You may or may not be aware of Garfield Minus Garfield, a mash-up of the comic strip Garfield that simply removes Garfield from all frames, leaving John Arbuckle as a lonely, psychotic man. I bring it up because it serves as a useful analogy to discuss the film The Dark Knight, which I finally saw last week after friends’ insistence. While I did enjoy the film, I felt that it would’ve been better as Batman Minus Batman.
Yes, I found Batman himself to be completely superfluous to the better themes of the movie. Apparently that’s the secret to making a good Batman movie: make him irrelevant. The Joker was the most interesting character in the movie (a tip of my hate to Heath Ledger for that), followed closely by Arthur Dent and the police commissioner. Batman and his to-be girlfriend were unconvincing, uncompelling, and, dare I say, out of place.
The story of the Joker as anarchist terrorizing a large city is what made the film good. It would have been better if it had just focused on this subplot, especially the civilian and police response to a city under siege by a non-rational villain. Instead, a significant amount of screen time is devoted to a billionaire moonlighting as a crime fighter with incredibly high-tech gear who nevertheless beats up his opponents with ham-fisted punches. It’s hard to fathom, but Batman really was the worst part of this Batman movie. Without him, the city would’ve had to deal with the threat from the Joker on its own (perhaps with some highly risky SWAT missions), instead of the deus ex machina solution provided by Batman.
The Batman series seems to have evolved beyond the need for its title character. It’s an unusual position for a film series to find itself in, but there it is.