his fragile mind.  He becomes Two-Face because of his psychological scars, although the movie does hint that he has a hidden dark side.

A throwaway line earlier in the film has Gary Oldman’s Gordon refer to Dent as “Harvey Two-Face”, a name he had been called by former associates. Whether this meant he was genuinely bad, or just unpopular because did his job so well, putting criminals behind bars (many of whom who had were in league with corrupt cops) is unknown.  The Joker does not make Two-Face so much as give Harvey Dent a small push at a critical point in his downfall.

Had the Joker hospital room conversation with Harvey taken place earlier in the film, Harvey might have laughed it off. Instead in his fragile, weakened and traumatised state, he subconscious is laid bare, he openly lets the Joker’s foul ideas into his own mind, and accepts them as his own.

Two-Face is one of the most popular villains in the long running various Batman comic books.  While it was good to see him used in the Nolan Batman Trilogy, we only see Harvey Dent become Two-Face towards the last third of the film.  He could have been the main villain in a Batman film, rather than a side-note.

A one time gimmick character who appears only sporadically through Batman’s first thirty years became a staple in the Bat mythos of the seventies and eighties and has been used regularly since then up until the modern day era.  The character has enough complexity and depth to him that there are more stories yet to be told with Harvey Two-Face.

Considering the amount of characters, plots and sub-plots that must be given screen time in the Dark Knight, Aaron Eckhart does an excellent job with the Two-Face character.

Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale 2 movie conept poster

I really enjoyed Aaron Eckhart’s performance, and would have liked to have seen more of him as Two-Face in the Dark Knight film, before his untimely demise at the hands of Batman.  Despite his strict “no-killing” policy Batman manages to cause the death (directly or indirectly) of a major villain in each of Nolan’s three Batman films.

Whoops, so much for those values and codes of behavior Batman holds so dear.

One weaker element of The Dark Knight is Dent’s relationship with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) which seems under baked at best.  Poor Rachel seems to exist in a man’s world, where despite being a strong, feisty independent woman, her role still revolves around the men in this fictional world.

In Batman Begins Rachel wants to be with Bruce, but that does not work out as Bruce will not give up being Batman.  In The Dark Knight, she is with Harvey Dent, but then he dies.  It is assumed that between the films she reverts to the strong independent solo women she supposedly is, but any time we see Rachel on screen – in either film – we only see her reacting to events caused by the male leads, or being saved by Batman who is also secretly Bruce Wayne, or being held hostage by a villain.  She fails to exist as her own character separate from the male heroes and villains.

It is no secret that women come off second best in Christopher Nolan’s films.  They are there to serve the plot, and the male leads.  Nolan is no more guilty than the majority of other mainstream films in a patriarchal society that is content to churn out multiple male superhero leads every year, despite roughly half their potential audience being women.

Rather than being second-stringers, it is long past the time when we should be seeing female leads in superhero films, there are no shortage of characters to choose from.

But getting back on topic, I really liked Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face, he was a welcome addition to the Nolan Batman franchise, and his face looks truly horrific in the film.  I was surprised how graphic and detailed his realistically damaged face looked on screen.

I winced when I first saw it, but the horror fan in me was proud of the special effects and attention to detail shown in Dent’s exposed eye socket, jaw, teeth and muscle and connective tissue.  In The Dark Knight Eckhart shows us some of his best talents.

He shows us his charming best qualities – the slick charismatic and genuine guy we saw in Thank You for Smoking, the leadership  qualities he displayed in Battle: Los Angeles and the softer, fragile tender side he displayed in Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman.

I think Aaron Eckhart is a wonderful actor, and I have enjoyed following his career and hope to see him in more films that really utilise his talents and have him grow as an actor and a human being.

Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale 2

Have you read these other Nolan Bat Trilogy posts?

Why Christian Bale is the Batman Gotham Deserves

Christopher Nolan – The Intellectual Knight Gotham needs

15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

Heath Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance PART#2

Christopher Nolan – The Intellectual Knight Gotham needs

Christopher Nolan Batman Begins Memento Inception Insomnia Interstellar_800x533
I must become a creature of the night, black, terrible, a ……Director

I’ve watched all of Chris Nolan’s films so far multiple times.

With repeat viewings, his earlier films stand up much better than his later films in terms of a coherent plot, internal structure, character motivation, story arc etc.

From the tight internal continuity of Memento or Insomnia to the laid back structure of the Dark Knight Rises or Interstellar (both full of glaring plot holes) it seems Nolan has moved further away from his roots and more into traditional blockbuster territory, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

His first three flicks (Following, Memento, Insomnia) were never in a rush within the Hollyweird production line, nor did they have such high expectations as his later films.  All of Nolan’s films all good films, they each have their strengths and weaknesses.  Whatever flaws any Nolan film has, they still serve the primary purpose of being entertaining.

But as Nolan’s career goes on, each film seems to have more and more giant plot holes and a looser continuity.  The increasing amount of plot holes and logical inconsistencies doesn’t really make sense for someone as attentive to plot and character as Christopher Nolan.

He knows every frame of his films, and if there is a major plot hole, you can bet he is more than likely aware of it, but he is also aware that there are strict time frames for big studio pictures.  That there are major plot holes is also in part because he aims high, and puts so many big ideas into a film that some of them are bound to clash, or not make sense when big idea (1) is juxtaposed with big idea (2).

Christopher Nolan’s recent movies have become less about tight internal story structure, and more about the performances, high concept ideas and spectacle.  I’d argue that the flaws in his films come down to putting so much into big budget films, cramming them so full of ideas in a limited time frame, that there is just not the luxury of time to nit-pick and edit the hell out of EVERY flaw before the release window.

Christopher Nolan Batman Begins Memento Inception Insomnia Interstellar Guy Pearce
So then… I forgot what I was going to say

You get the well developed core ideas and narrative arc of the main characters, while the finer details are glossed over somewhat.  I am fine with that kind of compromise, because of all Nolan’s films so far has some kind of emotional pay off or resolution for the main character that makes for satisfying viewing.

There are enough high concept ideas (intentionally left open to interpretation) thrown out there in say Inception or Interstellar that the viewer is rewarded for paying attention, and repeat viewings reveal new layers of depth and insight that just are not possible to pick up on the first viewing.  At the end of the day, all films have micro-flaws in them due to shooting schedules, budget and time constraints etc.

I am perhaps more forgiving of Nolan’s films as a fan of his work, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice the flaws, if anything it means I notice them more, as I don’t pay the same level of attention to minor details in other films.  I also go back and read film spotter’s guides to every little thing that doesn’t add up in any given film.

In a way, spotting the flaws are a perverse joy, it adds another layer to the film, but some flaws are pure nonsense of course, and just make you angry that they were not fixed.

Not that there is anything wrong, with… that.  

-Jerry Seinfeld

Working on a big budget studio picture is a little bit like working for NASA.  There is a time frame, a window to launch that rocket, and if you miss that window, well that is NOT an option.  You make sure all the essentials are covered, but if somebody forgets their favourite Rolling Stones big lips T-shirt or their toothbrush, then tough shit, they are not going to scrub the mission for some minor inconvenience.

And a studio is not going to bend over backwards for ANY director, unless they are guaranteed a LOT of money in return for their investment.  Even then, no directer is God, any of them can be fired from a production if they piss off enough people, unless they have some of their own money in it, or have sought out independent financing and distribution.

Nolan still manages to make intelligent block busters that please a mainstream crowd and most of the nerds of the world.  He throws out thrilling action sequences that recall the best of Bond, Lethal Weapon or Die Hard, while giving us intellectually stimulating ideas and characters exploring themes of identity and existential angst comparable to The Matrix, Donnie Darko, Solaris, Dark City, Blade Runner, John Carpenter’s The Thing  or Bergman’s The Seventh Seal if you want to get fancy.

The most interesting comparison I read recently on Nolan’s ambitions as a director is that the author of The Prestige novel Christopher Priest says Nolan aims to be another Stanley Kubrick, but his strengths seem to to more in line with being an Alfred Hitchcock.

I don’t think that is an unfair comparison, and frankly I would rather see intelligent but understandable films in the Hitchcock style – than pretentious, sometimes incomprehensible (but no doubt still the work of a genius) films in the style of Kubrick.  Film geeks love Kubrick’s films, but outside of a couple of his films – like The Shining or Full Metal Jacket mainstream audiences don’t really engage with his work.

What he’s trying to be is some kind of modern Kubrick  And I think he’d be better off being a modern Hitchcock

Christopher Priest / author ‘The Prestige’

Of course, there are no limits to what cinematic legends Nolan can pilfer ideas from.  All good artists have multiple influences, there is no need to be pigeon-holed into being one type of director.  But I for one have no issue with Nolan being compared to Hitchcock in the sense that he makes intelligent thought provoking films that reach a mass audience.  Film making is a business that exists to make profit like any other, and if you are not seen promoting or selling  a film, then you are not really in the business.

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Accusations of Nolan repeating himself are totally unfounded

Kubrick made clever and complex films that often required an educated audience to appreciate, while Hitchcock made basically the same movie over and over, but with enough variety and above average clever-ness that it usually felt fresh and exciting, rather than boring, while still engaging  a mainstream audience.

Despite the topical contrast in Christopher Nolan’s films, he does makes the same basic films over and over.  The core idea expressed throughout his films, more than any other is about identity.  The ladies in his films don’t come off too well, most of them end up either killing themselves or being murdered, which leads to speculation by click baiting internet randoms that Nolan may be a woman hater.

Several of his female characters are man hating shrews who are out to kill the lead character.

My counter theory is that Christopher Nolan is more likely a film lover, particularly a lover of films by Alfred Hitchcock, who made no qualms about killing any character if it served the plot, or made for a dramatic moment.  I do not feel that Nolan is a woman hater, chauvinist or anything like that, and comments that suggest it are really just looking to create sensationalism to get clicks on websites to tabloid style articles of little depth or meaning.

As clever as Hitchcock’s films are, (and he is in my all time top ten of great directors) he managed to walk a line between commercial interests and art, leaning more towards what was commercial and popular, rather than what was clever or arty for the sake of it.  Hitchcock films put bums on seats, as do the best Nolan films.

If Nolan’s true strengths lie in being a modern day Hitchcock, mixed with some high concept intellectual ideas and deeper meanings in the style of Kubrick -well I hope that Nolan embraces that and that his next blockbuster will not only be intelligent, but will also put bums on seat without large amounts of plot holes.  But I also hope that any film he makes is never dumbed down for an audience.  Audiences are smarter than Hollywood thinks, dumbed down entertainment is just insulting.

The significant plot holes in films like The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar make repeat viewings of those films a tedious exercise in trying to ignore those glaring flaws.  I don’t mind a few mistakes here and there, but when there are too many it takes you out of the film.  The clever thing about Inception was, any flaws were potentially part of a dream, or there on purpose to throw you off, but I don’t know if I can be as forgiving of his other films.

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The International Squinting Competition was heating up

Ultimately motion pictures are a commercial medium, they always have been.  Some people manage to make art within that medium, but to pretend is has not always been a commercial medium is to bury one’s head in the sand.

Christopher Nolan has managed to defy the odds by creating big budget blockbuster films that also have brains.  He has his critics of course, and he is nowhere near perfect.  But he creates consistently entertaining films, and what more can you ask of any director?  Films are there primarily to entertain, any artistic expression or stimulating ideas or philosophy is a bonus feature, and a welcome one at that in the case of the Nolanverse.


Did you miss these other recent Chris Nolan Batman Trilogy Posts?

Why Christian Bale is the Batman Gotham Deserves

Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face: Gotham’s White Knight

15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

Heath Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance PART#2

Revisiting Heath Ledger’s Iconic Joker: A Masterclass in Villainous Acting

To me superhero comic books are not just stories.  They are windows into other worlds.

They are mad brilliant universes where the rules of physics don’t apply, where the impossible happens everyday.

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Worlds where a dude gets bitten by a radioactive Spider and instead of dying of radiation poisoning like a good chap, instead he can now jump around ten times his own height and crawl up walls, because… well, THAT makes sense.

Imaginary worlds where a baby in a rocket can land on planet earth and grows up to be a modern day Space Jesus who shoots laser beams out of his eyes.

Worlds where a child’s parents can die in cold blooded murder in front of his face, a baptism of blood.

The solution…  Booze, broads and pills!


Instead he gets really angry, dresses up like a giant bat and goes out punching crime in the face night after night terrorising the mob and saying  a healthy Fuck You to the cops when they try to stop you.  Of course it makes sense, it is only what any of us would do, wouldn’t we?

If comic books are windows, doorways to imaginary universes, then what are comic-book films?

To me, while still clearly fantasy, comic book movies are one step closer to the real world, that we live in.  We see actual people disappear into imaginary worlds made of real sets and locations, but somehow slightly askew.  If you think about it too long, your brain starts to hurt, so don’t do it kids, learn from my example!

These exaggerated hyper-worlds are imagineered to life through the magical conduit of special effects, camera tricks, false perspective and good old story telling.  We come to believe that these stories are somehow almost real.

That these fictional characters and events could almost be playing out in a parallel world one step removed from ours,  one that bends a little more to the realm of imagination, and doesn’t bother with the usual rules of a hard line material realm.

When we see Ledger’s Joker in Nolan’s Dark Knight film, it is NOT a performance, Heath Ledger the kind hearted endearing man who is spoken of with great affection by friends and family… goes a-way, and the… Jo-kerr… well, he .. now what was it he did… oh yeah..now I remember… he emerges from the existential void of chaos like the combined ghost of Travis Bickle, Tom Waits and Alex from A Clockwork Orange thrown into a blender set to crazy town.

Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance as the lunatic Joker is the most memorable screen villain in recent decades.  He takes a very silly character and makes him believably dangerous and truly frightening.  He makes a cartoonish two dimensional clown come to vivid life before our eyes, and the scary part is, he shows us his madness is not so mad.

That we could become like him with just a little push at the right time, a tiny bit of leverage applied in the right way, at the right time and OVER the edge of sanity we go, like Holmes and Moriarty tumbling over the Reichenbach Falls.


If Nietzsche had his Overman slash Superman, then what is Heath Ledger’s Joker but the opposite of that?  He is chaos and materialism personified.  He exits in a moral vacuum of his own creation and he insists that the essential element of the universe is chaos.  His living philosophy is that life has no meaning, just chaos, random events and morality is meaningless.

That there are no causes, divine plans, no consequences or purpose to anything.  Just an existential void where you can play paint by numbers at your leisure with the entrails of your best friend or your enemy.  It makes no difference what you do or why you do it, as there is no God, no final judgement, no scales of Justice nor  Karma, just free floating pure selfish egoism in a world of chaos where everybody takes what they can get while they can get it.

The Joker sees all this and laughs, not in desperation, but with mad puppy-dog like glee.  His god is chaos.  His reason is un-reason, as a trickster character like Loki or Pan, he is there to fuck with our beliefs and world view, and he thrives on attention, on dragging people down to his level.

He doesn’t want to see the world burn, so much as light the match that gets the process started.  He would rather somebody else like Batman or Harvey Dent lit that match, and his efforts to do anything are ultimately meaningless.

In a pack of cards, the Joker card is a placeholder.  The Joker card is Wild in that it can take the place of any other card, or be anything the players of the card game choose it to be.

The Joker card always matches or beats whatever it is against.  …For each character or group, the Joker has a different manner of speaking.

-Dean Trippe

Comic book creator Dean Trippe observed on his Batman Podcast The Bat Cast that some film critics of Ledger in The Dark Knight found his performance inconsistent.  Something that may not be obvious that Dean pointed out, is that the Joker is a wild card, not just symbolically but literally.

Watch any scene, and you will see Ledger adapt and change into different voices and intonations, his actions seem almost random.  But look closer, and you will see that Heath Ledger as the Joker embodies the idea that the Joker card can match any suit or trump any other card.

Ledger as the Joker matches or trumps the very characters he plays off of.  Whether the police, Batman or the mob, the Joker becomes whatever someone else needs him to become.  He is like a chameleon, hence his varied performance in The Dark Knight, which is clearly intentional rather than accidental as some film critics have implied.

Is the Joker even aware of his chameleon like nature?  There is no real way to know, but if you watch the film again, you will see it.  The way he changes up his behavior, mannerisms, tone of voice and false values, or lack of them to suit who he is dealing with in the moment.

It all adds something to the role that makes you appreciate the research, and attention to detail Heath Ledger put into the role.

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When Batman looked into the existential void after his parents death he decided to make sense of senselessness.  As an adult, he uses the death of his parents as fuel for transcendence. He still feels pain, he just doesn’t make pain into his identity as so many of us do.

Batman acknowledges his pain, loss and grief.  But he moves on and dedicates himself to the ideal of Justice.  He didn’t get there overnight.  He went through his own deeply perosonal dark knight of the soul, he went through chaos and despair, grief and pain, and over the years he emerged on the other side of that.  This deep psychological stuff is hard work, it is not easy, it is not something we can set goals for or plan for in any rational way.

Pain happens, despair happens, depression happens, and we deal with it the best way we know how, and no two people do it in the same way.

The Joker by contrast didn’t just stare into the abyss, he fell in love with it.  He made it his personal god and he jumped into the void head first, dancing and laughing all the way.

There are valid arguments about whether Joker is truly insane, or whether he just enjoys what he does and puts on the theatrics as a cover story for why he does what he does, why he is who he is.  Some would say he is not insane at all, he just loves killing people, causing pain and chaos wherever he goes.  He is in love with being the Joker.  He is the only sane man in an insane world.

There are no real boundaries to what the Joker would say or do. Nothing intimidates him, and everything is a big joke – Heath Ledger

The beauty of Ledger’s Joker is that just when we think we have him figured out, just when we think we have him pinned down – he wriggles away like a snake shedding its skin.  He is undefinable, incomprehensible and his world view is unfathomable.  To try to understand him with logic or reason is an exercise in futility.

The Joker is a true sociopath with no empathy, no reason, who only believes in chaos and no higher meaning to life.  His constant narcissistic retelling of his own self-invented fictional origin is a good example.  He relishes dramatising his own disturbing past for people.  He gets off on the drama of the performance.  Each time inventing a new fiction as to how he became who he is or who he pretends to be for the audience.

He relishes the sheer terror and faint hint of understanding in the eyes of his victims.  That faint hint of sympathy they may have for him is his version of a cat playing with a mouse.  The Joker just can’t help himself, he likes to PLAY with his food before he devours it.

At the end of film, we are still no closer than at the beginning to understanding the Joker, nor his motivations.  He is a wild card, and each game means he holds a different value, a different role to play.  And he knows he plays a role, because life is a game to him, a big cosmic joke.  A twisted, demented game, but a game none the less.

There are elements of the Joker’s personality and habits that appeal to us, that are fun.  Ledger is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying as the clown prince of crime.  It can be fun to give in to our dark side, it can be fun to say fuck you to the world, and do things our own way.  It can be a vicarious thrill to not just self-destruct but pull others down to our level.

But unless we are willing to embrace madness or give ourselves over to true nihilism, most of us will eventually crash and burn.  Our darker self will stop being fun, we will cease to be agents of chaos, and instead will be slaves to whatever random impulse enters our sphere of influence on any given day, we become unthinking impulse driven animals, and it is a long climb back to normality from that place of spiritual unconsciousness.

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We can learn from our own dark side, and it is something in us that can not be denied.  To deny we have these impulses is to deny our very existence.  Instead we can make peace with those impulses and feelings, and find a way to express them without destroying ourselves or those around us.  I explored this idea more in depth in a previous article

I am Vengeance I am the Night Exploring the dark Psyche of Batman

Heath Ledger’s role  if you can call it that, because he IS the Joker, he inhabits him from the inside out.  Heath as the Joker became the role of his life.  He really knocked it out of the park, and he will always be remembered for that role. He is iconic, hilarious, terrifying and above all – entertaining.  While I will have more to say about him in future posts about The Dark Knight, let’s end this post with a quote from Heath himself on the role he loved.

It’s a combination of reading all the comic books I could that were relevant to the script and then just closing my eyes and meditating on it,

I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts. He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown, and Chris has given me free rein. Which is fun, because there are no real boundaries to what The Joker would say or do. Nothing intimidates him, and everything is a big joke

-Heath Ledger / EMPIRE Magazine Interview

Did you miss part #1 of this article?  Well delay no further dear reader, read the 15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary Joker Performance now!

15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

It’s the second stinking hot summer month of 2015 here in Perth, Australia, and I have already watched Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight three times so far.

The Dark Knight is a film I find endlessly rewarding on each repeat viewing, for ONE main reason.  Can you guess what that is?

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The initial fever-like frenzy that surrounded the cinematic release was the kind of buzz that normally I ignore.  Take for example all the hype for the upcoming Batman v Superman film.

It is the film I most want to see, but read NOTHING about online,

…because I don’t want to know what will happen.

I’ve subscribed to Empire (the film review magazine) for over five years now, and devour each monthly review of new films.

But in the lead up to The Dark Knight, I read not one of their articles, nor their review of The Dark Knight, at least not until AFTER I had seen the film.

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Chris Nolan films are films that I truly savor, and look forward to.  I want to know as little as possible about them, other than the cast or the general setting.  In this way I can enjoy the films on my own terms, and not have them ruined by plot spoilers or tainted by caustic reviews.

Watching The Dark Knight (and the other two Nolan Bat-verse) films this month has got me all nostalgic, so I thought why not do a series of articles on the films, looking at the good, the bad and the ugly.

As much as I love the Nolan Batman Trilogy (which is not really a trilogy at all, I’ll tell you why later…) they are not without flaws, especially the giant plot holes in The Dark Knight Rises, which somehow manages to be a decent film, despite the MANY logical flaws and inconsistencies, leaving it an uneven film at best.

Well, there is no rush, I’ve got old cast interviews to read from all three films, in character publicity photos to drool over and some pondering to do before getting into the meat of things (in upcoming articles).   But in the mean time, let’s start with 15 great quotes about Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in Chris Nolan’s film, from popular press reviews of The Dark Knight.  

Because Heath Ledger’s phenomenal performance as the Joker is easily my biggest highlight of the Nolanverse Batman films.

I love acting. Oh, God, I love it. But all this fame and all this bullshit attention. I’m not supernatural. I’ve done nothing extremely special to deserve the position. It happens every couple of years, and it’s happened to hundreds of people before me.  – Heath Ledger / Newsweek

“Batman” isn’t a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. It creates characters we come to care about. That’s because of the performances, because of the direction, because of the writing, and because of the superlative technical quality of the entire production. This  film, and to a lesser degree “Iron Man,” redefine the possibilities of the “comic-book movie.”

– Roger Ebert

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“Even without Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, Christopher Nolan’s pitch-black sequel to BATMAN BEGINS (2005) would be a tour de force. But Ledger’s mesmerizingly damaged agent provocateur is the film’s dark heart, a presence so malevolently unpredictable that it remains palpable even when he’s not on screen.”

“That Ledger stands out in such a powerhouse ensemble is a tribute to his radically unhinged interpretation of a familiar character: The lank hair tinged seaweed green, the darting tongue and faint lisp that call constant attention to the ghastly rictus of his mouth, the nightmarishly smudged make up… taken together, they make previous Jokers feel like, well, jokes.”

– Maitland McDonagh / TV Guide

“Actors are sometimes described as “disappearing into a role.” Never was that term more fitting than in the case of Ledger…  

With his cracked white pancake makeup, black-rimmed eyes, smeared lipstick and greasy, greenish-tinged hair, The Joker bears no resemblance to the strikingly handsome actor who played him. In fact, the character is like nothing we’ve seen or heard before.

Sure, there’s a whiff of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange in the performance, but Ledger has made this anarchic maniac a singular and supremely unhinged villain. From the clumsily repellant way he flips his tongue around to his sneering, nasal voice, he is a peerless eccentric.”

– Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

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“Ledger is so horrifically riveting you can’t take your eyes off of him.

In Gotham City, crime is the force that never ends, and the arrival of the maniacal Joker (Ledger) is a manifestation of its most anarchic impulses.

With his butchered face resembling a wrinkled finger wrapped in a Band-Aid for too long, his love of chaos drives the Joker to take giddy pleasure from dragging everyone down to his murderous level.”

– Joe Neumaier / NY Daily News

“In The Dark Knight, nothing is nearly so cut-and-dried. Whereas the radicalized Ra’s, with his arsenal of dirty bombs and his urge to eradicate Western “decadence,” was a supervillain of the sort that anyone who reads the papers has been conditioned to expect, the Joker of The Dark Knight is all the more terrifying for not having a plan or an identifiable motive.

A committed anarchist in a dusting of floury foundation, a smear of crimson lipstick, and pools of Louise Brooks eye shadow, this Joker isn’t the ebullient prankster of Batman movies (and TV shows) past, but rather a freakishly disturbing embodiment of those destructive human impulses that can’t so easily be explained away.

His only rule is to show others the folly of rules, the absurdity of striving to impose order upon chaos. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” observes the ever-wise butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Except that this Joker doesn’t merely want to watch; he wants to strike the match.”

– Scott Foundas / Village Voice

“His Joker is wonderfully textured, with a weird lip-smacking facial tic and a shoulder-hunching gait. He’s also very funny—a funniness that has more to do with timing than with the usual villainous catchphrases.”

– Dana Stevens / Slate

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“Batman’s stature as a radical symbol of good has invited a more sinister criminal presence to Gotham City — and, as seen in the crackerjack bank-robbery sequence that opens the pic, one who operates in terrifyingly unpredictable ways.

Utterly indifferent to simple criminal motivations like greed, Ledger’s maniacally murderous Joker is as pure an embodiment of irrational evil as any in modern movies.

He’s a pitiless psychopath who revels in chaos and fears neither pain nor death, a demonic prankster for whom all the world’s a punchline.”

– Variety

“Ledger’s Joker is every bit as disturbing as he is disturbed — tongue-flickingly reptilian, and yet disarmingly commonsensical in the way he relies on the dark side of human nature to aid him in wreaking havoc.

He uses crowd psychology to endanger crowds, subverts legal niceties (wait till you see what he does with that one phone call he’s allowed when arrested), and greets the perpetually self-doubting Batman as a fellow damaged soul.

It’s a heart- stoppingly unpredictable performance, haunted by the audience’s knowledge of Ledger’s death earlier this year — and rendering even darker what has to be as dark a superhero fantasy as Hollywood is likely to produce any time soon.

Regardless, the real relationship here is between a Batman in existential crisis and a Joker who’d love to leap with him into the abyss tight-assed yin and anarchist yang in a fantasy franchise that Nolan (in concert with his scriptwriting brother Jonathan) has made as riveting for its psychological heft as for the adrenaline rushes it inspires at regular intervals.”

– Bob Mondello / NPR

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“Bale, all steely reserve, once again captivates as the haunted caped crusader who must shed morality to beat the devil at his game.

But just as Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was anchored by the joy-buzzer glee of Jack Nicholson’s party-down Joker, The Dark Knight takes its cue from its Joker and his deadly circus of chaos. Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing, scary-funny performance begins with the creepiness of his image: the greasy long hair, the makeup that looks as if he’d drawn it on with crayons, then messed it with tears.

That ghostly rotting paint job covers his scarred smile (explained by a backstory that gives you the willies, even if he just made it up), and the disturbing thing is that when Ledger’s Joker talks, with those ”Ehhh, what’s up, Doc?” vowels that make him sound like Al Franken crossed with a nerdish pedophile, you realize that the icky sloshing sound you hear is him sucking on his cheeks; he uses his attachment to those scars to fuel his sadistic (and masochistic) whims.

This Joker may be a torture freak, but he also has a lost quality, a melancholy hidden within those black-circled eyes. He turns slaughter into a punchline; he’s a homicidal comedian with an audience of one — himself.”

– Owen Gleiberman / Entertainment Weekly

“And then, of course, there is the Joker, whose wide smile has been carved into his face. He’s a slapstick gargoyle. When Jack Nicholson played the Joker, his campiness was only one step removed from the giggles of the old “Batman” TV series.

By contrast, Ledger doesn’t offer the audience the slightest glimmer of hope or hilarity. His motto is a sick-joke variant on Nietzsche: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.” Nietzsche had it as “stronger,” and that applies to the Joker as well: He’s fortified by awfulness.

He can’t get enough of it, and nothing – not wealth or fame or anything else – will buy him off. As Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine) puts it, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

– Peter Rainer / The Christian Science Monitor

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“I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker. Miles from Jack Nicholson’s broadly funny take on the role in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, Ledger takes the role to the shadows, where even what’s comic is hardly a relief.

No plastic mask for Ledger; his face is caked with moldy makeup that highlights the red scar of a grin, the grungy hair and the yellowing teeth of a hound fresh out of hell. To the clown prince of crime, a knife is preferable to a gun, the better to “savor the moment.”

– Peter Travers / Rolling Stone

“That would be the Joker, of course, a demonic creation and three-ring circus of one wholly inhabited by Heath Ledger.

Mr. Ledger died in January at age 28 from an accidental overdose, after principal photography ended, and his death might have cast a paralyzing pall over the film if the performance were not so alive.

But his Joker is a creature of such ghastly life, and the performance is so visceral, creepy and insistently present that the characterization pulls you in almost at once.

When the Joker enters one fray with a murderous flourish and that sawed-off smile, his morbid grin a mirror of the Black Dahlia’s ear-to-ear grimace, your nervous laughter will die in your throat.”

– Manohla Dargis / NY Times

“Admittedly, when Ledger died I was a bit perplexed at the plaudits for a guy who had a couple of above average performances under his belt, but his Joker is almost perfect. Forgotten are the clowning geriatrics of Jack Nicholson’s version, for Ledger makes the Joker his, imbuing the character with such menace and genuine insanity I finally got a sense of what talent he really had.”

– Pete Vonder Haar / Film Threat

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“But the performance that you will remember for years is Ledger’s as the Joker.

Stepping from behind the shadows of Jack Nicholson’s Joker of 1989 (and, briefly, into the red fright wig of Cesar Romero’s TV version), Ledger is a terrifying, unpredictable presence, his shoulders rigid, his head hanging like the business end of a mallet, his fingers splaying about menacingly, his mouth pursed or spewing sneers or little smacking sounds that nauseate as much as they frighten.

Denied any sort of back story, more clever by yards than his pursuers, this Joker is like a dream of irrational evil, a terrorist without a cause, a man without a soul, a nightmare looking for minds to inhabit and discovering that he’s only happy inhabiting all of them.”

–  Heidi Williams / The Oregonian

“One shot, in particular, crystallizes everything that Ledger and Nolan were working for in “The Dark Knight.” It’s a shot that deserves to be anthologized, YouTube-ized and immortalized: The Joker is in the foreground, walking toward the camera, playing (and really, that’s the only word) with a bomb detonator.

Huge explosions are going on behind him as he walks toward us, stiff and happy and hobbling, like a toddler. He’s a child, and this is pure id. At the heart of existence isn’t creation, but chaos.”

– SFGate

“Two hours and 32 minutes long, “The Dark Knight” is grimly magisterial. It’s a summer blockbuster that contemplates near- total civic disaster: Crowds surge, tractor-trailers flip, and buildings explode, but the pop violence feels heavy, mournful.

Yet flitting through this 10-ton expressionist murk is a diseased butterfly with stringy hair and a maniacal giggle. Played by a dead actor, he’s the most alive thing here. – Ty Burr

Light barely escapes the film’s gravitational pull.

It’s not quite fair to say that the late Heath Ledger steals “The Dark Knight” from Christian Bale and the forces of (problematic) good, but, as the Joker, he is the movie’s animating principle and anarchic spark – an unstoppable force colliding with the immovable objects of Batman and director Christopher Nolan’s ambitions.

Much more serious in intent and message than 2005’s “Batman Begins,” “Dark Knight” would be fatally ponderous without Ledger’s nasty little sprite. As it is, the movie strains at its own Wagnerian seams.”

– Ty Burr / Boston (dot)com

And in case you were wondering, the deliriously delicious publicity photos are the property of Warner Brothers, they can be found online by searching for Heath Ledger Joker publicity photos.  Do check them out, as they are many beautiful high resolution photos from the same shoot that look even more spectacular at the full size resolution.

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