Logan versus The Dark Knight. Marvel versus DC. There are hardly any battle in cine-world that gets better than that. The Dark Knight and in fact the entire Batman trilogy that Christopher Nolan directed almost elevated the superhero movie to an art film. How then, can Logan compare to The Dark Knight – this is the question that I will try to explore and answer. In fact I firmly believe Logan is better than The Dark Knight. Here are the reasons for my belief.
1. The Fight Sequences
Logan, starring Hugh Jackman in his last appearance as the titular character that is better known as Wolverine, offers some brilliant fight sequences. The movie itself derives somewhat from the Old Man Logan comic arc. The Wolverine in this arc is a much more brutal and violent character. Thus the film is an example of excellently coordinated fight sequences. The Dark Knight, on the other hand has only a few fight sequences and when they appear they are quite lackluster and not what we see from the Batman comic arcs. Perhaps Nolan in a drive to make the film more cerebral had to compromise with the action sequences but Logan has the better action sequences of the two without doubt.
2. Moral Grey Areas
Superhero movies come in black and white. There is no denying it – we have a hero, a good old fashioned villain and some evil scheme. The hero eventually puts an end to the scheme and the movie ends with the triumph of good over evil. Logan offers us exactly that – the evil body, the hero and the salvation that inevitably lies at the end. It serves as a cathartic experience of sorts for the viewing audience to see a superhero movie stick to the formula. Nolan, through his expert portrayal of the ethical and philosophical battlefield where the Joker and the Batman actually fought, managed to wipe out all of these black and white lines. The film becomes an exercise in moral grey areas throughout – when Bruce Wayne lets Harvey Dent take the fall for being the Batman, when the cops chase Batman because they believe that Batman had killed Harvey Dent, when the people on the two launches are about to blow each other up.
There are many more examples but perhaps the most powerful example would be the very characterization of the Joker. The Joker’s philosophy that society ultimately works on the principle of every person for themselves is proven time and again by Gotham’s residents thus further pushing the film into the morally grey area where the vindication of the Joker’s philosophy makes us question whether he is out and out a villain and is Batman out and out a hero – because the Joker seems to be a mirror for the apparently civilized society of Gotham and Batman begins to devolve (remember the interrogation scene) to become an ethically troublesome hero. Thus the catharsis that the straightforward plot of Logan offers is denied to the audience in The Dark Knight.
3. Empathizing with the Villain
Audiences know they are in trouble when the villain starts making sense in the films. Superhero movies rarely have that. It just goes on the make the ethical black and white difficult to portray as I have spoken of in the previous point. Therefore most villains in such films are bad guys in the most clichéd sense possible. Logan delivers exactly that – an evil organization that conducts experiments on kids with mutant genes. Sounds exactly like a situation that requires a superhero to rectify the wrongs. The Joker too right from the offset seems like a typecast bad guy, a bank robber. But the audience is given pause when it is revealed that he is robbing a mob bank – is it really so bad to rob from criminals. The Joker poses ethical questions from the very beginning. They get subsumed in the course of the film when he volunteers to kill the Batman for the mob but rise up again in subsequent multiple scenes, especially the hospital conversation with Harvey and the rooftop conversation with Batman.
The Joker, as he says himself, is not crazy but just ahead of the curve. His cold practicality and cynicism might strike us as jarring but upon contemplation along the course of the movie the audience will find themselves somewhat empathizing with the Joker’s philosophy. It is this very empathizing that dissolves the desired effect of a superhero villain as a complete antithetical point and this is where Logan succeeds and The Dark Knight fails.
4. Cerebral Dialogues
Superhero movies are light watches – no offense to superhero movie fans. But really, even the values that these films seek to impart is done in a lighthearted way, or perhaps that is how movies have treated superhero comics – always with a light handed touch packaged mostly for children and young adults. The dialogues in most superhero films are thus short, compact and sassy. The villains make some long drawn speeches and the hero has a crisp comeback before engaging in a fight. Logan has that – the crisp dialogues. Moreover, the dialogues are few and the actions are many. That is how we like our superhero films.
The Dark Knight, peppered with cerebral dialogues from start to finish might be an excellent example of Jonathan Nolan’s ability as a script writer, but it really affects the film as a superhero movie. The dialogues have such richness and depth that it would serve most audiences to sit down with copies and make notes as if the film were part of some sociology class. Logan has a script much more suited to the superhero genre than The Dark Knight whose script could be taught in classes or screened in art films but definitely don’t make a good match for superhero movies.
5. The Hero’s Humanity
Both Bruce Wayne and Logan offer extremely well rounded and humane characters. This would not be true perhaps if Logan’s mortality had not become an engrossing aspect of the film. However, with Logan becoming mortal and old his humanity shines through in the moments when the rage doesn’t take over him. His sense of helplessness, sense of loss and all his years of running crash down on him in certain sequences of the film. While Bruce’s humanity is of course present, yet is somehow gets subsumed by the arrogance with which the prince of Gotham is expected to carry himself. The entire sequence of joining the tables or absconding with the ballet, though necessary pointers to Bruce’s character somehow mar the humanity.
Of course, Nolan being the master craftsman that he is, brings out the helplessness of Batman, Bruce’s stronger alter ego (perhaps) in the interrogation scene where he repeatedly asks the Joker for the location of Harvey and Rachel. Bruce’s dejection is also evident when he tells Alfred that Rachel would wait for him. However, when it comes to the overall appearances of the hero’s humanity, Logan’s grudging but affectionate care for X-23 and Xavier and his attempts to save all the mutant kids makes him a more humane character than Bruce Wayne. This might also have to do with the fact that Wolverine as a character is driven more by passion while Batman is driven by logic and passion is always more humane than cold logic.