The Dark Knight is a direct sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, largely considered the greatest comic book hero adaptation film in history. I echo that sentiment, and unfortunately hold it to still be true even after seeing The Dark Knight.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the action and spectacle of The Dark Knight–and will most assuredly pre-purchase the DVD–my critical side is alarmed. After the complex depths with which Director and Screenwriter Christopher Nolan delved into the psyche of Bruce Wayne and made Batman believable in the previous film, I cannot help but feel that the Caped Crusader was shortchanged this time around. I can sum up Batman’s/Bruce Wayne’s character development through the course of The Dark Knight in the following sentence: Batman upgraded his suit so that he can turn his head. That’s it . . . Seriously.
The film makes the mistake, in my opinion, of repeating the sins of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films that Warner Bros. tried so hard to disown with this recent reinvention of the franchise: The Dark Knight focuses too heavily on the antagonist and secondary characters rather than the development of Batman as a hero. Cramming two arch-villains into one movie further exacerbates the problem and reduces Christian Bale’s screen time even further.
On the good side, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker is unquestionably the best ever seen. The film effectively portrays The Joker’s uncanny ability to get under Batman’s skin. Gone are the Disneyland parade floats and poison gas attacks from the sleeve, as seen in the Tim Burton film. Whereas Jack Nicholson’s Joker was a pompous prince and easily forgettable rapscallion with little impact, Nolan’s Joker is far more disturbing. He’s fully believable as a hands-on murderer, arsonist and demolitionist with a penchant of doing the exact opposite of what ration criminals and crimefighters would consider logical. But under the facial scars and clown paint, he honestly seems human. Ledger takes full advantage of what remains of The Joker’s subverted humanity in several calm moments during the film when talking to other characters. Ledger takes character traits we usually find endearing in normal people and uses them to portray a villain who does insane things, but isn’t necessarily insane. The only times I found myself disagreeing with Nolan’s and Ledger’s Joker were moments when the character begged for someone to kill him. Understanding that The Joker approaches crime and mayhem with a clear sense of his own purpose (to fraction society), the character undertaking his actions out of a suicidal tendency doesn’t stand to reason. Still, I’m glad to finally see The Joker done mostly right, and in line with writer Alan Moore’s unforgettable take on the character, The Killing Joke. However, the film’s intense focus on the villain and his exploits leads me to question why they titled it “The Dark Knight” and not “The Joker”.
The other villain in the film is Two-Face, a madman whose face is half-handsome, half-horrible, probably as a challenge to amateur comic artists. For me, Two-Face has always been one of the most chilling Batman villains. The guy flips a coin and you have a 50% chance of exiting the room alive regardless of your guilt or innocence. There’s nothing colder than leaving someone’s fate to a coin toss. For most of the film, Two-Face is Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent . . . and a hero. Dent’s physical transformation into the villain as depicted in the film is probably one of the best scenarios thus far. (In the comics, Sal Maroni only threw sulfuric acid on the left half of Dent’s face during a courtroom trial. Not as effective.) As far as the visual effects are concerned, Two-Face’s visage in this film is utterly shocking and disturbing, far more than The Joker. But unfortunately, I feel like we get the Cliff’s Notes version of Two-Face’s transformation through the use of a hackneyed romantic revenge scenario. Batman fans understand that the film’s portrayal of Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne as budding buddies is right on the money. However, Harvey becoming a raving maniac because The Joker “talks him into it” is completely implausible. With the Sal Maroni character readily available in the film, I get the sense that something may have been muddled in the script rewrites. From the comics, we at least get the backstory that Harvey Dent is the abused son of an alcoholic, who secretly suffers from schizophrenia and multiple personalities before his physical transformation into supervillain. So therein, his personality schism is somewhat more believable in light of his accident. As propagated in the film, Two-Face feels tacked on at the last minute when he could have just as easily waylaid until the obviously forthcoming third film in this series.
Between Harvey Dent and The Joker, there is little time to catch up with Bruce Wayne or Batman. While I enjoyed the readily apparent metaphor of Bruce Wayne becoming layered with scar tissue while his alter ego remains an unstoppable vigilante, his fleeting reunion with Rachel Dawes provided little opportunity for advancement of his character. And with so little actual focus on Batman and what the actions of The Joker and Two-Face mean for his crimefighting career, I can’t help but feel that the film left me wanting for a protagonist. Perhaps it was the influence of seeing the trailer for Watchmen prior to the film, but several scenes made me wonder if there wasn’t some heavily buried message in play that Batman is a fascist symbol and an unnecessary hero.
And so with respects to the screenplay and story organization, I have to declare The Dark Knight to be a glorious mess. The action scenes are spectacular and the villains are diabolical, but the message is ultimately muddled since the focus is on the villains’ acts of terrorism rather than the hero’s solutions. It’s a 180 degrees turn from the previous film, and the ending seems to foreshadow more of the same in the next feature. But still, as spectacle and summertime fun, there’s probably nothing better this summer.
You’re probably thinking – “Oh no! Not another The Dark Knight review!” Trust me, this isn’t one. This movie has already been reviewed ad nauseum and for the purpose of this article it is entirely irrelevant whether I personally liked it or not. Besides, anyone and their grandma calls themselves a critic nowadays so I’m not joining the ranks on this sole principle.
Even if you should have just returned from 40 days of fasting in the middle of desert you would have heard of the most commercially successful movie ever filmed. The Dark Knight broke box office records and set new highs in the world of commercial filmography. Everyone seems to have gone to see The Dark Knight, everyone seems to have written their “review” over at IMDB and everyone seems to have given it 10 out of 10 stars rating. It almost seemed as though the crowds were hypnotized and any rating other than 10 was not even an option.
I’ve been trying hard to think of anything more irritating than seemingly blindfolded fanboys who religiously repeat their “the best movie of the year” or “the best of all time” chants every time they get a chance and I couldn’t. This ludicrous overhyping and overrating of a single picture created a force that resulted in a counterforce. Whether you call it the cause and effect phenomenon, or Newton’s third law of motion, the outcome is clear. For many people – The Dark Knight Sucks. The movie is good – it’s not great, but it’s not a complete failure either.
If you enter “The Dark Knight Sucks” into Google search engine, you will get over 3 million results. Why would so many people react with utter underrating of a movie that’s actually pretty decent? Your answer is above. One extreme calls for another. If one extremist labels it “the best movie ever”, the other one responds with “The Dark Knight Sucks”.
I can imagine some of those people who gave The Dark Knight 1 or 2 star out of 10 on IMDB, would have otherwise given it 6 or 7 stars, because even if they particularly didn’t like it, they didn’t really think it was that bad. But to balance out the madness started by the overhyping crowd, the opposing party let themselves heard by blatant underrating. Oh the irony… Why make it such a big deal? It’s just the movie!