The Dark Knight

2008-07-21

in Films and movies, Geek stuff

Giant praying mantis, Montreal

Ordinarily, comic book movies are an exercise in the aggressive non-suspension of disbelief, for me. Whether internally criticizing absurd physics or ludicrous plot points, I generally entertain myself more despite them than through them. The Dark Knight was an exception.

I posit two major reasons for this. Firstly, it is a result of the character of the Batman universe. It exists at a larger scale than many fictional or comic universes and, as such, has more freedom to establish its own rules and expectations. It is much more Lord of the Rings than Spiderman, despite greater superficial similarities with the former. Gotham City simply differs enough from our world to make it a clear allegory, rather than reality with implausible supernatural additions and equally implausible smoothing over of plot progression (How do characters put things in place to appear at the middle of chaotic chase scenes? How does the Joker recruit and train people? Why can everyone use unfamiliar equipment instantly? Etc.) It takes a pretty good film to suppress such questions in my mind, and this one manages it notably well.

The second is simply that the acting and presentation are quite compelling. The over-the-top action sequences are less asinine than in many smasher films, and there are some decent character and thematic issues addressed. Probably more importantly, the film has a powerful aesthetic – one that even a fairly reluctant appreciator of alternative universes can respect. Where the later X-Men films felt tacky and emotionally overdone, the gritty and chaotic Batman style remains stubbornly consistent.

Of course, Batman’s moral code remains ludicrous. Simply refraining from actually killing people immediately and with your own hand seems like a bizarre form of self-limitation, when you are perfectly happy to set off massive explosions and otherwise indirectly kill large numbers of people. The film isn’t entirely divorced from point-scoring on contemporary political issues (such as the security value of mass surveillance), but it wears such garments in an accessory fashion, rather than serving as a vehicle for polemic.

On a side note, the film demonstrates the degree to which Hong Kong is itself an alternate universe, at least as viewed from the air. The place looks like Ghost in the Shell made flesh, and provides an almost visceral reminder of the rise of Asia – one that the upcoming Beijing Olympics will doubtless reinforce.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan July 19, 2008 at 11:51 pm

Contrast with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a film that could not possibly have done a worse job of making me want to accept the premise of its universe, however briefly.

See also: Accuracy in films

Anon July 21, 2008 at 8:58 am

Of course, Batman’s moral code remains ludicrous. Simply refraining from actually killing people immediately and with your own hand seems like a bizarre form of self-limitation, when you are perfectly happy to set off massive explosions and otherwise indirectly kill large numbers of people.

Batman also does not distinguish between kinds of choices. In his mind, these are all the same:

1. Kill this henchmen because he is attacking me.
2. Kill this henchmen, because it makes it more likely I will capture his boss.
3. The boss has made a machine that will either kill one person or another, and he is forcing me to choose.

BuddyRich July 21, 2008 at 5:04 pm

That’s the beauty of Batman… at least the reinvented movies starting with Batman Begins, and now this one… It tried to remain grounded in reality… more or less… at the end of the day he’s just a man in a suit with a few nifty gadgets, and then they aren’t all that fancy…

They left the campiness of the old comics, and the greater DC universe behind (the villain in Batman Begins was supernatural and thousands of years old in the comic, but a plain old human in the movie) Not to mention in the comics Batman coexists with Superman and all the other DC superheroes and supervillains, but these new movies just ignore it. We’ll see what happens if they do the long rumoured Spiderman/Batman joint movie…

patrick July 21, 2008 at 7:40 pm

kudos to the makers Dark Knight for their record breaking opening weekend… it’s no wonder there’s talk of another one coming out ASAP

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