The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight (2008) – For a long time people dismissed comic books. I mean it’s obviously not as bad as it once was when a prick named Frederick Wertham published a bullshit book called Seduction of the Innocent which led to the burning of comic books and self-imposed industry censorship for decades. In fact most people enjoy superhero stories nowadays. Still, for quite some time it was just popcorn entertainment. People would be happy to see the next Batman movie but they wouldn’t ascribe any serious artistic legitimacy to it. Gradually, better and better comic movies chipped away at that (particularly non-superhero comic movies like A History of Violence and Ghost World) but I think the movie that forced people to recognize the artistic legitimacy of superhero movies. It was epic, but grounded in character. It contained one of the greatest performances from a great actor who left this world far too early. The film was thought to be an Oscar contender and its exclusion from the Best Picture category was largely responsible for the Academy Awards expanding the category to include a maximum of ten films (the exclusion of WALL-E, my favorite film of the decade, was another factor).

The criminals of the Gotham City are scared. Batman (Christian Bale) rules the night. After apprehending the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) he has the mob on the run. With Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) in charge of the GCPD’s Major Case Squad and a crusading new district attorney named Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) willing to go after the mob, Gotham City is really turning around. The three biggest mobsters in town, Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts), Gambol (Michael Jai White), and the Chechen (Ritchie Coster) agree to hire a deranged madman who has been stealing their money in order to kill the masked vigilante that is such a thorn in their sides (well two out of three agree anyway). However this madman (Heath Ledger) calls himself the Joker and has bigger ideas than just offing one man. As characterized by Batman’s loyal butler Alfred (Sir Michael Caine), the Joker is one of those men who “just want[s] to watch the world burn.”

Normally I say start with the negatives… but I really have next to no beefs with this movie. Okay, there is the bat-growl. It makes sense when Batman is yelling “WHERE ARE THEY?” at criminals but when he’s having weighty conversations with Gordon and Dent can he just talk like a normal person? The love story (with Maggie Gylenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Batman’s would-be love, Rachael) is I guess one of the weaker parts of the movie but it is integral to the plot. It also adds extra depths to Bruce’s rivalry of sorts with Harvey. There is a sort of plot hole where Batman leaves a party being held hostage by the Joker and they never really explain just how the hostages got away (did the Joker just decide to leave) but since it took me about five viewings and a Cracked.com article to even notice, I don’t hold it against the movie. Then there’s also the interpretation that this movie supports President George Bush’s actions in the War on Terror. He goes beyond his “jurisdiction” to abduct a foreign national (Chin Han as mob accountant Lau) and violates civil liberties in a big way to catch a terrorist (as the Joker is aptly called a couple times in the movie). Even with objections by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) it is still portrayed as the right move. In the end (uh, spoiler) Batman even decides it’s worth it to be hated (as Bush was) if it means his work was accomplished. Even if the film-makers didn’t intend it, that’s some pretty strong allegory. Why do I support actions by the Batman that I didn’t by the president? (Answer: because this is REAL LIFE. I didn’t have to live in Batman’s America for eight god damn years…)

Drawing inspiration yet again from The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (in its depiction of the fall of the mob and the rise of “freaks”) and also The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (in the Joker’s thesis about anyone going mad after enough trauma), the film also took inspiration from one of my all-time favorite movies: Michael Mann’s Heat. It even features a riveting bank heist with William Fichtner! There’s a scene in which Batman and the Joker talk about the nature of madness that, if the participants weren’t in a bat costume and clown makeup, wouldn’t not seem out of place in the kind of social dramas taken more seriously by critics. That’s because this movie is every bit as good as those kind of movies. Heath Ledger got and fucking deserved an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the Joker. (I do feel that while he still would have deserved it, he might not have gotten the award if he had not died.) Ledger is wildfire in this movie. He is chaos. He is without origin, like the comics. (Okay the comics have given origins… but multiple conflicting ones so you don’t know which, if any, is true…) He is the perfect antithesis to the order that Batman, Gordon, and Dent want to bring about in Gotham. The price they all pay is severe. Harvey Dent’s story arc… well it does give one of my favorite characters from the comics not much screen time, but within the context of this movie it works perfectly. The characters of Wuertz and Ramirez (Ron Dean and Minque Gabriela Curnen) were originally supposed to be Bullock and Montoya from the comics, but that was changed because (highlight to read spoiler) they turn out to be corrupt. That change was probably for the best. The role of Det. Stephens (Keith Szarabajka) is lot more like Bullock anyway so not sure why they didn’t just make him Bullock…

This movie is so dense it’s hard to believe that originally the movie was also supposed to have Black Mask in it. It is a crime that it was snubbed at the Oscars. There is something I have heard described as the “genre ghetto,” where works of art in more fantastical genres like science fiction or fantasy are dismissed as escapism with little merit. I am eternally fucking thankful that we’re moving away from that. I think this movie is largely to blame. Thank you, Christopher Nolan. This is my favorite Batman movie. This is one of the best movies of the 2000s. This is one damn fine film and that is not at all diminished just because the title character wears a cape.

***

[OLD FACEBOOK MINIREVIEW]

So there’s nothing really I have to say about this movie that hasn’t been said before but really, when has lack of originality ever stopped me before.  Minor spoilerage follows but really is there anyone left [who cares anyway] who hasn’t already seen this movie?  The film is not without flaws.  Christian Bale’s Batman growly voice is totally fitting when he’s yelling at criminals but decidedly out of place when having philosophical discussions with Gordon about the soul of the city.  Also, one of the best Batman villains Two Face just kind of gets shoehorned in at the end.  And was it really necessary for Gordon to fake his own death?  Whatever.  It’s no big impact since I still love this movie.  Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning role plays a large part of it, of course.  He probably would not have won the Oscar if he still had a pulse but he still would have deserved it.  His Joker is more a force of nature than character and that works better for the movie as a whole.  Even shoving Two-Face in at the end works better for the story, which has an awful lot of moral complexity for a superhero movie.  But that’s why this is one of the best comic book movies, because the comics have been complex for a long time but the movies based on them to not be.  Anyway, I could probably say a lot more but it would be nothing that real critics haven’t already said so I’ll see you later, same bat time, same bat channel…

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