Intelligent input, darling…Posted: July 22, 2008
I’m not sure another review of Dark Knight is completely necessary but, since this is my blog, I thought “what the hell“.
On the most basic level I thought Dark Knight was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen; easily the best of the year. The most striking aspect of the film was the performances of all of the actors (beyond the much-lauded Heath Ledger as the Joker). All of the actors from the A-list stars to the extras were generally bringing their “A-game” and were clearly giving the material a respect that one seldom sees in a superhero film. Of course, Ledger is the most stand-out. He disappears into the role and it is easy to forget that there is an actor behind the scars and make-up. But the other two stars of this film, Christian Bale and Gary Oldman, are also fantastic.
Dark Knight is everything a sequel should be; bigger, louder, deeper, more complex. This is absolutely a good thing through 90 percent of the movie but, honestly, while the big chase scene in Dark Knight is 1000 times better than the big chase scene in Batman Begins, it still kind of sucks. (Invincible SWAT cars! Shaky camera work!). I think, two movies in, expensive, showy action scenes are not really Nolan’s forte. The “up close” action in this movie is much better than in Begins; it’s clear and more exciting.
Perhaps the admirable part of the writing and plotting of this film is that it feels very much like a part of “the continuing adventures of Batman” and less stand-alone story that shuts the door on future adventures of Batman. A sequel can easily develop out of this film without making it feel forced or inorganic. It felt like at the end of this film Batman would have to get up in the morning and get right back to work. You often get this feeling in a well-told comic narrative but it seldom seen in a superhero movie; so it was much appreciated by me.
The central message of this this film, that in fighting the sort of evil that the Joker represents (terrorism, the Joker is almost Osama Bin Joker in this film), the lines between “good” and “evil” become increasingly blurred. When someone completely challenges your way of life it is easy to forget what you fight for and become what you fight against. The famous (overused?) Nietzsche quote jumps to mind, “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you”. This is easily seen with the tragic arc of Harvey Dent, in fighting a monster he becomes a monster in the end.
The Dark Knight is a film that forces its characters to make choices and then is willing to follow through with them. The most obvious of these is when Batman is giving a choice between the girl or what best for “his city”. Batman makes the “right” or “heroic” choice here and is still punished for it. Nolan almost never takes characterization shortcuts in this film; he makes his characters live with and react to their choices.
This is a near-perfectly executed superhero movie and story. In a way it does what I always want in a superhero story, it treats the fantastic in a realistic way. That is to say, there is no way someone like Batman could exist in the “real world” but that doesn’t mean that one can’t characterize him in realist way. All of the characters, for all their fantastic elements, feel real. Which makes one to become engrossed in this film.
The music is this film is pitch perfect. The buzz that is The Joker’s theme induces terror and leaves you unnerved. Just like The Joker himself.
All of that praise doesn’t mean that is a film without flaws, several of which run deep.
This movie is a drag in some parts. It needed to be cut some, to make it flow better and faster . On more than one occasion, even in high tension moments, the film seems to drag. But I see Nolan’s dilemma in the editing room, everything in this film is necessary to tell this story. If he was to cut more than he did the film and story would suffer even more. Yet, that does not make it easier to get through the moments when the film drags.
Like in Batman Begins the dialog in this film sometimes leaves something to be desired. (The last few words of Gordon at the end of the film pop immediately to mind). Outside of the crazed rants of the Joker much of the film’s word-play is often heavy handed and inelegant. If the actors’ saying the dialog weren’t so good, much of the film would fall flat.
The film also sometimes relies a bit to much on telling rather than showing when it comes to characterization, especially with Harvey Dent. We are repeatedly told that Dent is the future of Gotham and the best of “them” but we don’t actually see why Dent is that exactly. Where the movie is mostly free of characterization short cuts, the early set up of Harvey Dent is short-shifted.
I think the movie’s greatest flaw is the way the death of Rachel is handled, especially Batman’s reaction to it. Considering that she was supposed to be Batman’s life-long love and childhood friend he is remarkably calm about the whole thing. While Rachel’s death is the catalyst for Harvey Dent’s descent into Two-Face, Batman’s reaction to her death takes up about three minutes of screen time and he doesn’t mention it again. If you’re going to go the route of blowing up a main characters girlfriend you must be willing to deal with it honestly and despite the strong characterization in The Dark Knight, Nolan took the easy way out here. This is the only part of the story, I think, he doesn’t allow this part of the story to play out. It seems that Batman would me much more upset about Rachel’s death (particularly because he could have prevented it) but instead his reaction is mostly papered over.
In general, though, I liked the character of Rachel a lot more in this film than in Batman Begins. Perhaps this was the change in actresses. Perhaps it was the character was given a bit more to do. Of course, it was obvious once they revealed that she and Dent were to be an item in this film that she was going to be thrown under the bus. Which was unsurprising but disappointing.
In conclusion, despite whatever flaws it has The Dark Knight is a great movie. It is everything Spider-Man 3 wanted to be; emotionally deep, capable of juggling multiple villains, and rich in characterization. I believe that this movie will be one that stands the test of time.