Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Dark Knight

Yes, I finally saw it. Yes, I realize I'm about the only person left in America who hasn't. So what, it's my blog, I get to talk about it anyway.

Maybe it was all the positive reviews getting my hopes built up. Maybe it was articles like this one, speaking seriously about the ideas being explored through the plot. Or maybe, it was the Heath Ledger hype. Anyway, for whatever reason, I expected more from the film.

Don't misunderstand me, please. It was a great and gripping action film. Heath Ledger's Joker, though he didn't quite live up to the hype, walked a fine line between comical and dark brilliantly. He's probably ruined that character for anyone else.

The rest of the cast held up their end as well. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a much better Rachael Dawes than Katie Holmes, and her reaction to the realization that Batman was saving Dent instead of her hit exactly the right note. Bale, Oldman, and Eckhart all managed to keep pace, though I didn't think any of them were particularly exceptional.

So what is my problem exactly? Well, it's this. In most superhero movies, it doesn't matter how over-the-top the action gets. We've already consciously agreed to suspend our disbelief just by accepting a character that flies/reads minds/dodges bullets/climbs walls, or has an adamantium skeleton. Either that, or we get "normal" humans in a cartoonish reality (see Sin City or 300) that clearly lets us know we're not in for a normal day. That's not the case in the Batman movies. Batman is a regular guy...sort of, who simply gets the maximum mileage out of what a regular guy is capable of. When the dogs bite him, it ruins his armor and hurts. The whole reason we see his scars early in the film is to remind us that this isn't another Superman knockoff. This reality meshes well with the gritty moral dilemma facing Batman. He's got to wrestle with the morality of hurting people who are trying to hurt him. He knows he's a pariah, but a necessary one. He longs to be able to retire, while ultimately knowing he probably never will.

And then there are the exploding cars. This man whose conscience is torn by people executed because of him drives down a street blowing up a bunch of parked cars, potentially endangering countless civilians because, I guess, it would be too much of a bother to drive up on the sidewalk. He IS on a motorcycle after all. When he crashes, the same man who was hurt by dogs is able to walk off a high-speed impact against a steel vehicle coupled with a brutal beating with no apparent lasting effects. Meanwhile, a Gotham police helicopter is flying betwixt the skyscrapers, making it an easy target for Joker's men. While I'm not a pilot, I know enough about aerodynamics and the vagaries of air currents in the middle of a large city to surmise that such a maneuver wouldn't be bright even if it was performing a non-combat role.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe others don't see the simultaneous attempts at reality and caricatured violence as being in conflict. Perhaps the two are meant as some symbolic statement about the inherent dichotomy of the role Batman has to play. To me though, the interaction between the two was jarring, alternately begging me to take this seriously and then asking me to accept cartoonish excess.