With some now questioning whether The Dark Knight is the best movie of all time, I can't stand it anymore. Yes, it's one of those rare films that gets both popular and critical acclaim. It’s set new box office records. People talk about a posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger. I went to see it last night with my son (who loves it and was seeing it for the third time).
I’ve got to say, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I think it was a load of batcrap.
of the few critics who panned the movie said it was a visually incoherent
film. I didn’t quite know what that
meant until I saw it and began thinking about why I thought it was so bad. Film is primarily a visual medium, and a good
director should tell his story primarily through visuals. That’s even more imperative in a comic book
movie, where the stories were originally told in images; no one buys a comic
book (excuse me, graphic novel) because it has great dialogue. So the chief problem with this movie is that
significant plot points are conveyed in quickly-spoken dialogue rather than in
Two major characters are kidnapped, but we don’t see the kidnapping or even see the aftermath of their abductions (i.e., no anguished spouses or coworkers realizing that so-and-so has disappeared). Hostages are taken, but who are they? I'm told that there was one quick line of dialogue that explained it, and I’m sure he’s right, but I missed it, and once again, there were no pictures to tell the story either of the hostage-taking or to explain who these people are. In one scene, the Joker is in an interrogation room of a police station, and in the next he’s in a different room holding a knife to a cop’s throat. How did that happen? We don’t know. Another character is apparently shot and killed, but not really—and we never find out if he planned to fake his own death, if it was a spur-of-the-moment improvisation, or if he was really even shot.
The script is a mess. One major monologue appears to have been written without any reference to the film in which they are encased. How else to explain the nice soliloquy by The Joker about how Batman and the police commissioner are all full of plans and schemes while he, The Joker, is not about plans but about chaos? Didn’t the screen writers remember The Joker’s elaborate bank robbery plan which opens the film? Or The Joker’s use of multiple vehicles and weapons during an attempt to kill one of the main characters? Or his elaborate double-ferryboat explosion scheme? Or his plan to force Batman to rescue one character or the other but not both?
The script introduces interesting ideas and characters and then drops them. The inclusion of a subplot about a Chinese financier appears to have been inserted just to give the director the excuse to film Batman swooping around Hong Kong’s skyscrapers. The idea of having costumed Batman wannabes trying to fight crime was a nice dig at fanboy enthusiasm, but it's dropped after the first third of the film. The climactic final battle between Batman and The Joker ends, well, anticlimactically. I couldn’t even remember what happened to The Joker at the end of the movie, until my son reminded me he was left hanging upside down off a building while Batman dashed off to fight evil elsewhere. Instead of a dramatic arc, the filmmakers have given us a series of zigzags and squiggles.
What I liked about Batman Begins was its exploration of how Bruce Wayne came to be Batman. That movie was all about characterization. In this one, however, there is no characterization of anyone except The Joker—and his motivations are deliberately left unexplained. He’s sort of an existential villain; he just is evil. This isn’t a bad narrative choice; indeed, it makes The Joker all the more frightening because we don’t know what really motivates him or how he got to be the way he is. The problem comes in when you drop him into a movie where no one else’s motivations are explained either, except in the most cartoonish two-dimensional terms. At no time did I feel emotionally moved, because the filmmakers didn’t allow the audience any real points of emotional access to their characters.
Christian Bale has the unenviable job, for an actor, of trying to communicate from behind a mask. While Hugo Weaving did that well in V for Vendetta by using his voice, whenever Bale dons the batcowl, he talks like he is incredibly constipated. Without an expressive face or voice, what’s an actor to do? Bale is much better as Bruce Wayne, when he talks normally and we can see his face and the many subtle and arch expressions that flit across it.
Was there ever an actress so ill-served by makeup, costuming and cinematography than Maggie Gyllenhaal in this movie? You know those two lines that everyone has running vertically from their noses to their upper lips in the mustache area? Gyllenthal’s are so prominently visible here as to make her look alien. While she’s not a knockout under any circumstances, this film made her look almost dumpy, which was surely not its intention. And she has absolutely zero romantic chemistry either of the two men her character is supposedly attracted to.
As to Heath Ledger, it’s clear that dying was an excellent career move for him. He turns in a fine performance as The Joker, but it’s not amazing, it’s not extraordinary, it’s not astonishing. He did a very good job with a mediocre script, and I think that had he not died everyone would recognize it as such. Instead, he’s being praised to the high heavens. Apparently death bumps you up one letter grade.
The chase and fight scenes are ho-hum and did not convey to me any sense of excitement or peril. A lot of them are filmed in murky lighting, with the director using a lot of rapid-fire jump cuts to give the impression of much action and excitement rather than to actually tell what is happening in the action. I couldn’t help but compare the action shots in this movie unfavorably to those of Vantage Point, another summer popcorn flick that for me succeeded in many areas where Batman failed.
I wanted to like this film. I like Batman. I was really in the mood for a summer movie. Oh well.