September 12, 2008

Movie Review: Dark Knight

As I said before, I am a big movie fan, but I am also a big Batman fan. Batman discussions were common in my household, as we would often compare notes and thoughts on the various psychological profiles of various villains. Yes, this was my childhood. I posted this August 10th, 2008.

Overall Reaction

I was excited to hear of the coming of the new Batman film for two reasons: I'm an avid Batman fan to begin with and the fantastic treatment of the character in Batman Begins. I was hoping for a film that was on par with Batman Begins, but I was unsure of whether or not they could do it. They were going to change an essential aspect of Joker's identity (bleached face for makeup) and maintain the Hollywood mistake of not sticking to one Batman villain per movie. So how did it fair?

It was amazing! Fantastic, action-packed, psycho-dramatic, thriller. One of the best movies I've ever seen.

Comparison to the First Movie

There were many things about this film which demonstrates a style for the entire series when compared with Batman Begins.

One, both movies resisted having an opening theme song, or even title screen. Instead, both opted for creating the Batman symbol only, in a highly stylized fashion. The first one formed it with a swarm of bats, the second by a blue fire. This thrusts the audience right into the movie.

Also, both movies have a very strong color scheme, which is first seen in the Batman symbol shot. The first one was brown and black, with some other earth tones. The second one was more blue and grey, with some other urban colors. There are scenes which are an exception to this, but these strong color patterns are certainly prevalent.

Also, the plot movements are very different. The first movie was very linear, almost episodic in nature. You might consider the first movie to have 4 episodes:

  1. Bruce Wayne training and dealing with his past (ends when Ras 'al Gul's house explodes and Bruce meets Alfred at plane)
  2. Bruce Wayne creating Batman and taking down the Falcone (ends with Rachel and her boss discussing prosecuting him. 'Baton' is passed when Scarecrow is introduced)
  3. Batman investigating the drugs and fighting Scarecrow (ends with Bruce Wayne coming to his party)
  4. Batman fighting Ras 'al Gul

Note how in each episode he is dealing with a different villain, has different kinds of challenges, and even the feel of the movie itself is different.

The Dark Knight is more monolithic in feel, with more of a cyclical structure: Joker instigates a challenge, Batman, Gordon, and Dent react, over and over with slight changes with each cycle. The only exception to this could be the incident with the Chinese accountant, but even with that, its the three good guys reacting to a challenge presented by the accountant. Also while the first movie was about the creation of Batman, for the most part, this one focused on the relationships between Batman, Gordon, and Dent, and how those relationships deal with the Joker crisis.

There is also the idea of theme. The theme of the first movie is fear and symbol. This second movie, the theme is hero and order. Throughout the movie, Dent and Batman are compared as two kinds of heroes. The final monologues of Gordon are the most conspicuous of this, using the same wording to describe the two, as well as the two titles: White Knight and Dark Knight. Gordon is also displayed as a hero to some extent, but never truly, because he is too pragmatic to truly be a hero.

Order is also treated, but not to the same extent. This is treated more on the villain side of things. You have the mob essentially trying to regain order. Also, to some extent, the good guys trying to create order for the first time. Then you have Joker trying to destroy order: an agent of chaos as he calls himself. Then, finally, Two-Face; a man who has lost he belief in order, and finds solace in the only thing he can still find reliable: chance.


There are two ways to gauge intensity: the quality of the action and the strength of the suspense. On a scale from one to ten, I would rank the action as a 7.5. Most of the tight shots made it difficult to tell what was happening in the fight scenes (especially when he was in the building in the last confrontation with Joker). Most of the other kinds of action were very short scenes. The scene that ranks the highest for action (and I would rank it about a 9.5) would be the car chase scene. Car chases, cool new vehicle, bazooka, explosions, trucks getting slammed, and an 18-wheeler flipped over its front. Now that's action my friend.

However, for suspense, I would rank this movie overall as a 10. This is clearly more where the director was going. Its a strong cross between a thriller and an action movie. Never quite knowing what Joker is going to do, always on the edge of your seat, not knowing who will live or who will die, and Two-Face making every decision by the flip of a coin. Very high suspense. Combine this high suspense with the action that was in the movie, and you have a very intense film.


Every true Batman fan knows that its all about the psychosis. A Batman movie without psychosis as a focus is like Star Wars with Jar Jar as the comic relief. Just bad. This movie got is right with each character hopelessly complex. Let us examine them starting with the least, and moving to the greater:

Mob bosses: The head mob boss in this movie is Maroni. In the comics, Maroni was the guy that threw acid on Harvey Dent, making him Two-Face. Here, Maroni is actually a very quiet man, more of a victim of circumstance than a real threat to anyone. He gets forced into a corner by Batman, Gordon and Dent, then pushed around by Joker, abused by Batman's interrogation, and finally trapped by Two-Face. Though he is the "head of the mob" he is very passive in the movie.

The other mob bosses are the closest thing you get to two dimensionality. They are concerned with money, respect and power. Not much more. Like Maroni, they are easily harassed, conned, and eventually destroyed by the main characters.

The Mayor: The mayor was a really great character. The actor impressed me with his American accent since I'm already familiar with him and know that he has a very thick spanish accent. The guy sounded completely different. In either case, the Mayor character was just brave enough to let Gordon and Dent do their attack on the mob, but wasn't nearly as confident about it as they were. Strong, but cautious. Also quirky in how he expressed himself, making him interesting to watch. Overall, I felt that I would really like him as my mayor.

Alfred: It is a shame to me that I must treat Alfred so soon, but he's not really that important in this movie. Alfred takes a bit of a back seat in this film. Alfred has always been, to some extant, an exposition character. Essentially a character whose close enough to the protagonist that at necessary points, the protagonist can plot-dump, verbally wrestle with inner-demons, or explain what he's thinking without it looking too hokey. This is essentially the only role that Alfred really has in this movie, even serving as an expositional excuse for Rachel at one point.

However, though he's an expositional character, he's not a passive one, sometimes even implanting the very thoughts that Batman is going to act on eventually. Alfred demonstrates a constant concern for Wayne's well being, as well as source of normalcy, but also possesses a profoundly insightful objectivity, being the first character to really grasp what the Joker is about. He's comic relationship with Bruce also makes the necessary exposition scenes run comfortably.

Rachel Dawes: Rachel is a character made up just for the movies. This makes her presence interesting to me as a Batman fan, since I have no precedent to judge her by. What's great about her in this movie is that she is so different than the last movie, due to a change of actress. I don't mean to say that Gyllenhaal's Dawes was better than Holmes', but I think it was good to see this kind of change in the second film. This gives the series permission to do something similar later on when other main actors finish with the series.

Overall, this Dawes is happier. Her dream is coming true: Gotham is becoming safe. Additionally, she is in with the very men causing it to happen: Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent, and even Jim Gordon who she calls a friend. To some degree she is the damsel in distress, much like she was in the first movie, but also like in the first movie she fights back, and displays bravery and passion. She presents herself as a woman of principle in both movies, and this is how she remains consistent between the two.

Lucius Fox: I'm not sure if I like how involved Fox is in this movie. Quite frankly, I felt that way about the last movie, and this one took it further. Still, given what they did in the first movie, what they did here was quite appropriate.

Two things of note (spoiler alert). First, there is the way that Fox handles both the asian accountant, as well as the guy that figures out Batman's identity. It showed a rhetorical cleverness and gave you a lot of respect for him. The second bit is how Fox helps Batman in working the radar system, for lack of a better word. Classically, that would be something that Alfred would do. Here, it is an opportunity to show Fox's integrity in that he doesn't like the idea of the power that it gives Bruce, and it shows Bruce's confidence in him, as well as Bruce's expectation that he would react the way he did. We receive a very competent, reliable man full of integrity.

Jim Gordon: Jim is much more heavily featured in this movie than in the last one. In the first one, Gordon is simply established because he is part of the Batman world. In this movie, Batman, Dent and Gordon are the main characters. That triad is the primary subject of film.

Here, Gordon is the pragmatist. He's the guy that does what he can do in order to get the job done. He's not really a hero because he compromises on his ideals to get the job done. One of the big plot points is that Gordon has assembled a highly trained detective force in order to take down the mob. However, most of this force consists of officers that were investigated by Dent when he was in internal affairs. At one point, Dent criticizes Gordon for this, and Gordon says, "If I didn't let detectives you investigated on, I wouldn't have anyone at all." This best demonstrates this pragmatist attitude.

Two things of note (spoiler alert). The whole thing they do with Gordon getting shot is simply awesome. First of all, even I was really unsure as to whether or not he was dead. Second, when he comes back, the entire theater cheered! And that scene with him and his wife was absolutely fantastic. It also sets up for what happens later, since the reason why Gordon does this is to protect his family.

The second thing of note is Dent going after Gordon. It is kind of surprising since Gordon wasn't corrupt and wasn't involved in the kidnapping of Rachel. But Dent saw Gordon as partly responsible because it was members of his force that did the kidnapping. Therefore, the very thing that Gordon was protecting from Joker was now attacked by Dent, and Gordon was completely helpless. When he insists on thanking Batman and the last speech that he give about Batman to his son shows that he is now committed to Batman, regardless of what else happens. It will be interesting to see what the do with him in the next movie.

Harvey Dent/Two-Face: Before Dent becomes Two-Face, his is a tough guy. A no fear district attorney who is committed to ending corruption and the mob. There is a purity about him in that his motivations are so honest. They often play with the idea that Dent leaves things to chance, hinting toward Two-Face, except that he really isn't since he is using a double-faced coin. The one "interrogation" scene is absolutely awesome, comparing Batman's technique and Dent's. Dent, even without Two-Face, is an awesome character, and because he was so honest, it is a real tragedy when he falls.

Bruce Wayne even completely believes in him, saying to Gordon that he was the best of the three. What is interesting is that Dent believes in Batman just as much, often acting as his one apologist in a world that is primarily critical of him. His comparison of Batman to the Roman dictator, which was a temporary position held by one man in only extreme circumstances who was above all rulers and laws is particularly telling. His sole purpose was to get Rome out of a crisis. The point of this comparison was both the perceived temporariness of Batman's mission as well as his need. This comparison also seems to be what persuades Bruce Wayne into much of his choices throughout the movie. (Side note, the mention of the Roman dictator as well as the direct reference to Caesar could also be a reference to the First Triumvirate which was a powerful political alliance in Roman times consisting of Caesar, Cassus, and Pompey. This could be compared to the alliance of Batman, Dent, and Gordon, perhaps relating Batman and Dent to Pompey and Caesar who eventually became enemies. Hero to villain allusion also foreshadows Dent's eventual fall).

Then he becomes Two-Face. First of all, this is a very different Two-Face than in the comics. The Two-Face that we've all come to know and love is marked with a multiple-personality syndrome. Essentially, you have Dent (good) and Two-Face (bad). Two-Face is the stronger personality. The Two-Face personality isn't so much as evil, as he is selfish, like most simple criminals. What makes the character fascinating is the dual interest. The Two-Face personality is a mob boss interested in money and revenge. Dent remains an attorney seeking justice and goodness. One's selfish, the other is selfless. Indeed, this personalities are so different that they can only truly agree on one standard by which to judge their actions: chance. Thus Two-Face uses a coin to determine which of his two personalities he will act upon.

In the movie, Two-Face doesn't possess multiple personality. (spoiler alert)Instead, Two-Face is truly Harvey Dent, but a broken man. It is the lose of the love of his life, and the injustices surrounding that lose, which causes him to loose his faith in institutional justice. Mark that. Two-Face's criminal activity isn't merely a selfish criminal, but a man seeking justice. He is a vigilante. Indeed, Dent, through out the movie, is compared to Batman, and here we are comparing Batman's form of vigilantism with Two-Face's. In Batman Begins Ras 'al Gul describes a vigilante as "a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification." That is exactly what Two-Face here is, while Batman remains above this description, constantly willing to sacrifice himself and his reputation for good of others. Two-Face is seeking gratification over the loss of Rachel, and is specifically targeting those he feels are responsible. The use of the coin is that chance is the only form of justice left. It's almost a love hate relationship with chance, since he sees his own misfortune as a product of it.

The targeting of the two corrupt cops and Maroni makes a lot of sense. Also the coin toss for Joker. These are the ones directly responsible for Rachel's death. What is interesting is that he then goes after Gordon. This is where he really passes from being a tragic misguided vigilante to being a villain, though he still sees himself in the form of a vigilante. He's reasons for going after Gordon is a move from direct responsibility to indirect. Gordon is responsible because he allowed corrupt cops into his unit. However, he intends to hurt Gordon the way that he was hurt. This is a different MO than what he did with the others he hunted. What makes the most sense to me, is that Gordon was that Gordon had the audacity to think that he was sorry. He had to prove to Gordon first that he wasn't really sorry, and in order to do that, he had to inflict Gordon with the same pain that he felt: the loss of a loved one. Eventually he turns on Batman and himself after Batman makes the point that all three of them are responsible since they went after the mob, starting the whole thing going.

Joker: Ah, the Joker. The Joker is everyone's favorite villain. Here are the things that make Joker Joker:

  • Unpredictable
  • Commits crime out of pleasure rather than personal gain
  • Crimes have an artistic vibe.
  • His "calling cards" are an actual joker card, and a forced smile on his victims faces
  • He has a permanent smile on his face
  • He makes you laugh while feeling horrified.
  • Incredibly vain. He shows off, and loves to explain his cleverness, especially to Batman.

There are several things that make this Joker different than the typical one. First of all, instead of bleached skin and a huge red smile, he wears makeup and has scars from what's called a Glasgow smile. A Glasgow smile is where you make cuts from the corners of the mouth to the ears. This is his permanent smile, as well as how he leaves a forced smile on his victims (the traditional Joker uses a venom or gas). This is probably in an attempt to make the Joker more realistic, which seems to be an overall objective of the series.

The other marked difference between this Joker and the traditional one is appearance and demeanor. Having a sort of grunge look, this Joker looks messier, as if he doesn't care what he looks like. The traditional Joker is far more interested in the concept of "presence", something that Batman is a master of. Also, this Joker isn't as much of a physical rival as the traditional one. The original Joker story has Joker as the first person to defeat Batman in hand to hand combat, though only to be defeated shortly there after. This Joker has a conspicuous limp, as well as a vague way of speaking, as if he doesn't always entirely know what his thinking or going to say. This gives off the appearance that he doesn't know what he's doing, resulting in people underestimating him.

It is difficult to pinpoint the motivations of this Joker. He seems just to enjoy chaos. One cannot trust anything he says about himself since it is constantly changing, and often it seems that he believes what he needs to believe about himself at the time to achieve his objective.

(spoiler alert) His brilliance in the movie is his ability to be several steps ahead of everyone else, often having his next scheme already underway during his current one. For instance, when he is attacking Harvey on the road, he already has planned his break out of prison, and the kidnapping of Harvey and Rachel, despite the fact that he is supposed to think that Harvey is Batman at the moment. This is why I don't really take him seriously when he talks to Dent saying that his objective is to prove the schemers how futile their schemes are.

Personally, it seems to me that Joker is simply attempting to prove his superiority. Prove that his perspective on morality is better than the common man, that his position on money is better than the mob, and that he is smarter that the Gotham Triumvirate. All other explanations he gives seem merely to be a pretense.

In some ways his simpler in psychology to the usual Joker. However, his planning skill seems to be equal to him, if not surpassing him.

Batman: Not as much time was spent on developing Batman's character in this movie as last movie. That's a natural consequence of spending so much time with Dent and Joker. Hollywood seems unable to realize that if they don't burn through Batman's whole rouge gallery in three movies, that they can have a lot more blockbusters, as well as more character enriched plotlines. Ah, well.

What I love most about Batman is a particular trait that I share with him. We are both cynical idealists. What I mean by this is that I am cynical about the world: about the motivations of humans and ability of humans to fix things. However, I am idealistic about God and the church. I believe the church can fix anything because it is organized and run by God. It has not achieved this so far because we keep usurping Him, but God is all powerful, all wise, and benevolent. Therefore, though I constantly see depravity and darkness around me, I choose to hope.

Likewise, Batman is cynical about people, government, even himself. However, he still fights for an ideal: he lives for it, and is willing to die for it. That ideal is that one man can make a difference. That ideal is that humanity can be saved from itself. And he believes this, despite that absolute corruption that is around him.

This movie shows off Batman's idealistic side a lot. First of all, he believes that he will not have to be Batman forever. And believe me, no one wants Batman Forever. Once Gotham is on its feet again, and the system begins to actually work, Batman can retire. The second thing is that he believe Harvey Dent is the one who can accomplish this. He says Harvey is the hero that Batman could never be: a symbol of hope instead of fear. However, it is Batman and not Harvey that lives up to this standard. An agent of self-sacrifice and unwarranted hope, Batman continues to fight and live for a better Gotham, even after Dent falls.

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