The whole country is going bonkers over The Dark Knight, it's front-page news in the Seattle Times, a wacko with a painted face single-handedly throws an entire metropolis into chaos and blows up half its infrastructure, off-handedly, on a whim, with a yawn and one hand tied behind his back, and out to stop him is another wacko in a bat suit, highly anal, compressed into a straitjacket of Puritanical values that no one's taken seriously in over a half century.

Underlying the ensuing non-stop violence is a thin-as-drizzle-shit philosophical postulation, that evil needs good to play off, that one can't exist without the other. Maybe that's so, but in this box-office bonanza it's the lone-wolf Joker who comes off sane, if you take the fundamental of sanity to be the ability to see the world around you as it really is. It may have twisted him beyond recognition, but the Joker sees clear as a bell the gaping chasm between what people profess and what they do, and he exploits this hypocrisy with an enthusiastic vengeance and no small amount of droll humor.

The Joker is the only character in the movie who has character. He has dimension and resilience and is strangely attractive. Heath Ledger played him so well that off screen he fell despondent and died of an overdose.

There's nothing lovable about Batman or his bitchy girlfriend or the host of good cops/bad cops who make up the small army of bit players who are out to stop the Joker at all costs. The only other sane character in the entire cast is Batman's man servant played by Michael Caine, someone who goes around picking up after Batman in his Bruce Wayne incarnation after he's come in from wreaking his explosive indignation on the city, murmuring small bits of wisdom that land on deaf ears.

The corollary to the good/evil postulation, that mankind is innately noble, also falls flat on its face, most blatantly in the scene where a ship full of prisoners and a ship full of upright citizens both choose not to push the red button that would blow up the other and save their own skins. It's a maudlin cheap lie worthy of Karl Rove. If this were the way we are we wouldn't be dropping good money to go see The Dark Knight, we'd be selling everything we own to help the starving millions around the globe.

But then this is just a movie. It has nothing to do with our real lives. Nothing at all. When push comes to shove we still care enough to send the very best.

"The Dark Knight Review" by John Bennett. Copyright © 2008 by Mystery Island Publications.
Published 08.15.08 by Mystery Island Publciations. All rights reserved.