When the question arises of who could be the villain in a
third Batman movie, I’m stymied. I can’t picture The Penguin or The Riddler or
Catwoman working in the world Christopher Nolan has created. Poison Ivy? I
don’t think so. The Mad Hatter? Clayface? Kite
Man? Bane? Nope, nope, nope and please god no.
Why is it so hard to come up with a villain for a third
Batman film? I think it’s because The Dark Knight so effectively nullifies its own superheroic elements – and I’m not
the first one to make note of this. As Christopher Bird of observed in his one-sentence review:
“There are many reasons to see
The Dark Knight, many of which have been repeated elsewhere many times over,
but I will merely say this: any movie starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger,
Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman which trusts
one of its most powerful and emotional moments to Tiny Lister, and makes it
work perfectly, is a movie that is a cut above.”
Lister, best known for playing the president of the universe
(bless your ludicrously self-indulgent soul, Luc Besson) in The Fifth
Element, is indeed entrusted with one of
the most important sequences in the film, and it does work – maybe too well. As
Batman and The Joker battle it out atop the Gotham City skyline, the action
intercuts with a sequence that brings the story crashing back down to sea
level. The Joker, acolyte of chaos, has set up a variation on the classic
prisoner’s dilemma by puting bombs on two ferries: one filled with criminals
and the other filled with average Gothamites. The catch: the detonator for each
ferry is in the hands of the people on the other. The only sure way to save
yourself is to blow the other boat up. Then, at the crucial moment, prisoner
Tiny Lister takes the detonator on his boat – and tosses it out the window.
What’s remarkable about that sequence is that while it plays
out the big clash-of-icons themes in the movie (The Joker’s chaos unfolds, but
backfires on him, as chaos is wont to do; figuratively, Two-Face’s coin lands
unscarred-side up, validating the morality of chance; good and evil define and
demand one another), it also negates the entire superhero side of the plot.
The people of Gotham do what needs to be done and make the
right decisions without so much as a pause to ask, WWBD? They save themselves
while Batman is busy having a philosophical discussion with The Joker (the
brilliantly not-even-remotely-subtle device of flipping the camera upside down
for The Joker’s half of that conversation underscores what has happened here:
things have changed. As below, so above.)
That would be enough, but just as Tiny Lister steps up to
fill the heroic role, another everyman steps into the key villain role. Because
the biggest threat Batman faces in The Dark Knight isn’t The Joker or Two-Face or his own inner demons,
or even the big screen comeback of Anthony Michael Hall. His biggest threat in
the film is an accountant.
There have been more than a few critics who have complained about
the film’s numerous and convoluted subplots, but the one featuring
as Wayne Enterprises employee Coleman Reese is perhaps the most interesting.
Harto uncovers Wayne’s secret identity not by trailing him to the Batcave or
bugging the Batmobile or torturing Alfred, but through simple forensic
accounting (in a plot that mirror’s Batman’s follow-the-money takedown of Chin
Han’s mob money launderer). Armed with this information, Harto can destroy
Batman not in a grand rooftop battle or through a protracted war of ideologies
(or by letting Frank Miller write him), but simply by going on television. And
because he’s going to do it during the day, Batman is powerless to stop him.
So, who you gonna call? Bruce Wayne.
In what I think is one of the most inspired sequences in the
film, Bruce Wayne manages to save Harto’s life (in true playboy billionaire
style, by crashing a Lambourghini), then looks Harto in the eyes – man to (not
Bat) man. With nary a Batarang in sight, with just a traffic accident and a
significant look, Bruce Wayne saves Batman.
Which may go a long way toward explaining why Christian Bale
is credited not as Batman, or even Bruce Wayne/Batman, but as Bruce Wayne.
The Dark Knight is
clearly obsessed with duality. With its layered internal and external conflicts
between Bruce Wayne and Batman and The Joker and Harvey Dent/Two Face, a
double-blind love triangle and multiple mirroring plots and sub plots, the film
is gay for duality. The Joker’s line, “You complete me,” might just has well
have been “I wish I could quit you.” But it has its duality and eats it too.
Which ends up making for a surprisingly satisfying meal.
Ian Driscoll wouldn’t know what to do with a car if he