Monday, August 11, 2008

Someone Didn't Like The Dark Knight

I know.

I understand that such a such a revelation may be shocking for some readers. It does not come as a shock for me, however, and I do know a few individuals, including those with whom I went to The Dark Knight one Tuesday morning last month at Cinerama, that found themselves disappointed with the way the film played out as the credits began to role.

I should first say that in making my critique of the film, I do not aim to argue that I genuinely disliked the film. That would be a false assumption of my review. I would say that among all the reviews of the film, many of them appropriately laud the positive aspects of the film. The film's realism, make-up, special effects, Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker have all been covered extensively, but for all The Dark Knight did well, there were more than a few aspects that to me, were mishandled.

"Welcome To A World Without Rules" says the tag-line on the poster-what about the rules of film-making?

My issues are varied in nature, thus I begin at no particular point.

Many of the problems I had with The Dark Knight had to do with some editing choices or oversights that, to me seemed rather blatant and continued to surface as the movie went on.  Not having the original text here at my disposal, my comments might seem somewhat vague, but I still feel strongly in regards thereto.  Firstly, there seemed to be an extraordinary amount of repetitive dialogue in the film.  This could have to do with the fact that the writers and director wanted the film's "message" to be hardhitting and for a mainstream audience, perhaps a bit of repetition is even necessary.  Despite this, I found myself thinking to myself, "Didn't your character say that exact same thing in the last scene?  Didn't someone use that same wordage about Batman/good/evil/The Joker/(fill in the blank) previously?"  Upon an eventual repeat viewing, I should be able to sort out why these choices were made or how these moments might have been avoided.

Along with repetitive dialogue, there were a number of "how-or-why-did-your-character-get-to-that-physical-space" and "what-happened-with-your-character-after-that-one-scene" moments and queries that, for me were unavoidable.  There were a lot of story-lines going on in The Dark Knight so I can certainly see the challenge in keeping track of characters and where they are at in the confines of Gotham at any given point in the narrative, but it's a necessary challenge to meet!  The biggest example of this is the bizarre treatment of the narrative surrounding The Joker's party-raid in Bruce Wayne's penthouse.  After Rachel Dawes falls off the roof with Batman in tow, tumbling-and somehow surviving a long fall-onto a vehicle on the street below, what happens to The Joker?  Does he simply leave the party with a smile, taking with him his henchmen, shotgun, and madness?  "Oh shoot, that darn Batman, well, I guess I'll just head on out.  Enjoy the rest of your party, guys."  While there are certainly instances in films where we can assume something happened between the filmed elements on screen, there was so much-maybe too much-happening in The Dark Knight that the audience cannot possibly be responsible for filling in every little inconsistency or gap in the plot.

Production Design
For however comical or *ahem* "colorful" previous installments of the Batman franchise were (see: the unnatural neon purple and green hues of Batman & Robin-don't forget the nipples on the batsuit), there was still an overarching sense of the world the filmmakers were trying to achieve, albeit a rather silly one in that latter installment.  Gotham City, throughout it's various incarnations up to this point, Batman Begins included, and especially the Gotham of Tim Burton's Batman films, felt explicitly like Gotham City.  It was dark, gritty, expansive, a city of all cities, gothic even!  In The Dark Knight I did not get a sense of cohesive production design.  I found the streets, buildings and sets of this latest film to be generally lackluster and surely not as evocative of a massive, gothic metropolis.  I spent much of the film thinking to myself, Oh, that's Chicago, that's Chicago too, that's L.A., that looks like New York.  It was not that I did not adhere to the believability of the environment the producers created-the unaltered locations did give it a sense of realism, but it discouraged my belief in Gotham itself.
I enjoyed Batman Begins.  I also have a certain affinity for the previous Batman films and I am able to enjoy them despite the cheese or maybe I enjoy them because of their extreme comic-bookishness.  I don't think that earlier Batman movies are really as bad as some fans might make them out to be.  They're like pop-music to an extent; they lack depth but they sure have a way of filling the dance-floor.  I did appreciate the direction of Christopher Nolan in the way he shifted the tone of Batman to one more serious and ultimately believable, however, with The Dark Knight, my fear is that Nolan has taken this tone a bit too far, taking Batman completely out of a comic book context.  The Dark Knight is quite the "talky" film, filled with political intrigue and inner-city war games.  It is very much a product of our culture now and the success of other urban-strife films such as The Departed.  The Dark Knight is a cop drama...with Batman.

I felt that Nolan, in his ongoing vision of realism, has placed Batman in a world that is even different than the first movie, veritably shifting the genre of this new Batman series.  In doing so, in reducing the mystery, intrigue of the character and turning Batman into a glorified crime-fighter with gadgets-whose own comic book would be rather dry, I think-Nolan has severely limited his ability to explore Batman's world.  Come to think of it, was this movie really about Batman?  Evidence for this is the burgeoning question regarding who the villain in the inevitable next film will be.  Many of Batman's villains would be far too rooted in the comic book realm to survive a transition or translation, rather, into Nolan's Gotham.  To this I might also add the way in which Two-Face felt a bit tacked-on in The Dark Knight.  Some of Batman's most iconic villains would simply not work.  A bald guy shooting ice-rays out of a freeze-gun?  A genetically altered, plant-loving female whose power is a sweet pheromone?  Concerning the repercussions of Nolan's Batman, there is an interesting speculative article over at JoBlo about the odds for the villain of another Batman film.

These creative decisions considered, I think I had more fun watching the rich imagination of Guillermo del Toro at work this summer while watching Hellboy II: The Golden Army.  The Dark Knight was good, I do not deny that, but it was not entirely what I expected, nor desired. I left The Dark Knight, wanted more of, well, the Dark Knight.

Even before I saw the movie, I knew that The Dark Knight should not have garnered the prized top spot on the IMDb chart in their Top 250 List. The number rating of the movie, 9.2 as of the time of this posting, for me, is comprised of hype, mystery and intrigue surrounding Heath Ledger's death, and the expectation that this movie would, without a doubt, not only live up to the first one, but far surpass it in quality. It is the numerical value for the voice of the fans, wanting the film to be the best film ever.

I believe that while it will be some time before the hype surrounding the film dies down, more people, fans included, will be able to look on The Dark Knight with an honest, open opinion, unfettered from circumstance and relentless media buzz-Heath Ledger and the only recently closed investigation of his demise, the allegations regarding Christian Bale's outburst with his mother and sister, Morgan Freeman's car accident, the ever-ascending dollar amount of the film's gross, the death of a stuntman in one of the action sequences during filming, and the list goes on.

Since I have been mulling these issues about in my mind, I was happy to find a convincing and astute reading of the film today-that happened to come down on the negative side of the film. A blogger who happened to fall across my radar has successfully articulated some tough points regarding the thematic content of the film in particular.

His extensive survey of the film can be found here.  

I've gone through said article and picked out some of the most poignant comments.

"A pompous parable ostensibly examining the elemental/existential battle between good and evil which ends up being a paean to the vicious pleasures of violence."

"...I don't buy the main conceit of the film: that there actually is an invisible line separating good violence from bad violence."

"...the real tipping point into my "violent" loathing of this film came from its reliance on a lazy racial shorthand."

"...this film wasn't the sophisticated ethical meditation that its accumulation of overwrought moral monologues might suggest..."

Link to this review courtesy of The Dark Knight courtesy of Film Experience.

The Joker: I took Gotham's white knight, and brought him down to our level. It wasn't hard. Y'see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little...push.

For me, I see the Joker's perception of the downfall of Harvey Dent as somewhat of a parallel to fandom. The origin of the word "fan" after all, comes from the latin word, fanaticus. For all that we claim to fight back against the grit and grime that is within many of the productions of mainstream Hollywood, there is so much of it we still embrace. Why would Hollywood seek to produce more daring, thought-provoking, stimulating content if so many people continue to be blinded by the stage-lights? It is because Hollywood is so good with the "lights" that movies like The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor are allowed to be made, sequels like the hyper-mediocre, caricature-of-a-movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull exist and movies like The Dark Knight, while not at all a bad movie, can so rapidly ascend to the top of the charts, without substantial, discerning criticism.  I do not regret paying my eight or nine dollars to see the movie.  I am glad I saw it at the amazing Cinerama-despite those rickety seats.  I am glad I saw it with friends.  When I went to see the biggest movie of the summer, I sought ample justification for The Dark Knight's alleged greatness.  I did not find it.  

Hollywood has a big track record when it comes to turning the fan into a radical media devotee. Like the Joker said, "All it takes is a little...push." I think it is time someone made a little push back.

Also, while we're traipsing about Gotham City in the new era of Batman, here are a few more recent investigations into the Batman legacy and franchise that are worth a read:

How to Become Batman
A Canadian scientist and lifelong Batman aficionado has examined the Dark Knight's skills and figured out how regular people could transform themselves into real-life Batmen. Link courtesy of: io9: Strung Out on Science Fiction.

Joss Whedon's Batman
Whedon talks about his previous plans to reboot the Batman franchise before Christopher Nolan came on to the project.

Essential Batman
A list of the seven classic Batman comics from all over the last century that helped shaped Nolan's Batman.

*This post marks my 50th blog entry!*


Ryan said...

OK, this is going to be the oddest comment ever, but I just wanted to say that I have not read this post yet, as I'm seeing The Dark Knight for the first time this Friday - but of course look forward to reading your thoughts about it afterward.

(And congrats on 50 posts!)

Until soon -

Kelli said...

I love Christian Bale.