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Dark Knight
4 and one half hearts

"Batman Triumphant"

Written by Steven Walker

I find it highly irritating that mainstream moviegoers and critics are surprised when a movie like The Dark Knight turns out to be good.  They are practically shocked when it turns out to great…then they write all this hyperbole about how it has redefined the genre or expanded the horizons of superhero movies or taken the comic out of comic book.

Let’s be clear on this…we comic book fans are not surprised.  We are not shocked or amazed or numbed.  We knew this was possible for years.  We have always known our favorite funny-book characters had the potential to become serious dramatic characters with pathos, ambiguity and insight.  We have been waiting, not so patiently, for the rest of the world to catch up to us. 

So my reaction to The Dark Knight is not an exercise in how many superlatives I can look up, but rather a simple, understated, “it’s about time.”

I would rather focus of some of the nonsensical complaints I have heard from what I hope is a small minority, but they sure are vocal about it… 

The Length.  Has it really come to this?  Are people really bitching that a 2 ½ hour movie is too long?  Let me point out that the same people who complained about this movie being too long probably spent way more than 2 ½ hours surfing the internet or playing video games or masturbating later that night.  The structure of this film is damn near perfect.  There is not a wasted moment in the show and everything builds toward a logical climax.  There are no false endings where you think it is over but it keeps going.  There are no major tonal shifts that take you out of the story.  All the plot points, character arcs and themes weave together into a complete whole by the end of the movie.  Our ADHD culture needs to take another Adderall, sit down and shut up for a while.

The Tone.  People are saying this movie is too dark.  Too tragic.  Too mean-spirited.  Perhaps people have lost some perspective on this.  If you want dark, tragic and mean…read Shakespeare.  If you want to see noble characters stripped of everything decent and left in a wretched pit of despair…read Victor Hugo.  If you want to see corruption and selfishness win the day, read Franz Kafka. 

The Dark Knight expertly scars the surface of these themes, but it does not dive very deep nor should it.  It reminded me of the old Brothers Grimm stories that were originally intended for children.  They understood that you need to scare kids a little so they will be better prepared for all the scary things in life once they grow up.  Now it seems all parents want to do is hide children away from anything they deem unsuitable…but they succeed only at raising kids who have no concept of reality.  So it’s not that this is actually a dark movie, it’s just that you are a bunch of pansies.

Complexity.  I’ve heard people complain that this movie is difficult to follow.  That it has too many characters and a complicated plot.  To this I can only say, what are you people on?  You should be ashamed of yourselves.  If this movie is too complex for you, there are only three explanations:

  1. You are a child. 
  2. You were not paying attention. 
  3. You are an idiot.

Seriously…if this passes for complex then our country really has become a nation of morons.  Air traffic control is complex.  International politics is complex.  Quantum Mechanics is complex.  This is Batman.  Get a grip.

That said, this is easily my favorite Batman movie.  I still have great affection for Tim Burton’s Batfilms, but they exist in some alternate reality.  This Batman lives in a world much closer to our own and finally lives up to some of the comic’s finer moments. 

The Joker.  I confess, I always kind of hated the Joker.  He was my least favorite Batman villain.  I never saw the point of him, and he seems boring next to more colorful and tragic figures like the Penguin, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze and Clayface…but Chris Nolan and Heath Ledger have given him a point.  Their Joker really is the antithesis of Batman, and it is such a tragedy that we will never see this rivalry truly play out.  The most heartbreaking moment in the film for me was hearing the Joker say, “You and I are destined to do this forever…” then thinking, “No you aren’t.”

All his plots are brilliant moral dilemmas, especially the choice he lays on the ferry boat passengers.  All you Art Film directors out there pay attention: that is how you make an audience ponder serious issues without preaching or sacrificing the entertainment factor.

I absolutely love how the Joker lies to Batman about who is at what address and the way that lie plays out, which leads us to…

Two-Face.  I hated Batman Forever not for the neon, bat-nippled, Robin-centric reasons that other fans did, but for the complete raping it performed on the character of Two-Face.  To take such a tragic, disturbing yet ultimately sympathetic character and turn him into just another laughing lunatic was unforgivable.  Tommy Lee Jones and Joel Schumacher each deserve one swift kick in the ass for that.

But now, thanks to Chris Nolan and Aaron Eckhart…all is forgiven.  I could not be more pleased with Harvey Dent in this movie.  To cast him as the White Knight, build him up as someone you genuinely want to root for, then turn him into a horror movie grotesque is the closest to Shakespeare a Batman story is every likely to get.   I’ve heard from some people who think his final look is too gory and others who think it is too cartoonish, but it is the perfect mix for me.  And so very, very, very much better than the pastel pink skin disorder that made my eyes bleed in Batman Forever.

Even more crucial to the character is his coin.  I love the idea that Two-Face honestly does not know what he will do until that coin lands…and this movie sets that up perfectly.  The juxtaposition of Batman’s nobility with the Joker’s anarchy with Two-Face’s pitiless chance is just lovely.  We all criticized previous Batfilms for having too many villains…and there was a lot of concern before the release of Dark Knight that Joker and Two-Face together would be too much…but this script makes them both necessary.  I am somewhat in awe.       

The ending is what really made me love the film.  The choice Batman makes is profound, surprising but also inevitable.  It is thematically sublime and Gordon’s final speech is just perfect.  Exactly what I go to the movies for.

So why not a full five hearts?

1. )  I hated the abrupt and perfunctory send off of the Scarecrow.  I feel they severely weakened his character and wrote off all the creative uses the Joker could have found for his fear-inducing toxin.  At the very least he should have been on the prisoner ferry at the end and contributed to the argument over using the detonator.

2.)  Women in films like this are always so underwritten.  Rachel Dawes has a lot more meat than other Batman love interests, but she is still a mechanism and not a character.  And I hate Actress switching…even if Maggie Gyllenhaal is more talented than Katie Holmes.  Besides, I think fandom would have enjoyed Rachel’s final scene a lot more if it had been Holmes.

3.)  Lau, the Chinese mob accountant, gets a lot of screen time until the Joker busts him out of jail.  He is next seen tied up on top of the money pile that the Joker burns.  If we even notice this at all, we are left to assume he must be dead…but I felt really cheated not getting at least one quick shot of him either burning or escaping.  It seemed like the editors forgot about him.   

4.)  Despite all the love I just slathered on this film for its portrayal of Harvey Dent, there was not enough of him as Two-Face.  They spent such a long time building up to his transformation but I don’t think it paid off as big as it should have.  The final confrontation with Gordon is fine, but it felt like there was something missing leading up to that. 

Perhaps most bothersome is his half-burnt suit.  Yes…it looks awesome…but where did he get it?  The hospital would have thrown it out or sent it to the police as evidence.  The movie went to such effort to make his transformation believable…I felt a little cheated that the most comic-booky aspect of his appearance was the only thing they did not provide a realistic explanation for.

5.)  I almost hate jumping on the bandwagon with this one…but there were moments where Christian Bale’s Batman voice just sounded bad.  A few lines during his last talk with the Joker were almost painful; like he was trying too hard.  And to twist the knife, the trailers featured alternate readings of some lines in a much crisper, cleaner voice…including the iconic, “Then you’re gonna love me,”  which should not have appeared in the trailers at all.

6.)  This is more a style thing that a real gripe…but I hate how Chris Nolan shoots action.  I despise fight scenes made up of quick-cutting close-ups.  It makes the fight harder to follow and therefore less exciting.  It also makes me feel like they must be cutting around bad choreography. 

One of the coolest action ideas is the Batmobile jumping between the Joker’s truck and the police van to block a missile…but it is filmed and edited in such a fragmented, nonsensical way that it takes you a moment to figure out what just happened.  Those few seconds of confusion keep it from being the rousing, crowd pleasing moment it should have been.

7.)  This last one is really not a complaint so much as a severe geek moment.  The trailer for Watchmen was so gobsmackingly good that it stole some of Batman’s thunder.  If you want darkness and moral ambiguity in a comic book adaptation…wait until Watchmen arrives next year and makes Batman look like Veggie Tales.

Despite all this, there is real reason to celebrate in Gotham.  This movie is excellent on all reasonable levels, and it is aiming a lot higher that mindless entertainment.  It is provocative, relevant, and asks questions that have no easy answers.  We geeks may chide the rest of you for arriving late to the party, but Batman has finally achieved his proper status as the dark knight of pop mythology.  


Copyright 2008 Flaming Heart Enterprises, L.L.C.