The second film in the ongoing recreation of Batman, "The Dark Knight", forces some interesting questions to rise. Of course, for those who have religiously (or semi-religiously) read the comics detailing all of Batman's heroics and not-so-heroics, these questions are placed in the movie as a visual aid to what was already known. The main question that Christopher Nolan, the director of both the first and second movie, seems to bring up, is thus: What makes a superhero movie, and if there is a set of rules to such a thing, is there a way to make an anti-hero movie? It just so happens that he answers such points in the movie.
For anyone who has not seen the movie but has seen the first one, The Dark Knight is about Bruce Wayne / Batman’s action trying to create a niche for himself as Gotham City’s vigilante hero. A new villain, the Joker, pops up, and shows Gotham City that to be a villain, all you need is some dynamite, gasoline, bullets, and some spark of insanity bordering on genius. He tells Batman in one scene that in order to stop him, Batman will have to “break your one rule”, and that rule is killing someone as a means to an end. The Joker is the perfect foil to Batman, and develops the idea that maybe, though seemingly doling out justice, Batman is not a hero, but an anti-hero, a “dark knight”, a direct reflection of the Joker.
Most superhero movies that people have seen, like the old Superman films, have a pretty clear-cut idea of what a hero is, and by proxy, what a film in the superhero genre should contain. But Daniel Chandler, in his “Introduction to Genre Theory”, says “…How we define a genre depends on our purposes;” that when we define something, it matters what we, or perhaps even the director meant when directing the movie; perhaps even the creation of a new genre. We’ve seen so many movies where the villain is vanquished or even killed, but what happens when we have a movie where the villain proves to us that our own hero, the one we’ve rooted for the entire time, may just also be a villain, or at least one step away from being one?
Chandler also says “…film theorists frequently refer to popular films as 'genre films' in contrast to 'non-formula films'. Elitist critics reject the 'generic fiction' of the mass media because they are commercial products of popular culture rather than 'high art’.” Both elitists and film critics loved The Dark Knight, both for their own reasons; the critic for it’s talented actors and edgy plot, the elitists for it’s uncovering the ‘truth’ about Batman’s personality and it’s vivid show of the Joker’s violence. However, these two types of critics would probably hold that the movie fits into two completely different genres. So who decides what genre it actually is?
In the end of all things, it both fits into and breaks it’s own genre, the superhero movie, at the same time. Showing Batman trying to save Gotham bit by bit shows us the dichotomy of a superhero who, though trying to serve justice, is really on the edge and just about to crack. There have been plenty of stories told in the comic book style where Batman does indeed break down, and one of his successors has to take his place. Perhaps that is what Christopher Nolan is trying to do; to create an entirely new genre based on the ‘humanity’ of a superhero.