By Scott Tibbs, July 21, 2008
After the unmitigated disaster that was Batman and Robin, the Batman movie franchise was dormant for 8 years until the franchise was rebooted with Batman Begins in 2005. The new franchise continues with the much-anticipated Dark Knight, which I saw over the weekend. This is definitely the best movie in the Batman franchise. DC seems to have caught on and is making movies to rival Marvel's efforts.
As the film opens, Gotham has turned the corner against the crime and corruption that caused immortal terrorist Ra's Al Ghul to condemn the city to destruction in Batman Begins. Even the Scarecrow has become a vigilante to "help" Batman, although Batman does not approve of Scarecrow's lethal methods. The efforts to stop crime get a boost when Harvey Dent takes office as the new District Attorney.
Dent was built up as Gotham's best hope because he works within the system, and the positive, lawful example he provides makes him more important to Gotham's war on crime than Batman. In addition, Dent is a friend of both Batman and Bruce Wayne. The build-up was very well done and made Dent's inevitable fall from grace seem all the more important. The scenes with Two-Face felt rushed, though. It would have been better to close the movie with Dent horribly scarred and recovering in the hospital, and feature him as the bad guy in the next movie. Two-Face is one of Batman's best rogues and certainly merits being featured in a movie of his own.
Batman will not kill, which makes his attempt to fight the Joker more difficult. The mafia boss Batman attempts to intimidate knows the Joker will do far worse if he squeals, even after Batman breaks the man's legs. Batman is willing to break a few rules, however. Hijacking every cell phone in Gotham to create a sonar map of the city was a cool trick and reminded me of the storyline in the comics where Batman built the "Brother Eye" satellite to spy on the other super heroes because Batman feels they cannot be trusted.
Some may complain that the Joker was too dark and brutal, but this version of the Joker perfectly captures the post-Crisis psychopath who seeks destruction and anarchy for the sake of destruction and anarchy. You can easily see this Joker beating the second Robin to death with a crowbar or shooting Batgirl in the spine. It was a spectacular performance. My only complaint was that his chalk-white skin was the result of makeup rather than a chemical accident. The original origin works perfectly by making Batman feel responsible for the Joker because he inadvertently created the Joker while pursuing him through a chemical plant.
Near the end of the film, the Joker remarks that he feels he and Batman are destined to do this dance over and over. This raises an interesting challenge to Batman's heroic nature. There is a strong case to be made that Batman himself is a villain on some level for refusing to kill the Joker and end his madness once and for all. The Joker goes on a killing spree, gets captured by Batman, and goes to Arkham. Joker escapes from Arkham, goes on another killing spree, gets captured again, and goes back to Arkham. The loop repeats endlessly.
Batman knows no prison or insane asylum can hold the Joker, and that the Joker will escape and kill many more people. By refusing to kill the Joker, Batman condemns dozens (and maybe hundreds) of innocent people to death. In the comics, the Joker crippled Batgirl, kidnapped and tortured Commissioner Gordon, and beat the second Robin to death. Even after all of this, Batman continues to let him live. Does this make Batman a villain?
Final Grade: A