This Entry is Essentially One Big Spoiler of "The Dark Knight"

Consider yourself warned.

Saw it last night, finally. I shared the count-up of days from when it opened that I hadn't seen it on my Facebook status, and was oddly delighted by some of the responses I got to that. Even

Tom Rowan

greeted me after the reading of his play Monday night was over by saying, "So I guess this means you'll be able to see

The Dark Knight

now." (Sadly, I told him, I wouldn't until Wednesday.) It was a happy problem, not being able to immediately see this movie about my favorite character, a result as it mostly was of having too much acting work filling my time. Still, it frustrated, and as I raced last night from rehearsal to my saved seat five blocks away (

old-school Batman t-shirt

flapping in the humid breeze) I felt a wonderful lightening conjoined with my excitement. I would see it. I would have satisfaction.

And hoo-boy, I did. I am a satisfied man, at least for the time being -- when I grow dissatisfied again, I shall see it in Imax. That's not to say it was perfect or anything, but I did think it was a much better movie than its predecessor in terms of adapting aspects of the comicbook (which didn't do such a bad job itself). My primary problems with

Batman Begins

had to do with making the story and character a little


real-world based. That may sound absurd when talking about a superhero movie, but I really do think


takes some of the drama out of its lead character by making him and his world so modern, so pragmatic. I had rather the opposite feeling about the moments of ridonkulousness in

The Dark Knight

; they were by-and-large departures from feasibility or overkill that even a huge fanboy such as myself couldn't quite stomach:

  1. My gauntlets shoot razor spires, yo. Erm, yes. You know, they did such a nice job of justifying low-tech uses for the fins on the gloves in the first film, why did they have to do this? It seemed cheap and lame, especially when you consider he's supposed to be good with precision weapons like his little bat-shuriken. Plus: How did those things fire, exactly? The trigger was in his sphincter, or something?
  1. I have a metal-manipulation technology so confusing, even I don't quite know how it works. His entrance includes using some gadget attached to his arm to bend a rifle muzzle into a crazy straw. This would seem to have limited uses, so they make sure we know it can also cut into and grip a van's metal shell. Way to go, mean, Lucius. Was that developed to help the military with creating inspirational metal sculptures? Batman is much more the type, as he does later in the film, to disassemble the gun; and if you need extra cool he could do it whilst it's still in the perp's hands. As for adhering to the side of an escape van, see above note about previously established uses for the gauntlet fins.
  1. I am recent American geopolitical policy personified. That may well be, Batman, but must you beat us about the head and shoulders with it? Er. Come to think of it, that's pretty in keeping with this philosophy. My mistake. Pray, continue.
  1. My cars don't break--they transform into motorcycles. This...was actually really cool. So I'm willing to suspend judgment on feasibility. They did it in such a way that I thought just prior to it, "Dang; how does he get out of that tank if it tanks?" And I'm not a big fan of the whole batcycle idea, even in the comics. But they made it look and work really really cool. So, like I said, I'm willing to forgive. Until I found out they named it the batPod. You think it's hampered by any DRM issues? And finally, the big one:
  1. I can haz Bat Sonar thru lil phones n' ther ownerz! No. No, you can't. Stop being frickin' stupid, LOLbatz. I really don't understand what this was doing in my movie (oh all right: OUR movie). Appeal to the video-gamers? They liked that effect in Daredevil? Say something about the omniscience of . . .. Nope; just don't get it. They could have brought up the same issues and character development if he had simply tapped all the phones, or maybe strung together their GPS functions in some wild way. I reject the bat sonar completely.

But enough of all that. This movie, in an unbelievable number of ways, was the Batman movie I've been waiting for all my life. It stands on its own, doing its own things with the character arcs, but doing them well and in a way that doesn't betray the spirit of the original. I almost don't know where to begin in my praise for this film, until I remember that it features the Joker and gives birth to Two-Face, arguably two of the best in a really impressive menagerie of rogues. And they do it so well, so new. They seemed to be decidedly eschewing the tormented childhood angle on both, which was great not only for keeping Gotham from becoming a reformed nursery, but also for keeping the origins of the characters in the action of the film. Harvey Dent is a true tragic figure. We can see his flaw from almost the start, and we watch as he changes over the course of two-and-a-half hours. Development! What a concept in a superhero movie!

And then the Joker. Much well-deserved, post-humus praise has gone Heath Ledger's way for this performance, and I speak as a humble -- not to mention humbled -- actor when I say it is entirely deserved. Between the writing and his craft an indelible character has come to life, one that is incredible to watch in action. I read a lot about how the filmmakers chose to avoid his history, to make him more a character defined by his actions than his history, and I thought, "Eh, well, sounds pretty shallow." And it might have been, had it not been for Ledger. I was amazed by the effect, too, of the screenwriting for him. They have him explain his face one horrible way to one person, then a completely different horrible way to another, then he starts on a third to Batman at the climax of the movie, and Batman never lets him finish. Not only does this make Joker a force in his own chaotic right, it makes Batman win on a direct philosophical level. The Joker never gets to the punchline, the Joker never finishes the joke . . . his comic three is interrupted!

Which leads me to another thing I really, really loved about this movie. Remember when you watched The Matrix for the first time, and you couldn't be sure of what to expect, and accompanying all this big-budget bad-ass-ness were some really interesting ideas about the nature of reality and approaches to that? (I could be speaking only for myself here, but I doubt it.) The Dark Knight is the first movie since then to really engage that kind of philosophical wonderment in me while maintaining the same high stakes and power fantasy. As I wrote last week in my pining for this movie, my ideal Batman struggle is with a villain who somehow stands in opposition not only to his politics, but to his philosophy. That idea was taken well in hand and run with. The Joker was an unrepentant anarchist with an argument about the nature of life that he made seem easy to make, and Batman had to really struggle to contend with it. The good resolution of that came through a seemingly miraculous coincidence of human benevolence, reminiscent of a Spider-Man fight sequence (Humanity is essentially good, and we'll prove it!), but Joker gets in his dangling dig, too. "It only takes one small push to send you over the edge."

Which brings us back to Harvey "Two-Face" Dent.

All-in-all, we've got a pretty well-adjusted Batman in these movies. He found peace in the mountains (studying the art of despotism), purpose that overwhelms his trauma -- we are not subjected to a movie full of flashbacks to that fateful night. This is the closest to Frank Miller's Dark Knight we've gotten in films; the vigilantism is his fix against the trauma, and when he's doing it, he's strong. One thing I loved about what Miller did in that graphic novel was to emphasize Batman's belief in Harvey's reformation and, ultimately, his fear over the recognition that Two-Face is Batman gone bad. Whereas the Joker is Batman's polar opposite, essentially, take the judgment away from Batman, and you've got Two-Face: a dual-identity obsessive who metes out justice by his own authority. Even in completely restructuring Two-Face's origin story (moreover, perhaps as a direct result of that) the writers set that up beautifully. Hopefully in the next installment they will continue to adhere to that motivation for him, and not turn him into a petty thief of some sort, obsessed with the number 2. It's the duality that's important, not the digit itself.

Just what can we expect from the third movie in this franchise? Will Harvey be back? Will Joker? Was Lucius Fox written out, or did his little name-cued destruction of the "bat sonar" redeem Wayne in his eyes? Well, I'd guess, but had I guessed at The Dark Knight's content I would have been sorely mistaken. One can hope, though. I hope they continue to learn from audience feedback, as they seemed to for this film. I hope we get to see the revamped Wayne Manor, and with it the completed "batcave." I hope they leave the Joker alone at least one movie, though that they keep him in the background: a joker card appearing here and there. I love that we leave Batman an outlaw once again, and hope they don't turn that around too early. Most of all, I hope they make a totally new and inventive movie that takes its characters seriously. As they've just succeeded in doing.

(Also: Take the batPod; leave the gun gauntlets.)

Update, 7/25/08: The WSJ agrees with my assessment of the politics of Batman: What Bush and Batman Have in Common. Thanks, Nat.