He is. Unlike any other Batman villain, the Joker eerily tests the values of the movie's central characters. He implicitly or explicitly gives his victims some amount of choice to resist the vices. Batman is always put in situations where he would hate the outcomes of all his decisions. The Joker is a tragic-comic, sort of. The movie opens with a surprising series of sequences. There are multiple Jokers and multiple Batmans that make this movie's start surreal. The Joker impersonators are common men. Easily attracted by money and they make choices that the Joker find pedestrian. This movie's Joker is not about world domination, money and any of the usual things. Its about a man who does not want all these things. When Alfred, the butler, narrates an old Burma story you get the metaphor. What if Batman is confronted by a man who is not after the diamonds but just wants chaos? Enter Joker. And beneath that bloodied smile, dialogs that hint about his terrible past, his sinister laugh and the poor make-up, he is a wounded monster waiting to inflict incredible pain.
The movie revolves around separating the people in Gotham city, who can rise above the normal greed. The Joker's evil designs (he says he does not scheme but he does) are fascinating in the way it searches for people who can make an ethical choice during a key situation. Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent are not your average common people. And the strength of their characters is tested repeatedly. This movie almost resembles a Shakespearean tragedy where a person's ethical choices almost always leads them to doom. The are aware of it and they still do the best they can. Batman is not a hero in Gotham. People call him a vigilante. They don't like him all that much and he does leave more bloodied police officers than ever before. In this movie the aura of Batman is brought down in a humiliating fashion by the Joker. He exposes the Super Hero's weakness and at a point Batman accepts the fact that his game is over.
This is a dark movie. Batman burns in angst, thinks, ponders and suffers like never before. If a movie with characters called Batman, 2-face, the Joker can make you empathize with it then this movie comes closer than any other movie. My grouse against the first movie's psychological babble stands corrected. Nolan has planned for a larger vision. The incredible thing about Nolan is that in a short space of time he (and his brother) create so much detail around a particular incident that the complexity of the situation increases exponentially. There are so many layers that one begins to wonder at. I have begun to literally worship Nolan for the way he brings out the drama in the story. He slaps the show-pony'ness of people like Joel Schumacher in the face. The stunning technological sequences in this movie simply aid the movie to become better. The technology gimmicks do not and cannot dominate the movie. It is not the reason why a movie can work with the audience. I love a director who understands that and places the story, the theme, the basic human emotion above everything else.
Among characters, Christian Bale is a character who continues to impress. His is a tragic tragic character who continues to battle on despite the various setbacks. Bale lives and breathes this complex role. Ledger's character will obviously be talked about (But I do find the repeated mention of an Oscar possibility annoying, unnecessary and premature). The character of Joker, previously played by Jack Nicholson, has endless possibilities. It is a rich character. If Nolan can make Bruce Wayne such a complex and rich character then there is no doubt that he'd make Joker fantastic. Nolan has to commended for the way he has prepped his actors. The profile he gives them transcends a Batman movie. This could be any life & struggle movie in any mafia world. Joker underplays the mannerisms and carves out a character that is deeply disturbing and a the same time endearing. This is the best comic book movie/series I have seen. I seem to be saying this a lot nowadays, but that just means Hollywood is getting better with comic book movies. This could even be one of the best mafia movies out of the Hollywood stable. The movie did drag a tad bit towards the end. It tries to handle too many situations/complications/developments that the last 20 minutes sort of make you think "don't live long enough to watch yourself become the villain. Die soon as a heroic movie. End it anytime now."