Batman by the Beats
The Dark Knight is the most successful movie the year, besting Spider-Man 3 for the biggest non-holiday opening ever. Heath Ledger is so very weird as the Joker, and its highlight. But the star is a well-structured story. This latest Batman follows the beats down to the minute and delivers a resonating theme missing from other summer fare: Why is good good? And why should we try to save a world that no longer cares?
Spoiler alert: let’s take look.
The Set-up finds Gotham plagued by a new crime wave, and Batman (Christian Bale), still dark after all these years, bugged by Comic-con copycats and getting no respect as usual. The Stasis = Death is clear early on: Mansion-less, friend-less, tired of the grind — if things don’t change, Bruce Wayne will “die.”
Catalyst comes when the Joker’s criminal actions are brought to the attention of Batman and the world, and after some Debate about how he will enter the fray, Batman “takes the case” at the Break into Act Two.
Fun and Games follow with Joker running amok among the crime world, rising to fame as Batman tries to catch up. Each of Joker’s appearances top the last; he is pure evil. The stakes raise at a Midpoint party (amazing) when the Joker appears in Bruce Wayne’s world and the two meet for the first time. The midpoint cross of A and B, however, involves Bruce, and Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).
Harvey (and by extension Rachel) is the B Story, the “helper story” that will help Batman “get” what this latest crime spree is really all about. Harvey is the soul that Batman and Joker battle over, and tear right down the middle, literally, when he becomes “Two Face” in a really lovely — and gruesome — twist.
This “worse off than when this movie started” moment occurs right on schedule at All ls Lost with the death of Rachel and the maiming of Harvey, followed by a classic Dark Night of the Knight when the world’s most famous butler (Michael Caine) finds Bruce slumped in his chair wondering, what’s it all about, Alfie?
But because superheroes are compelled to do right, even at the risk to, and sacrifice of, themselves (check out Chapter 10 of Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies), Batman must stop Joker in the Finale that is textbook “Storming the Castle.” Its “Dig, Deep Down” beat comes as a result of a “divine intervention” when, given the chance to blow up a boatload of prisoners to save themselves, Gotham citizens choose not to. Yes, there is a Good. And there is a reason to fight the Evil that is Joker — even if it means more self-sacrifice — and even if Joker never dies. That after all is the point, and the eternal problem: Batman will always be on call.
So, riding off into the Dark Knight, hounded by hounds, Batman will just have to keep doing what he does. But he’s been oddly re-booted for the task, and given proof, thanks to Harvey and the citizens of Gotham, that there’s a reason good is good. And no copycat can take on the task that Batman now must face alone.
It’s not the car chases, it’s not Heath, it’s not the cool new motorcycle… it’s the story. Plot and theme are blended together as the A and B stories, and for a so-called comic book movie, it’s “about something.”
Now regarding Batman’s voice…
- Michael Bryan
Haha…yes, i agree the the uber-dark, dark, dark knight is very classical according to your paradigm…loved reading the post but HOWLED on the last line. Yea, that voice. It’s kinda hard to ignore. And what is it with the set of dentures they put over Christian’s top teeth when he dons the mask?
Hope everyone is having a good writing summer!
The Bat’s voice is an extension of his disguise…got no problem with it.
I thought the story was flabby. the twists were ‘non-structural’ and non-thematic (who cares if they were in one location and not the other? big deal. watch the sixth sense or nine queens.) the hi-tech mobile phone gismo honing device was a lame solution for that etc etc. why not just give him a magic wand and we can resolve the movie in 2 minutes?
There was no strong through-line. The hero is pretty much just reacting to things and not initiating for most of the film.
Is the public prosecutor ‘two-face’ defection to the side of evil believable? People I know that are moral, have a code of conduct that is fundamental. they don’t suddenly decide to act like arseholes because life has shaken them.
actors, sound, camera and so-on are amazing.
Shame about the writing
If you want to explore the theme ‘is it good to good?’ and what is’good’ read nick hornby’s “How To Be Good.”
Are you planning to write any more books?
- Matthys Boshoff
The latest Batman movies are good entertainment but don’t compare to the Tim Burton era.
The new makers of Batman are making the same mistakes as those that made the Bond films since the mid 90’s through to the early 2000’s: too many gimmicks and techno mumbo jumbo.
Like the latest Bond movie, Batman has to return to its roots. (My opinion but his car is way OTT)
Well done on the Joker though – for some reason he’s quite likeable. Perhaps because we feel sorry for him when he tells how his father cut his cheeks because he was too serious?
This is only indirectly related to the new Batman movie, and only because Batman is/was a hero. However, I’m plugging it in here because I think it validates the beats, genres, and other lessons in STC!, STCGTTM, and Blake’s blog.
In an interview of Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright, poet, and seemingly reluctant national leader during Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution–the country’s transition from Cold War communism into the 1990s–Havel was asked how he felt about many people’s belief that he is a hero.
“I understand, especially when one is looking at me from a distance, that I might seem as some kind of fairy-tale hero who banged his head against the wall until the wall fell, and then reigned. . . . It makes me blush slightly, because I know my mistakes,” he continued. “On the other hand, I do not ridicule it because people need these kinds of stories.”
I have to repeat that last line: “People need these kinds of stories.”
Havel was first and foremost a WRITER, apparently successful and content until the catalyst of revolution forced him to accept or decline the challenge of being a leader in a high-stakes “adventure”–the fate of a nation. I think that gives him a unique perspective of heroic (but admittedly flawed) characters and their stories.
I got excited as I read the interview because I started thinking, without really “thinking” about it, “There’s the Theme Stated, there’s the Set-Up, there’s the Catalyst, there’s the Debate” and on and on, right down the list on my BS2. Then, again on impulse, I mentally ran down the ten genres in STC2, wondering, “Is Havel a ‘Superhero’? Is his a “Braveheart” story, starring a playwright and poet wielding speeches and ink instead of battleaxes and swords?”
Okay, maybe I got carried away. Maybe I’m too easily excited over my “Eureka!” moments.
But, maybe this is yet another validation of what Blake teaches, and what we’re all trying to accomplish.
I’m fired up for another day of writing. I hope you are too. Someone somewhere needs our story.
Interview source: International Herald Tribune, July 25, 2008 http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/07/25/europe/profile.php?WT.mc_id=newsalert
Just started reading your book and I’m enjoying it, and just saw Batman – enjoyed it but was a little disappointed. I really loved – “Batman Forever”.
To be honest for me the whole unsatisfying sequel thing, generally comes down to the central protagonist not really being able to go anywhere. It’s Batman, so we have to go with him being the central character but where can he go? Nowhere! Sure they tired to give him a journey but it didn’t really work.
Truth is, the real protagonist in this movie was Harvey Dent. Pushed into a corner he comes up against a strong antagonist – the joker. In this film the Batman is really just a watcher. He’s the one who’s prepared to sacrifice him self. “I am batman.”
In “Forever” – Batman has to take on the mantle of the bat. We see him grow and then have to make a moral choice and then defeat his teacher and save Gotham – Then he has to face’s the punishment for saving the day by losing love. The knight must be celibate. He is a true hero.
You could see how the sequel tried to repeat that story. Batman once again has to accept that he’s going to have to live on the outside. This time the girl dies instead of dumping him; but love lost is love lost. He went their last time. Harvey, I however felt for.
Want to push the batman – I think you need delve into the comic books more. Knight Fall – is not only one of the best batman stories ever. It is also one of the greatest comic books I’ve read.
Anyway that’s what this screenwriter from NZ thinks…
- Michelle Styles
Can someone please tell me where the Save the Cat! moment in the first appearance of Batman in the Dark Knight is?We are supposed to choose Batman as the hero because well he is Batman, but nothing really shows his underlying humanity.
The entire film suffers from a lack of humanity. Why does Rachel love Harvey Dent? Why does hse choose him over Bruce Wayne? What is Batman’s goal at the beginning of the film? To rid Gotham of the baddies is not good enough, there also has to be a personal why.
One of the reasons why Tim Burton’s Batman v Joker works and is so menancing is that there is a why surrounding their duel.
Yes, as someone said, Batman seemed more retroactive. He doesn’t really take charge. I loved the character of Joker, even though evil, he was more defined and his dialogues were much better than Batman’s. Anyone else felt Batman lacked good dialogue, I mean, for all his heroics?
I too am a huge Batfan and i was not thrilled with the new one. Maybe i spaced out for a minute while i was watching but i got majorly confused with the story logic. Can someone please explain how the whole “relative in the hospital & police thing with the Joker” made sense? thanks
I must say i’m very surprised at the negative feedback the Dark Knight is getting here. Personally i loved it but that could possibly be because there were certain aspects that some of you seemed to want in it that i didn’t expect it to have. Such as, in my opinion a save the cat moment when we first see Batman isn’t required as it was done in Batman Begins. Begins was the origin story, it dealt with Bruce Wayne and his moral code, ‘It’s not who you are underneath but what you do that defines you.’ So a save the cat in its traditional sense seems pointless.
I’d also suggest that Batman’s underlying humanity is shown by what sets him apart, he never kills anyone. Also i think that it is established quite quickly that Batman’s goal near the beginning of the film is retirement. He wants to help and serve Harvey Dent as much as possible so Dent can clean up the streets and the White Knight will take over the mantle as Gotham’s great protector. I would put this as his personal reason, he longs for a normal life with Rachel but until Batman’s work is done it could never be possible.
While a fan of Burton’s Batman i must say that i think the Begins series far surpasses them, firstly because in ‘Batman’ there is no origin story for Batman which is alright but i don’t think we get to know much about Batman or Bruce Wayne in that film. We do on the other hand get to know a lot more about the Joker but for me that’s the wrong way round. The Joker can be mental, he doesn’t need a reason to be bad he just can be but Batman needs a reason to be good otherwise he is just a freak in a costume.
What i’m really wandering is if Nolan will do a 3rd and if so what are they going to do in it as he has already stated there are a lot of villains he doesn’t want to do as they wouldn’t fit into the more realistic universe he has created. The third film is always the hardest too… Spiderman 3 anyone?
- Michelle Styles
I am going to respectively disagree with Jenny about the need for a Save the Cat! moment. Every film needs one. In all the super successful series (here I am thinking in particular of Bond, but a bit about Indiana Jones), there is almost always STC! moment that serves to show that the hero remains worthwhile and his moral code is intact.
Sometimes, films are seen out of sequence and the audience really needs to bond with the hero. Or it has been several years since they saw the film or what ever and they need to rebond. In a series, though the STC! moment probably does not have to be as pronounced as in the first book but there should be a little reminder. Or maybe I have misread what Blake was saying in his first book. (FWIW my editor was also hammering this same point to me about the second book of a duet that I just completed for Harlequin — different medium but same need — so I may have made a misinterpretation.)
Equally in Nolan’s Batman there is this tug between the real Bruce if you like and the whole Batman/playboy Bruce. Who is he? And where is his future? The real Bruce to a certain extent longs to hang up his cape and marry Rachel. You see this at the end of Batman Begins, but it may have several years and people might need a subtle reminder…IMHO, something foreshadowing this conflict (that does become important later on) is missing at the beginning. And partly because Bruce appears to be drifting, he also appears to be passive and reactive, rather than proactive.
And if the audience understands that he really longs to sail off in the sunset with Rachel (at the beginning or certainly in the first scene with Alfred), the decision to go after the mob rather than the Joker who appears to be a bit player makes more sense. Once the mob is off the streets and Dent is installed as the white knight. he can achieve his goal. It may be there, and I just missed it. I certainly have been known to miss points before. I would also say that it does play to the ending image, because then Bruce KNOWS he must be the Dark Knight and can not give it up. He havs grown and recognised it in himself.
- Tall Tales
First, growing up on the Batman (and Robin) TV show, I`m not a big “movie batman” fan. I only saw this one because of all the hype surrounding Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker, and with this I wasn’t disappointed, just hand him the oscar after he’s reincarnated as a tree.
I loved the movie till the final image and that’s where they royally messed this story up. Dent dies (sorry if you haven`t seen the story yet) and to keep the people of Gotham City in the dark as to who killed all those people, Batman takes the blame? Excuse me, but don’t you have a crazed killer that we’ve just learn to love/hate named “The Joker” laying around someplace? Why can’t he take the rap for those murders along with all those he actually committed?
On top of that point, throw in the fact that the people of Gotham City have not only lost a hero in Harvey Dent but now Batman is a murder as well? Wouldn’t someone reading the morning paper wonder at the headline, “Super Hero Murdering Innocent Bystanders For No Apparent Reason”. So in affect you have lost 2 heros but gained a fugitive?
We know they want a sequel (don’t we all?) But to throw away logic in the last 5 minutes of a story can’t be the way to do it.
- Andrew M.
Don’t close the book on Dent/Two-face, one of the producers admitted they left a possibility to bring him back, even after that fall. After all batman got up relatively pain free.
- Tall Tales
I`m not sure how far Dent fell, but as I recall, it didn’t appear necessarily lethal. Batman of course has his protective suit specially made for him by Morgan Freeman (That Bruce Wayne is one rich sum-bitch, isn’t he?), not so with Dent.
Still, the writers can claim that Dent wasn’t dead but merely tucked away in an insane asylum for his own good, while the public funeral was to preserve the myth that he died a defender of law and order.
In the sequel, Dent will cleverly escape the asylum and begin his reign of terror on the unwitting populous of Gotham City. If we’re lucky, there’s enough deleted or un-used material of Heath Ledger’s Joker that can be rapped around a new story line for the Joker to make a “cameo”.
Stranger things have happened, after all, they made “Gigli” didn’t they?
I just saw the film, and I must say, that it offered no emotional connection with the hero, their goals or any for that matter. Spidey 2 was much more of an emotional film, given the loss of love, power, etc. I wanted Spidey to have the girl, get his powers back and live with it, but it just wasn’t there in this film.
I saw Dark Knight on the IMAX. Spectacular imagery and photography, but I could not relate to Batman, nor the Joker, nor Dent, or any body else. If I’m not connect to the hero, and want him to win, the movie fails. Batman was not the reluctant type, heroes need to be reluctant in order for them to arc, but in this film no one wanted to say no, I don’t want it.
A hero movie suffers when there is more than one antagonist, it happens in every sequel. Buy Spidey 2 had one and that is why it is better than the Spidey 3.
As another commenter stated, I did not see a STC moment what so ever. If a hero’s job is to save, then there has to be departure of traditional saving something.
Batman Forever was much more of an emotional picture and I could relate to his losing his parents, and as such. DK film made me sleepy at times. It was 30 minutes too long. Records don’t speak of greatness. I highly recommend The Fall. I have seen it twice, will see it again, and every time I saw it, I was awestruck, but the protagonist suffers a loss and we don’t want that.
I must give credit the Nolans for their film making; maybe they can “save” the Indiana Jones franchise from Locus and company.
As a writer, my rewrites are always about stripping the action I’ve penned for the drama and the resolution through emotional sacrifice, rather than action. Without the emotional investment in the hero, we just get a train wreck of sequences.
What made Bourne 3 so good is that we emotionally got connected to Bourne to want to have him discover his past and life. He killed more people, good or bad than Joker, or Batman, but I wanted Bourne to make it, and he arcs so so well by the end that he, having discovered his past, categorically rejects his training and summons the other assassins to the same. That is what I call writing and arcing.
I just need to be satisfied with the emotions. Action alone for me just doesn’t do it.
When I walked out of Dark Knight, I was not rooting for any one in this film. None what so ever.
Just expressing my frustration with the film. Good thing I only paid $7 for it.
Shamil: “A hero movie suffers when there is more than one antagonist, it happens in every sequel. Buy Spidey 2 had one and that is why it is better than the Spidey 3.”
Yes, but I think an even bigger problem with Spider-Man 3 is that when I watch it, I can’t help losing my sympathy for Peter Parker because of the stupid mistakes he keeps making towards Mary Jane – and, in turn, I like her less because she gives him too hard a time about it. In the end I have a hard time liking any of the protagonists. The character I like most might even be Flint Marko / Sandman, who probably shouldn’t even be in the film in the first place.
Spider-Man 2 establishes terrific sympathy with the hero, including that memorable “save the cat” scene in which he saves a kid from being hit by a truck, at the expense of delivering his pizzas a couple of minutes late, which in turn costs him his job. In that film, it’s a real joy to root for the hero during the fights.
Tall Tales: “I loved the movie till the final image and that’s where they royally messed this story up. Dent dies (sorry if you haven`t seen the story yet) and to keep the people of Gotham City in the dark as to who killed all those people, Batman takes the blame? Excuse me, but don’t you have a crazed killer that we’ve just learn to love/hate named “The Joker” laying around someplace? Why can’t he take the rap for those murders along with all those he actually committed?”
DC Comics movie, hero becomes Christ-figure. (Superman Returns?) :-P I liked it, not sure I entirely agree with it, but it seems more honorable to take false blame than to place it on another.
“On top of that point, throw in the fact that the people of Gotham City have not only lost a hero in Harvey Dent but now Batman is a murder as well? Wouldn’t someone reading the morning paper wonder at the headline, ‘Super Hero Murdering Innocent Bystanders For No Apparent Reason.’ So in affect you have lost 2 heros but gained a fugitive?”
I believe he’s already regarded as a dangerous vigilante. The people Dent killed were by no means innocent – they were the people who’d been “corrupted” to help the Joker abduct him and kill Rachel. (If not “corrupted,” call it what you will – remember the policewoman who accepted a bribe to turn them over to the Joker because her mother was in hospital. I only saw the movie once, opening weekend, so I don’t remember the details very well.)
Matthys Boshoff: “Well done on the Joker though – for some reason he’s quite likeable. Perhaps because we feel sorry for him when he tells how his father cut his cheeks because he was too serious?”
I found him very likable, but definitely not because I felt sorry for him – I doubt any of those stories were meant to be true. He just seemed like he’d be a really fun guy to hang out with if he wasn’t a sadistic murdering psychopath. In particular, the scene in which he leaves and blows up the [empty] hospital was hilarious – the hand sanitizer, the way he reacted to the remote malfunctioning, and the fact that he kept the nurse’s uniform on through the whole thing. Awesome!
My feelings for the movie after leaving the theatre can be summarized by one of the Joker’s own lines:
“Why so serious?”
Although the performances were great, and there were a lot of pretty speeches… it’s a Batman movie. I think superhero films should be about something, for sure, but I think we’re starting to get a little carried away here. I think “Iron Man” hit the balance of being both “real” and “fantastic” just perfect. That’s about as “serious” as I’d want any comic book movie to be.
I would agree with “shanelaporte” above, its a perfectly valid argument , its a movie based on a comic series so ” why so serious?”– there’s got to be things and events that happen in comics. Enjoy it dudes.
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I was talking to one of my friends about this movie and your theory that most sequels aren’t as good as the original because the first is generally the “hero’s greatest story” and sequels always seem like a washed out, repeated version of the original (cue Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).
Luckily, Director Christopher Nolan and his screenwriting team must have been reading your blog/books because they managed to create a new dilemma for Batman (the existential question- do I really make a difference?) and a new evil that tops what he faced in his origin reboot story (The Joker is much more terrifying and evil than The Scarecrow).