It’s six days before the new “Dark Knight” trailer is officially supposed to premiere online as part of an intricate viral-marketing game, and already the bat’s out of the bag. For all those who weren’t invited to the Joker’s mad party, we went through the trailer shot by shot to reveal what it portends for the Caped Crusader.
(Time codes count up from the beginning.)
0:08: The trailer begins with a rotating helicopter shot of Batman high above Gotham City. The Batman-as-stone-gargoyle image has always been one of the character’s most iconic — and has been seen in some form in nearly every incarnation. It is an archetypal image of the protector, a grotesque meant to scare away evil.
0:14: Another view of Batman from high atop his perch.
0:16: No man of stone, the Dark Knight leaps from the precipice into …
0:18: … an explosion of blue flame, which dissipates into an image of the Batman logo.
0:21: “Where do we begin?” the Joker asks in a voiceover as the camera flies through the streets of Gotham.
0:24: “A year ago, these cops and lawyers wouldn’t dare cross any of you,” the Joker continues to a consortium of mob bosses, as images of cop Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) and lawyer Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) flash onscreen. The quick shot of Dent at 0:31 is our first real look at the character, as he appeared only briefly (and seated) in the first trailer.
0:29: “I mean, what happened?” the Joker asks. Well, of course, Batman happened. Naturally, this is shown with two quick shots, one of the Tumbler and one of Bruce Wayne.
Even more than the introduction to the first trailer , which I called “especially inspired” when it premiered, this introduction really cements the theme of escalation that was foreshadowed at the end of “Batman Begins.” “We get semiautomatic weapons, they get automatics. We get Kevlar body armor, they get armor-piercing rounds,” Gordon said to Batman. Here we see just what that escalation means for the criminals of Gotham — driven underground by the Bat, they band together, putting their faith in a man whom, as Alfred (Michael Caine) said in the first teaser, “they don’t truly understand.”
0:32: “So what are you proposing?” a boss asks the Joker. “It’s simple: Kill the Batman,” he responds. His directive is quickly followed by shots of general chaos, first the dispersal of a crowded street and then an explosion.
It isn’t narratively interesting that one of the Joker’s aims in this film is to kill Batman. Big deal. Even if we hadn’t seen the earlier trailer, we’d feel reasonably certain that these two great titans would come to blows sooner rather than later. They always do.
But what’s thematically interesting — and what proves how solid a grasp director Chris Nolan and company have on the character — is that the Joker’s grand declaration isn’t followed by shots of close combat (those come later), but violent anarchy. This has always been the Joker’s greatest mission and what makes him such a great foil for the Dark Knight. Regardless of his other personal failings, Batman has always been a model of control, of law and order. The Joker becomes Batman’s greatest foe by challenging that rigidity. His laugh, his costume, his methods are all rebukes to Batman’s very core. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” Alfred said in the first teaser.
0:43: The sequence is perfectly punctuated with an aside: “Here’s my card,” the Joker says, holding up a playing card. What, you thought he was going to get a professional print job?
0:46: The trailer shifts to the same party we saw in the first trailer. “Bruce, this is Harvey Dent,” Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) says, giving us our first extended moment between these two soon-to-be friends. “Rachel’s told me everything about you,” Dent politely opens. “I certainly hope not,” Bruce responds, a sly smile across his face. What could it be that he hopes she hasn’t revealed? Oh, right, she knows his secret identity.
0:54: “You once told me that we would be together,” Bruce reminds Rachel. “Did you mean it?” “Bruce, don’t make me your only hope for a normal life,” she responds. The theme of a hero giving up his love life for the sake of strangers in trouble is familiar in comic book fiction — so familiar it’s even been somewhat snidely called “The Spiderman Principal,” due to the archetype displayed by Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson at the end of that series’ first film. It works again and again, because a person’s willingness to sacrifice nobly what he wants most is often what defines a hero.
Despite his well-documented philandering, what has always separated Batman from other heroes is that he generally doesn’t have a desire for a normal life, or at least acknowledges that it’s a strict impossibility. He’s too angry, too distrustful of all people to make it work. Just as we saw Batman trying out his suit in the first film, stumbling and falling his way into who he is, here we see him crashing and burning with Rachel. He’ll learn.
1:02: And he’ll learn quickly, thanks to a budding romance between Dawes and Dent. When I interviewed Eckhart at the Independent Spirit Awards, he hinted that Bruce and Harvey share “certain things,” and I speculated that what he was referring to was a love for Dawes. Here is confirmation of that fact.
1:04: “You’re Alfred, right? Any psychotic ex-boyfriends I should be aware of?” Dent asks, digging for information on Rachel. “Oh, you have no idea,” Alfred quips, obviously alluding to Bruce. Don’t be fooled by the smile — Alfred’s not joking. Bruce’s mission — dressing up as a bat to fight crime — is inherently insane. That’s another reason he and the Joker have always been so well matched; they are two sides to the same coin. “You had a bad day too, once, didn’t you?” the Joker asked Batman in “The Killing Joke,” a graphic novel that Nolan and Ledger used as a basis for their particular portrayal.
1:12: To underscore the connection, here’s the man himself. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” the Joker cackles while firing a gun. “We’re tonight’s entertainment,” he says, as clowned goons enter the party.
1:18: “Well, hello, beautiful. You look nervous,” he says to Dawes, brandishing a knife.
1:24: Another shot of Batman the protector, high above the city. “I’ve seen now what I have to become to fight men like him.” Escalation!
1:30: “The night is darkest just before the dawn,” Dent says during a press conference. Why this isn’t the movie’s tagline baffles me, since it’s obviously a play on words for night/knight, and especially pertinent with Bruce’s previous quote. Coupled together, and coming not 30 seconds after Rachel’s verbal smackdown, these statements are our clearest indication yet that things will get a lot, lot worse before they get better — for Harvey, for Gotham, but especially for Batman.
1:35: “I promise you, the dawn is coming,” he concludes. As explosions rock the city, we could add, “But not yet and maybe not for a long time.”
1:40: The Joker, recognizing a challenge when he sees one, rises to meet it. “And here we go,” he casually declares.
1:46: Chaos, explosions, the Batpod, machine-gun fire and the smashing of the Bat Signal are highlights in this montage. “This city deserves a better class of criminal, and I’m gonna give it to them,” the Joker says. “You’ll see, I’ll show ‘em.”
1:56: Is it dawn yet? “Noooooo!” Dent screams.
1:57: Another fast-paced montage — the Tumbler, a bazooka, car chases and more explosions.
2:04: Gordon is restrained by other officers. Meanwhile, Dent flashes a gun.
2:05: “You either die the hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” Dent insists.
On its surface, Dent’s assertion is a fairly overt reference to the fact that he will eventually become Two-Face, another scourge of Gotham City. But it’s also a succinct and encapsulating metaphor for nearly every character in the film, including himself, the Joker and particularly Batman. What separates the heroes from the villains? Where is the line? Is Batman a vigilante who should be discouraged, or a crime fighter who should be supported? A lot, of course, depends on your particular point of view. But notice the scenes immediately before Dent’s proclamation: Gordon being restrained, Dent flashing a gun. The lines are not — and have never been — clearly defined in the Batman mythos. Good guys and bad guys? Mr. Dent, they’re just two sides of the same coin.
“The Dark Knight” opens July 18.
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