George wrote:First off, I don't take Whedon's comment as a singular idea. He says both "Batman gets short shrift" and "It’s not about Batman." I only agree with the first statement. Batman gets the "short shrift" because the major decisions in the film are split between multiple characters, and at times completely divorced from Batman. Batman is present in so many scenes, but too many of the film's critical decisions aren't made by Batman.
Which ones? Batman is active from the start - the issue is that his scope is limited and still dictated by his past experiences, and he arrogantly dismissed the "escalated" result of his own emergence in the Joker. As a result Batman is forced to be reactive for the rest of the film, save for the decision to turn Harvey Dent into Gotham's true hero, since the Joker is as active an antagonist as you're going to get. There aren't any significant decisions that are made by anyone else in isolation - it's either the Joker, or the Batman who ultimately pushes the boundaries of what he has defined himself as, and comes up trumps.
George wrote:I'm a proponent that the "main character" status is more sided with Harvey Dent and the citizens of Gotham than it is with Batman. Their decisions ultimately have a large thematic and narrative impact on Batman, but he's too often the spectator for much of the action (though that becomes more of a problem as the film goes on).
You have it arse-about. Dent's decisions and actions are prompted by the Batman and Bruce Wayne to begin with - scorn for Wayne, and inspiration from the courage of Batman, which steer him in the direction of being the White Knight. The Joker identifies this as Batman's true objective and instead corrupts and warps Dent into Two Face. Dent's decisions are all informed chiefly by those two major forces - he is essentially a chess piece (a White Knight indeed) in a broader game. Batman is THE key player in all of the film's action.
The citizens of Gotham function in the same way. Their actions stem from opposing "arguments" if you like from the Joker and Batman. Their decisions and actions do not spring organically from who they are, because that is irrelevant. It comes from their collective mindset, which is informed by these two key figures.
George wrote:So if there's any place where The Dark Knight begins to falter, it's the second half. The film drifts away from any notion of a strong, main character to anchor the story. Though there was plenty of talk (even by Nolan) that Harvey Dent is the backbone of the film, I'm not sure that's even entirely true -- or successful. Harvey Dent has what seems like a fuller arc, but it's slightly ruined by the way he's presented in the third act. His "transformation" into Two Face feels a little false, making it difficult to really put much weight behind him.
Dent IS the backbone, he's the Macguffin if you want to use that overused term, but that doesn't make him the central figure. The protagonist is the central figure by default and that is Batman. Batman is the one with the set objective, Batman is the one with the agenda and the ideas, and Batman is the key part of the triumvirate with Dent and Gordon against the Joker. The whole film is about Batman having entered a melancholic state after Batman Begins
, finding himself in a tit-for-tat war with the mob and devoting himself entirely to smashing them. The problem is that the "symbol" that he wants to be is being wildly misinterpreted by the people, who think that they too can be costumed vigilantes, and so he chooses to repurpose someone else's life to meet his own ends
. That's fascinating. It's the greater good, but it sets Bruce up as a manipulator and a controlling force in much the same way that his master was. Batman Begins
was all about how Bruce Wayne is influenced by his dual father figures into becoming a mix of the two (he destroys Ra's with Thomas's train, and that's just on a base level).
Instead The Dark Knight
is all about how Bruce/Batman is an influence, and also how he wants to be an influence. That's one of the most compelling and rich arcs you'll come across. He wants someone else to be the ideal while he can still be the physical force, but what he actually needs is to pull the ambiguity of Batman, and turn him into a scapegoat. He needs the idea of Batman to be as risible as he finds it, he needs it to not be something to aspire to, and so he obliterates the very thing that defines him. Wow. By comparison, Dent being physically scarred and having his violent tendencies brought to the fore by a madman is pretty rote stuff.
George wrote:More importantly, his plot of killing those responsible for Rachel's death is almost entirely separate from the main narrative of the ferry boats and hostages...he somewhat loses status as the main character at this point when the film puts so much focus on the ferry boat conflit. And that conflict, unfortunately, has little to do with our main characters. Neither Batman nor any of the main characters have decisive power in those scenes. Focus shifts to random Gotham citizens. For the third act, they essentially become the main characters. Though their ultimate decision has a large impact on Bruce's arc in the film, Bruce has no part in their decision making.
Two Face's rampage is him slipping into the same desperate carnage that the Joker has forced everyone else into. It's the same thing as the ferry boats and the hostages - it's about the Joker turning people into the same warped, violent entities that both he and Batman are, "bringing them down to their level". Dent has been the Joker's focus and his "wild card", since it's what strikes at the core of Batman's efforts. The people on the ferries is an argument between the two. It's the separate philosophies going to a head. The Joker tests it to its extremeties, but Batman's belief that the people of Gotham are inherently good wins out. The Joker's true defeat is not when Batman flings the blades into his face, it's when he comes to the realisation that he is wrong
(cued perfectly by Zimmer). Again, it's all about how Batman can influence people - they would rather risk their own lives for others than take lives (and this is the final point at which the influence of Batman as a symbol for good has value - it is exhaused at this point because Batman has been proved right, hence why he can destroy Batman in the next scene).
The focus is not on these people as individually, but how they act, which is a direct result of the central characters. Their ultimate decision does not influence how Batman acts at all. It's pure vindication.
George wrote:If anyone has seen Little Miss Sunshine, there may be a great way to tie this together. Olive more immediately feels like the main character in the film. It's ostensibly about her strong desire to win this pageant. But the main character in the film is actually Richard. Richard has to make the decisions that ultimately affect whether Olive can even be present at the pageant. Decisions that will decide whether or not the family will be held together. The Dark Knight ends with Batman taking the blame for Dent's murders in what could have been a strong attempt to round out the film as being "about" Bruce. But since I still haven't heard a compelling reason why Batman had to take the blame, it just doesn't work for me.
Batman taking the blame is the only natural conclusion. He can't blame murders on another, totally despicable man because on a moral level he might as well just have let Joker fall. He has been looking for a way out of being Batman since the start, since him as a "symbol" has gone too far and people have gotten themselves killed trying to be that symbol. He removes the flawed role model entirely, and creates a martyr instead that people can actually aspire to be. And finally, Bruce makes a true sacrifice - throughout his life others have made sacrifices for him, but for Bruce to surrender what has defined himself and what he has created (his true self) is his greatest, and most effective achievement.
Trading days beneath the sun, for the cold and wintery nights of the Murmansk Run...