Saturday, August 2, 2008

Some Dark Knight or other

Everyone has been going gaga over this one, partly fueled by Ledger's explosive performance and his subsequent tragic demise, with critics showering praise all over it. It's the new Godfather, the new Citizen Kane. Two and a half hours of orgasmic bliss for nerds.

Alas, the truth is far more disappointing. It's not even as good as Batman Begins. (Which admittedly set the bar pretty damn high.) It's merely a good, albeit overlong and messy movie, with some excellent performances.

The main problem with the movie is that it's too crowded. The Joker, Harvey Dent and Batman are one too many characters for the movie to develop comfortably, and the need to cram them all in there makes the movie rush from scene to scene without ever letting you pause for breath. It never feels like a two hour movie, but on the other hand you hand you walk out of the theatre feeling like you've just been run over by a truck. And frankly, even though Aaron Eckhart does a pretty decent job, Harvey Dent isn't nearly as interesting to watch as the Joker. Ledger's nihilistic sociopath will probably go down as one of the great villains of all time, the movie lights on fire every time he's on screen, and every time the movie breaks from him and his escalating reign of terror you just want him to get back on there. Cramming Dent's arc in there was a mistake.

At which point people will go: "How can you say that, you charismatic sexpot you? Surely you must see that Harvey Dent is essential to the story and illustrates the war Batman and the Joker wage over Gotham's soul?" And while that is a fine idea, it doesn't really work dramatically. Nolan needed to find another way to make that point, and write a leaner screenplay. Or at the very least have the decency to resolve everything at the same time, instead of first tying up the Joker's thread, and then limping to a weak confrontation with Two-Face.

My other chief complaint is how coy it is with the violence. The Dark Knight lives up to its name; this is a very dark movie in tone, and the Joker is one terrifying antagonist. It has no business pretending to be anything but an R/15 certificate movie, and sometimes the need to cut as much as humanly possible get it past the censors really hurts scenes. I'm not asking for gore for the sake of gore. While everyone will remember the Joker's brutal magic trick, which gets by fine on implied content, there's also bits like the first time he tells the ever mutating story about his scars, in a scene which builds and builds and builds, and then dissipates with an odd cut to a body slumping to the ground. Sometimes you need a visceral punchline, even if it's through everything *but* the knife that causes all the screams and blood, but this is a luxury the studio couldn't afford. Because apparently relying on adults to pay for a blockbuster is fucking impossible.

There's plenty of other nits to picks, such as the trip to Hong-Kong being extraneous, the Two-Face make-up being too over the top for the grounded take on the Batman mythos, the sonar system being goofy, etc, but in the end it's still an entertaining, if flawed movie, and I don't want to keep ragging on it for too long. It's still well worth seeing.

It's just not as good as it should have been.

No comments: