Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight (review)

- no spoilers -

If Christian Bale were to get an Academy award nomination for his portrayal of Batman in The Dark Knight (which is unlikely), he would have to be nominated for a supporting role. That pretty well sums up what's wrong with the movie.

In superhero movies the bad guy almost always steals the show. That's just the genre. The bad guy generally has the best lines and is played by a superior actor. Notable examples are Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Liam Neeson. Even in the old Batman TV show the villains were played by an array of great actors.

But even given the typical role of a villain in a superhero movie, in The Dark Knight we see too much of the Joker - and too much of it is fluff. That may be because the actor playing him died and the studio was unwilling to cut his scenes even though he wasn't originally slotted for so much air time. I don't know. Heath Ledger does an okay job, but the core of the movie should be Batman and his relationship with everyone else. Batman gets a bit shunted aside in this one. (Heck, "Batman" isn't even in the title.)

Having said that, there were other things wrong with the movie. I didn't hate it, but I did look at my watch a dozen times and by 90 minutes in (an hour from the end!) I was really, really ready for it to be over.

One thing the director doesn't seem to get is that you shouldn't blow things up just to show off your special effects budget. Satisfying movie destruction can be shocking, compelling, scary, traumatic, redemptive, funny - but it has to provoke some emotion. Probably the world's most satisfying car chase/wreck scene is the one at the end of The Blues Brothers. Dozens and dozens of police cars get smashed. The audience whoops and hollers. That's satisfying. In The Dark Knight many many things get blown up, but I found it all rather ho-hum. In fact, by the end I really didn't care what got blown up or who got killed. I just lost interest.

I wanted to enjoy the movie. I expected to enjoy it. I prefer a well-rounded superhero movie like the Tim Burton Batmans or Ironman, but I can also enjoy a superhero movie that's a bit cheesey or a bit thin. I like the superhero genre in part because they tend to have a dark edge. However, this movie took itself too seriously, and that is the ultimate mood-killer. Its portrayal of Batman tarnished the Batman brand, which is discouraging. In fact, it wasn't even really a superhero movie. It couldn't decide whether it was a summer blockbuster or a serious movie and it ended up just being pretentious and uneven.



Anonymous said...

Its portrayal of Batman tarnished the brand? Because Batmans image obviously emerged unscathed from Batman and Robin and Batman Forever only to be tarnished in Dark Knight :p

Yappa said...

Valid point! I didn't flesh out what I meant there because I didn't want to include any spoilers... so while still attempting that: what I meant was that the character of Batman in this movie was someone who you wouldn't really want to see again... they made him so unlikable (IMO) that they might as well have killed him off.

(And while I can't justify either Batman & Robin or Batman Forever, I have to admit that when I first saw them in the theater I enjoyed the experience - at least more than this one.)

Anonymous said...

You are commenting negatively on what is likely the most complex, and almost surely will be the most commemorated Batman movie to date. Which is, of course, your right to do. But you fall appallingly short in demonstrating any weakness in the film. Sympathizing exclusively with the protagonist is for 1980s Hollywood. I don't care if you like him or not, does he represent symbols that cause you to reflect. This is my standard for a good flick. This film lives up to the new expectation that lines will be blurred between good and evil, good guy bad guy, nature vs. nurture. In Hollywood fashion yes, the special effects are exaggerated, but the underlying depth of angst in the movie more than makes up for it. If you go more in to detail on your comments, I will about mine, but it is difficult when we do not want to provide spoilers!!!

Yappa said...

Hi Mark,

Now that I think of it, spoilers are fine in the comments. I am always worried about spoilers in posts because some blog aggregators publish my entire post, so someone scrolling through the aggregator might read something they'd rather not.

But the other issue is the problem of writing negative reviews (which I don't generally do). The movie didn't work for me, but it did for you: and I certainly don't want to try to convince you that it's no good. (It makes more sense for you to try to convince me why it's good.)

Having said that, I guess my main problems were:

- Too much action and pounding music that had no emotional resonance for me, so just left me bored
- Too much psychobabble, especially from Joker and Dent (the odd pithy comment would be good, but it seemed like it was trying to be too clever) so that I lost interest in the intellectual content
- Lack of character development and interpersonal attachment that would make me interested in the characters and have an emotional reaction to their being in danger
- And fundamentally, I didn't buy Joker. An agent of chaos wouldn't spend so much time trying to justify his actions or explicate so clearly what he's trying to do.