This movie was well received for two reasons. First, it was a highly anticipated sequel to a very successful movie. Second, it centred on a pop culture villain that is only slightly less popular than Darth Vader. Add in a very good interpretation of that villain by Heath Ledger and it was destined to be remembered as better than it was. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead but, if Ledger hadn’t passed away shortly after this movie, it would still be remembered as a good performance. But it wouldn’t have the legendary status that it has received as his swansong legacy.
Again, I don’t want to take anything away from it because the performance is top notch. We’re used to the Joker being a real clown with no basis in reality. Instead, Ledger seemed to take Jack Nicholson’s Joker from the 1990 Batman, threw in some Johnny Depp inspiration and made him devoid of any morality. The end result is a sociopath that just wants to make the world a worse place. The only problem I had with the performance was that, about halfway through, Ledger started constantly licking his lips for some unexplained reason. That was very distracting. I also didn’t care for the teasing of the audience with him “explaining” how he got the scars. In a genre of film where character background is so important, they took a big one and completely changed it from the canon. But that isn’t Ledger’s fault. He took what was written and made it chilling.
It’s the fault of the writing and film making in general. I really think Christopher Nolan dropped the ball on this one. The writing and story is a not even thinly veiled commentary on giving up civil liberties in the face of terrorism. The absolute preachiness of this film made it difficult to watch. Then, there’s the model of Gotham itself. Nolan took a city that he portrayed as dark, cramped and depraved in Batman Begins and made it a much lighter and less congested Chicago (oops … I mean … Gotham). I believe he was trying to show how the city was digging itself out of hell but the change is just so drastic for a period of one year. It also really takes away from the continuity of the series. That’s something almost unforgivable when both movies are made and written by the same director.
Finally, with the exception of Ledger, the acting is quite poor. Christian Bale took his annoying gravelly voice of Batman from the first one and managed to make it even more difficult to listen to and believe. It was almost as if the new suit Fox made for him was cutting off circulation to his brain. Then, they decide to bring in one of the worst big name actors Hollywood has in Aaron Eckhart to play Harvey Dent. The combination results in very forced and cheesy dialogue, especially when any kind of emotion from either Batman or Dent is involved.
It needs to be seen if you want to watch the trilogy. But, if you want to watch a stand-alone movie, don’t see it. There’s nothing better in the action or story to make it stand out from Batman Begins. The great performance from Ledger is outweighed by the poor film making and political agenda.