Thursday, February 26, 2015

Movie review: The Dark Knight (2008)

Dark_KnightPeople don’t tend to think of comic book movies as having any real depth to them beyond simple entertainment. But The Dark Knight stands out as a glaring exception. It’s probably so revered for its ability to combine fun action and adventure along with real world symbolism. But by the same token, the fact it’s so clearly a commentary on the political landscape of the time is also, in my opinion, its biggest flaw.

Right from the opening frame, this is clearly intended to be a serious depiction of a serious story. I like how it begins with showing The Joker’s elaborate (and creative) bank robbery scheme. Though violent and grim, I can’t help but find it humorous as well.

Clearly, The Joker is a sociopath, but he also likes adulation, so he’s constantly doing things to draw attention to himself while at the same time showing how twisted and deadly he can be. He’s pretty far removed from all previous incarnations of the character wherein he was always a fun-loving guy who enjoyed being a deadly pest (or, in the older comics and cartoons – just another costumed villain). He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he is an absolutely brilliant planner and conspirator. So much so that his repeated sinister schemes put those of Ra’s ah Ghul to shame.

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In fact, it’s because this Joker is so powerful, so cunning, so brilliant, so well trained, so charismatic, and so well equipped that he almost fails as a villain because he’s just way too good at it. Throughout the movie we see him spring massively elaborate capers and conspiracies that seem plausible at the time, but all it takes is a moment of reflection to realize how implausible they really are. How did he recruit a veritable army of goons? Where did he get all this training on explosives and weapons? How can he single-handedly outsmart all the organized crime gangs? When and how did he have the opportunity and the materials to rig two warehouses, an entire hospital and two ferries with explosives without anyone noticing!? You’ll also notice all of his plans involve absolute perfect timing such as when the time bombs go off seconds after Batman and the police arrive. Critics and audiences have always lauded The Dark Knight for having such a brilliant screenplay, but all you really have to do is watch this episode of Cinema Sins and you’ll realize how many glaring plotholes this movie has.

Where does he get those wonderful explosives?
Where does he get those wonderful explosives?

That being said, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark Knight as much on the tenth(ish) viewing as I did on the first. It really is captivating, thrilling, fascinating and beautiful to look at. However, it is a bit mentally exhausting. I have no idea what Christopher Nolan’s political views are, but watching it with seven years of hindsight, it almost comes across as neoconservative propaganda.

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Batman seems to represent the Bush/Cheney administration, seriously. In the first act he illegally kidnaps (aka extraordinary rendition) the mobsters’ accountant Lau from Hong Kong and brings him back to America (much like the CIA does with alleged terrorists, but at least Lau isn’t denied due process). Secondly, Batman uses a massive electronic surveillance scheme to spy on all the citizens of Gotham in order to find The Joker’s location (the only caveat is he must wait for the Joker to actually use a cell phone). I appreciate the fact Lucius Fox has the chutzpah to tell Batman to his face that it’s completely illegal and unethical, but he helps him out anyway. Lastly, Batman tells Jim Gordon to blame him for all the trespasses Harvey Dent (in his “Two-Face” persona) committed. Because Harvey was so pious and so successful at cleaning up Gotham City, if his dark side was exposed it might undo all the good he had done. If that’s not a blatantly obvious allusion to Jesus, then I don’t know what is (though the next movie will take this even further).

cracked.com
cracked.com

Any way you look at it, the theme seems to be “The ends justify the means.” That’s a very ugly message to send, especially in times like these, with such an on-the-nose political allegory. Though I suppose that’s the message of every comic book and comic book movie ever made. Since the kind of vigilantism that Batman engages in is technically illegal, it raises the philosophical question of whether you can condone their actions because they bring criminals (and the occasional super villain) to “justice.” It’s actually quite funny in retrospect to look at the massive destruction of both public and private property that occurs in order to catch one single criminal (though it’s not quite as funny in reality knowing how many people – the guilty and innocent alike – have died in the name of “war” on an abstract concept).

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But for all of my political and philosophical disagreements with this movie (intentional or not), I will say that The Dark Knight still holds up as a smart thriller. I can certainly understand why it’s received the accolades it has over the years. I don’t know if we’ll ever see another comic book movie on the level of this one again.

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