Yesterday I saw The Dark Knight. And I’ve gotta tell you, I was disappointed. Maybe I’d believed the hype (note to self: always heed the advice of Flavor Flav), maybe it was the creepy promise of Heath Ledger’s penultimate film, or maybe it was my affection for Christian Bale and director Christopher Nolan’s previous films (in particular, The Prestige). Regardless, the film didn’t deliver.
It’s a murky, manic movie with a cast of thousands. It’s at least twenty minutes too long, and yet never spends enough time with the right scenes. This is partially due to its remarkable roster of characters. Among the supporting roles with speaking parts are a ridiculous hierarchy of bureaucrats–assistant district attorney, district attorney, Jim Gordon, police commissioner and mayor–and a precinct’s worth of cops. It’s also because of a needless sub-plot involving D.A. Harvey Dent, which only distracts from the film’s central inertia.
Heath Ledger is extraordinary as The Joker, and you should see the movie to see his performance. He’s a jangly-limbed rag doll, capable of anything and slave to his own mad whims. He makes Jack Nicholson’s Joker from the 1986 Batman look, well, like Alfred.
Unfortunately, we don’t see enough of Ledger. And that’s where I was most disappointed. I’d hoped that the film would be a much more intimate examination of the conflicted relationship between these two outcasts who live beyond the law. That is, more like Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke (though clearly that was an influence).
Instead, we got a big-ass superhero movie. The stunts were impressive, though totally muddled. Nolan could take lessons on directing action scenes from, say, Doug Lyman or Martin Scorsese. David Edelstein puts it well in his New York Magazine review:
Nolan appears to have no clue how to stage or shoot action. He got away with the chopped-up fights in Batman Begins because his hero was a barely glimpsed ninja, coming at villains from all angles in stroboscopic flashes. There are more variables here, which means more opportunities to say “What the f— just happened?” I defy you to make spatial sense of the early scene in which Batman battles faux Batmen, gangsters, and the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy in a cameo that comes to nothing). If you can, move on to Level 2, diagramming the “Bat-tank versus Joker-truck versus cop car” chase. Then, finally, take the Ultimate Challenge: following the climax with Batman, the Joker, more faux Batmen, decoy hostages dressed as clowns, a SWAT team, and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius with some kind of sonar monitoring gizmo that tracks all the parties on video screens.
Speaking of Scorsese, compare The Dark Knight to The Departed. Both are crime epics full of violence and betrayal, yet Nolan’s work pales in comparison. Not only does Scorsese handle the large cast effortlessly, but you always have a clear grip on what’s going on in the action sequences.
In short, The Dark Knight is an average superhero movie with one extraordinary performance. It wasn’t awful, but it sure wasn’t the masterpiece I hoped for.
On an unrelated note, the movie was preceded by a teaser trailer for Terminator 4. Christian Bale is perfectly cast as an adult, robot-slaying John Connor. I really hope this film redeems the franchise after the dreck that was Terminator 3.