True Grit: The Dark Knight reviewed

July 22, 2008 at 5:46 pm 3 comments

Studio Exec 1:  Okay guys.  Nolan got the ball rolling with Batman Begins, and we need to see that it follows through in Dark Knight.  Audiences love new takes on familiar characters, so, HOW are we going to play Batman in this one?

Studio Exec 2:  We’ve had immense critical success in turning Batman from campy to crisis-stricken.  We’re making him darker, emphasizing the trauma of his childhood, volumizing his drive to eliminate crime no matter the cost to his own sanity.  He will not kill, and he will face that moral challenge his whole life.  He will question that rule, and he will be tested.  He will lose those nearest and dearest to him.

Studio Exec 1:  Awesome!  Go on!

Studio Exec 2:  We need to make sure that everybody understands that being Batman is a BURDEN.  Bruce Wayne hates Batman; he wants a time when he can hang it up and pursue a normal life with Rachel Dawes.  He is a deeply tortured man, both by society and his personal demons.  The audience will feel the weight of his pain.  Thus, we have a crime epic about the personal cost of doing the right thing, a moral test of oneself.

Studio Exec 1:  That’s fabulous.  Great ideas.  Do we have any thoughts on how to play the action sequences?

Studio Exec 2:  Oh, you’re going to love this!  We’ve given Batman a sweet new BatBike, which is actually a part of his Batmobile – that’ll get blown up in an explosion underground.  We’re going to have a huge 18-wheeler transport truck flip over in midair.  Batman will be airlifted out of a Chinese skyscraper by drug-runners.  He’ll have an electrified Batsuit, and new titanium armour.  He’s got a Batcave that looks like an underground airplane hangar.  He has cellular sonar capabilities that will allow him to track every citizen of Gotham…

A nickel’s worth of free advice to Christopher Nolan, the writer and director of The Dark Knight: next time, don’t let being a tortured hero look like so much fun.

I feel like the tortured one over here.  Since seeing The Dark Knight last night, I have been battling this incredible feeling of regret, bordering on frightening guilt.  I saw the movie and enjoyed it very much.  But I didn’t love it.  It didn’t leave me feeling breathless, or contemplative, or enraptured.

Every second of my day today, I felt bad.  I felt bad because everyone around me was loving The Dark Knight to pieces.  Even Cait liked it, and she’s the first to admit that she disliked Batman Begins.  I felt like a woman from one of those movies who has never orgasmed during sex, and somehow thinks that it’s a problem with herself, her body.

I mean, what’s wrong with me?  Everybody and their grandmother has seen the DK.  Critics from here to Kurdistan have said it’s the best movie in the history of movies.  I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS FOR A GODDAMNED YEAR. And it’s not an isolated incident – Iron Man left me feeling cold too.  I’m surprised the nerds haven’t hustled me into the town square and lopped off my hands yet.

Let me be clear, The Dark Knight is an entertaining film of the first degree.  The parts are well-cast and acted with aplomb.  The action sequences are often thrilling.  The costumes and art direction are detailed, nuanced, and gripping.  So what’s your fucking problem, Woodhead?  You think yer better’nme?

Then, towards the end of my work shift today, I figured it out.

I’m a film review junkie.  I love them.  I read every one I can, often for films I’ve never seen and will likely never see.  Yet I avoided like the plague anything resembling a review of The Dark Knight, though I knew they were all glowing.  I didn’t want any forward information or reactions to it.

Even so, there is only so much you can avoid.  I caught a snag of Roger Ebert’s review in the Chicago Sun-Times: “Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy“.  Then, something from Richard Corliss in Time Magazine: “It’s as black — and teeming and toxic — as the mind of the Joker … a symphony.”  And here, from Variety: “An ambitious, full-bodied crime epic of gratifying scope and moral complexity.

There has been Oscar buzz for both Ledger and the film itself.  I was promised grittiness, the darkest corners of the human spirit, a modern day film noir, and yes, tortured heroes and villains alike.

What I got was a cast of immensely talent people playing immensely fascinating characters, dropped into the centre of just another summer popcorn flick – like a care package of rainbows in the middle of a frozen, unchanging tundra.

This is, and has been since the debut of the “new” superheroes with Spiderman, the uneasy problem that lies at the heart of comics; in a movie about power and the immense, overwhelming responsibility that comes with it, it doesn’t make much sense to have executing that power look like an absolute blast.

I have three places at which I might lay the blame for my close-but-no-cigar attitude towards the movie:

  1. I could lay a lot of this at the feet of Christopher Nolan, who, as director and co-writer, likely was at the helm of most of the major decisions regarding the movie.  He wanted to have his cake and eat it too, with a supposedly “darker” Batman, but a plethora of gee-whiz special effects.  You got greedy man.
  2. The film critics (my most tempting option).  The critics have been running up and down the isles looking for films upon which they might foist their quickly spoiling adorations and commendations.  Comic-book movies are popular, so why not?  A film with undertones of the War on Terror?  Getting closer!  A crime-noir revival that reinvents a few characters from our youth?  Looking good.  A dead lead actor in the “role of a lifetime”?  We have a winner.  If this is the case, I cannot blame Nolan as heavily – he has little control over “the Buzz” (as Jeff Bebe would say).
  3. I could blame myself.  Maybe I do, as Caitlin says, possess a kind of film funk recently that is spoiling me to everything I get excited for.  Maybe I’m getting too old.

I went in there expecting a Batman that would be more in line with the tragic crime epics of yesteryear.  I was thinking of Batman as Jack Nicholson’s detective from Chinatown – even after everyone tells him to just LEAVE IT ALONE, he knows that, somewhere, somebody innocent is getting hurt, somebody needs saving.  And as the facts continue to mount and the truth gets ever uglier, and redemption never comes, he still stands as a hero who just did his best.  Or maybe I was expecting something akin to David Fincher’s Seven, where the heroes are tested morally in ways they could not expect, by someone truly insane, and it costs them dearly (David Fincher, I’m thinking now, might have had the storytelling capability and eye for truly unsettling darkness that this film needed).

But no.  Batman continues to kick the shit out his opponents almost effortlessly, until, of course, the final struggle.  He has a million cool toys, some of which are awesome visuals, but unnecessary.  The movie is full of disposable henchmen and goofy one-liners, explosions and elaborate car chases.  All awesome, awesome stuff, stuff that would otherwise be giving me three hour boners.  But I was promised more than that, and I got the short shrift.

And the worst tragedy?  Somewhere running around in this big summer movie is, truly, an engaging and captivating crime drama.  But The Dark Knight pulls its best punches at the last second.  A complex tale that makes one question the strength of their own morals?  Maybe, but I’m pretty sure there have been four awful movies about that very question already.  The lesson of “Great Power = Great Responsibility” ?  Jesus, Uncle Ben, I thought you died years ago.  The Dark Knight doesn’t so much reinvent the wheel as it does crank the volume up to eleven.  But you’ve heard this tune before.

Am I being too harsh?  Normally I would say yes, and chastise myself for not being able to give myself over to a film that has innumerable strengths.  But I spent my whole morning doing just that – I felt guilt, ladies and gentlemen, that made me question the very reason I watch movies in the first place.  It was bad, and it was really, really depressing.  I wanted to love this movie so much.  And I still have to arrive at the same conclusion.

The film’s strengths, which I appreciate for their complexity and sophistication:

There were two roles that moved me quite deeply, and neither of them are The Joker.  I’m thinking instead of the less-lauded but indespensible Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).  Both roles had me captivated.  I trusted Jim Gordon and felt an incredible sadness when he “died”, and I felt the deep, real tragedy of Eckhart’s faithful, stubborn, idealistic Harvey Dent.  That shit nearly made me cry.  Two good men, one disfigured and driven insane by the death of his loved one, and the other facing a worse, more prolonged Hell with a new job as police Commissioner that he clearly does not want.

Finally, it would be amiss of me to not give credit where it’s due – Heath Ledger is pretty damned good.  It’s a shame that some scenes mishandle his character, where he borders on the goofy instead of the goofily-chilling.  Anarchy loving, he sneers at Dent “Do I look like a guy with a plan?”  Well, despite your protests to the contrary, you kind of do.  It must have taken quite a while to plot out the bank robbery that opens the film.  Yet there are genuinely creepy moments – the Joker joyriding in a police car as the sound dies away, leaving us with whatever sound is running through his frayed mind; the shuffling Joker in the nurse’s outfit that demolishes at hospital, the wide-eyed and gasping Joker that eagerly awaits the murder of one group of civilians by another.  All good stuff.

I really can’t tell you how many confused looks I get when I tell people that I liked The Incredible Hulk more than I liked Iron Man.  I wrote a whole post on it a while back.  I’m not sure if Hulk  was better than Dark Knight, but maybe it’s something to consider.  But let me lay it out one more time.

This is why I liked Hulk: Bruce Banner, truly, lives a tortured life.  He doesn’t have millions of dollars to consol himself with, or the playboy capabilities that might land him a supermodel or two.  He’s not a born fighter, he’s a scientist.  He’s a tragic figure who, when he get angry like any other human, becomes something monstrous.  The transformation into the Hulk looks incredibly painful.  When he’s the Hulk, he’s hideous and he’s awkward.  He can’t be around the people loves because he may hurt them.  In the recent film, there’s a moment when Banner (in an underrated performance by Edward Norton) witnesses the woman he loves being hit and forced to the ground.  In the split second before turning into the Hulk, the look on his face isn’t one of incredible anger or self-righteous, smirking fury; he looks like a troubled, lost child who has to do something he desperately does not want to do in order to help another person.

I know it sounds crazy, but if you want inner conflict, look at the big green guy in the purple shorts.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

The Dark Knight Just your average, everyday SuperHero

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marc  |  July 22, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    May Batman have mercy on your soul blasphemer. We may have to burn you at the stake you filthy heretic.

  • 2. patrick  |  July 23, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    at times the Joker seemed almost too smart, borderline clairvoyant, but i guess that what makes him a good foe for the Batman…

  • 3. daughterofben  |  August 2, 2008 at 4:34 am

    Not sure if it’s Batman having too much fun with his toys, or just the director/producers. They clearly had a bigger budget for this film and wanted to show the world.

    The boat scenes were obvious and excessive: lots of eye-rolling, metaphorical and literal, on my part there.

    I think the first one is better, narrative-wise, though Heath does make a terrifying Joker. The shame of it, though, is that Liam Neeson was an excellent actor (as usual) in the first, and no one is going to remember that now.

    Michael and Gary are always amazing. England=good acting forever.


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