The Dark Knight: where I stand

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I’ve been reading over the comments from my last post.

My fascination with The Dark Knight is, primarily, structural. I have not encountered an American movie — much less an American movie designed to be a gigantic blockbuster — that is structured as ingeniously and compellingly as this one. I’ve simply never seen anything like it, and after several viewings it still continues to flabbergast.

I’ve worked on a handful of these types of movies, and let me tell you: they’re hard — they’re really hard. There are so many issues for the writer to address: the protagonist must be active, the villain’s plot must make sense, there must be a romantic interest, there must be due attention paid to the history of the character and the rules of the genre, they must be both fantastic and grounded at the same time, all these balls must be kept in the air and theseconcerns must mesh in a straightforward, compelling, swift, action-packed cinematic narrative, consistent in tone and true to its source material. I haven’t seen one — not one — that has managed to get everything in and do everything right. None of the Superman movies do it, none of the previous WB Batman movies do it, none of the Spider-Man movies do it, neither of the Fantastic Four movies do it, and, as jacksonpublick has noted, none of the Bond movies — after more than 20 tries — do it either. (Iron Man comes close — really close.) But The Dark Knight not only does a better job than any other movie based on its source material — and by that I mean "superhero comics" — it does it with a radically ambitious screenplay that challenges any number of conventions and brings a new, added weight to its subject.

As such, I tend to let issues such as "Batman’s growly voice" fall to the wayside as I try to figure out just how the hell the Nolans built this hugely compelling cinematic narrative.

Since I’m going to mostly refrain from nit-picking in my analysis, here’s where I stand on most of the issues brought up by the Dark Knight discontents:

1. Batman’s "growly voice" does sound a little silly.

2. I do not think Batman is a passive character. In fact, I don’t consider Batman to be much of a character at all. Bruce Wayne is the protagonist of The Dark Knight, he is an active protagonist in every sense of the word I can think of, and "the Batman" is a costume he puts on when he goes out to fight crime. This sounds like hair-splitting but I think is a key to understanding the success of the narrative and the world Nolan is building.

3. I did want to see more of Two-Face, because I like Two-Face, but I don’t feel like his story is rushed or tacked-on. Visually, it feels like a pretty big gimme to ask the audience to behold the unspeakable horror of a guy with half a face, only to then kill him off forty-five minutes later, but dramatically I have no complaints, and as we move forward I’ll make my case for that.

4. The Joker’s plans are complicated and slightly fanciful, but gee whiz, compared to what? Compared to the Penguin’s army of rocket-laden penguins in Batman Returns? Compared to Poison Ivy’s plot to team up with Mr. Freeze to freeze Gotham City (using a giant telescope) in order for plants to take over in Batman and Robin? Compared to Ras Al Ghul’s plot to microwave Gotham’s water supply with his magic microwave-gun in Batman Begins? If you ask me, the Joker’s ability to wire a hospital with explosives in The Dark Knight on short notice is a model of logic and circumspection compared to, say, Lex Luthor’s plot to build a new continent in Superman Returns.

5. Ditto Bruce Wayne’s sonar-cell-phone device. As a fantastic gadget, it has the icy breath of the plausible compared to some of the things Batman’s lugged around over his decades of public service. The fantastic elements of The Dark Knight, I feel, are the screenplay’s nods to convention and the source material — Batman without at least one moment of "now, wait a minute" would hardly feel like Batman.

6. The action scenes: I see that some people find them incoherent. Sorry, I don’t agree. I don’t know what else to say about it — I have not had trouble following the action in The Dark Knight, not the first time and not when I’ve watched it since.

7. To some people, The Dark Knight contains some sort of a political message. If one is intended, I can’t make head or tail of it. The Dark Knight deals with a lot of real-life civic issues, but it remains a drama, not a treatise. If I was supposed to vote for John McCain or something because of watching this movie, well, then I guess it’s a failure.

Comments

82 Responses to “The Dark Knight: where I stand”
  1. gdh says:

    My problem with the “Cell Phone Sonar” wasn’t that it was implausible (thought it was that, too) but that it seemed like an unnecessary additional distraction in a movie already crammed with ideas. For all the minimal screen time it got, it seems like a more mundane plot device would have served just as well, been less confusing, and helped move things along quicker.

    It’s a minor quibble though.

    (And it was confusing. If it works off people’s cell phones, then how does it work in large abandoned buildings? With a movie as quickly paced as TDK, that kind of inconsistency confuses anyone who notices it by distracting them while they try to work it out.)

    • ogier30 says:

      We’re told that the ‘sonar’ works off pulses emitted by the cell phones. Since Batman’s cowl is essential a big cell phone, once he was in the building, it basically provided the 360 imagery that was fed to his eye pieces and Lucius.

      • My biggest problem with the whole sonar scene was how it was set up. I could forgive the concept and effect 9in fact, I thought it was rather nifty!) but I couldn’t get over the feeling that this was going to be a level in a computer game. “Enemies are on the level above you. You can use the scaffolding outside, or approach through the elevator shaft. A second group is in the next room,” all the while highlighting them the way a computer game HUD does. Even the way it looked, I thought I was watching a level intro cut-scene from a Rainbow Six computer game or something. It completely pulled me out of the movie.

        • perich says:

          but I couldn’t get over the feeling that this was going to be a level in a computer game.

          My reaction exactly. When Lucius is narrating the layout of SWAT teams and bad guys in the building, it felt like a preview of the penultimate level in The Dark Knight for the XBox 360. That specific combination of “friendly character voice” plus “panning over CGI layout” plus “here’s your next objective, player 1.”

  2. swan_tower says:

    I have something of a hobby interest in fight scenes; my fencing teacher in high school taught me to do basic stage combat, and I was pretty much the only vaguely-trained fight choreographer in college, so I worked on about sixteen plays in four years.

    The Dark Knight partakes of something I’ve dubbed the “American blender style” of fight editing. “Hong Kong art style” is all about the wide, long shots that show choreography well; movies like TDK are going for something else entirely. And normally it annoys me because it’s very often a practical means of getting around the fact that your actors aren’t very well-trained. If you have lots of short, close-in cuts of movement, all you have to do is tell your actor to throw one punch or kick or whatever at a time; if you have long cuts, they have to be able to execute that choreography well, and that takes practice. But I have every confidence that Christian Bale got the training he needed, so in this case the style serves the other purpose: to give something more like a first-person view of combat, making it choppy and chaotic rather than elegant art. And sometimes that’s what you want.

    Having said that? I wish it weren’t American blender style. I appreciate good choreography, even when it’s gritty and messy rather than wuxia slickness, and I get annoyed when things are chopped up to the point where I can’t see what’s going on.

    • Todd says:

      If The Dark Knight was a martial arts picture, I would lament the inability to see the fight choreography. But, as you say, they’re going for something else here.

      • ogier30 says:

        There’s a discussion in the special features on Batman Begins of the fight style they used in the films (Keysi, I think?) which is all about short, sharp movements performed quickly. There’s some discussion about how that style, plus Nolan’s desire to keep Batman mysterious, led to the way the fights are cut and presented. We’re not really supposed to be too clear on what Batman’s doing, other than it being fast and brutal, basically.

        • swan_tower says:

          But I think speed and brutality work best in small doses. I remember loving the way Bourne takes down the guard(s?) in the park at the beginning of The Bourne Identity; a few blurred seconds, and the guys are on the ground. The longer it goes on for, though, the more my brain disengages, because it’s being fed stimuli faster than it can process them.

        • nom_de_grr says:

          I’m more willing to buy Nolan’s fight scene rationale (or rationalization) for TDK than I am for Batman Begins, where it was patently obvious that choppy editing was being employed to cover up poor choreography.

        • chronoso says:

          the intro to the Batman Animated Series had a great moment like this where Batman leaps on a dude, but all activity is obscured by his cape, and when he jumps away, the guy is subdued. this works. the new style of chaos-cam editing …doesn’t. the idea is to make the action “gritty” but really it just makes it jarring. i don’t suffer from the motion sickness that many seem to say it causes, i just think it’s a stylistic choice i disagree with. looking back 10 years from now, i expect it may be blamed for affecting great movies like the over abundance of movies or mid-song breakdown raps ruined otherwise great songs in the 80s.

          i refer you to, of course, the bourne movies and the new james bond movies as the most egregious users of this style of fight scenes.

          kind of lame that for a good fight scene, i have to go watch a steven segal movie.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think the choppy, hard-to-follow fight scenes are a deliberate choice on Nolan’s part. Liam Neeson’s character even has a line in Begins about how combat is not a dance. It’s not supposed to be graceful and admirable. It’s supposed to be quick, ugly, chaotic, and messy. While that may not look as cool onscreen as I’d like, I admire and respect what Nolan’s trying to do.

      — N.A.

  3. charlequin says:

    The political tea-leaf reading in the Dark Knight seems, to me, to be the result of two things:

    • An increasingly strident set of entertainment designed to convey singular, unambiguous political messages (in response to the particularly uncompromising forms of corruption and malfeasance with which people are faced today), and
    • A strident leftover tendency to rush back to the bountiful (yet black-and-white) “Batman = fascist” well brought to us by The Dark Knight Returns.

    The Dark Knight is accomplished in not taking a political stance, but only raising questions: Batman is a vigilante, but he yearns for legitimate justice (and at the end, metaphorically sacrifices himself in order to help it along); he tortures the Joker, but it’s all in vain and gives him bad info; Batman is “the only thing” standing between Gotham and pure evil, but in almost every conflict in this film he ultimately relies on the sacrifice of other, good people in order to prevail.

    I also see no problem with the action sequences (especially the one with the hostages near the end, which I thought was quite clear given what precisely it had to accomplish) and I think this film does much more justice to the “Two-Face” concept than arbitrarily shuttling him off to another film would; the entire purpose of the character here is the battle between Bruce and the Joker for Dent’s “soul,” and what the way that battle is fought says about the nature of “good” and “evil.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Irony is lost on the public. It doesn’t matter that the torture is unsuccessful in both cases; what matters is that Batman tortures.

      The evening news used to make this mistake; showing Reagan kissing children while announcing his cuts in children’s programs; Reagan’s people loved this, because the irony was garbage but the pictures were pure gold.

  4. I think that you’ve left out one important factor in the whole ‘these are hard’ list: Gotta make the studio chiefs and their focus groups happy, too. And yes, it’s hard, but I’m sure the Nolans were well compensated for their efforts. I don’t imagine the screenwriters for “Four Christmases” made as much for their movie, and it shows.

    With regard to your points:

    1. Agreed, and the suggestions that it’s the result of digital alteration to intimidate criminals smacks of fanboy rationalization.

    2. I don’t think it’s so much a matter of passivity versus action as a complete lack of insight. The characters (not just Wayne/Batman) seem to be just hitting their marks, not actively engaged.

    3. I look forward to your case for developing and discarding an incredibly compelling character without ever taking advantage of the counterpoint to Batman that Two-Face really is. Joker tries to propagate chaos, but Two-Face is nothing but black and white. The tug between those two ends of the pendulum swing has always been a great challenge to the ethos of Batman; to dump Two-Face seems, well, misguided.

    4. Although I characterized it as suspension of disbelief before, the more I think about it the less I doubt it. In a world where 10 people can invade a city of 12 million successfully, wiring a hospital seems like child’s play. After all, it’s not like Gotham appears to have good security anywhere in the city.

    5. I felt like the sonar-cell-phone device was just another prop to create a morality conflict (while also trying to be ‘wow look at the cool tricks), but it certainly is more believable than the stuff that the batarang has foisted through the years.

    6. Ditto.

    7. I found that although people picked up on political themes throughout the film, their reaction to them was more telling of their own personal beliefs than anything the film propagated.

    I wonder if you’re more interested in the structure than the actual content of the script?

    • swan_tower says:

      Joker tries to propagate chaos, but Two-Face is nothing but black and white. The tug between those two ends of the pendulum swing has always been a great challenge to the ethos of Batman; to dump Two-Face seems, well, misguided.

      This is a thing of gut instinct rather than a rationale I can argue, but my impulse is to say that the Nolans decided Two-Face was not the interesting character to explore; Harvey Dent was. Which is a reversal of the usual superhero/villain setup, where the origin story is just a foundation to justify what follows: in this case, the villain stage is just a culmination of everything that came before.

      • mitejen says:

        the Nolans decided Two-Face was not the interesting character to explore; Harvey Dent was

        Now THAT is a very interesting point, and makes perfect sense.

        Given that the film’s name is ‘The Dark Knight,’ and since Harvey Dent is referred to often as Gotham’s White Knight, it seems like a clever double-play on the name: yes, Batman has been referred to in comics and other media as ‘The Dark Knight,’ but the corruption and fall of Harvey Dent is also being referenced in the title because this story is just as much about the fall of an otherwise morally sound and stable person.

    • “1. Agreed, and the suggestions that it’s the result of digital alteration to intimidate criminals smacks of fanboy rationalization.”

      I hadn’t heard that ‘rationalization’… it seems blindingly clear that it a) is a device to stop people from noticing that Bruce Wayne and Batman have surprisingly similar voices and b) sounds a bit silly.

      Re: 3 (in the original post), I did feel the Two-Face plot wasn’t well dealt with the first time I watched the film, but the second time I really had no problem with it. Possibly because on a second viewing I could see the story elements starting earlier. This is a little bit of Dirk Gently syndrome, which is arguably not a good thing, but I think it works.

      • Todd says:

        I think the first time through, you’ve been through so much movie that the addition of yet another plot late in the movie feels weird. But when you watch it again, knowing the peaks and valleys of the drama, it seems fine.

  5. sheherazahde says:

    Thanks
    I got a good laugh out of #4. 😀

  6. Just throwing in a few small thoughts, because I really just loved the movie.

    One, as an avowed comic book geek, nothing makes me giddier than just the realization that, in the same year, the superhero movie genre delivered both Iron Man and Dark Knight. For years now I’ve been quietly pointing out to people that pretty much every superhero movie so far has been bad when you really objectively look at them, without cutting any slack or turning off your brain for large portions (though frequently enough still enjoyable). There’s tremendously long lists of flaws for every hugely popular superhero movie, except – for my money – these two. (And maybe Batman Begins, which swaps spots #2 and #3 back and forth with Iron Man on my list of best superhero flicks ever.) Top to bottom, these are just good movies, and people who have in the past (rightfully) dismissed superhero flicks as uninteresting or bad have no excuse to not give these entries a try. There’s always people I just know will hate Superhero Movie X, so I know not to recommend it no matter how great I think it is. But Iron Man and Dark Knight are easily universally prescribed viewing, for anybody that has any interest at all in movies (or shares my mancrush on Robert Downey Jr).

    And two, I’m surprised to see the joke about the movie making you vote McCain. If anything, the two most notable political comments both leaned very anti-Bush (and by extension anti-McCain). I immediately picked up on the fact that torturing yielded Batman faulty information, and that Batman got bit in the ass for acting rashly on that information (I believe someone commented last post that he took the torture elements in the movie as “torture apologistics”, which blatantly fails to recognize how the Joker dicks everyone over with his info). And the moral speechifying that goes on with both Batman and Lucius Fox on the justification and/or immorality of the sonar/cellphone spying is a pretty direct metaphor for the moral conflict of Patriot Act-style encroachments on privacy done in the name of fighting terrorism. Ultimately very anti-Bush.

    • Todd says:

      For the record, it was the Wall Street Journal who most famously suggested that The Dark Knight is a conservative message-movie. And, as we have all learned since then, the folks on Wall Street are living on a totally different planet from the rest of us.

      • Anonymous says:

        I still think that the movie is so tight that it operates more like a Chinese Opera than a Western movie. It unwinds with complete inevitability. I wonder if the other movies you mentioned failed in some respect simply because they were trying to breathe a bit.

      • taskboy3000 says:

        WSJ Cinenistas?

        Do we really look to the WSJ for incisive cultural reflection? Perhaps I should read /Premiere/ when looking for a reliable retirement vehicle?

        The Batman films are great, but I like the comics better. DK blew my 15-year-old mind when I read it in ’86. DK Returns: not so much.

        This movie had, I think, some political comments, but it wasn’t a polemic by any means. The Batman canon seems rather pro-legal justice rather than pro-mob rule. Old Bats wants to impose order on a chaotic world, but I think you’ll find that he cannot do this alone. Order requires community (the reverse is equally true).

        The most brilliant aspect of the DK movie was Ledger’s Joker. That was a very fresh take on the true face of chaos. Remember: Batman’s villains are always twisted versions of Bruce Wayne. That’s way the stakes are so high for Bats: he’s got to show why his methods are better than his opponents. It makes for wonderful drama.

        • Todd says:

          Re: WSJ Cinenistas?

          “Do we really look to the WSJ for incisive cultural reflection? Perhaps I should read /Premiere/ when looking for a reliable retirement vehicle?”

          What worries me is that someone out there might look to Premiere for incisive cultural reflection.

    • nom_de_grr says:

      That’s an interesting point that torture fails to elicit reliable info in this film. I hadn’t thought of that otherwise troubling element of TDK.

      I’m not convinced that the moral speechifying on the cell phone device successfully creates an anti-Bush tone. After all, the invasion of privacy is, in this film, entirely justified by the rationalization that it would be used just this one time to fight terrorism. And it works.

      • Anonymous says:

        right– now let’s just hope the people who do that in real world always have a morgan freeman nearby, eh?

        • Todd says:

          Personally, I see no reason why Morgan Freeman cannot be employed in this fashion in the Obama White House. Just to stand around and glower at people who might be thinking of abusing their power.

      • Right, but I’d say that adequately qualifies as the “anti-” part of it, at least for me: Batman realizes this is not something he should keep doing, and despite initially faltering, ultimately makes the correct choice and redeems himself with Fox. I’ve yet to see similar in the real-life counterpart.

        Admittedly maybe this is a combination of me bringing my political leanings into the viewing and me justifying a movie I love to people who find flaws in it. Meh.

  7. gillan says:

    #3. I’m not convinced that Two-Face is dead. Dent is, but we know there’s a conspiracy going on to frame Batman. The impression I was left with at the end of the movie was that a funeral was held for Dent, Two-Face was secured away in the basement of Arkham, and Batman is on the run with the law. Though perhaps #2 would have been more of a sure thing if we had a parting shot of Two-Face in a cell or something.

  8. nom_de_grr says:

    Batman without at least one moment of “now, wait a minute” would hardly feel like Batman.

    I disagree. I feel the cell phone device is too much of a stretch and should have been left out. If staying true to the genre source material by adding elements of “WTF?” is in fact necessary to the film’s success, then it is amply accomplished by the fact that the protagonist is a zillionaire that dresses up as a bat and fights costumed villains.

    • mitejen says:

      then it is amply accomplished by the fact that the protagonist is a zillionaire that dresses up as a bat and fights costumed villains.

      I dunno, I think by the time TDK came out, I personally had come to grips with that concept through the very nuts and bolts treatment of Batman’s gadgets and abilities introduced in the first one. For me, the suspension of disbelief is so abstract that everything else just follows along logically; in a world where a man can put on a costume and fight bad guys night after night without tearing a rotator cuff, breaking an ankle, severely damaging his spine or just plain falling off a building, there is enough room for masked maniacs and ‘cell phone magic’ devices. Just my .02.

      • swan_tower says:

        in a world where a man can put on a costume and fight bad guys night after night without tearing a rotator cuff, breaking an ankle, severely damaging his spine or just plain falling off a building

        This is why I would really like to see the Nolans do their films as a close-ended series. I read an implicit promise into the scars you see on Bruce Wayne: he can’t do this forever. Nobody can. And that lends the whole endeavour an emotional note it would otherwise lack. If that promise is broken — if he goes on for film after film, without a reboot — then it starts seeming like a cheap trick rather than a genuine price.

        (Not coincidentally, I feel the same way about the new Bond movies. I want a payoff for the line in Casino Royale: “Well, from what I understand, double-0’s have a very short life expectancy. So your mistake will be short-lived.”)

  9. mitejen says:

    #7

    I read some of that, the notion that ‘Batman’s methods=Fascist Police State and Won’t Someone PLEASE Think of the Children.’

    ‘Superheroes Unmasked’ is a super-summarized version of comic book history, and includes the thoughts of a lot of comics writers discussing what superheroes are and what they mean to society. Michael Chabon pointed out that if you think about it, most superheroes, especially the Golden Age ones, are fascist in their methods. Or at least, would fit the definition of fascism.

    To me it’s the same thing as declaring Robin Hood an extreme liberal communist and that to enjoy the entertainment value is to condone communism. It makes absolutely no sense, and smacks of the same sort of false dichotomy they are complaining about in government.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: #7

      liking the fascistoid characters does tell about the reader- most of us have a streak of it somewhere, due to the way most societies work and the way we were raised. eye for an eye mentality- it hasn’t changed for thousands of years. but “justice” is a matter of concensus, not a hard fact of nature. it’s an idea, which can, and will be manipulated.

      • mitejen says:

        Re: #7

        liking the fascistoid characters does tell about the reader- most of us have a streak of it somewhere

        Well, yes, it can. But liking a character isn’t necessarily a window into every person’s psyche either. People like fictional characters for a myriad of reasons, and assigning pop psychology to the reasons only takes the short view, and dismisses both the literary value of the medium, and the complexity of the human mind.

        Are you talking about moral relativism?

  10. Anonymous says:

    2) I’m still not seeing it. Bruce Wayne is still the guy who on at least 2 occasions has to watched the news to stay in the loop.

    3) I’ll give you a chance here, but boy did I not like Harvey Dent.

    4) Oh, I’m willing to watch any stupid criminal plot in a film, but I still want the villian to think it will work. If I ask Mr. Freeze about his plan to freeze the city, he can describe pseudoscience on how it will work. There’s no way the Joker can say he’s going to blow up the jail and everyone good would be hurt he and the accountant can escape. It’s one to break science, another to break the rule of logic.

    5) I don’t mind the fantastic and I don’t mind the realistic, but to mix it- it takes a lot of work that I feel wasn’t there.

    6)It’s not about following the action, I can tell you who won (Batman!). I couldn’t tell you how. Like I said earlier, I’m an action snob, I like well choreographed fight scenes, we didn’t get that in DK

    7)When you can’t figure it out, it’s poorly done. But we have Batman (who spies on the people he protects to find the villian within and isn’t above tortuing people) fighting the Joker- a terrorist who kills government figures (one with a car bomb), video tapes torture sessions, is attacking a society that he feels is fake, and sends video messages for demands and to create more fear. If that isn’t a Bush administration, I don’t know what is.

    • Anonymous says:

      so i guess you also didn’t like iron man? because that i would applaud. seriously!

    • Todd says:

      “There’s no way the Joker can say he’s going to blow up the jail and everyone good would be hurt he and the accountant can escape.”

      Except that the Joker, throughout the narrative, is also perfectly happy to have his plans end in his own death. He could go either way, that’s what makes him so compelling and scary.

      • ogier30 says:

        I think the Joker’s also got multiple plans going, all the time, which contributes to his “going either way”.

        When he’s trying to kill Harvey Dent in the van, the end result is that he gets captured and gets to do his prison break and set up Batman and all that. But I think he also had a plan in place for if he’d succeeded at killing Dent (Rachel still gets blown up, after all), or killing the Batman, or if he got killed or…

        What makes the Joker scary is that he’s an meticulous and controlled agent of Chaos. For all his prattle about being a ‘mad dog’ and not having plans, all he does through the movie it seems is make plans.

        • swan_tower says:

          He makes plans. What he doesn’t do is get invested in specific outcomes.

          As Todd said, this is what makes him scary; this is what makes him the villain Batman can never really defeat. You can never get the psychological satisfaction of making the Joker know he’s been bested, because that requires him to desire one outcome over another, and therefore to be disappointed when it fails to occur. I’d have to see the film again to say whether the Nolans and Ledger successfully maintain that note throughout, but it’s clearly the one they were aiming for: a Joker who is so purely chaotic that he doesn’t care which way things go. The civilians blow up the criminals? Awesome! The criminals blow up the civilians? Awesome! Nobody gets blown up at all? Awesome! They’re all equally meaningless to him, just as the whole world is meaningless.

          • charlequin says:

            Right. That’s what this film really nails in a way that other executions of the character often fail at, and what makes it interesting as a morality play: the Joker seemingly cannot be meaningfully defeated, even by choosing to kill him.

            A lot of the reason I don’t think the “Dark Knight = Bush apologism!” thing makes sense is that the movie poses a philosophical challenge comparable to the right-wing conception of terrorism (irrational agents of chaos who cannot be reasoned with) and still ultimately decides that greater violence is an unsuitable method of defeating it.

          • strangemuses says:

            IMO, the Joker appeared to be both perplexed and sad that his plan to blow up one/both of the boats failed. He bounced back quickly and decided to blow up both boats himself, but for a moment he looked lost. I think he had been vested in the outcome. Batman seized on that moment to point out that the world wasn’t as bleak and horrid as the Joker wanted to think it was.

        • THREAD DERAILMENT!

          Q: Who would win in a fight between Batman & Captain America?

          A: If it’s daytime, Captain America. If it’s night, Batman would win.

  11. perich says:

    I agree with your fascination.

    I have never cottoned to the defense of certain summer blockbusters as “dumb fun.” Fun doesn’t have to be dumb. Casino Royale, Iron Man and now The Dark Knight prove, to my satisfaction, that movies can be slam-bang action rides and still be sharp, clever and deep. An art which is capable of this, to quote Chandler, is not, by hypothesis, incapable of anything.

    Now some could argue that The Dark Knight goes too far in the other direction – that maybe it’s too clever by half (“the Joker planned to get caught?”). But hell, to live in a world with such problems!

    • Fun doesn’t have to be dumb.
      Amen. I get really extremely annoyed with anyone I hear say any version of “I just want to go see a movie where I can turn my brain off for a few hours” or “I wanna see a popcorn flick I don’t have to think about”. Really? Why? If you want to turn your brain off for a few, take a nap. If you want to watch a movie, then watch a movie, along with all that entails: listen to the dialogue, follow the action, and think about the damn thing. That should always be the entire fucking point of the endeavor. Otherwise why waste your money?

      Yeah I hate people.

    • Todd says:

      When I was a young man, the New York Times used to have a whole section of the book review dedicated to crime fiction. And I used to think, geez, what is it with these East Coast intellectuals and their crime fiction? How could you be equally interested in both serious literature and crime fiction?

      Since that time, I have tried my hand at writing crime fiction. Jesus it’s hard, and I now stand agape at a well-executed crime drama. Samuel Beckett could write Waiting for Godot, but he could never write The Big Sleep.

  12. laminator_x says:

    On the list of Good Things: Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon.
    I think his performance was quietly the best in the film. Ledger’s Joker was certainly more dramatic, but he got to rely on all sorts of crazy ticks. Oldman simply became the role. Not once did I look at that screen and see an actor. Without fail, I saw Jim Gordon.

    • Todd says:

      Oldman is indeed fantastic in the part. Especially so when you consider that, in the past, he’s always been the “bold choice” actor. Here, opposite a guy in clown makeup and a guy with half a face, he chooses to disappear.

      • chronoso says:

        you could also make a point that he plays a “good guy” which is exceedingly rare for him (depending on your perspective on Rosencranrz and Sid Vicious)

    • charlequin says:

      Oldman is unbelievable in this movie. Absolutely, entirely just lives in the part, and the body language he brings to it is incredible.

  13. chrispiers says:

    The cell-phone sonar, I felt, was a nod to some of the things Batman’s done in comics. He has developed plans to take down other superheroes and technology to potentially spy on people. Is he willing to use it? Well, that’s the moral question. He’s a guy with the money and the means to spy on people, but so far he isn’t willing to cross that line. I think the invasion of privacy in the name of good is a fascinating issue to think about.

    • sailortweek says:

      My husband I had that conversation as we were leaving the IMAX: The moral choice of spying on others for good.
      It makes sense for Batman to engage since he is a character so determined to weed out the rats in his violent city. That’s why I wasn’t at all put out by the suprise Bat-Sonar. This wasn’t BAT SHARK REPELANT. This device made sense.

      edited for way too many spelling errors. my apologies.

  14. sailortweek says:

    I am by no means a movie scholar. I’ve taken classes, read some books, and enjoy movies all acrossed the board. I do, however, engage in a lot of theatre. I was in a children’s theatre group a few years back that taught me alot about viewing entertainment differently. The most important lesson: Suspension of disbelief.

    The Joker’s actions and plans, Batman’s reactions and counter-measures, the citizen’s of Gothem’s reactions. I didn’t question where Bat-Sonar came from. I wasn’t going to question the validity of The Joker’s plans to blow up the hospital and the boats in the harbor. The story was moving at a decent pace and I didn’t have to stop once to check for comic cannon. The movie felt right to me. I had no trouble following the story. I never felt that there was too much going on.

    What I find funny about this movie is how many people rant about their love for it and how many people rant about their hate. It is almost this bitter, defensive hatred for this movie. Is it because it was so successful? And was it so successful because of Heath Ledger’s untimely demise? I would think not since I know quite a few people of the male persuasion didn’t flock to movie just because of Ledger. They wanted to see Batman and The Joker (Not Bale and Ledger) brawl in a battle of wits. They wanted “OMG You Killed Jason Todd” Joker and Tim Conway’s Batman. Righteously evil (society is screwed so let’s kill them all and let god sort them out pass the popcorn) and the righteously good (Hello. My name is Bruce Wayne. You killed my parents. Prepare to die)

  15. marcochacon says:

    What is amazing about DK–and I think I’m agreeing with you here–is not any one piece of it but rather the gestalt. They have managed a super hero movie that is not dumb (I will say “actually smart”–but eh, some may differ). It has a villain that is really scary (compare to X-Men’s Magneto who is interesting–but not all that scary–and the whole host of other baddies who if they are lucky manage “hate-able” but never scary).

    It has a hero who is honestly heroic–sympathetic–and human. Iron Man managed this beautifully and the recent Hulk–although a dim flame compared to the other two–manages to achieve most of this simply by casting Ed Norton (and I love Bale–but he is no Ed Norton).

    It manages a long, winding plot with excess Hong Kong scenes and some hanging threads (we know the accountant guy dies–but no one even sees that happen on screen). What other movie could get away with an added trip to Hong Kong!? MI:3 barely got away with it when it was organic to the script (IIRC).

    If cheesy bat-gadgets are a necessary trope, at the very least DK gives us the muscular bat-mobile and arm-blades: if the new Bond movies can dispense with silly devices and Q, DK can as well.

    I mean, forget about the somehow-it-lived-up-to-the-hype (how often does that happen? And now people are saying “yeah, Ledger was great–but what have you done for me lately)–what about the Gary Oldman performance!? And people would watch Morgan Freeman read the phone book–but–are we really that jaded?

    Overall, I think Dark Knight is a tour de force of super hero movies, an iconic action flick, and a darn good example of an action script. Putting all that together with an avalanche of strong performances puts it well over the top.

    -Marco

    • Anonymous says:

      With apologies for veering briefly and wildly off-topic: I don’t think the new Hulk movie gets quite as much love as it deserves. It’s not as cerebral as Ang Lee’s version, but the Hulk is not a terribly cerebral character himself. It’s got real humanity (thanks to a very well-cast and chemistry-laden Norton and Tyler), some great set pieces, and a surprisingly smart and well-developed theme about how a superior mind and a superior body are ultimately hollow if neither is balanced by a good heart.

      OK, I’ll shut up now.

      — N.A.

      • marcochacon says:

        I liked the new Hulk well enough–no whining from me. However: (a) I love Ed Norton and (b) I really love Ed Norton. It’s hard to get past that to the movie. Parts were clever. The opening was clever–the backstory in the title sequence since “we all knew it” was a brilliant call.

        However, I compare it to Iron Man and the first two X-Men and the revived Batman franchise and I think it’s not in the “A” category–and yeah, part of that is the nature of The Hulk himself who is just not all that interesting.

        -Marco

      • Todd says:

        Ang Lee’s Hulk isn’t cerebral — it’s ridiculous, the Edsel of superhero pictures. The new Hulk is a 1965 Mustang fastback in comparison, although it, like Iron Man, suffers from last-act problems.

  16. mimitabu says:

    re: (7), specifically “but it remains a drama, not a treatise.”

    this is why, on the “themes/message” front, i loved TDK. it shows us people dealing with issues, it doesn’t pontificate. it doesn’t tell us that the joker, or batman, or two-face, or gordon, or anyone are right. maybe someone is, maybe no one is, maybe no one can be, it doesn’t matter. the movie incorporates heady justice questions into drama. that’s interesting.

    the only part of the movie i’m at all “ehhhhh” about is the closing speech. i found it a bit unnecessary, but more to the point i wondered what the hell it was doing a movie such as the one described in the last paragraph. at the same time, there could be something i’m not seeing (it wouldn’t be the first time where i see something, especially “the ending”, in a movie, dislike it, then come back and say “no, that has to be there.”) looking forward to deeper analysis in this blog, because i’m sure (or at least i hope) you’ll address that final bit by gordon.

  17. pirateman says:

    Any movie you keep thinking about and talking about and turning over in your mind after you’ve left the theater is a great one, as far as I’m concerned.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Sure, he doesn’t care about the outcome, but it always comes out in his favor- and RIDICULOUSLY in his favor. Plans are all extremely complex but always work out in favor. This was obviously necessary, but it certainly makes me roll my eyes compared to Mr. Freeze’s schemes- at least there’s a reason to think his plans would work: movie science!

  19. lupa says:

    I do not think Batman is a passive character. In fact, I don’t consider Batman to be much of a character at all. Bruce Wayne is the protagonist of The Dark Knight, he is an active protagonist in every sense of the word I can think of, and “the Batman” is a costume he puts on when he goes out to fight crime. This sounds like hair-splitting but I think is a key to understanding the success of the narrative and the world Nolan is building.

    Despite my comment, or maybe because of, I actually wholeheartedly agree with this, and don’t think it’s hair-splitting. I do feel it’s a jarring reversal of most Batman movies, though, so now I’m curious – in Batman Begins, do you feel the same way about Bruce Wayne vs. Batman, once Batman starts to exist as an alter ego in the middle of act two? Do you think Bruce Wayne is the protagonist of Batman Begins?

    • Todd says:

      More so than any other Batman movie.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think Batman Begins made it very clear that “Batman” is the true protagonist and Bruce Wayne is the alter ego. When Bruce’s parents were killed, he was irretrievably set on a permanent path. Only after returning to Gotham did he create the alter ego of “Bruce Wayne” to throw everyone of his trail.

        • Anonymous says:

          I think this also goes back to Batman’s desire to give up his crusade to Harvey, a “Daytime Batman”, and return to a so-called normal life with Rachel. Like she said at the end when stroking Bruce’s face, “this is the mask”. Bruce Wayne, the public persona, is the act of Batman hiding in plain sight. As they say in the comics, with most other heroes, the costume is the disguise and the alter ego is the real man. But with Batman it’s the other way around — Batman is who he is, while Bruce Wayne is the cover story.

          But for the sake of semantics, I think I get what Todd means when he says that Bruce Wayne is the protagonist. Especially in TDK, when Bruce says that Batman has no limits, Batman is whatever Gotham needs him to be, etc. In many ways Batman is as much a carefully crafted persona as Bruce is — but I do think that it reflects more of the “inner Bruce” than the freewheeling playboy in $2000 suits.

  20. voiceofisaac says:

    There’s an excellent set of essays, by the writer of the “Absorbascon” comic book blog, about the characters in The Dark Knight. But I think his best is his last, about The Joker.

    http://absorbascon.blogspot.com/2008_08_10_archive.html

    I’ll give you the start, to get you an idea of what he works with:

    “As we’ve been discussing, in Dark Knight, most of the characters face moral dilemmas and struggling with violating their own principles. Many are the ways, large and small, in which the persons of the drama betrayal themselves, others, and the principles they profess. But none of the betrayed the principles they profess more than …

    the Joker.

    The Joker, as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger, is very convincing liar. So much so, that I’ve noticed that he managed to deceive lots of people in the audience as well. “Oh,” I hear people saying, “the Joker was such a force of chaos! He represents anarchy!” Um… yeah.

    What part of “It’s all part of the plan?” did you not get?!

    Yes, the Joker does represent chaos … in a way. But I’m astonished at how many people seem to have overlooked the fact that the Joker’s brand of “chaos” requires enormous amounts of complex and detailed planning. The opening bank robbery scene ALONE is a masterpiece of clockwork scheduling. Watch the film; right after he says, “I kill the busdriver,” the Joker steps a bit to one side. He’s getting out of the way of the incoming bus. That presumes he knows exactly when and where it’s arriving.”

    • ogier30 says:

      Rewatching that sequence tonight, I noticed that the 3rd man to enter the bank with them gets killed by the Bank Manager. My suspicion is that this guy is the one who’s supposed to kill the bad guy that the Joker has to take out with the bus. The bus driver, who hops out of the bus and asks where the other guy is, was probably supposed to take out the 3rd man.

      Right here in this first sequence, we are shown that the Joker adapts to changing circumstance and adjusts his plans as needed.

      Plus, he has to know exactly when the bus is showing up, because he also has to know exactly when to pull the bus back out into the only available hole in the chain of buses. Meticulous planning and preparation, matched with fantastic improvisational skills, are the Joker’s “powers” in this film.

    • mimitabu says:

      the joker represents ethical chaos. sure, he believes that you can spin wheels in the world, but he doesn’t think any of it amounts to anything, and more importantly he doesn’t believe that justice (or profit or any motivation) is a working system (or, regardless of whether justice or any kind of moral system make sense internally, they don’t apply to the world).

      he’s not an anarchist… he’s not fighting against control, nor is he anti-coercion in any way. he thinks the gangsters he works with are fools, batman is a fool, etc.

      i don’t know why he seeks to illustrate any of this. he might be compelled to for some reason (e.g. he’s insane). more likely he simply gets pleasure out of it.

  21. If it’ll help, the script for THE DARK KNIGHT is available for free download. (Link through DenOfGeek.com)

  22. Anonymous says:

    Todd,
    I’m starting to doubt your judgement.
    Dark Knight complicated? maybe, but not in a good way. truth to be told, I almost fell asleep watching this overwritten puzzle of boring pieces. and to think I actually like Nolan’s work. but his finest ia in my book without any doubt Insomnia.

    • Re: –

      to this day i still can’t get over the fact that there was such a amazingly bad scene in there..the scene in which Swank’s character is playing around with a bal, the ball falls behind a table, she gets the ball out and finds a clue. Awful, awful. but that movie was cool though 😛