The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight (2008)

Best Batman movie ever. Probably the best Batman story. Ever. Somebody finally realized that since Batman cannot really change, the focus of the film needs to be on the people and forces surrrounding him: Gotham City, the police, the thugs he terrorized. Remember the "Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts..?" Well, he did that. And as a result, they have engaged an urban terrorist, a creature of equal and opposite obsession...the Joker. Simply one of the great unhinged villains of all time, Heath Ledger's performance is as good at Anthony Hopkins in "Silence of the Lambs," once corrected for the source material.

And that's no insult or excuse. Every form of art has its strengths and limitations. The fact that it has taken 100 years for film to figure out how to treat comics and graphic storytelling is in part due to the fact that the images, morality and storytelling have been flattened out, and in great part dumbed down for kids. DC had no really unified universe: a collection of different creative talents spun all their major threads. Over at Marvel, Stan Lee stood at the center, even if Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Jim Steranko and others were titans in their own right--NONE of them created anything in the comics field a fraction as lasting as what they did with Stan. No matter what one thinks of the true history of Marvel, Stan was a pheneomenal catalyst if nothing else.

But at DC, they have Superman the God-figure, and Batman the dark avenger. Clearly a nutball--(so his parents were shot in front of him as a kid. Get over it, already!) the Batman character is so much more interesting than Superman that there is little real comparison. What has Superman to offer save spectacle, and the inevitable arrival of kryptonite? Batman has always been the best and worst of us. Nolan's Batman is more human than ever: like "Iron Man" he is just barely plausible. Given unlimited wealth, time, and obsession, and the backing of a huge research department, perfect genetics and world-class mentors and high intelligence..we might actually be Batman.

And when we interject this figure of obsession into the corrupt Gotham stew, there is an equal-and-opposite reaction on the part of the criminals. They have to seek out their own creature of the night. The Joker has long been positioned as Batman's mirror image (Batman is th equivilent of Dr. Evil--never just killing the crazy bastard, settling for locking him up in Arkham Asylum...yet again...although he has to know that the Joker will escape and kill more people. It's what he does. And Batman is willing to sacrifice those people for the sake of his own desperate grip on reality).

If Christian Bale (at the quiet center of Dark Knight) is the first actor to play Batman and make me believe it, Ledger COMPLETELY destroys any previous incarnations of the Joker. This guy is actually frightening. When he grabs Michael Jai White and punks him out, I believe it. Crazy trumps strong and trained. It's a shame they had to cut away from the most violent material to get their PG-13, because if ever a comic book movie needed an "R" this was it. Eh, that's allright. No, this isn't "Godfather 2" or "Empire Strikes Back." But it is possibly the greatest comic book film ever made. Certainly one of the top three or so. And that's enough. (A+)



Space Chimps (2008)

Name of God. Oh I guess this story of space-going Simians isn't a complete insult to its intended audience. I suppose that's enough. Jaw-droppingly average. (C-)


The Hammer (2008)

Former "Man Show" host Adam Corolla scores a knock-out. A terrific little low-budget slacker comedty about a 40-year old carpenter trying out for the Olympic boxing team. Funny exciting romantic. Former boxer (in real life) Corolla has made a very very wise choice for his first film. It' s "Rocky" meets "Knocked Up."

My favorite line: "Right. The Black Man can finally start getting a fair shake in professional boxing." While the potential perils of telling yet another Cinderella story about a white boxer are obvious, this one earns not a single Sambo point. Loved it. (B+)


Mike Ralls said...

A couple of times you've said that an enlightened person could just as easily be a serial killer as a saint. Personally I think that a load of malarkey but if we suppose that it is true, here is a thought: The Joker is enlightened.

That's why he is so successful and can go toe to toe with an entire city. He's operating on a different level and "has gotten the joke."

Veronica said...

Steve, did you notice what happened to every Black man in the movie besides Morgan Freeman?

Eric said...

Heath Ledger, good performance not in the same league as Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. I knew the brother was going to bite it soon as his face came on screen. Just like countless other movies I see. Wonder what message their trying to send, hmmm. The movie was too long, the fight scenes weren't choreographed well and lacked punch. Two villains didn't work in Spider Man 3 and they don't work here. Batman doesn't hang out in a condo and Gotham City doesn't look like Chicago. The heroine was boring and I didn't feel for her lost. The Joker is not Osama Bin Laden running around the city blowing everything up. I remember when we people use to clap after they saw a good movie. I could of heard a church mouse fart in there it was so quiet. Even during the movie there was no reaction from the crowd. That's telling you something right there. Don't believe the hype.

Christian M. Howell said...

Haven't seen Dark Knight yet but it does have at least one thing I hate. The spontaneously produced black guy. You know the one that has no wife, parents, siblings, etc. Unless they gave Lucius someone this time around. Doubtful.

BTW what is a sambo point? And Veronica what happened to every black man? Let me guess, a horrible untimely end?

I don't have too much of a problem with that. I mean, if its all white people some white person has to die.

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jabir said...

I dunno... I thought Heath Ledger was really good, but was Christian Bale even in the movie? He was forgettable, and his growling was annoying.

IMO, they are doing everything right in Gotham (sense of desperation, corruption, violence, despair) the criminals have been good.. but Batman himself has SUCKED.

His acting sucked. Many of his lines sucked. His voice sucked. His weird mouth was really annoying. And, if you're not familiar with the character, he comes across as a failure with some of the decisions they made.

In order to REALLY get into Batman, they need to look at the comics and see Batman is not Bruce Wayne in modern high-tech armor. He's without it.

Steve Perry said...

Actually, Fox has a long history. First in the comics, going back to the late 70's, then in the animated TV series:

I suspect that's where the live-action movies got him.

I'm biased, of course, but until Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight, the animated Batman movie, written by the story editors of Batman: The Animated Show, was hands-down the best of the Batman movies. Had an actual plot and the best writing of 'em all ...

Michelle said...

Must have had a tuff audience Eric...the theater I was in had lots of reactions.

Just a note: it didn't happen to every black man...but two of the scenes where it did were notable.

DL said...

Hi Steve,

I want to draw your attention away from Dark Knight for just a moment. I noticed something happening in the world of music that seems like another interesting data point to fit into your overall position on popuolar entertainment and race. The rock group Journey recently got another new singer to revive their classic sound from the Steve Perry era. The new guy is a Phillipino and a genuine talent - fantastic voice, great range, can match Perry and perhaps in the future exceed the legendary voice. However, he has encountered some pretty shocking negativity, even outright expressions of racist views. A few go so far as to denigrate his accent in songs, even though there is in fact no discernible accent that comes through the singing. This perhaps points to the reality-bending power of prejudgement and preconception.

Journey's previous replacement frontman did not encounter this sort of negativity - and he didn't have the voice that the new guy has.

The only way to explain all this, I think, is the theory you have expressed in this blog. Those romantic power ballads may be too primal, too closely linked to reproduction / sexuality. Thus, some white males experience discomfort to associate an Asian male in a domain that is so close to home, one that perhaps subconsciously they feel belong exclusively to the white race.

There are many clips on YouTube one can look at and listen to - not to mention the comments to browse through. There are also quite a few web pages devoted to this issue, such as:

Sorry to interrupt the Dark Knight discussion. If you can comment on this later on, I would love to get your take on it. Thanks.

Dan Moran said...

the Batman character is so much more interesting than Superman that there is little real comparison

I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority on this, but that's not true for me. Superman done correctly is a monk -- a man who could have anything and has sacrificied everything to be of service to the people who need him. That's wrenching, done well.

I've no doubt Batman's easier to identify with for most people. To use your language, when both characters are executed correctly, Batman's operating out of lower chakras than Superman.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

I agree on your take on Superman. I also believe that Superman can open a window to the question of what makes someone human. Supes has the power of a god, but needs a human identity. He is an alien, but seeks to live like an earthling. Superman can be quite interesting and reflect ethical problems on a bigger scale than Batman, as the Dark Knight has less far less destructive potential if he becomes corrupted.


Nancy Lebovitz said...

Here's some analysis of what it would take to become Batman (10-12 years of combat training-- it doesn't cover his science background) with a conclusion that he couldn't take physical damage of being Batman for more than 2 or 3 years.

Semi-sidetrack: Here's an interview where Uma Thurman talks about her training for Kill Bill. It was three months of working hard to do more and more challenging physical feats. She was a clumsy person before she started, but not afterwards.

Back to Batman: I liked it somewhat, but I have a problem believing in the Joker, and especially that he could have an organization. People like the bunch who did the initial robbery just aren't anything you can build with. The Joker worked well visually (I hope there info available about how the make-up evolved) and emotionally, but I had to let logic go away. Mike, you may have a point that his single-mindedness was what carried him.

I can't think of anyone in the real world who resembles the Joker. I don't know if he's a good representation of some kinds of self-destructiveness, though.

Did the criminals seek out the Joker? I thought he was a disaster that happened to them.

The scene where the Joker does a physical attack looked very plausible, but does crazy reliably trump strong and trained?

mjholt said...

Was not going to comment, but after reading Steve's post and everyone's comments, I went on to Huffington Post to read some news, and saw a picture of Joe Lieberman that looks exactly like The Joke (without facial coloring). Take a look. The link is

Steven Barnes said...

Yep, black men died, but Morgan Freeman buys them some points, even if he's out of the "Breeding Circle." Yes, I believe that mirrors attitudes held by human beings toward the "other" but I'm not gonna let that harsh my buzz.
Absolutely the Joker is operating with absolute clarity. Enlightened, in a sense--but a damaged psyche without limits is a terrifying thing. Ordinarily, I'd say he could have no organization (neither could Blofeld! What retirement benefits!) but actually, the Joker probably would have followers--acolytes, really. He's kind of an anti-Bodhissatva, and that kind of energy is addictive.
The racism in the music industry: well, I've never seen any racial threshold crossed without complaint and comment. Good for the Asian guy, though! I'll try to look into it.

Dan Moran said...

BTW, in the universe of I really do think things are changing in this country ... for years and years I figured the only thing keeping boxing from becoming popular again was the lack of a white champion. Then the klitschko brothers showed up ... and everyone yawned.

There's a lot wrong with boxing, but I'm less sure than I used to be that racism's a big part of it.

Steve Perry said...

Most popular boxers for a long time have been black.
Joe Louis. Ali. Even George Foreman. Hasn't been a white guy worth rooting for (talking heavyweights here) since Rocky Marciano, in the mid-fifties.

Ali was the most recognizable man on Earth at one time.

I think the MMA blood fests might actually be good for boxing. One can see different skllls in the sweet science ...

Mike Ralls said...

> Clearly a nutball--(so his parents were shot in front of him as a kid. Get over it, already!) <

For what it's worth, I remember reading a Batman comic in which he said that he is not obsesed over the death of his parents, but that he is now the Batman for other reasons. Batman seems to have a huge degree of self-knowledge too.

We might question that though because in our universe, dressing up as a bat to fight crime is insane because it wouldn't work. It just wouldn't. But in the Batman's universe it's a perfectly acceptable course of actions that has a decent chance of being successful. Batman is not the only one who dresses up to fight crime, and other people without super-powers (Green Arrow) are shown making a positive contribution too.

Also, I don't think they even mention the death of his parents in The Dark Knight movie, do they?

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