Retrospective: The Dark Knight

So, as we all know, Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a smash hit. Box office winner, solid reviews, strong word of mouth … nearly everyone loves it, myself included. It was worth the hype. Some of that hype, accordingly, revolved around lots of us talking about Nolan’s films to date; we came up with our top five lists (slightly silly for someone with only 5-6 credits to begin with, but that’s ok), and so on. And in so doing, it has come to light, again, that while I do consider myself a Nolan fan, I am very, very strongly in the anti-Dark Knight camp. Yes, I know, it’s a very small camp. Regardless. I thought that movie was terrible. I was beyond disappointed. And the question has long been why? Why did I find it to be a waste of my $14.50, or however much I spent to see it in the theater on a Friday night? Well, the moment has come. I am going to attempt to tell you. Aren’t you excited? I know you are.

Let’s start with the circumstances leading up to Nolan’s Batman #2. First of all, I really like Batman. He’s one of my favorite superheroes. I’m not a comic book person, per se, but I know enough to get by, and so, I was really excited to learn that Nolan was going to be behind the reboots. I really loved Batman Begins. Christian Bale was excellent, I was very excited to be introduced to a new, fantastically creepy villain (Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow), and it was just a solid movie. I didn’t even have that many complaints about Katie Holmes. So, in the beginning, I was as excited as everyone else about the follow-up. It had all the earmarks of being excellent, even if I was a tiny bit bored by the prospect of The Joker, again. No problems with Heath Ledger, but I just liked having a new, slightly more obscure villain and thought we should stick with that. However. I’m excited. Still with me?

Everyone knows what happens next. Hollywood, as is sometimes the case, lost a very talented and well-liked young actor in the form of Mr. Ledger. It happens, it’s sad and shocking, yes. What happened in the wake of this tragedy, though, was something that I still find completely distasteful. Whether intentionally or not, the powers-that-be behind Ledger’s last finished project (that being TDK) began to use the massive buzz behind their star’s death to generate buzz about their film. It just kept going! Nobody could talk about the impending Batman sequel without talking about Ledger, his performance, and death. So that’s my first point. You could say that I signed off a month or so before the film came out, disgusted when even the stars (Gary Oldman, I remember) seemed to be using the death of a colleague to garner an interview.

However. I’m still excited. So are you! And we all go, on opening night, to see the film. Hurrah!

Ok. It’s Batman. Batman is dark. Batman … doesn’t really have a sense of humor. He’s a tortured, angsty soul. I get that. However. A movie, particularly a comic book movie, in my opinion, should still be at least somewhat entertaining. And this just wasn’t. I was bored. I was restless. It was way too long, I thought that the plot was very messy and jumped around too much, and overall, I thought it was just too busy. There was the Joker, and there was Batman being angsty, and there was Maggie Gyllenhaal dating someone else (I think? Oh right, Aaron Eckhart.), and there was just waaay too much exposition happening for all of those plot lines and that’s all before we even really GET to Aaron Eckhart, who ended up becoming Two-Face three-fourths of the way through the movie. Seriously? I am a pro at keeping hold of multiple threads at one time, but this just wasn’t even fun. I must’ve thought to myself at least 5 times “Ugh. Could we just leave?” and the reason we didn’t is that each of those five times I thought “Nah, I’ll just stick it out. It’s got to be close to over by now.” But no. It just kept going and going. And going.

So there was that. Additionally, I need sympathetic characters, and there were none. Bruce Wayne can be played for a bit of sympathy and human pain, but he wasn’t here. And really, since the only characters of any real note this time around were Batman and the Joker (more here in a sec), that just wasn’t saying much. Honestly? I found Harvey Dent to be the most sympathetic. Until, you know, the three-hour mark.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Joker. All we heard about for months was Ledger’s brilliant performance. Amazing. Ground-breaking. Superlative after superlative. Wanna hear my adjective? One-note. Oh look. He’s crazy, and not even scary crazy. He’s kind of twitchy. He’s got that extremely distracting tongue thing. Brilliant. Amazing. This is what beat Robert Downey, Jr.’s amazing disappearance in Tropic Thunder out of a Best Supporting Oscar? Oh right. The guy died after making the movie. I’m sorry. I was very, very shocked and saddened when I heard about Heath Ledger. But I still believe, and will always believe, that he won that Oscar for that reason, rather than for his performance. Sometimes, I’m a harsh person. I really do sincerely apologize.

Are you still with me, despite the invective? I apologize for that too, but you wanted to know why I didn’t like this movie, so I’m trying to convey to you exactly how much I didn’t like it. It was partially all the hype, yes, but mostly it was that I truly felt that as a film, it came nowhere near to living up to that hype. It needed editing. Lots of it. It needed to not try to cram in a second villain (who was wasted) in the last act. The movie could have successfully ended with the event that created that villain (no spoilers here!), and we could have had a good sequel, focusing on a different villain. That would have been fun. I like Aaron Eckhart. He’s a good actor. It could have worked, is what I’m saying. But anyway. I’m going to finish up now.

I just realized this the other day. This, to me, is the ultimate problem with the movie.

It’s a comic book movie. It should be fun, maybe elicit a little bit of empathy. I’m not saying the characters don’t need to be well-rounded, believeable, people. I love the Iron Man movies, and a big part of why is RDJ’s ability to make Tony Stark a real and sympathetic human being. But here’s the thing. With my comic book movies, I guess I’m just not that interested in the big, deep, dark meaning. I did not need that long, drawn-out conversation between Batman and the Joker about how there’s a psychopathic villain in all of us, and that the world needs a Joker just as much as it needs a Batman. We all KNOW that. It is contrived and too, too meta to have the villain tell us so. Never mind that he’s spent nearly three hours teasing us with the secret of his “origins,” and then that’s all we get. It’s not even that I’m interested, so much, in the whys and wherefores of villainy. They’re comic-book bad guys. They’re just crazy. It’s what they do. I didn’t need the angst. Maybe I’m too old for it. Maybe I’m too jaded. It’s not that I was too stupid to get it, though, or that my mind doesn’t work that way … I have an English degree, for pete’s sake. We love our meanings. It just did not work for me here.

And so, I stumbled out of the theater, completely confused as to why this movie was being hailed as the best thing since sliced bread. I wondered what I had missed. I wondered, as I do in such cases, if I had somehow seen a different movie than everyone else. And as the weeks and months went by, and the roar became more deafening, I still didn’t get it. And I still don’t. And if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll just stay that way, and hope for something better with the next installment.


8 responses to “Retrospective: The Dark Knight

  1. I read this last nite but too tired to leave a comment. Whoa, hard to argue with such a well-written reflection, though you already know I don’t share your sentiment. I actually don’t mind the ‘big, deep, dark meaning’ and takes the superhero movie to a whole new level. It’s like the thinking person’s Batman if you will. The angst and wretchedness of it actually appeals to me, not sure what that says about me 🙂 I also think that Nolan still managed to make it quite entertaining, and the action sequences are thrilling enough to satisfy any fanboy/girl. Oh and I LOVE the Joker, so one-note definitely doesn’t come to mind, but hey, to each their own so I won’t try to convert you 🙂

    • Yay! I’m glad you think it’s well-written. I kept putting it off because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to really get at what bothered me about it, but maybe all that time stewing was a good thing. 🙂

  2. While I ultimately enjoyed “The Dark Knight”, I actually do agree with you on a lot of points here. I didn’t find Ledger’s performance that creepy or scary..amusing, yes. Menacing? feh. There’s no way he would have won that Oscar if he was able to accept it the night they were awarding them.. people are just buying into the hype. You may disagree with me on this but I didn’t even care for Christian Bale, who suddenly had to growl whenever he spoke as Batman. It was rather distracting.
    However, on the topic of being dark.. it seems to me that dark is practically the default for most comic-book movies these days? I’m not sure.. I haven’t seen a lot of them. Remember Ang Lee’s The Hulk? All dark and angsty.. booooring. The Watchmen? I didn’t see it, though I heard it was dark, disturbing, and crap-tastic. This doesn’t mean I don’t like my comic book movies dark.. I do think Nolan pulled it off and I didn’t mind it so much. I may be grouping comic book movies with graphic novel movies. Which was Sin City? That movie was hella dark, though it had plenty traces of humor and fun. Maybe a completely different tone than The Dark Knight, but still dark. And much better!
    In conclusion, I don’t think you need to defend your dislike of this movie so much.. I liked it but I only watched it once. Hardly the pinnacle of western civilization.

    • You know, I thought about bringing up the “dark” trend and the movies that failed … particularly The Watchmen (which is a graphic novel). I didn’t see it because I already thought it would be boring, and my husband confirmed that opinion. Sin City is also a graphic novel, and I agree that it worked, as well. Not my type of thing, but it was fun. I’m wondering what the difference was … perhaps the artistic style of the film, that made it much more interesting? I do like Nolan’s vision for the Batman world (again, really loved Batman Begins), but really, I think what it boils down to is he should have been a bit more hard-hearted in the editing room.

  3. I enjoy reading your post. It’s very honest. I can’t say much about this movie because I’m not really into superheros. but I do enjoy Heath Ledger’s performance…too bad he died in that kind of condition.

    I become Nolan’s fan recently but I like his non-superhero movies better.

  4. Ha. Very interesting, I take all your points and think they’re well raised (I agree with you on everything Ledger related even though I like the performance). I like the actual film too, I resent the hatred the actual BP lineup got because they felt this was snub, I don’t think it deserved to be there but I like it fine. That being said, I always like Spider Man 3 and (no one throw stones) I find they have some similar problems – that second villain thing for example, poor editing -. I don’t LOVE it, but I like it fine.

    Good essay.

  5. Pingback: News: Hope for Batman 3 yet? « Banana Oil

  6. I didn’t think the movie was all that good, either, but I figured I was alone on that. My reason is that there were multiple parts of the story that were just nonsensical, even for a brainless summer action movie. Ex. they check all the bridges and tunnels out of the city, find no bombs or tampering, decide to still not use them, decide to clear a city of millions of people by using two – count ’em two – ferries instead, DON’T EVEN BOTHER TO LOOK UNDER THE MAIN DECK TO SEE HUNDREDS OF BARRELS OF EXPLOSIVES, decide to use one ferry for prisoners and only one for citizens, and just how the heck did the Joker get all those barrels into the ferries over the several days it would have taken and not be noticed?

    Second example – Batman has to take the blame for Two Face’s crimes so that the city won’t lose faith in the DA? Why? No one knew that Two Face committed them. They could just have easily been blamed on the Joker. It was completely contrived.

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