The second installment of the Dark Knight Trilogy was inspired by the Joker’s first comic-book appearance in Batman Vol. 1 #1 in 1940, the later graphic novel The Killing Joke, and the 1996 series The Long Halloween.
In the film, a gang of criminals rob the Gotham City Mob Bank, killing each other until only the Joker (Heath Ledger) remains, and he walks off with the money. Batman (Christian Bale), DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) form an alliance to end organized crime in Gotham. Bruce Wayne supports Dent’s career, hoping that he will clean up Gotham and Bruce can stop being Batman.
Mob bosses, notably Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts), Gambol (Michael Jai White), and the Chechen Mob videoconference with their accountant Lau (Chin Han), who is in Hong Kong. They are interrupted by the Joker, offering to kill Batman for half their money. They accept after the Joker kills Gambol and takes over his mob. Batman goes to Hong Kong, literally grabs Lau in spectacular fashion, and brings him back to Gotham to testify. Dent arrests the entire mob. The Joker kills the police commissioner, the judge presiding over the trial, and the mayor. The next target is Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the crusading assistant DA who is going out with Dent and who Bruce Wayne has loved since they were children.
Bruce decides to reveal his identity, but Dent says he is Batman. Dent is taken into protective custody, but the Joker attacks the police convoy. Batman comes to the rescue and Gordon, who faked his death, arrests the Joker and becomes Commissioner. Rachel and Dent are escorted by police, but the police are on Maroni’s payroll and the couple disappears. Batman interrogates the Joker, who tells him they are wired to explosives at separate locations. Batman sets out to rescue Rachel and Gordon sets out to rescue Dent. Batman arrives at the location but finds Dent there instead of Rachel. Both buildings explode, killing Rachel and destroying half of Harvey Dent’s face. The Joker escapes with Lau and kills him.
An accountant with Wayne Enterprises named Coleman Reese (Joshua Harto) figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman and tries to go public. As this might interfere with his plans, the Joker threatens to destroy a hospital unless Reese is killed. Gordon evacuates all the hospitals and goes to protect Reese. The Joker gives Dent a gun and talks him into taking revenge for Rachel’s death, then destroys the hospital and escapes with a bus full of hostages. Dent, formerly a beloved hero of the city, calls himself Two-Face and goes on a killing spree, flipping his lucky coin to decide people’s fate. The Joker blows up the city’s bridges and the populace flee the city on ferries.
The Joker announces that Gotham will be his by midnight and rigs two ferries with explosives. One is carrying prisoners and one civilians. He has provided each ferry with the detonator to the other, and if the detonators are not used, he will blow them both at midnight. With the help of Lucius Fox, Batman finds the Joker by tracking his phone. Both the prisoners and the civilians refuse to kill each other. Batman apprehends the Joker. Gordon and Batman arrive at the building where Rachel died and find Two-Face, who is holding Gordon’s family hostage. He shoots Batman and threatens Gordon’s son. Before he flips his coin, Batman, who was wearing body armor, throws Two-Face off the building to his death. Batman talks Gordon into blaming him for the deaths and preserving Dent’s image. Dent is hailed as a hero and the police search for Batman. Gordon destroys the bat-signal.
Joker’s chalk-white face and red smile are mostly the result of makeup and not toxicity, as is traditional. Somehow, this makes the Joker seem more psychopathic. To prepare, Heath Ledger livid alone in a hotel room for six weeks. He directed and shot the Joker’s threatening videos himself. Ledger died of an accidental overdose after the film was done, and it was dedicated to him and to Conway Wickliffe, a stuntman who was killed in a car-crash. Gotham City was recognizably Chicago, with many well-known buildings visible. Filming also took place at Piccadilly Circus in London and in Hong Kong.
The film opened on 18 July 2008 and broke box-office records. It is still considered one of the best superhero movies ever made, if not the best. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar as best supporting actor, as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award, the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA Award. In fact, he won 32 best actor awards that year. Michael Caine said that Heath Ledger’s Joker was so scary that Caine forgot his lines. It is believed that the Academy Awards went from five to ten nominations for best film because it and Wall-E were not nominated despite being the two most popular films of the year.
Hans Zimmer used razor blades on piano keys and metal shards on guitar strings for the Joker’s music. Far from rumors that Heath Ledger was depressed by playing the joker, his fellow actors said he was having a blast. Warner Brothers was sued by the town of Batman, Turkey, for name infringement, but that didn’t get far. The movie was banned in China but was the most bootlegged film there. There are no flashbacks in the film; everything unfolds in chronological order. The Joker forces Batman, Harvey Dent, and Commissioner Gordon to make impossible ethical decisions. In the end, Batman’s name is tarnished. That any of the other characters get our attention the way Heath Ledger fills the screen is a testimony to all the brilliant actors involved and the director’s skill and choices.