K and I haven’t been to a movie since Pan’s Labyrinth. We go to about one movie every year. She’s given up on movies, while I still cling to the hope that the next movie-going experience will be different. I’m always reaching for that 1% chance of something great.

The buzz for the new Batman movie got me caring enough to try and convince K to go with me. She agreed, we bought a pair of matinee tickets online, and got ready to try our luck again. Don’t ask me to remember the title, all the Batman movies seem the same to me now. Batman’s Big Day Out, Batman Goes To Camp, Batman’s in the Army Now, etc.

Wow, a matinee costs seventeen bucks. Okay, there’s a two-buck service charge for the convenience, but Good Lord. Seven-fifty a ticket? The normal price is ten bucks. We spend fifteen bucks on a large soda, a hot dog, and large popcorn. So that’s thirty-two dollars.

By comparison, K and I could buy or rent a DVD for ten bucks or less, and use the rest to buy a pizza and a six pack of beer. We wouldn’t have to be crammed into sardine-size seats, be distracted by jerks and their bright cell phones texting away, have idiots backing their seats into our knees, breathe air reeking of sweat and farts, and watch twenty minutes of ads and previews for movies that reek or recycled thought-vomit.

The movie is two hours and twenty minutes long, plus the twenty minutes of advertising and ten minutes you spent finding a seat away from the mutants. Judging by the silent, immediate way the audience left at the end to relieve their bladders, it was a long three hours. And no Gandalf or Eyes-of-Frodo to squee at, neither.

I’ll summarize the entire plot in one sentence, so if you hate spoilers, take the tape out now. The plot of the movie is “Batman becomes the bad guy because he isn’t good at anything else.” The entire movie is about Batman failing at everything so he can claim the title of “The Dark Knight”, the “hero people deserve”, that is – the unstoppable thug we all wish we were when it comes to revenge-justice power fantasties.

Never mind how stupid and unheroic this is, it’s boring and it’s outdated. I want to see Batman kick butt and solve crimes, not wallow in nonsensical melodrama and mindlessly react to villains who outthink him at every turn with two bit plans that wouldn’t fool the average person, never mind The World’s Greatest Detective.

That’s probably the worst thing about Batman Mark XVIII, he’s an impotent character that nobody can care about on any level – butt kicking, police work, human drama – nothing. Christian Bale is miscast; he is unable to bring any weight to his portrayal of either Batman or Bruce Wayne. Every time he growled his raspy voice as Batman, I wanted to cringe.

I think the only reason he got the Batman part was because of his role in American Psycho. The casting agents must have figured he could play a one-note lunatic, so why not a complicated psychopath vigilante like Batman.

There’s a scene where the Joker (the main bad guy), played by Heath Ledger, is dangling upside down from a line. It’s the final showdown and the Joker has “lost”, or rather, he’s out of unlimited instant-trap points. Heath’s upside down performance as the Joker dances circles around Christian Bale’s weak attempt at being Batman. The Joker may as well have been talking to himself.

During this scene, I realized Batman was still using his raspy batman voice during the back-and-forth. Even though the Joker isn’t scared of him and knows Batman’s real identity! How stupid is that? Batman hasn’t got squat to say to the villain. As usual in all Batman films the villain has the best lines and scenes. Is the movie about Batman or the Joker?

Heath’s performance as the Joker is the only good thing about the movie. He reinvents the villain as a diseased mind incapable of caring about anyone or anything except his schemes to stir the Batman into action. His portrayal is mesmerizing and scary while at the same time sympathetic. I would say the Joker does a better job of portraying the inner id of people who want to cut loose than Batman’s rich, effete snob.

The movie’s creators wisely choose to leave Heath’s Joker an enigma. His past is never explained, and the police are unable to dig up any information on him. Like a true fool, Heath’s joker moves through every boundary and into any situation without pause. Every time he is on screen the movie picks up intensity and he forces his co-workers to stop phoning it in.

It’s a sad state of affairs when it takes a suicidal actor to convey art of any substance in a Hollywood movie. Thank goodness Heath’s amazing performance was in this movie, because otherwise we’d be stuck with a horrible, unmatchable mess.

And what a mess it is. Whenever the Joker is off screen, the movie reverts to a dragging bloat of multiple plots and unbelievable contrivances. The Joker seems capable of creating instant traps at any time – warehouses full of gasoline barrels rigged to blow, hospitals lined with hidden explosives, and an endless array of “crazy people” who do his bidding. The whole Joker enterprise is hard to believe – Batman passes up this huge organization of psychos to take out the mob? Huh?

I’m also bored with the same old female character that exists only to be put in jeopardy and/or die to motivate the hero. With no personality of her own. It’s old, its crummy writing, and it’s just not full of pathos anymore. Every time I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal, I kept thinking of her role in Secretary and wanting to see that movie instead. Sad.

Aaron Eckhart, who plays Harvey Dent the noble prosecutor who falls, is also miscast. He’s too good-guy to play a man with a twisted dark side that comes out under tragedy. His background and reasons for falling never make sense to me. I get the movie’s message that “anyone can fall”. I just don’t buy it here. The guy goes from noble and dedicated throughout most of the movie to random psycho in a matter of minutes.

His look as Two-Face the villain is laughable – where as Heath’s Joker in ordinary grease paint comes off as creepy and unsettling, Harvey’s Two-Face looks over the top and distracting. I mean, the giant eyeball and bones showing through were ridiculous. What, it wouldn’t have been enough for him to just be scarred? Some marks don’t need to be gore fests to cut deep into the psyche. That was the point of Harvey Dent in the original “Dark Knight”.

Basically, despite the hype that this is a “reinvention” of the franchise, it’s exactly like all the others before it. You have multiple villains clogging the screen (the Scarecrow from the last film even has a cameo). Multiple plots competing for dominance. And a Batman who never makes any sense as a character.

Batman only reacts to the villains. He never shows any brains, deductive reasoning, or foresight. He can drive a car or a motorcycle like greased lightning to get to the next death trap in time to watch himself fail, and he can beat up thugs and SWAT members when it has nothing to do with the plot, but he can’t show any sign of emotion when the circumstances call for it.

His love interest is murdered and the most grief we see is him sitting in a penthouse with a glass of (presumably) alcohol. His friend and supporter on the police force is (apparently) assassinated saving the mayor, and the most we see is him beating up some thugs to show how “angry” he is. The man who represented hope and was supposed to let Batman retire and live a normal life is maimed and brutalized for life, and Bruce Wayne spends about sixty seconds consoling the guy before leaving. Granted Batman is a psychopath, but if he doesn’t care about his contacts even as casualties in his maniacal war on crime, why should we?

The super high tech gadget that erases civil liberties so Batman can have a chance of finding the Joker fails to find the villain in time for his next plot (despite the fact that there must be literally dozens of careless crazy Joker operatives throughout town setting up the ferry trap, complete with hacked power systems and cargo holds full of explosives). Batman breaks the law and invades our privacy, and he still can’t find the bad guy. How sad is that?

At the end of the film, we have this cockamamie speech from Batman about how he must shed his “good guy” image and become the Dark Knight. I still can’t make heads or tails of the logic. Harvey Dent turned evil, but people must believe he was good, so Batman will take the blame for the man’s death, even though Harvey as Two-Face killed several people, and the Joker totally whupped Batman’s behind with a belt, and now Batman can be the hero people deserve, because he’s not a hero and Harvey is the real hero, and now the police must send the dogs after Batman, because he’s bad now and taking the blame he doesn’t deserve. Run Batman, run!

Please stop.