Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is the best-executed and the darkest version of DC’s Dark Knight. This name for the Protagonist gives the second film its title. The Dark Knight has Batman in his prime as he works with the police and new DA Harvey Dent to restore order and justice to Gotham. In one scene near the beginning the effect Batman has had on the city is evident as a man refuses a drug deal solely because the bat-signal is seen.
While everything appears to be working, a new player appears in the form of Batman’s most iconic enemy, The Joker. A complete opposite of Batman’s control and sense of order, the Joker brings chaos and fear with his unique brand of villainy. But while entire books could be written on the struggle between Batman and The Joker, I am going to discuss the themes of what is right versus what is the law. Batman is regarded by some as a savior and by others as a vigilante. The Joker uses this to his advantage, forcing citizens into committing terrible acts. One memorable scene has two ferries, one filled with civilians, the other with prisoners. Each has the trigger for a bomb on the other boat. Here is an example of society being pushed to the limits. Are we truly civilized or, as the Joker believes, are we merely one stressful situation away from becoming animals? Batman and superheroes in general represent individuals with great power who choose to do what is right despite the law, and this makes them dangerous, because at any time they could choose differently. The movie hints that society has to rely on individuals choosing what is right, because otherwise no amount of laws will protect us.
Batman represents an ideal, someone who works outside the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law. He taps into the phones of everyone in Gotham to find the Joker, something that his friend deems too dangerous for one man. Batman agrees, and gives Fox the power to destroy the machine and the program when he has found the Joker. Here again, when it would be so easy to eliminate freedoms in the name of safety, the individual is handed the burden of choice. Batman relies on being able to ignore laws that can help keep rights intact, but only to bring criminals exploiting the system to justice. He attacks individuals in order to preserve the rights and safety of the general population.
This is not the only way that being outside the law affects Batman. When the Joker is using terrorist attacks and murder to convince Batman to reveal himself, Alfred urges Bruce to remain silent about his secret identity. He tells Bruce that the point of Batman was supposed to be that he could be hated and outcast in order to preserve the greater good. Batman is subject to neither the law nor the will of the people. His goal is to be good and just no matter what, in spite of what he could do. He is a denial of the evil nature of humanity. Batman doesn’t exist to be a hero. He exists to do what is right.