On Monday I wrote about Batman Begins and gave it a glowing review. It’s definitely one of my new favorite movies. That same day I finished watching The Dark Knight. I wasn’t quite as impressed.
Basic plot: Gotham City is now facing a new menace, a deranged psychopath known only as “the Joker.” He threatens to kill someone everyday until Batman reveals his true identity. Bruce Wayne scrambles to protect the idealistic new district attorney, Harvey Dent, his childhood friend Rachel Dawes, his friend Lieutenant Gordon, and eventually all of Gotham from the Joker’s chaotic ambitions.
The Dark Knight is incredibly important to the whole trilogy, no doubt about it. I already know enough about The Dark Knight Rises to know how the two movies tie together. If you don’t have the conflict in The Dark Knight, then Batman’s struggles and triumphs in The Dark Knight Rises probably aren’t going to carry the same weight. So I’m very glad that I saw The Dark Knight.
But I probably won’t watch it again, at least not anytime soon. It was very, very dark and depressing. It was also a little convoluted, making it hard to keep up with all the subplots and deceptions and twists. There was just too much going on for one film, in my opinion.
Bruce Wayne/Batman, Alfred, Lucius Fox (played by the amazing Morgan Freeman), and Lieutenant/Commissioner Gordon are undoubtedly the best characters. These are the men who command your sympathy and affection. You cheer them on throughout a film in which any ray of light and hope is extremely welcome.
By contrast, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Rachel Dawes (now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) are so shallow and
maddeningly stupid uninteresting, I didn’t feel very much emotion when either of them died. I felt bad for Bruce when Rachel died and that was it. But he didn’t even deserve this Rachel. I missed Katie Holmes very much.
And then there’s the Joker. Three things about the Joker.
One: Heath Ledger was BRILLIANT. GENIUS. AN AMAZING ACTOR.
Two: the Joker is one of the most well-developed, most finely-acted villains I’ve ever seen in my life. He was disgusting, he was morbidly funny, he was a master of deception and chaos. He was chillingly consistent in his atheistic worldview of “no rules.” As a storyteller, I have a lot of respect for Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan for creating a character that felt so frighteningly real.
Three: I hated him and enjoyed hating him and was overjoyed when he was finally beaten at his own game. Which, I think, was the point. Someone tell me I’m not the only one who did a happy dance when Batman smashed the Joker’s head on the table. Whoo-hoo! The creep had it coming! (That was a great scene, by the way.)
The film would’ve been so much better and more organized, though, if the Joker had been the sole villain. Instead, (SPOILERS) you have this subplot of Harvey Dent, who starts off a hero and then goes berserk after Rachel Dawes is killed.
It seemed very far-fetched for somebody as good and noble as Dent to become completely unhinged, even after all he’d been through. Yes, there were hints that he had a few loose bolts in his head. Still, when he went absolutely bonkers you couldn’t help thinking, “Boy, that escalated quickly.”
(And excuse me, how did he survive that violent car crash, yet die by simply falling off a building? It didn’t seem all that high, either. Imagination cannot process this request.)
I didn’t like how Batman and the Gotham police covered up Dent’s treachery, either. Why don’t you just tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may? Sure, it might be hard on Gotham at first, but no one should put that much confidence in one man anyway. And if Batman is a symbol, if he’s meant to inspire courage, what good will it do Gotham in the long run if he’s now being targeted by the police just so Dent’s reputation as a good DA can be preserved? Hello?!
(I know this will be resolved in The Dark Knight Rises, but I still think it was a bad move, especially on Bruce’s part. Gotham’s faith in her white knight won’t be “rewarded” if the people are only clinging to a falsehood, hon.)
With all that said, there were some parts that I really enjoyed in The Dark Knight. I loved the scene where Coleman Reese figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman and tries to blackmail Lucius Fox. This was Fox’s response (given, of course, in Morgan Freeman’s cool, calm voice):
“Let me get this straight. You think that your client, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands–and your plan is to blackmail this person? Good luck!”
My favorite part, though, was when the Joker threatens to blow up two ferries. But he gives them an alternative: either the civilians on one ferry can blow up the criminals aboard the other, or the criminals can blow up the civilians. Either one ship will survive, or they’ll blow up together.
Well, the civilians on one ship and the criminals on the other start arguing about what to do, until finally (after much suspense) one of the criminals throws their detonator overboard, and the civilian who’d volunteered to set off his detonator refuses to do it. When the Joker realizes neither ship is going to explode–that the people of Gotham weren’t going to play by the rules of his game–the stunned look on his face was priceless! And Batman’s response:
What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you? You’re alone!
At that point I started whooping and clapping my hands, because earlier the Joker had told Batman that he, Batman, was alone–and that just wasn’t so!
The Dark Knight was a hard, exhausting film to watch, but I didn’t think it was worthless for two reasons. First of all, I know the events in this film are going to be important in the next one.
Secondly, The Dark Knight showed very well what happens to people who have no moral compass. Harvey Dent becomes what Bruce Wayne might have been if Rachel Dawes hadn’t slapped him across the face in Batman Begins. Dent is motivated solely by revenge and a sense that he’s owed something. Not only that, but he believes in a world governed by chance. He makes his own luck. He is his own standard.
The Joker, by comparison, is an anarchist who believes in “a world without rules.” He delights in forcing people into ethical dilemmas, hoping that they, too, will throw morality and justice to the wind. Sometimes he succeeds. Even Bruce resorts to questionable methods (hacking into Gotham’s cell phones) to find the Joker. But ultimately the Joker fails, when the people of Gotham refuse to make a pragmatic decision aboard the ferries.
The heroes of the film–Bruce, Gordon, Alfred, and Fox–are aren’t perfect, but they are doing their best to fight for good and protect innocent lives. The movie never says exactly what their moral standard is and there’s the ultimate problem, but a Christian viewer can still acknowledge that they are operating, for the most part, under a biblical worldview. They aren’t always consistent in that worldview, but right is still right and wrong is still wrong in the city of Gotham.
So tomorrow night: The Dark Knight Rises. EEEP EEEP EEEP!!! My excitement is mixed with a little fear, however, because a Certain Person shared this quote with me and my mom yesterday . . .
Which promptly made my mom start crying, and I felt like someone had just ripped my heart out of my chest.
Pass us the Kleenex; I’m afraid we might need it!