The Dark (REALLY dark) Knight

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So I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight last night, and I really liked it …

(The following review is all qualitative, and does NOT contain any spoilers.)

But I have to say, I didn’t LOVE it. Right off the bat, let me clarify that: 1) I’m not saying it’s not a great movie; 2) I’m not saying, as some have, that the movie has been over-hyped or that people are only saying they love it because Heath Ledger is dead; and 3) I’m not saying I don’t see why so many people think this movie is “perfection” and have ranked it as their favorite comic book movie of all time. What I’m saying is, I liked it, I respected it for what it did … but I didn’t love it.

First, the good stuff. And let’s just get the obvious out of the way so we can move on. Heath Ledger delivered the performance of his life. I’m not the first one to say this, and won’t be the last. I’m also not the first to say that if Jack Nicholson made Cesar Romero’s Joker look ridiculous, then Heath did the same with Jack’s Joker here. That probably has as much to do with the camp factor of the shows/movies as anything else — the Batman show was a 10 on the camp scale, Burton’s Batman was maybe a 5, and Nolan’s movie was a 1 at the highest, and each actor delivered a performance that fit the context. But even putting that aside, based on his body of work, I don’t believe that Nicholson could have given us as layered and gruesomely attractive a Joker as Ledger did, even if he were working under Nolan.

The shame of it, though, is that I felt Heath Ledger kind of made everybody else look like they were coasting by comparison. Aaron Eckhart put in a great performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, but any of the scenes between Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and/or Gary Oldman just didn’t have the same energy to me that they did in the first movie. The acting itself was good, and on paper, the lines probably seem powerful, but somewhere in the execution, I found myself not caring that much about the interactions between the characters. This was particularly the case with Maggie Gyllenhaal. I’m actually a fan of hers, but as written, the Rachel character could not be less interesting to me … and I felt the same way when Katie Holmes played her in the first movie. The idea is that she’s supposed to be Bruce’s heart, but I just never see it. In both movies, Rachel just comes off as alternately cold or sad to me. Does she ever laugh? (Has anybody other than the Joker ever laughed in either of these movies?)

Okay, so back to the good stuff. The action and the special effects were outstanding and seamless. Never has Batman looked so good just moving around on the big screen. And all of the violence and action coming from the Joker really brought that character to life for me, and captured the sense of the Joker that I have from the comic books. He’s not just a mob boss in a clown costume — he’s a crazy motherfucker who’s always in the middle of everything he does, and just happens to have disposable henchmen around to be extra hands in the execution of his plans. And the movie really gives you that feeling.

But did the movie have to be SO long (2.5 hours)? In principle, I have no issue at all with a movie being long, even two and a half hours long. All I ask is that when I walk away, there be nothing that I feel could have been cut or streamlined to make it a two hour movie instead. And in this case, I felt as if some things could have been cut or streamlined to make this a two hour (or closer to two hour) movie. I had this problem with the first movie too, but then, it was a much more blatant issue of feeling that the Ra’s Al Ghul stuff at the end was kind of extraneous — things could have ended with a slightly beefier Scarecrow plot, and I would have been fine. With this movie, it’s not so clear-cut. For instance, I thought the scene in the parking garage was confusing and could have been cut entirely without hurting the film, and a lot of the relationships and activities of the various gangsters and law enforcement characters could have been tightened up considerably — certain things we just kept hearing over and over again. And much of the Rachel story line was a waste of time to me, and again, was just the same lines over and over.

Beyond this, I’ll freely admit that I’m probably not the target audience for the overall tone of the movie. It definitely lives up to the title. It’s dark. Visually, tonally, the works. And that’s the character, and I’m fine with that. I enjoy it for a while. But after two and half hours, I walked away from this movie not feeling energized and inspired, but exhausted and somewhat depressed. I’m probably the exception to the rule, though, because people in the audience were clapping at the end, and you don’t see that often. Personally, I thought the attempts at painting Batman as deep and his mission profound fell a bit flat, and I’m not sure if that’s because of the heavy-handedness of dialogue itself or the darkness of the context in which it’s delivered. Regardless, it simply didn’t resonate with me. I wasn’t “feeling” it, the way I did with the Iron Man movie. Which brings us to the “comparing apples and oranges” part of the review …

Now obviously, Iron Man and Batman — despite all the surface similarities between the characters (rich guys who use technology to fight crime) — are two entirely different comic book characters, and as produced, are two entirely different movies. So I wouldn’t presume to say that one was better than the other, and I think anybody who does needs to get a hobby. Both are great, and there’s plenty enough room in the world for them to co-exist without pissing on one to compliment the other. Having said that, the spirit of what Favreau did was much more suited to my personal taste than what Nolan did. Iron Man was a bit lighter (visually and tonally), a bit funnier, a bit shorter (if two hours can be considered shorter), and I felt Favreau did a much better job of integrating the female lead into the plot and making you care about her — which then informed how much I cared about Tony Stark. In both cases, the woman is portrayed as the “heart” of the hero … but I just thought Iron Man pulled it off better.

But like I said, apples and oranges. If the two hadn’t come out in the same summer, I wouldn’t even have bothered to compare them. Both are great movies, and fine examples of what’s possible.

Anyway, if you’re a Batman fan and/or loved the first movie, and you haven’t seen The Dark Knight yet, then go see it soon, so that you have time to see it again before it leaves the theaters. Hell, I may even go watch it again myself if I get the chance, just to see if there’s something about the “perfection” of it that maybe I missed the first time around. Or even just to see Heath’s performance again.

Feel free to yell at me and/or discuss spoilery stuff in the comments.

1 thought on “The Dark (REALLY dark) Knight

  1. movie junkie

    i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was like the time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted…

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