“The Dark Knight” is the best comic book movie ever made.
The proof of this is that everybody always says that “The Dark Knight” is the best comic book movie ever made.
I think they started saying it a few weeks before the movie came out four years ago.
And you couldn't argue back then because it almost seemed like you were speaking ill of the dead.
That movie was haunted by Heath Ledger. All you could think about when you were watching “The Dark Knight” was how great he was as the Joker, and how awful it was that he was gone, and how weird it was that this was his last role.
Every crazy, dark, genius thing the Joker said seemed like Ledger's last words.
So when everyone started saying, “The Dark Knight” is the best comic-book movie of all time and maybe the best movie of all time, and the Joker is the best villain, and Heath Ledger deserves an Oscar...”
You would've been a jerk to argue.
Maybe that's still true. But I'll be that jerk, at least for today.
Though Heath Ledger was brilliant, and the film itself is quite good, “The Dark Knight” is not the best comic-book movie of all time.
It's isn't even the best Batman movie of all time.
How can that be when it has the very worst Batman?
Ooooo . . . I know. Those are fighting words. (That's why I buried them 12 paragraphs from the top.) But I stand by them. I'm not scared of you — I'll say it again:
Christian Bale is the absolute worst Batman in the history of Batmen.
Yes, including George Clooney. (Good Batman, bad Batman movie.) Yes, including Adam West. (Great work, in context.) Yes. Including Val Kilmer.
Just because Christian Bale is excellent in every other role doesn't mean he gets a free pass as Batman.
The thing about Batman is …
Well, the thing about Batman is his parents were murdered, and he never got over it, and now he's a sociopath with no healthy relationships or real identity.
But the thing about Batman, for the purpose of this conversation, is — it's a really difficult role.
When you're playing Bruce Wayne, you have to pretend to be a lonely sociopath who's pretending to be a frivolous playboy and who's pulling it off.
When you're playing Batman, most of your tools as an actor are buried under layers of mask and armor. Actors who play Batman have very little at their disposal — only their posture, their chin and their voice.
And Christian Bale just throws that last thing away. His Batman voice is a flat, nearly incomprehensible growl.
I guess his voice is supposed to seem really cold and rage-curdled, but it's hard to whisper-growl with any intonation or expression. Go ahead, try it ...
You sound like someone who's very angry and also in a library. You sound like Cookie Monster with a headache.
Once you realize how bad Bale's Batman voice is, it's hard to stop hearing it. Every time he opens his mouth — or hisses through his teeth — it's a distraction.
And it isn't just his voice that's bad.
Bale's other Batman acting choice is stillness. I know, I know — Batman is a big sneaky creeper who disappears into shadows and doesn't talk with his hands — but Bale is so still, so expressionless, that his Batman barely exists.
When he suits up, he disappears. A robotic Batman suit could replace him. (You can have that idea for free, Warner Bros.)
And things don't get any better when he takes off the mask. (That's not exactly true; Christian Bale is a handsome, handsome man.) His Bruce Wayne is utterly unconvincing. Grim. Cold. Too obviously not a flighty playboy.
Bale's Batman is so bad, I'm not sure how it doesn't ruin the whole movie. Is it because Batman is the least important element in a Batman story?
Is it because Christopher Nolan is the very best at making things feel cool and impressive even when they're inconsistent and confusing? (I'm looking at you, “Inception.”)
Or is “The Dark Knight” so beloved just because it's so violently different from every other superhero movie?
I walked out of the theater four years ago feeling like the movie was a direct reflection of our country's post-9/11, Guantanamo-colored crisis of the soul.
I remember telling my husband, “I guess that was good, but let's never watch that again. It might be the Batman movie I deserve, but it's not the one I'm ever going to need.”
* * *
While I'm picking on the “The Dark Knight” ... There's a scene in that movie where Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent pretends to be Batman, and everyone believes him.
No one in Gotham City could be that stupid!
The only visible part of Batman is his chin, and Aaron Eckhart has an incredible, unmistakable chin.
If that chin beat you up in a parking garage, you would recognize it later in the police lineup. You would never, ever mistake Christian Bale's chin for Aaron Eckhart's.
It's a crying shame, really, seeing that fine chin go to waste in a movie where a good chin could accomplish so much.
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