Thinking about The Dark Knight

I know – original, huh? But I only just saw the film (UK release dates, thanks so much). And as a mage who’s done a fair bit of work with hero-archetypes (and has an especial fondness for The Batman), it’s a subject close to my heart.

The Dark Knight is not a perfect film by any means. There’s a lot of reviews calling it The Best Superhero Film Ever, The Empire Strikes Back/Godfather II  Of Our Time, etc. It’s not. Hell, I don’t even think it’s the best Batman film I’ve seen (which honour still belongs to Mask of the Phantasm).

What it is, I think, is much rarer. An adult film about duality, morality and corruption – wrapped up as a summer tentpole action flick.

It’s also bloody good, with many excellent performances.

SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT

As I said, this is not a flawless movie by a long chalk. Let’s start with a couple of those flaws:

The entire sequence from the attempted shooting of the mayor, through the Harvey-Dent-in-a-van chase and right up to Batman and Joker playing chicken and Bat falling off his bike and playing dead just so Jim (I’m-only-playing-dead) Gordon can put a gun to Joker’s head, is something that makes very little logical sense when considered after the movie.

Bale’s decision to play all Batman’s dialogue in his scary-monster voice, which was used more sparingly and effectively in Begins rendered some of the dialogue hard to understand. Some viewers even found it silly.

But even in these parts, there’s something good happening. The chase – though contrived – is spectacular… and I defy anyone not to think the moment where the Batpod turns around by running up a wall and spinning on the back wheel is worth murmuring, “cool”.

And I think I get what Bale was doing with the Bat Voice. The situation he is in has pushed the monster further out. The beast that in Begins snarled at a man pleading to be believed:

“I swear to God”
“SWEAR TO ME!”

… that part is closer to the surface even at the start – and nearly rips out completely by the end.

Ledger’s Joker –  though let us not forget that the character wasn’t just his, but derived from the past of the Batman canon by the Nolan brothers and David Goyer – took me a while to get.
The voice, the constantly darting tongue… the fact that for most of the time he just isn’t funny… it threw me. Then, around the point where he broke out of jail, I finally got it. I worked out what kind of Joker this is.

A practical joker.

Several times in the film, Joker says he’s an ‘agent of chaos’, something that inverts order and rules. But at the same time, he manages to plan and execute several schemes which manage to outwit the entire Gotham crime network, Gotham PD and Batman himself. This, shall we say, is not something which speaks to a creature entirely driven by disregard for order… but it is exactly the modus operandi of the practical joker.

Setting up a complex gag, relying on an understanding of  mechanisms and  human nature both, in order to produce chaos. Executing a plan which makes Gotham an even worse place, annihilating Harvey Dent and nearly breaking Batman – and clearly having a lot of fun doing it – that’s a Joker which fits perfectly in Nolan’s version.

And that ending…

Batman allowing Dent’s memory to become a hero-martyr for Gotham, letting himself be branded as the one thing he could never be, a murderer (perhaps fulfilling Joker’s prophecy that “the one thing you swore you’d never do, you’ll do tonight”). That last dualism, becoming the anti-Dent, the hero-in-waiting. ‘The Dark Knight’ now has a meaning, in both senses of the phrase.

But… what the hell can they do in a third movie?

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