Why so serious? Why not? Comic-book movies are all camped out – ironic distance is usually a muffler for weedy story and hollow characters.
Superpowers? Meh. TV cheerleaders have those, now. Time to go deeper and darker. Heroes, villains, crimefighters, criminals... Who do we think they are?
With Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s grand theme was fear: how it feeds and warps, defines and defiles. Batman was recast as a stark but slippery reflection of primal terror.
Ominous, omnipresent, forever scampering through the shadows... The Dark Knight picks apart our cosy ideas about morality. Can anyone be purely ‘good’ or ‘evil’? Is altruism a lie?
Is it acceptable to do ‘bad’ for a greater ‘good’? Next to the whiny-teeny women troubles of Spider-Man, it’s practically Shakespearean; the
tragedy of how one ‘good’ man (Aaron Eckhart’s outstanding, upstanding District Attorney Harvey Dent) is driven to the dark side.
As the extras reveal, it’s a masterpiece because there are four geniuses at work: Chris Nolan with his insistence on Imax – rubbing against the grain, going large when others are scaling down to digital – and his brother Jonathan, layering the screenplay with recurring riffs, zesty asides and prickly quotables (“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stranger!”).
Then there’s mad-professor composer Hans Zimmer, sculpting monolithic motifs out of crazed trials in eloquence and dissonance: two notes for Batman, one for the Joker (a percussive drone of fidgety chaos, like a chord of car-horns).
And of course, there’s Heath Ledger, as the fearinducer’s nemesis: an anarchist-agitator who has no fear. Like Bale with the Bat, Ledger makes The Joker more than a man.
He’s a symbol for the way we’re all only one misstep away from the abyss (“Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push...”).
But with Ledger gone, Bruce Wayne’s house – and heart – in pieces, Batman an outcast and Dent spun up as mythical martyr, Nolan has booked himself a tough gig for the trilogy-closer.
“I wanted to blow up more things than had ever been blown up before,” he laughs on the stunts featurette. Maybe it is time for the dark knight to lighten up...