Newest Review: ... that Bruce has become Batman's alter-ego, not the other way around. Although Falcone from BB is locked up, other mob bosses (who owned... more
A Knight's Tale
The Dark Knight (2 DVDs)
Member Name: RedBen
The Dark Knight (2 DVDs)
Date: 05/02/09, updated on 05/02/09 (187 review reads)
Advantages: Ambitious; some fantastic action sequences; The Joker and Eckhart give excellent performances
Disadvantages: Tries to do too much; Two-Face underdeveloped; that blummin' Batman voice
The Dark Knight swept down upon us last year amidst a maelstrom of tragedy-imbued hype. Early screenings lead to rave reviews; the untimely death of the film's shining star added an intriguing sense of the macabre to its momentum, and when it finally hit the box offices it struck like a juggernaut, grossing over $67,000,000 on its opening day, beating the previous incumbent's record (Spider-Man 3) by over $7,000,000. By the time its opening weekend had finished, TDK had taken close to $160,000,000, again a new record.
The relationship between box office takings and the style of the movie is normally correlated. The more bangs the more bucks, and The Dark Knight is no exception. The relationship, however, between a film's takings and its eventual quality is not so clear - or, if it is, it is an inverse one. After all, the usurped Spider-Man 3 was a distended, overblown affair that deserved to gross at least three zeroes less than it did.
The Dark Knight, we were told, was different. Yes it was big and bold and slick - all that you would expect from such an expensive offering - but it was something much more. This new Batman was nothing less than a transcendent piece of cinematic art: visually compelling, action-packed as well as character-driven, adroitly acted and resonant in theme. It was all things to all men.
Meh.... it was okay.
Gotham is fighting back against the crime magnates that have held it in quagmire for so long. With the silhouetted force of Batman sweeping scum off the streets and the fearless energy of district attorney Harvey Dent keeping them locked away, the city's gangland bosses are running scared. So scared, in fact, that they agree to having all of their assets liquidised and the resulting mountain of cash sent off to Hong Kong via the private jet of a crooked Chinese accountant. Even with their money purportedly safe, the question of what to do with the big, black bat and Gotham's new White Knight remains key.
Enter stage right, The Joker, who promptly decides that the accountant is a lily-livered liability whose safety in Hong Kong is transient at best. Instead, the criminal heads should look to him in order to bring down Batman and Dent and restore Gotham to the filthy, lawless mire from whence it came. The price? Half. Of everything.
The offer is unsurprisingly refused, but when Batman successfully captures the corrupt accountant and forces him to testify against the mobsters, they have no option but to cede to The Joker's demands. A cat and mouse game ensues: The Joker, an agent of chaos, unmotivated by usual norms, is a superb adversary to the idealistic Batman. And whilst the pretext is ridding Gotham of Batman to help restore the criminal fraternity, it soon becomes clear that The Joker is playing his own game, tossing cats amongst pigeons and forcing Batman to clear up the bloody mess.
Joker revels in offering choices, and in the fallout that occurs as a result of which option is chosen. It is through this game of scruples that the film's strong thematic tenet takes shape: self-sacrifice for the goodness of mankind.
In this respect the fight between Batman and Joker is very much a fight between hope and nihilism. The rigging of explosives to two passenger boats, one filled with murderous convicts, the other with ordinary citizens, provides the exciting centrepiece for this ideological showdown. Each boatload of people has the opportunity to destroy their counterpart, and a time limit in which to do so, or else... kaboom! They all go up in smoke. The result of this social experiment is no less than the result of victory or defeat between Batman and The Joker.
There can be no question that the highlight of the film is Ledger's performance. Suggestions that his death has amplified its meaning are unfair: tragedy or not, this is a supreme piece of characterisation. His introductory scene is the film's best ("I will now make this pencil... disappear!"), and encapsulates everything that The Joker is about: manic and crazed, but strangely - frighteningly - lucid.
Ledger's mannerisms are perfect: the snake-like lick of the lips, the dandy hand gestures, the staccato way in which he walks, the hyena's laugh. It's just perfect. If an actor is determined by his ability to fit the remit of the character he plays (which is, of course, what acting is) then Ledger most definitely deserves his Oscar.
But it is in The Joker's brilliance that a major flaw of the film appears, and this is director Christopher Nolan's desire to shoehorn Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face, alongside him. Decidedly less villainous than The Joker, Two-Face is a victim of catastrophic events, and, as a result, a more complex character. But the screen time offered to Dent's darker alter-ego is not nearly sufficient to fully realise him.
Eckhart does a fine job as Dent - he gives the second star performance of the show - but his transformation into Two-Face is both rushed and unrealistic. The crucial problem is the scope of the change, which is too stark and too contrived. Harvey Dent is a moralistic crusader, a righteous man who believes in free will and of the inherent goodness of mankind. Two-Face, though, is a destructive, chaotic killer, willing to murder children at the random toss of a coin.
The events that lead to his change are extreme, and there is an attempt at foreshadowing Two-Face - the odd shot of Dent tossing his lucky coin as a tool of determination - but neither is nearly enough to explain, and thus forgive, his sudden dichotomy.
Two-Face is not introduced into the film until well over two-thirds of the way through, and the time left to explore his character and his motivations is far too brief. It's a real shame, too, because, done correctly and with enough sympathy, Two-Face could have been a fantastic fallen-angel-style villain, one worthy of his own film. Instead he is forced to share screen time with - and, worse, steal screen time from - the peerless Joker, and with the tools he has been given, it's no competition.
There are other problems, too, in the form of plotholes (the opening sequence in particular - why would the bank robbers not suspect that they themselves were to be killed if they had been given orders to kill their colleagues?), the frankly ludicrous sonar tracking system (a blatant deus ex machina) and, last but not least, Batman's silly machismo voice. This last one sounds trite, but I found it genuinely off-putting. With all the inventions that Batman is able to come up with, surely he can conjure up a voice-altering chip to stuff down his larynx?
That said, and Joker and Dent aside, there is a lot to admire The Dark Knight for. The cinematography is wonderful, especially during Batman's tryst to Hong Kong and the Batbike chase scene. The action sequences are expertly shot, and the plot keeps you guessing throughout.
The scope and the sheer ambition of Nolan is also to be applauded. This is a film about a billionaire who dresses up as a bat doing battle with a lunatic daubed in cheap face paint, but Nolan brings it away from its camp predilections and makes it seem relevant and important. The injection of theme is crucial here, and lifts it beyond many of its lazier Superhero peers.
But in trying to be so, well, serious, The Dark Knight may not appeal to everyone. This is not a fun movie in ways that Spider-Man and Iron Man could be; there is no humour or self-deprecation to be found here. And with its real-world backdrops The Dark Knight also lacks a comic-book aesthetic, which may disappoint fans of both the previous films and the Dark Knight graphic novels.
The Dark Knight is, essentially, 150 minutes well spent, especially those minutes graced by Ledger's wonderful Joker. But because of Nolan's ambition to fit so much into the film, largely at the expense of Two-Face, it overreaches itself. Once The Joker meets his end the film flounders, keen to tie up the loose ends created by the underdeveloped Two-Face and descending into a standard race-against-time ending, meaning the sense of anti-climax is hard to shake. This is exacerbated by Commissioner Gordon's closing lines, by far the film's worst bits of dialogue. Cheesy doesn't begin to cover it.
The Dark Knight, then, is glitzy and impressive, but also overweight and cumbersome - and so maybe not that different to Spider-Man 3 after all.
Summary: Good, yes. Great, certainly not.