It’s no laughing matter: The first trailer for “The Dark Knight” is not only a great tease, it’s also a great way to figure out all the details of one of the most eagerly anticipated films of next year. We walked through the film shot by shot to see what Nolan and company are up to. Time codes count down from the beginning, corresponding to the trailer on MTV.com, so watch along with us.
-1:53: Beginning over a black screen and continuing over footage of Batman in various states of action and repose — riding the Batpod(-1:51), sitting alone in obvious pain (-1:46), looking out from a tall building (-1:41), etc. — the Joker taunts the Dark Knight: “You’ve changed things. Forever. There’s no going back. See, to them you’re just a freak … like me!”
Using this quote as an introduction to “Dark Knight” footage is especially inspired for three reasons: First, it hearkens back directly to the speech Lieutenant Gordon gives at the very end of “Batman Begins.” “What about escalation?” he asks. “We get semiautomatic weapons; they get automatics. We get Kevlar body armor; they get armor-piercing rounds.” Writer David Goyer told MTV News that “Dark Knight” would be about escalation as much as the first film was about fear. Things are bad in Gotham, and they’re about to get a whole lot worse before they get better.
Second, the very choice of words here is important. “Freak,” the Joker calls him. As just about everybody knows, Batman is a hero. But what of the people of Gotham? Recall that at the end of “Begins,” Batman saves the day by scaring the bejesus out of half the population. It’s clear within the first few seconds of the trailer, as Batman lands on a car and destroys it, that his own culpability will be a major theme of “Dark Knight.”
The “like me” serves as the perfect exclamation point. “And you’re wearing a mask and jumping off rooftops,” Gordon said, again at the end of “Begins.” “Take this guy [the Joker] — has a taste for theatrics, like you.” The Joker and Batman have always been two sides of the same coin. “You had a bad day too, once, didn’t you?” the Joker asks Batman in “The Killing Joke,” a graphic novel that Nolan and Ledger said they used as a basis for their particular portrayal. Batman’s underlying motive is inherently insane — dressing up as a bat to fight criminals. By pointing out the absurdity of the whole affair — and of life — the Joker serves as the perfect nemesis. The joke’s on Batman.
-1:51: Our first shot of the Batpod in action. When designs for the motorcycle first leaked, many complained that it looked too bulky, too unwieldy and dangerous to actually be an efficient vehicle. It looks sleek in motion.
-1:33: Our first shot of the Joker, a long shot of him standing alone in the city streets as we hear the voiceover: “Like me!”
-1:31: A huge explosion rocks a building, blowing it to smithereens. Notice here, and in other explosion shots peppered throughout the trailer, that there is no expository setup for any of the carnage. We see nonspecific buildings, nonspecific cars, etc. This is a very deliberate narrative choice to give audiences the impression that there is no method to the Joker’s madness. This is a crucial part of Ledger’s portrayal. His Joker is an anarchist. As Alfred says in the first “Dark Knight” teaser trailer, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” These explosions don’t seem surgical; they seem designed to inflict the maximum amount of damage, regardless of the collateral cost.
-1:27: A deck of Joker cards burns as Ledger gives us our first taste of the villain’s maniacal laugh. It’s a doozy. Remember that in his own mind, the Joker is the only sane man in an insane world. His smile, his clown makeup, his name — they are all an ironic attempt to point out the sheer absurdity of everyday life. The laugh, then, has always been one of the most terrifying aspects of the character. Ledger nails it here, sounding slightly schizophrenic and going on for a little too long. “Remember that the last laugh is on you,” he seems to be saying with every breath.
-1:22: The camera pans past a rooftop sniper, aiming his gun at a mass of protesters walking on the street below. We know that, in the wake of Carmine Falcone’s (Tom Wilkinson) incarceration in “Begins,” rival mobs have begun fighting over Gotham. We know that they turn to the Joker, a “man they don’t fully understand,” to unite them. We know that violence escalates because of Batman. This is the first taste we get that the citizens of Gotham are turning against their hero.
-1:20: “Wadda we got?” an unnamed police man asks Gordon. “Nothing,” he responds. “No name. No other alias. Clothing is custom. Nothing in his pocket but knives and lint.” The Joker is one of the most iconic villains of all time, but by way of a second character introduction, they don’t get much better than this. By pointing out what the Joker doesn’t have, we again see how he exists outside of society’s rules. No name. No wallet. No identification. No store-bought clothing. No phone or money. Absolutely nothing that could tie him to the world at large. Horrifying.
-1:18: Pan up on the Joker behind bars, obviously in custody. We have no idea when in the movie this occurs, but we can reasonably assume it happens early. He must, therefore, break out.
-1:13: Shot of the Joker’s knives. There appear to be too many for one man to fit on his person.
-1:11: The trailer’s first money shot: our first in-film look at how Nolan and team have realized the Joker’s makeup. “Evening, Commissioner,” he sneers. (As far as we know, Gordon is not the commissioner yet in the Batman universe. He was a lieutenant at the end of “Begins.”) The “realistic” makeup is chilling, not the least of all because of Ledger’s “Glasgow Smile.” (His lips and cheeks are cut horizontally to give a scarring appearance of a a smile.)
-1:04: The Joker grabs a man’s face and screams his early catchphrase: “Why so serious?!” Paradoxically, what’s interesting about this brief scene isn’t what the Joker says, but to whom the Joker says it. He appears to be grabbing the head of a black man. There’s a possibility it’s Michael Jai White, who is playing a mob boss named Gamble. More tantalizing, however, is the possibility that it is Colin McFarlane, who played Commissioner Loeb in “Begins.” Could it be that the Joker is about to execute the chief of police, paving the way for Gordon to rise to the top? We think so.
-1:02: Another explosion rocks the city.
-1:01: The Joker hangs dangerously outside a car window.
-0:57: The Joker fires a bazooka into the city. A brief moment, this is yet another deft character touch from Nolan and Ledger. Notice how clumsily the Joker handles the weapon. This is because the character, at heart, is something of a gentleman criminal. The most “personal” way to kill someone, after all, is by stabbing them. That doesn’t mean that he won’t use whatever’s most readily available and likely to cause the most damage.
-0:54: Our first extended shot of Bruce Wayne begins a montage. The billionaire playboy pleads with Alfred (“What would you have me do?”), and the butler’s advice is intercut with scenes of general mayhem. “You can beat the outcast,” Alfred says. “You can make the choice that no one else can face. The right choice. Gotham needs you.”
As with the first voiceover, the overlay here also accomplishes two simultaneous goals. It shows a weak Batman, questioning his very existence. Should he go on fighting crime, when doing so may actually cause more crime? The scenes of chaos on the streets also reinforce why Batman is indecisive — because the people of the city are turning on him. Even Gordon joins in, busting the Bat Signal with an ax (-0:50).
-0:44: Our first shot of Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes, the role previously played by Katie Holmes.
-0:43: Our first shot of the tumbler in action.
-0:42: The Joker, with a machine gun (again notice how awkwardly he holds the weapon), enters a fundraiser, where he immediately moves toward Dawes to hold her hostage. This is the first point in the trailer where it becomes obvious what we don’t see: namely, District Attorney Harvey Dent. [Editor’s note: Upon further inspection, we’ve noticed that Dent (Aaron Eckhart) does in fact appear for an instant in this scene.]
-0:39: Rachel knees the Joker. “A little fight in you,” he says. “I like that.” Pay careful attention to the way Ledger smacks his lips. It would be terrifying enough if he just wanted to kill her, but he seems to want something more. This could be a plot point in the film.
-0:35: “Then you’re going to love me,” Batman says, punching the Joker.
-0:33: First shot of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), presumably showing Batman a new gadget. “Now that’s more like it, Mr. Wayne,” he says.
-0:31: There appears to be a method to the Joker’s madness, even if his ultimate goal is nothing more than pure anarchy. He claps twice, once at the beginning of this montage, and once at the end, bookending the wanton chaos and destruction in between, as if …
-0:22: “It’s all part of the plan,” he cackles.
-0:20: Armed with a machine gun, the Joker walks down the street. We see he’s playing a high-stakes game of chicken with Batman, who’s racing down the alley on his Batpod. (“C’mon! Hit me!” he taunts.) Who will blink first? It’s obviously Batman, who veers away and crashes his bike in a vicious fall to avoid killing the Joker. The sequence echoes the beginning of the trailer. “Yes, I am a freak,” might be Batman’s response to the Joker. “But not quite like you!”
-0:13: “Let’s put a smile on that face!”
-0:11: Last shot of the Joker, and fade.
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