Kill the Batman

My wife and I got tickets to see The Dark Night at Tinseltown last night.  No time to rest when I got home, it was straight out to get some running around done, eat a meal at Pixley’s in Gates (yum!) and into the packed theater to watch the latest incarnation of Batman.  What a way to end one of those horribly long weeks following a vacation.

The Batman “franchise” has undergone a surprising array of changes over the decades.  Where even most major comic heros either never extend beyond the ink or do so only sparingly, Batman seems to have caught our imaginations like a prism, extending from it’s dark roots through the campy seventies television show I grew up on, to Tim Burton’s graphic cinema-novels and the subsequent failures of imagination, and most recently, into it’s current incarnation, a dark psycho-thriller with rubber suits and explosions.

If that last description seems a tough series of archtypes to pack into a couple hours worth of movie, that’s because it is.  But Christopher Nolan seems to take a page from George Lucas to accomplish this, allowing the great sets, awesome toys and breathtaking stunts to take their proper place as setpieces for the characters to play with, rather than dominate the screen just because they’re expensive.

Thus instead of becoming yet another knock-down, drag-out adventure film, The Dark Night gets deeper into some of the subtext themes Tim Burton touched on – hinted at, really – but didn’t delve into.  At it’s core, this movie is not about good and evil as it’s been presented in some reviews I’ve read, but a much deeper and scarier conflict between order and chaos.  It is really along this border that most of our conflicts as humans truly lie, often putting us at odds with what we think is good and evil, and this movie goes to lengths to find as many ways to blur the lines between all four that it can.  For the first half of the movie, I began to wonder if this movie wasn’t one of those that apologizes for the popular political themes of the day, but not to worry: it doesn’t.

And of course, Batman’s role is more often than not on the side of chaos, much though he would wish it otherwise.  This is the real conflict in the movie.  What unfolds is a panoply of moral relativism where nearly every character finds himself on the side opposite his preference.  It’s a fascinating thing to watch; not at all an uncommon theme, but rare in this genre and flawlessly original in its execution.  You can see this sort of tension in many a Little Theater European production, but it’s especially entertaining when this whole psycho-drama plays out amidst great special effects and heart-pumping action.

If I have one complaint – and of course, I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this paragraph – it’s that the first half hour of the movie is edited surprisingly badly.  There is a frenetic pace to the cutting between scenes and camera angles that has nothing to do with the plot and only serves to make that all-important first few moments of the movie unsettling in the way watching television while someone else flips through channels is.  To some extent, it seems driven by the need to get a fair amount of back-story out of the way ahead of the rest of the movie, but it’s just sloppy.

And really, that’s just a quibble.  Beyond that, this is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking movie which takes it’s place in that oh-so rare pantheon: that of movies actually worth the bullshit prices they charge at the theater.  It’s another discussion, of course, but it’s gotten to the point where it makes no sense to see certain types of movies.  Who wants to risk $19.00 on a comedy – a genre always dancing on the edge of lame – when $5.00 gets you the same movie in high-def at home a month later?

And one more note, for those of you who actually need it: don’t bring your fucking toddlers to see this movie, please.  You would have thought people would have learned their lesson with the original Tim Burton Batman.  Nope.  But I guess it’s not about learning lessons, it’s about irresponsible parents whose personal entertainment is more important than their kid’s restful sleep for the next month.  Hire a baby-sitter, pawn the kid off on your parents, or stay the fuck home and watch the Food Network.  This movie isn’t for kids.  Sorry.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.