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Dark Knight, That's What She Said

Dee Yun Dee Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-07-21 08:40:59

I Figured the Joker Wouldn't Be Above the Occasional "That's What She Said" Lowbrow-ness

I've made the spoilery bits of this post invisible, unless you highlight it.

First off, The Dark Knight was a terrific movie, primarily on the strength of Heath Ledger's remarkable performance. With all due credit to Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill, his is now the definitive rendition of the Joker. He's a mesmerizing combination of creepiness and charm, an agent of anarchy riding the wildest case of antisocial personality disorder.

The Dark Knight owes a great deal to Alan Moore, as themes and plot devices regarding the Joker are lifted intact from The Killing Joke. Longtime Batman fans will recognize numerous additional concepts borrowed from the comics, but as far as I can tell, the idea described in today's comic is unique to this film.

[highlight here] Early in the film, there's a fascinating conversation between Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent, and their dates, about whether or not Batman is a true hero. The concept that Batman is merely a thuggish stopgap measure, necessary only until the true hero appears is introduced here. I immediately thought this was an intriguing idea, and it turned out to be thoroughly explored and integrated as a driving force directly into the main plot.

This notion has a more common analog throughout Batman comics: the idea that Batman would retire should his "War on Crime" ever be won. I love this new view that he's not the ideal champion of justice, but rather an emergency field medic to staunch Gotham's bleeding until a true surgeon (i.e. Harvey Dent) can repair the wound. [end highlight]

The combination of The Killing Joke's motif coupled with this idea and Ledger's brilliant performance made for what may be the finest superhero movie to date. My gut says it is; I just want more time and a few more viewings to digest it further before committing. It was so much better than I'd expected; it was as good as I hoped it would be. Unless I'm way off, you're likely to hear tons of gushing fanboy praise for The Dark Knight, so I'd like to spend the rest of this entry quibbling over my minor criticisms of the film.

[highlight here] The Dark Knight's tension swelled and resolved twice. It's an ambitious film, focusing not only on Batman and Jim Gordon's battle against the Joker, but also their relationship with Harvey Dent and his transformation into the tragic villain Two-Face. The result is a film that achieves catharsis a little over the halfway point, and then asks you to gear up again for an even tenser conflict. It almost felt like two films in one, and the result was a tad exhausting. I understand why this was necessary to achieve the intended result, and I'm not criticizing this so much as making an observation.

I did think that the "sonar" gizmo was just bullshit. Every bit of Batman's equipment in these two films were based on plausible technology until this nonsense. The instant Batman released that marker balloon, I went "coooooool" in anticipation of the aircraft that would snag him and secure his escape. It's foreshadowed by a bit of dialogue earlier in the film, and looks like the sort of operation that madly ingenious American military minds would cook up. But a mobile phone that contained a device to shut down an entire building's power and map it in real time with sonar? Bullshit.

That leads into Batman's further application of this technology to wiretap Gotham in an effort to find the Joker, resulting in a debate with Lucius Fox about the abuse of power. This peripheral commentary on federal eavesdropping was an intriguing touch, but it laid the roots for what I call "asshole" Batman.

For several years in the comic books, Batman was portrayed as a cold, calculating, Machiavellian fascist - a colossal brooding prick - with no human concern for his allies nor the citizenry he was protecting. I think this phenomenon more or less coincides with the post-9/11 era, shadowing our own increasing disillusionment and distrust with our real life protectors/government.

At the end of the film, Batman plays martyr and unilaterally decides that the knowledge of Harvey Dent's descent into madness and murder cannot become public, lest the feeble-willed average citizens (you know, people like you and me) despair and lose hope, or faith, or some such rubbish. He handles Gotham, smug in the knowledge that the sheep he guards wouldn't be able to handle the truth, and that he alone knows best. For me, this reinforced that theme of the film: Batman is not the ideal hero for Gotham City, and the sooner the real hero steps up, the better.

It's a small complaint against a good film, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth. I like my Batman a shade more noble. You know, a dude who's not above hitting Superman below the belt with Kryptonite if necessary, but nevertheless one that's an extension of the people's thirst for justice, as opposed to a fascist dictating to the people what's good for them. [end highlight]

Oh, and the growly voice Christian Bale effects as Batman is palatable when intimidating bad guys, but pretty silly in casual dialogue. [lol]

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