12.30.2008

Review: The Dark Knight

Okay, so I just saw the Dark Knight, for the first time. I didn't see it in theaters for a number of reasons, and I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I didn't give in to the hype, I'm glad I stood by my now-more-solid-than-ever convictions that it wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't see this movie in theaters, despite what certain friends said. Partially because very few movies are that important – and the ones that are are very, very, very rarely accorded all this hype.
A few disclaimers before I launch my all-out assault. I did not like Batman Begins. Though I have a tremendous respect for Christopher Nolan, that was by no means his best work – ever, at all, in any way. That film had a number of problems which inform my problems with this film, both in character and action. Fortunately, a number of them are repaired in this film, unfortunately, many others are not, and some are compounded. Let me also say, as the harshest critic of this film I know, that even I have to admit Heath Leger's performance was impressive – perhaps even astounding. I have long approached Joker with a very different mental picture. Despite this, Leger remains relentlessly convincing. My inability to critique his performance is quite honestly, a vague annoyance to me, as I would have loved to, given all the hyperbole gushed in that area. Still, I find it delightfully ironic that the one character in the movie who doubts human nature most is the only one that seems able to restore my faith in the human ability to act. This also leads into the fact that in many respects, the best parts of this movie were the parts that were not the way I pictured they should be, but which still remained convincing – still seemed to get at the heart of this story, still seemed to exploit all the rich emotional, psychological, and philosophical material with which any such story is imbued, though it is so rarely exploited. Though I was over all expectedly disappointed with the Dark Knight, it did some things right – and it had what every movie of its kind should have – an excellent beginning and ending. It was almost a full hour into the movie before I began to notice the edges fraying, which is far longer than many other movies last for me.
The edges, however, did fray, and then they began to run out as fast as that beautiful little thread from the back of Joker's coat in the opening. And so, without further ado, the angry, grouchy part of the review where I tell you what I thought was wrong with the movie, and challenge you with Arizona stone eyes to have any explanation which would make it all right. I warn you, I'm a little angry. I'm partially angry because parts of the movie were so damnably good, and so convincing, and I wanted to like it, I really did, at times. I wanted to believe someone out there could give me a convincing, alternative version of a Batman story, and still let me believe in it. So, yes, I will be passionate. I hope it entertains - and please do take it as entertainment – don't be upset that I didn't like your favorite movie.
First, and most important (the rest are really just physical incontinuities – yes that was an intentional pun on incontinence -, this first issue is psychological, and therefore far more important to the story and the characters). Okay. Let's set this straight. Bruce Wayne is not a struggle! Batman does not want to be Bruce Wayne! He does not want a normal life! Get it right! Bruce Wayne died (spiritually) the night of his parent's murder, and he has been OBSESSED ever since with “justice” or “vengeance” depending upon which side of the law you sit on, and which label you prefer. Yes, he will not kill, but that is Batman – that is because of his parent's death – that is not Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is as much of a front as Clark Kent is – even more so, in fact, because in some sense, Superman does seem to want to be Clark Kent – he does seem to at times envy the normal man, though even he knows he can never be one. Batman however, not only knows he could never be one, he does not want to be one. What is ironic about this is that in creating this “conflicted” Bruce Wayne/Batman, the screenwriters actually shot themselves in the foot because in the scene DIRECTLY AFTER he's saying he can not risk the lives of “innocent people” Batman is risking their lives by blowing up cars, plowing through a mall in a supercar (shooting in its windows with no way of seeing what's beyond) and generally being an innocent-life-risking bastard. The Dark Knight cleared this up for me. I always knew there was something wrong with portrayals of Batman in which he wants to be a normal man, but this film, like Batman Begins, reveals to me negatively where these sad attempts at character conflict spring from. Batman can not be an ordinary man – a man does not put on a bat suit and nightly risk his life just because he is rich, or even because his parents were killed – many people have to suffered that, and not been so afflicted. What is unique about Batman is that he is so struck by it, so psychologically changed, or even damaged, that he must take up this mantle himself, alone, and to do that leaves no room for hopes of a normal life, and to see that tangential, sappy hope levered into so many superhero plots annoys me. Superheroes are superheroes because something hugely unique happened – this is inescapable – they are born of alien intervention, strange experiments, or, in this case, and really only in this case, the death of loved ones. It is one of the most beautiful ironies of Batman that he who begins most human becomes, through a human action, the least human-like superhero of them all, and that is so much the foundation of his strange comparisons with his villains, especially Joker. So much for the psychological.
Now, to the other legion of swarming annoying little mosquito problems. In no particular order., beginning with something I am unsure of, but which still bugs me. Most of the time, from what I know, when facial trauma of Dent's degree is suffered, facial reconstructive surgery is undertaken as soon after the event as possible – so probably when he would be unconscious – to save further damage to the muscles, skin, etc. The longer they wait, the more scar tissue develops, the harder it is to deal with. Not a big deal, but annoying nonetheless. Like I said, mosquitos. A bigger problem (okay, this is more like a mosquito the size of an elephant) is how the heck did Joker get out of the interrogation room – sure, he's got glass to the guy's neck, but the room can only be opened FROM THE OUTSIDE, that is the POINT of a secure interrogation room. The writers even make this obvious earlier. Why the guy was in there in the first place is a whole other question. What took Batman so stoinking long in coming to rescue Harvey Dent from Joker's assaults? There's just long enough that the Joker can succeed in so much of his plan, and just short enough that Batman couldn't have come from his penthouse. Brilliant. Speaking of the penthouse, how is it that the penthouse which was, may I remind you, successfully breached by so few as five gangsters during a wine and dine fundraiser, when one would think security would be tight, why is this penthouse suddenly the safest place in the city? Why does Harvey Dent not bleeding insist on this being true, especially given that he himself was endangered there not three nights ago? Furthermore, since when is a cheap RPG (and trust me, the Joker had only a cheap RPG) enough to punch a hole in the new and improved Batmobile? And not only punch a hole, but put the thing completely out of service? An upgraded Hummer easily survives an RPG, and it is built by the lowest bidder, not by the personal servants of a multi-billionaire who cares about nothing more than his personal safety during his midnight vigilantianism. I would scour Batman Begins for film of it surviving worse, but, alas, I have neither the time nor inclination – and to those who would say “well, all it had to do was take out the tires” Watch the film! The tires are fine! The system says “massive damage” or some crump like that, and the tires aren't even deflated!
Okay, on to Batman's personal physical problems – he survives a fall from a penthouse onto a car, is landed on by a girl (who, by the way, seems entirely too uninjured – I was so glad she died) and still has breath to chat her up in a growly, breathy he-man tone, and then, woopiddy do, he's knocked out of commission for a number of seconds by a slowed crash, tires beneath him, into a yielding semi, a crash he never should have been in, because the batbike could obviously stop faster than that – he didn't have to lay it down to turn around, and besides, it was built to be able to go sideways if it needed to. Are we not paying attention to what happened when we said cut five minutes ago? The fall at the end is even better – he falls a maximum of three stories – MAXIMUM, probably less (after that wonderful “oh look, fingers loosing grip, at least he saved the kid” shot) and he's out of it enough to still be lying there, and then to be limping, when Gordon comes down, all because he didn't have anything as soft and yielding as a CAR to break his fall.
Right, onto problems with the villains and their plots. First off, wonderful job on the face for Harvey Dent – nice makeup. The voice, however, sounds EXACTLY like it did before. Let me remind you of a little anatomy – the sound of a voice is projected and formed partially by the movement of the cheek and lips. Hold onto your cheek – just hold onto it from the outside, and pull it for a second, and then try to talk – sounds different, doesn't it? And Harvey Dent, with half his face, lips, cheek, you name it, gone, sounds exactly the same. How could they miss that – making a multiple quatillion dollar movie, with so many other great, wonderfully done details, and no one says – wait a second, that doesn't sound right. Hold on just one gold picking, lambbasting, carrot and celery minute. Let's at least get this freakishly obvious piece of sound engineering right. Okay, enough of that one. What of the Joker? How does he get into the Hospital? They have cops crawling all over, and there he is, the nurses' uniform fools them? Besides that, they're evacuating, and no one takes the trouble to actually look around for the bombs? What? Gotham has no bomb squad? They don't check Harvey Dent's room? He's not even prepped to go in the evac? Furthermore, TV SHOWS SCREEN CALLS! Yet there's Joker, on the TV, at a dial's command, right away. There are hundreds of people watching that show, (if you don't remember, I'm talking about the part where Mr. Accountant (because we've never seen an evil accountant before) says he's going to betray Batman's identity) trying to call in, it's obviously almost the only thing on TV, and he gets right on? Hunh. On to the ferrys- it's the army, and they don't think to check the engine rooms before they leave AT ALL? On top of that, since when do they evacuate prisoners because of a terror threat? Okay, so I believe it could happen in a system as messed up as ours, but really, doesn't it seem just a little bit levered in, so that the movie isn't quite so dark, and so that a few people who believe in the goodness of the ordinary man, not to mention the goodness of the tattooed and physically disabled, but frighteningly strong prisoner? The worst part is there are more convincing ways of talking about the “goodness of man” there are better arguments, and there could have been better scenes, but that seemed far too much like a cop-out. And the guy (the non-criminal) who offers to do it, then can't? Entirely unconvincing, if you want my opinion, though I'm sure you must be sick of that by now. Okay, more stuff, they wouldn't let that prisoner get that close, bye the way, anyway, the “hostage” clowns could have LAID DOWN (they're hospital patients, and they don't think of this? They must have been wanting to lie down!) I know, maybe not earlier, but at least when the swat teams burst in? That's a more minor point, and I could have let them get away with it, but no, not when they're messing up like this. Even worse- perhaps the worst of all these is the interrogation room with the Joker in it - and on top of that, why didn't the cops take his makeup off? You know the first thing they'd want to do – the first step in interrogation – would easily be to deprive him of his face – to wash it off, which could have been so good, because his face could have been almost creepier without the makeup, but no, they didn't think of that, because they get paid obscene amounts of money to make mistakes.
Okay, all that said, like I said, there were parts I really liked. There were bits and pieces I thought fantastic. I wanted to love the movie – which in itself is impressive, because usually I love to hate hyped action flicks, especially ones about superheroes. I love that Batman predicted- absolutely predicted Lucius' behavior about the sonar – and I love that he thought of it, that was really, really good. The ending was great – Gordon's conclusion that Batman has to be chased is right on the money of the character and tone of the movie. If the whole movie could have been like parts of the movie, I would have been so happy, really, I would have. But it wasn't. And I'm not. So consider yourself warned, if you ask me about this movie, if you try to tell me it was oh so good, if you try to convince me that I'm wrong, I'll go down fighting. Not that it isn't possible for me to be convinced – you've seen my weapons, now, you'd better have answers if you're going to try to tell me I should like it anyway, you'd better have your own.
All this to say – the Dark Knight is not a bad movie. It is much better than the majority of movies of its type – but there are movies of another type, and it is to movies of the greater type that I often hear Dark Knight compared – but those movies are made more carefully, and with a greater thought for continuity, and it is annoying to me that these films are not recognized for being great in how they are great. If there were that recognition, maybe both action movies and the “dramatic” movies could begin to care about everything, because it is only in caring about everything – caring that every little bit of the movie is at least interesting, or helpful, or meaningful, caring that every bit works – that any movie can be, in my book, truly great, and that is why not caring enough about the details – every type of detail – is the great sin of so many works of so-called art, be they films or books or poetry or paintings or music or anything else. Oh, and if you agree with me, and want to pass along your ideas without doing your own writing, please do pass on this link to anyone else, I won't complain about free publicity.

P.S. I would be remiss if I did not thank a friend for loaning the movie to me – his action was very gracious, despite my not liking the movie.

1 comment:

Daniel Ebling said...

passion is the bitch that reason sometimes flirts with