" 'Batman Begins' was about the process of Bruce Wayne finding himself and his purpose and making himself an instrument of that purpose," Nolan said. "The advantage of this second film is that he is now fully formed and we can go straight into the story."
Michael Caine) at one point rebukes his boss for trampling privacy rights in his fight against terrorism -- but Nolan steers clear of too much analysis, at least for the moment. Plot security was intense during shoots in Chicago and Hong Kong to preserve "all the things we want the audience to see for the first time when they sit down in the theater in the dark." A major character is murdered in the film, and when the end credits roll, Batman is in a far darker place.
This much can be said: "The Dark Knight" finds a new political force in Gotham in Harvey Dent, a crusading prosecutor, and a deranged new criminal in the mysterious Joker. Batman, meanwhile, is ready to hang up his cowl after watching the distorted shadows cast by his growing street legend. Back from the first film are cast members Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, while Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes in the role of Rachel Dawes. For Nolan, the movie is an unsettling crime film, not a super-hero escapade.
"I think in the past there have been movies in the genre, even movies made by very good directors, where there comes a moment where you realize they do take what they are doing seriously," Nolan said. "The approach we have is take the tropes and iconography of the action-hero genre and ground it in a reality. Real life is more tactile, more threatening, more emotional. The experience is amplified. I very much consider it my job to entertain the audience. I learned some things watching 'Batman Begins' in a crowded theater with the audience. . . . I don't make movies for myself."
Leave the small-fry home
ONE OF the secrets that Nolan has guarded the longest with "The Dark Knight" is the visage of Eckhart's Two-Face character after his violent disfigurement that leads him away from law and order and toward ferocious revenge. Nolan's film is PG-13 and is clearly not for young children (there is one sequence, in fact, in which a terrified youngster is directly threatened by one of the villains), but the director said he had actually pulled back on the horror of Two-Face's seared flesh.
"I didn't want people to actually look away so much they were missing the film," Nolan said with a chuckle.
For the Joker, Nolan went back to the first appearance of the character in comics back in 1940, when the leering clown showed up without any sort of back-story and simply started killing people. That's how the Joker enters Nolan's Gotham, not unlike, Nolan pointed out, the toothy intruder of "Jaws."
"You don't care where the shark came from," Nolan said, "you don't care who the shark's parents were."
In one harrowing scene, Ledger does explain his cheek scars to a victim -- and then, later in the film, he delivers a second creepy monologue with an entirely different explanation. The revelation: The Joker is a liar, even to the folks eating the popcorn. It's one of the compelling nuances of the movie. There are many others. Maybe that's why Nolan declined to talk about his own emotional journey with the movie and its lost star. "I think we've said as much as we can about Heath. We want to do right by him. I'm proud of his work in this film, and I'm excited to have it seen, but I think in respect to him and his family, perhaps it's best to just let the film have the final word."