I rewatched The Dark Knight tonight and was struck by how different the film feels on a second viewing. I think I liked it more this pass. The film felt less uneven and more cohesive than it did the first time and while its flaws are still evident, as comic book movies go, it's an interesting accomplishment. The Dark Knight and another comic book movie, Iron Man, occupy the top 2 box office positions for 2008 and notwithstanding their common origin (comics) and oddly similar alter egos (both single, billionaire business men by day and costumed vigilantes relying on technologically enhanced suits by night), the differences between the two films are significant. Crime, anarchy and chaos rule Gotham and Batman brings justice and vengeance to what is in essence an isolated and decaying urban island. Iron Man's world, by contrast, is a military one. Tony Stark is a weapons developer and manufacturer and war is his business. Iron Man is thusly engaged on a wider (or at least less specifically definable) stage. These differences in scope define and help place Batman and Iron Man in their respective corners. I wrote in a previous post that the politics of Iron Man troubled me. I felt the film was all-too-much a rallying cry for the Bush Doctrine and while I think director Jon Favreau got a lot right, he missed the boat entirely on the politics and cardboard bad guy front.
So it comes down to this: The Dark Knight is an urban movie, about urban issues of crime and anarchy with Gotham standing in for New York while Iron Man is a national movie, about America's role in world affairs. I don't mean to say that these films are exclusively about these matters but their respective setting and story lines do split relatively cleanly across the city/nation divide. The Dark Knight is a relentlessly bleak dissertation of the state of urban society. Writer/Director Chris Nolan explores and expands the concept of the “hero” to a far greater degree than does Favreau in Iron Man. I read a fascinating book about heroic figures recently that said among other things; “Heroes don't have to be good, they have to be great.” and “Heroes rise to the occasion when they are needed. A healthy society does not require them”. Bruce Wayne/Batman fully meets this criteria whereas I'm not so sure if Tony Stark/Iron Man isn't merely an extension of the military and therefore less a hero and more a soldier.
Kadas made the comment that The Dark Knight is more a crime movie than anything else and on this second viewing, I'm tempted to agree with him. It's head and shoulders more complex than Iron Man and I think a much better film. It'll be interesting to see where each franchise goes in subsequent films and how their success will effect the portrayal of other superheros down the road.