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The Dark Knight

Two days ago, on its premiere, I saw The Dark Knight. As a movie, it was spectacular. As a sequel, it was fantastic. As a work of art, Heath Ledger’s finest performance. But as a Batman story, it was a let-down.

(Don’t worry if you haven’t seen it; no spoilers ahead.)

I’m a comic-book geek. A total superhero dork. Yep, I collected comics, still have a hefty collection, and recently have often contemplated getting back into it. Superman’s still my favorite, and with that comes an affinity to DC Comics. Naturally, Batman comes in at a very close second.

Let’s consider the success of comic-book based movies. Artistically, “now that Hollywood can do them justice (with believable CGI), they are recognising that comic books are readymade for the big screen. If you look at any comic book, it is nearly a shot-by-shot storyboard just waiting to be filmed” (credit: Telegraph). As far as the writing goes, I wouldn’t hesitate to pit certain comic book writers against some of the top novelists, screenwriters, essayists, or storytellers in the world.

Of all the comics I’ve read, Batman stories are some of the most excellently written. Batman: Year One, The Killing Joke, A Death in the Family, and All Star Batman & Robin are just a handful of excellent milestones of the 69 years of Batman history.

What The Dark Knight lacked was mythology. Batman Begins was a great story, more so because it appeased the fanboy. It drew upon history: where Batman came from, what fueled his desire, what drove him to become what he is. With a wealth of history to draw from, creating a brand new story-line wasn’t necessary. By illustrating previously established plot-points—such as Bruce Wayne’s combat training—it both provided an entertaining story that supported the overall idea of Batman.

That’s not to say that The Dark Knight had no mythology. However, while there were some nods to the mythos (unstated in order to not spoil the movie), the Batman character could have been replaced with any conflicted action hero—John McClane, the Terminator, Wolverine, Neo, Jason Bourne—and the movie would have been equally as good.

If I wanted to see a good movie, I would certainly have been satisfied.

But I paid to see a Batman story.

Comments

Jared said:

I loved the movie, but now that you mention it, it wasn't really about Batman at all. Good observation.

Posted on July 20, 2008 08:24 PM

Simmy said:

This seems to be a trend amongst my friends. I, for the record, am the biggest comic noob there ever was...I don't collect, nay, never got into, nay, have never even read a single comic book, EVER. And I personally consider it one of the greatest films I have ever seen. Hands down. I think a big part of that is that I don't have to disassociate myself from any allegiance to back story, mythology or stylistic predisposition and am able to enjoy it for what it really is—a crime thriller.

My comic book friends seem unwilling or just downright unable to do the same. "Comic books are basically storyboards" or "I don't like the gold belt—he never had a gold belt" etc.

I'm not sure I completely agree that the movie would have worked with John McClane as a replacement, although it would be interesting to see The Joker's reaction to a "Yipee-kai-yay, motherf****r."

Posted on July 20, 2008 10:04 PM

Wilson Miner said:

I think with what Nolan is clearly trying to do — frame the Batman story within the lens of realism — you're bound to lose a little bit of the fantasy. But I disagree that it doesn't turn out a Batman story. I think the key themes of the mythology are actually mined more deeply in Dark Knight than in any of the previous adaptations. The "I know where this is going" cloud that hangs over Year One and the existential overtones of The Killing Joke especially are infused pretty strongly.

With ongoing mythologies like the ones comic books create, I like the fact that each generation of stories adds a new layer over the same themes. It builds on what came before, it takes it in a new direction, and if it works right it all comes back around the same loop. That's why stuff like Dark Knight Returns is so mind-blowing, because when you first look at it, it doesn't look like Batman, but when you get into it, it makes total sense. It's the same story, just a new way to tell it. I think Dark Knight definitely has that factor.

It also has a little bit of a middle-sequel thing about it that I think plays down the myth factor a little bit. It's the Empire Strikes Back of this series. It doesn't have the awe-factor of showing you this stuff for the first time, and it has the story burden of needing to build a bridge to the final act. Not to give anything away, but I think the ending does a great job of that, while letting a little sliver of the mythology shine in at the end. If Batman Begins is the origin story of Batman, Dark Knight is the origin story of the Batman myth. Meta-mythology, I guess. Whatever, I loved every minute of it.

Posted on July 20, 2008 10:59 PM

Dan Mall said:

It builds on what came before, it takes it in a new direction, and if it works right it all comes back around the same loop… when you first look at it, it doesn't look like Batman, but when you get into it, it makes total sense. It's the same story, just a new way to tell it. I think Dark Knight definitely has that factor.

I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. That’s actually the major problem I had with the movie; I don’t think it built on anything before.

Batman Begins perfected this. It answered questions you might otherwise have taken for granted. How can Bruce Wayne kick so much butt? Because he spent his 20’s learning various forms of martial arts around the world. The movie version took artistic liberty—Bruce Wayne never trained with Ra’s al Ghul—but that’s ok with me because it pays homage to the martial arts training part of Batman’s life. Why is Wayne so rich? Because his father’s philanthropy was very profitable. Again, artistic liberty was taken in describing how the Waynes built the railroad system, but the same applies here too.

From this standpoint, I think The Dark Knight misses the mark. There were certainly opportunities that just weren’t capitalized. For instance, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman’s character) had been set up as the movie’s resident genius, and yet Batman seems to be able to get by without him (trying not to give anything away). It’s a spectacular display of suspended disbelief, but nowhere in the movie is it established that Bruce Wayne has always had a genius level intelligence, which grants credibility and plausibility to his master detective skills.

In comparing the first and the second, both are spectacular films, but the second still leaves a lot to be desired.

Posted on July 21, 2008 12:13 PM

Wilson Miner said:

It's splitting hairs, but they didn't actually credit Wayne with inventing all that stuff in the movie. They just said he re-assigned the R&D department. My suspended disbelief machine was in high gear for a movie about a guy who is the best in the world at pretty much everything, so I guess that didn't trip the alarms.

Posted on July 21, 2008 01:40 PM

Matthew Munsey said:

I loved it, but I can see what Daniel is getting at. I honestly felt the movie was more about the Joker, Harvey, and Gordon than Batman. I can see how you could have put a generic, conflicted hero into the mix, and the plot wouldn't have suffered all that much.

One aspect that would have suffered was the development of the Joker’s character. He is essentially the anti-batman. Without batman, there can be no Joker.

Another area that would have suffered is Batman's and Gordon's description of who and what Batman is to the city of Gotham. That was really the only point in the film where it really touched on the uniqueness of Batman's character and a bit of the mythos.

Posted on July 21, 2008 04:29 PM

Michelle said:

The movie was about the Joker, Harvey, Gordon, and the other supporting roles. It needed to be.
The first movie was about Bruce Wayne & Batman, the second was about how people and society had affected, or been affected by, Batman. The people surrounding Batman help to define him, and that definition changes in the course of the film. I won't say how to avoid spoilers.
I'm not a comic-book geek, but it felt like a Batman story to me - just modernized.
What made it a Batman story was the struggle between absolute corruption and the supposedly incorruptible. I'd explain further but it would enter into spoiler mode, and this movie was definitely worth seeing without spoilers.

Posted on July 21, 2008 08:06 PM

Kyle Racki said:

Yeah, I've got to stick up for the movie. It did nearly a perfect job of being a plot/character driven, emotionally resonant film, and yes, still being true to it's subject matter -- Batman.

Unfortunately, you can't please everyone, and I think being more deeply rooted in the comic mythology would have perhaps please fanboys more, but instead, would have alienated mainstream audiences and been just another bad Batman film. And there are plenty of those to go around.

Posted on July 25, 2008 01:22 PM

Dan Mall said:

I think being more deeply rooted in the comic mythology would have perhaps please fanboys more, but instead, would have alienated mainstream audiences and been just another bad Batman film.

Instinctually, I’d agree, but films like Batman Begins, Spider-Man, Sin City, and X-Men disprove that theory.

And there are plenty of [bad Batman films] to go around.

On that we can agree!

Posted on July 29, 2008 08:04 AM

chaz said:

I think you have totally missed. The movie was brillant. The mythology of Batman is sprinkled throughout the movie. First it questioned what batman is, vigilante or hero. It asked the question is he the hero we want or deserve? Do we really need him? Does he do more harm than good? In the end it answers all those questions and states that only Batman can achieve what is needed. Even if others are used as the face of the hero it is Batman who is the indespensible hero.

Posted on July 30, 2008 04:55 PM

Dan said:

although there wasn't as much of batman in it, that didn't bother me to be honest, it was still a well told story, and a better take on the joker than the one with Jack Nicholson. That said, I was dissappointed by Maggie Gyllenhall's performance, and the way they handled the whole two-face thing felt a bit tacked on.

Posted on August 11, 2008 01:38 PM

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