Sequels rarely live up to expectations, but I am pleased to report that this film is actually superior to Batman Begins. Batman Begins was good; excellent, even. But this one is great. The first movie had to deal with all the set-up business: how Batman became Batman, etc. In this one he’s still dealing with some of that, but it’s much more about him as a “real” crime-fighter. In this one the Joker is the arch-villain and his goal is simply to bring chaos to the city. That randomness and illogic is confusing to Batman and makes the Joker hard to stop: he does not have the same goals as regular criminals. I really liked the gradual build-up: the Joker seemingly is almost harmless at the start, but only later are we shown how evil and vile he really is. Such subtle evil suits his character perfectly; it is masterfully done. The late Heath Leger seemed like a bizarre casting choice to me, but he is excellent (and he’ll probably win the Oscar just out of sympathy). He brings a shrill hysteria to the role that is superb, along with an eerie calmness, grinning manically through his caked on clown makeup, that convinces you that he is psychotic. This is definitely not the silly Joker from the TV series. This guy is deadly and wickedly cruel.
I don’t want to spoil the plot much by revealing too many details, but I will just say that the conclusion is fantastic. Essentially Batman takes on the sins of another in order to hide the truth and protect the city from self-destruction. He knows that doing this will make people hate him, and it will mean he’s now a true vigilante, with the police trying to hunt him down as well as the bad guys. But that’s a price he’s willing to pay: he understands that that is the purpose and advantage of a faceless Batman, that he can be whatever people need him to be (hero, villain, weirdo, etc.). This conclusion fits in perfectly with the rest of the movie in which Bruce Wayne wrestles with the idea of revealing his identity. What bigger hero is there than a man who’s willing to be hated in order to save lives?
I loved this film. I liked the first one, but this tops it by a wide margin, and that’s saying a lot.