The Dark Knight

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dark Knight is an improvement on Batman Begins, but it’s not the giant leap that people would have you believe. It has too many flaws. The final sequence, for example, is a gigantic mess. Every attempt is made to ensure that it’s exciting, but the editing is all over the place and sometimes its not even clear what’s going on.

Then there’s Two-Face. What a dull creation he is. Basically his girlfriend gets killed and he goes a bit nuts and then he goes on a killing spree. Sounds kind of interesting, doesn’t it? It’s not. The stuff with Harvey Dent previous to this is enjoyable, but Two-Face himself sucks a lot of the life out of the film. And that’s probably because it’s over too quickly. All Two-Face gets to do is whine, toss his little coin and then fall out of a building. It’s over in a flash and you’re left wondering why create this villain at all if you’re going to do so little with him.

And the make-up and CGI for his disfigured face is awful. The film goes to such lengths to create a realistic environment for these fantastical characters that the cartoony effects stick out like a sore thumb. I can remember reading somewhere that Nolan thought that a realistically scarred face would look too horrific, but he could have at least gone for something that didn’t look like it was on an anatomy page in Encarta.

And I was also distracted by Batman’s cowl. It has a very weird shape, like Bale’s head is the teat on the end of a condom, albeit it a black condom with bat ears. It’s nowhere near as good as Keaton’s costume in Batman Returns.

And like Keaton, Bale does that strange voice thing where it sounds like he’s been chugging gravel. But unlike some people, this didn’t distract me. How else is Batman supposed to talk? Is he supposed to talk in his normal Bruce Wayne voice? That would be awfully intimidating, wouldn’t it? And it would be a great way of hiding his identity. But although I find the Batman voice perfectly logical, there was once or twice where Bale suddenly started lisping. In these instances he became rather camp. And you thought you needed nipples or the Batusi to make the Caped Crusader’s wrists limp.

But what did I like about the film? Well, pretty much everything else.

It’s mind-numbingly predictable to point to Heath Ledger’s performance as the highlight, but it’s most certainly true. His Joker makes Nicholson’s look like a slightly eccentric, rather cuddly uncle. Ledger blows him out of the water.

The best thing about Ledger’s Joker is that there’s no reasoning with him. He just wants to play his games and have a laugh. However, he has a very strange sense of fun. Fun for him is playing with the Batman and turning Gotham’s citizens into criminals. He’s a guy that gets nothing out of money or sex. Therefore it’s impossible to squeeze him.

The only problem with this is that it weakens Batman’s character. You go through a whole film to establish how strong he is and suddenly you cut his testes off. In this film he’s remarkably impotent. And it also must be pointed out that the Joker is smart to a ridiculous degree. His plans are incredibly complicated and they all go off like clockwork.

But that being said, the character is still enormous fun. One of my favourite Joker moments has to be the pencil trick. Yep, that pencil really did disappear. And what about poor Brian the fake Batman? Not only does he get to star in his own video, but he also gets to smash into the Mayor’s window. Nice. But there’s also the bit where the Joker turns up as a nurse. I loved the smile he gave Two-Face. And I like the fact that Nolan makes the Joker reprehensible enough to blow up a hospital.

But this is child’s play compared to the Joker’s plan to blow up Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes at the same time. He makes Batman choose which one to save and then Commissioner Gordon goes after the other one. Naturally, Batman goes after his old squeeze Rachel, but the Joker plays a trick on him and the location he’s given is Dent’s. So therefore just before Rachel dies she gets to hear that her beloved Bruce Wayne has ‘chosen’ to save Dent and that he’s forsaken her, making her last few moments on the planet extra miserable. And Dent gets to hear his love’s final few moments and gets to feel the guilt of being saved. You’ve got to admire how wonderfully twisted the Joker is and how easily he has everyone wrapped around his little finger.

But it’s also the small moments that make Ledger’s performance great. I like it when he arrives at Bruce Wayne’s party, looking for Harvey Dent. He begins interrogating the guests and grabs a bald guy by the head, asking him if he’s seen the DA. The guy doesn’t respond and the Joker widens his eyes and goes, ‘No.’ It’s a great bit of acting. And I also loved it when he applauds Gordon’s promotion.

The rest of the cast don’t get to have anywhere near as much fun, but they all do a good job. Bale is solid as always, as is Caine, Freeman and Oldman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is a massive improvement over Katie Holmes. But better than all of these is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. He’s cocky but believably decent as the incorruptible DA, and like Bruce Wayne you’re seduced by him. But while you feel that the film is building up to something special with his tragedy as Two-Face, it never happens. Suddenly the script lets Eckhart down and his fall provides zero emotion. There’s just not enough time invested in it. It could have been a whole film in itself.

Fortunately, though, there are many wonderful distractions to ensure that you don’t dwell too hard on this disappointment. The action, for instance, is superb. And once again Nolan excels with a wonderful car chase. The sequence where the Joker is trying to get his hands on Dent is marvellous. With its use of a juggernaut and other heavy vehicles, it reminded me of the chase at the end of T2. And I really dug the Batpod.

And then there’s the opening bank heist. Nolan has said that he was inspired by Heat and it really does capture the same sort of feeling. It’s not quite as epic, but it’s a fantastic bit of cinema. Everything from the amazing stunt that opens the film to the school bus crashing through the bank works a treat.

However, my favourite bit in the whole film is a very small moment. Right after the Joker escapes from police custody we briefly see him hanging his body out of a squad car. There’s no sound and the music is no more than a hum, but it’s incredibly cinematic and says more about the character than almost anything else could. This is what makes the Joker’s life worth living; running rings around other people and playing games with them.

And Nolan must also be commended for some of the film’s subtext. The Joker’s videos kind of resemble the sorts of things Al Qaeda would make and the whole film asks how far would you go to try and re-establish control. Do you destroy everything you believe in just so that things can be the way they used to be? Of course this is the crisis that America faces where civil liberties are eroded in order to try and make the country ‘safer’. The Dark Knight just takes it to an extreme.

So while Nolan must be commended for the ambition of the project and for most of the film’s execution, it’s by no means the instant masterpiece it’s been touted as. Yes it’s the best Batman film that’s been made, but it’s not even close to being the best film of all time (IMDb Top 250 rot in hell).

You Might Also Like


  1. Too Much and Too Long. I found the movie wasn't focused enough with large plot wholes.

    - Scare Crow's appearance
    - a plot with an accountant
    - the only ferries to safety not checked for traps
    - three endings too many

    - great batman tech
    - great locations
    - great acting