MOVIE: Batman: The Dark Knight (2008)

I’ve been chewing on this movie for several days now, trying to think of some coherent and organized things to say about it.  But the more I ponder, the more I’m realizing this is really a movie I’m going to need to see more than once to fully appreciate, in part because I was so distracted most of the time by the brilliance of Heath Ledger’s Joker that I know I missed some important elements of the themes and plot.  So, pardon me if the following paragraphs don’t make complete sense — you get what you get, yo.

Surely you are all familiar with the concept of Batman, and his never-ending battles against a variety of bad guys in Gotham City, so I feel comfortable skipping over the plot synopsis.  What I really want to talk about in regards to this film — the best so far in the entire Batman series, old and new, in my opinion  — is its challenge to the typical comic book “good vs. evil” story.  What used to be fairly black and white has here merged to a rainy shade of gray, as characters on both sides of the battle muck around constantly with both our sympathies and our outrage.

At first, the “evil” guy (The Joker) seems like a monster of the purest form.  He kills for kicks and cackles with glee as he does so.  But it’s not long into the film before he manages to snag some  sympathy when it’s revealed that his scars — both mental and physical — are the result of some horrific childhood abuse by his father.

And the “good” guy?  Batman?  Well, let’s just say he does a whole lotta stuff he probably shouldn’t have.  In fact, it seemed to me that The Joker’s primary focus was in challenging the ethics of others — forcing people, especially widely-pronounced “good” people, to make choices that it was  almost impossible for them to make correctly.  Sometimes they still managed to; other times, not so much.  But no matter which way they went in any given situation, we were constantly challenged to evaluate both the bad guys and the good guys in a new way.

Ultimately I think the entire movie serves as an ethical challenge for us, the viewers, as we struggle with a variety of questions that chomp onto us like a crocodile, spinning us around and refusing to let go.  (How’s THAT for an analogy, yo?)  The Joker and Two-Face are people who have suffered greatly and turned to evil either as a way to process and cope with their pain, or because what they’ve suffered has somehow left them irreparably damaged, right?  It’s almost impossible, therefore, NOT to feel a great deal of sympathy for them (for me, anyway).  Yet how much sympathy are you “allowed” to feel for a man who “just wants to watch the world burn”?  Is it okay to feel a lot?  Is it okay to feel none?

Now rethink your stance as you recall that Batman himself had a childhood that was significantly less-than-peachy.  Both the good guys AND the bad guys in this film are the way they are because of extreme trauma.  If two people suffer the same fate and one comes out “good” and the other “evil,” does that negate the suffering of the “evil” one somehow?  I often get the sense that people think it does — that it means the “evil” one could’ve chosen good and wasn’t strong enough to, or didn’t fight hard enough to, and that, in the face of their destructive response to it, their suffering thus loses all value.

But is it actually more complicated than that?  Does it boil down to brain chemistry or some other biological factor involved in the coping mechanism, something over which neither person might have any actual control?  Or was it a series of additional external factors — a friendly person, a kind word, support of some sort given or lacked?  How much blame does the bad guy deserve for his actions?  Lots?  None?  Some?

I can’t stop thinking about these questions.  It sort of reminds me of my reaction to Sean Penn in  Dead Man Walking, actually, another movie that took the generic simplicity of the “good vs. evil” concept and sent it flying arse over teapot.

Another major theme in this film is, of course, 9/11 and its aftermath.  The Joker certainly displays some parallels to a 9/11 terrorist, at least if you think in terms of how we perceived those terrorists (we en masse, by the way, not individually or personally).  We saw al Qaeda as having motivations that made no sense to us — i.e. just wanting to watch the world burn, for no comprehensible reason.  And Batman himself demonstrates the immense potential absolute power has to corrupt absolutely.  When faced with the choice of protecting Gotham City citizens’ privacy or locating and taking out The Joker, for example, Batman can’t help but think the sacrifice of personal privacy is worth the end result.  It works out okay in the movie because Batman is a comic book “good” guy.  But in the real world, this is the exact type of reasoning that brought us the Patriot Act (and far, far worse).

I guess what I find the most interesting about this film, as well as the recent Iron Man movie, is the depth to which the good guys have started to go.  It used to be that the good guys were just The Good Guys TM.  They were good because. . . they were good.  And good was right.  And right was good.

But Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are complicated, troubled people.  And I think it’s this depth that has given the recent spate of superhero movies such a sudden, broad appeal.  These stories are no longer just for comic book geeks or action movie buffs — they’re films we can all relate to and learn something from.  Beautifully and thoughtfully made, they challenge us in ways we’re not used to action movies doing.  It’s nothing less than absolutely thrilling.

As for Christian Bale — meh.  I couldn’t help but feel like anybody could have played Batman in this installment and it would’ve made little difference to the character.  Mostly, I spent my time during Bale’s scenes fighting the urge to toss him a Ricola and inquire about the tragic loss of his upper lip.  But I’m kinda snarky that way — best to just ignore me on the subject of Bale, as well you all should know by now.

And as for Heath Ledger, all I can say right now is this:  Goddamn you, you stupid, fraking genius.  If you were alive right now, I’d kick you in the shins for being dead.  Frak, frak, hell, double-f’in-shite.

(Why yes, I AM still flailing around in the “anger”  state of grief, thank you for asking.)

p.s. Gary Oldman rulz.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Science Fiction
Cast:  Christian “No Upper Lip” Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Anthony Michael Hall, William Fitchner, Michael Caine



33 Responses to “MOVIE: Batman: The Dark Knight (2008)”

  1. Dave Piedrahita Says:

    couldnt have written it better myself…. or at all for that matter. Except i think Bale filled Batmans shoes better than previous Hollywood heroes. Can we erase American Psycho from your memory? lol Happy New Year!!!!

  2. alisa Says:

    Sorry Dave,

    But I agree w/Meg, Christian Bale makes a lousy Batman. He doesn’t even have the Batman chin for crying out loud, and Meg hit his voice straight on the head, he may want to get his vocal cords check out for polups. LOL

    In my humble opinion Val Kilmir made the best Batman.

  3. Lizzie Says:

    I agree with Alisa and Meg. Bale is just annoying – and I loved the remark about checking his vocal cords! I HATE that voice! But I vote for – gasp – Michael Keaton – as the “best” Batman. I thought they got it right the first time, and just kept getting worse after that. And much though I loved Heath Ledger’s performance (and I did!), I can’t just write off Jack Nicholson’s. He was just doing something very, very different, and I think it was good in its own way.

    Meg, I thought your write-up was particularly insightful and thought-provoking. (No, YOU’RE not provoking!) I was particularly intrigued by your question about whether, if 2 people both suffer trauma, and one ends up “good,” and the other “evil,” does it negate the “evil” one’s suffering? I think that very much used to be the prevailing philosophy (and one that I admit I used to espouse), and is only recently being examined on more levels, and “grey areas.”

    On a different note, but sort of related: the Xmas episode of “Chuck,” which is usually a goofy, fun show, dared to go back to the simple concept of: killing someone is wrong! Society seems to be so used to the idea of killing people to either get them out of the way, or because they “deserve it,” or because it’s somehow conceived as a “punishment” (an idea I don’t understand, BTW), it was rather refreshing to see Chuck so horrified that Sarah could actually kill someone “in cold blood” (even though the viewers knew she did it to protect Chuck). It seemed more human to me than what’s been happening on “24” over the years. I thought it was brave of the show. Okay, I’ll stop “pontificating” now!

  4. Haidee Says:

    no insight here, I haven’t seen the film and probably won’t. I stopped watching after the second film. I just dropped in to say I hope you all had a great christmas and wonderful new year. I hope the rest of 2009 brings us lots of semi wonderful zombie movies and heaps for Meg to write about.

  5. Alisa Says:

    Liz, I thought Michael Keaton made a great Batman also, I just I have a little crush on Val. 🙂

    I’ve always thought that Guy Pierce might also make a good Batman, but then again I’ve had a crush on him ever since I saw him in Priscilla. 🙂

  6. Lorraine Says:

    I liked the previous Batman movie better than this one. I just thought the story was more interesting and the action sequences were better. I’m not a fan of car chases. I find them boring.

    A few comments on the performances. I loved everything about The Joker and Heath Ledger. If he was still here, I’d help you kick him in the shins. What a waste! I’m a Christian Bale fan and I loved him in Batman Begins. He did ok with what he was given in The Dark Knight. And I’m almost positive that the director technically messed around with the tone of Bale’s voice to make it sound like that (which I agree was terrible). So it’s not Bale’s fault.

  7. Lizzie Says:

    Lorraine, once again, you make very good points. Now that I think of it, I bet you’re right about the sound effects on Bale’s voice. I also agree with you about: the previous movie, car chases, and kicking Heath Ledger in the shins!

    How about Javier Bardem as Batman? Or the “Burn Notice” guy – Jeffrey Donovan?? Actually, I think any actor who’s especially broody could pull it off!

  8. Lorraine Says:

    Oh, I so agree about Jeffrey Donovan. I was a fan way before Burn Notice and I’m glad that he is now getting well-deserved attention.

  9. megwood Says:

    Hmmm, Jeffrey Donovan as Batman. I confess I can’t really see that. Donovan is kind of kooky — I have a hard time picturing him as too seriously broody.

    Javier Bardem is an intriguing suggestion. Though the Spanish accent might be somewhat out of place, given Bruce Wayne’s nationality. I definitely think Michael Keaton was good as Batman, though. Val Kilmer seemed wrong for it, though that may have been because I, like so many others, was so distracted by his fake nipples that I failed to give his actual acting as much attention as it deserved. Heh. I said “nipples.”

  10. Rochelle Says:

    i haven’t seen this yet, and am not a big batman fan. i am generally talked into watching superhero movies by my sister. i will add though, that i totally heart val kilmer but was not into his batman portrayal. however, yesterday i caught the end of real genius on tv and out of nowhere thought val would make an excellent joker. something about the shape of his lips and a vague feeling that he may have a maniacal side underneath.

  11. Lizzie Says:

    Oh no! Here comes the Trivia Freak again! Rochelle, I was curious about “Real Genius,” so I looked it up on IMDb (BTW, it took me a couple of times reading your post to figure out that you were referring to a movie). Wow! Val Kilmer as a kid! I thought he was brilliant as Jim Morrison, of the “Doors,” and not just because he looked like him (which he did), but because he did such a good job with the part. However, I wasn’t as keen on him as “Batman” (and I didn’t even notice the fake n-n-nipples (there, Meg, I said it too – LOL).

    However, in my “travels” on IMDb, I came across a movie I just HAVE to see! For all you zombie lovers out there (Meg, are you listening?), I found a comedy-western-zombie movie called “Undead or Alive!” The tagline is: “Guns don’t kill people; zombies do!” It is SO going right in my netflix queue!

  12. megwood Says:

    I’m sorry, Lizzie, did you just suggest that you have NOT seen “Real Genius”? If so, WHAT?! That’s on my top ten favorite movies of all time list — it’s absolutely hilarious. I have the entire script memorized, that’s how many times I’ve seen it. You must rent it immediately!!

    I’ve toyed with the idea of watching “Undead or Alive” in the past, but been unable to bring myself to rent it due to the co-starrage of Chris Kattan, who really gets on my nerves. If it turns out to be fun, let me know, though, and I’ll give it a try! 🙂

  13. JC Says:

    Nice write up just gotta correct one thing. The whole Joker scar, the father thing is one story he tells, he tells another one later in the movie. The point is we have no idea how the scars come about. The Joker’s history is a mystery…maybe he was damaged as a child maybe he wasn’t.

    Gotta say though I thought Bale did a good job and while I loved Ledger’s performance I thought that many other people in that movie did just as well namely Oldman and Eckhart.

  14. Lizzie Says:

    Boy, I just can’t win, can I? 🙂 I think I’m so clever, searching out “Real Genius” on IMDb, only to be chastised for not having seen it! I can’t be expected to have seen a movie I had NEVER HEARD OF! (Sorry, Val Kilmer fans – there are a few movies I actually haven’t heard of!!) Before you say anything else, I’M SORRY I never heard of it!

    THEN, I thought I was being clever in finding that “Undead or Alive” movie, only to find that my “comrade in zombie fandom” (Meg) had not only already heard of it, but had also been trying to decide whether to see it or not! Well – phooey! It’s on my Netflix queue now (I don’t hate Chris Kattan THAT much!), and I think I may just drown my sorrows tonight by watching the “Serenity” movie, which I taped on the Sci-Fi channel. See what this blog is doing to me – I’m now a bona-fide fan of “Firefly!”

    JC, I THOUGHT that story the Joker told about the scars on his face being inflicted by his father was just that – a story. I thought we were not supposed to know if it was true or not. Maybe the Joker himself didn’t know if it was true! And I’m glad you mentioned Oldman and Eckhart; I agree – they did fine jobs. (I’d like to see more of Eckhart’s “Two-Face” – did they really kill him off?) The only lead actor I didn’t like was Bale himself. And poor Maggie Gyllenhal – she really didn’t need to be there at all! (Also, while I’m at it, I thought Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman pretty much canceled each other out – two greats, but you needed only one, and I’m sorry, Morgan, good as you are, that one is “Alfred.”)

  15. megwood Says:

    Thanks for the correction, JC! I had missed the second story of Joker’s scars, which just further goes to support what I’d said at the beginning of this review: I know I missed stuff and I definitely need (and want!) to see the film again soon!

    That said, he either got sliced and diced by someone, or he fell into a vat of acid (another origin story for that character) or etc. etc. etc. Dude’s suffered some kind of trauma some way or another. The details are kind of neither here nor there when it comes to the point I was trying to make.

    Lizzie, go get Real Genius — you will love it!

  16. jo Says:

    I didn’t love The Dark Knight, but I did love Heath Ledger, which is saying a lot because I haven’t really in the past. Mostly, I found the movie annoying, although light years better than Batman Begins, which I slept through. Christian Bale just doesn’t do it for me.

    I will say I am very, very glad I watched DK before I saw The House Bunny, because if I had seen House Bunny first I would not have been able to keep from laughing hysterically every time BatBale said something in BatRasp.

  17. megwood Says:

    Hah, “BatRasp” — awesome.

    This is a hilarious spoof of the BatRasp, for those who are interested:

  18. Rochelle Says:

    lizzie – you should totally see real genius. it’s a moral imperative. sorry about the confusion. i am way lazy about comments, im, email when not a work. capitalization, punctuation, etc. = too much trouble.

    meg – would you be prepared if gravity reversed itself?
    real genius, princess bride, and bill and ted’s excellent adventure are the movies i used to have memorized. and would quote at random. (how old do i sound now? yikes!) it might just be time to watch them all again!

  19. megwood Says:

    Rochelle, I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said. . . “I drank what??” 🙂

  20. Lizzie Says:

    ROTFLMAO! The “Batrasp” Video! (BTW, “batrasp” better become an official part of our lexicon, and soon!) I laughed so hard at the video, I had to MAKE my husband come see it. Then I laughed even harder! He cracked a smile when the “Joker” said, “well, I know I’m crazy,” but other than that, he said he thought I was much more amused than he was!

    Meg, did Socrates follow up that phrase with something like “Ah, sh****?” or “Oh phooey?”

  21. megwood Says:

    Lizzie, to find the answer to your Socrates question, you will need to watch “Real Genius”!

    Don’t make me say it again, yo.

    Hilarious about your husband’s reaction vs. yours — that’s just how my spouse and I are when we watch The Daily Show together. I laugh my ASS off. At EVERYTHING! Usually the most he does is pull out the half-smirk upon occasion. What is the dealio with that?? I think your husband and my husband should get together and go bowling.

  22. megwood Says:

    p.s. I’m quite certain Socrates never uttered the words “Oh phooey.”


  23. Lizzie Says:

    LOL … again! If my husband went bowling with your husband, I’d be really mad. I can’t even get him to take ME bowling! But he loved both C. Bale “Batman” movies … more than I did. Maybe that’s why he didn’t find the video as funny as I did. ?

  24. Ellen Says:

    Well, I didn’t like the film at all (mainly because I was so annoyed by all of the Chicago scenery, the bad dialogue, flimsy characters & stupid plot). BUT, I think Heath Ledger’s Joker was pure, mad brilliance… he stole every scene he was in. Pity that was his last role, but at least he went out at the very top of his acting game…

  25. Rook Robin McEtc Says:

    Meg, not a word about Aaron Eckhart? His Harvey Dent really rocked me. Of course, a fair amount of the credit is due the writer for that interpretation – but I thought AE was _grand_.

  26. megwood Says:

    Eckhart was great AND he didn’t even have hair that was too dorky this time! But after only seeing it once, his role didn’t really stand out to me as much as I think it will when I watch it again. Overshadowed by Zee Joker, methinks.

  27. Beth Says:

    Christian Bale’s voice was so utterly monotone and raspy and annoying I kept wondering WTF? I thought for sure the director did some techno wizadry on it (like Cher on Believe) cause no way would Bale do that on purpose without forced direction. I could be wrong. He is also very understated in the role. He could use a tad more energy sometimes.
    I thought he was absolutely brilliant in American Psycho. I liked that movie way more than I ever thought I would. It’s a brilliant dark comedy. (despite the gruesomeness).
    Overall quite a few people I know hated this Batman movie. I saw it in the IMAX and enjoyed it quite a bit.

  28. megwood Says:

    I think the point of Bale’s Batrasp was to conceal his true identity whenever he was Batman — kind of like Clark Kent’s glasses, you know? Except, of course, if the public was fooled by Clark Kent’s glasses, they’d hardly connect the dots on Bruce Wayne’s voice. Apparently, people in the SuperWorld are Super Dumb.

    “American Psycho” is what scarred me for life in regards to Christian Bale. Excellent, excellent film. Hope I never EVER see it again. 😉

  29. Dave Piedrahita Says:

    ok girls…. to put this issue to rest….. i think i will play the next Batman!!!! LOL

  30. Lorraine Says:

    Meg and Beth – you almost make me willing to see American Psycho. I’m a Bale fan but I’ve avoided that movie because it looks too gruesome. I’m not a fan of torture. Dare I try it?

  31. megwood Says:

    Lorraine, I’m telling you right now, do NOT watch American Psycho. If you go ahead and watch it anyway, DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU.

  32. Lorraine Says:

    Ok Meg, I’ve been warned. If I need a Bale fix, I’ll rewatch “Reign of Fire”! That way I get dragons and Gerard Butler too 😉

  33. Sarah Says:

    I don’t really like Christian Bale in the new films either, which is odd, cos I had such a crush on him in Empire of the Sun when I was about that old!

    On the subject of the grey line between good and evil you should really see the Night Watch and Day Watch films. I think you’d enjoy them as they are very stylish and good stories – and really show how good people can do bad things and bad people good. They are in Russian and by the same director that did Wanted (but don’t hold that against him). The books the films are based on are good too.

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