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…