Boy did I hate this movie. I hated The Dark Knight so much I couldn’t wait to leave the theater 20 minutes into it. And this is from someone who bought into the word-of-mouth buzz and sat down totally geeked to see a wonderful action flick. I didn’t go in intending to hate it but with the foregone conclusion that I’d love it, so don’t think I went in with a closed mind or contrarian agenda.
I’ve read the rave reviews afterward just to try to figure out exactly what it is I missed that made this movie supposedly so great. Instead my only conclusion is that there are just a lot of rabid fanboys and intense Heath Ledger fans combining to form a massive wave of delusion. This movie is nowhere near the masterpiece its supporters claim it is. Not only is it not great, it’s not even good or even competent on most levels.
The incessant need to try to be “realistic.”
There are two problems with this movie’s “realistic” angle. First, Christopher Nolan seems to think “realistic” is simply another word for “boring.” Almost everything that makes the Batman character fantastic and larger than life is excised, probably because Nolan finds these elements silly and unrealistic. Batman’s fighting style is toned down so that he’s not doing any high-flying gymnastics or flashy martial arts, just a visually dull fight style consisting of extreme, incomprehensible close-ups on repetitive body blows, elbows and arm grabs. And even worse, these fights are all shot in the dark with lots of quick cuts, which I guess is somehow supposed to increase the realism through incoherency.
We have a boring Batmobile with no bat insignias, oversized scallops or anything that indicates it’s supposed to have a Bat-theme. Because driving a cool-looking bat-shaped car would just be too ridiculous. Joker can’t have permawhite skin like the comics because that’s also unrealistic, so he just wears sloppy face paint.
When I bring up how dark, dreary and joylessly boring this movie is, people respond “it’s supposed to be realistic.” Why’s the fighting and action so badly shot and dull? “It’s supposed to be realistic.” Why’s Gotham City so bland and generic now and no longer has a unique character and design like in other Batman adaptations? “Realism.” And so on and so on.
Which leads to my second problem with all this realism: IT’S A MOVIE ABOUT A BILLIONAIRE WHO TRAVELS THE WORLD IN ORDER TO BECOME THE WORLD’S SMARTEST, MOST HIGH-TECH CRIMEFIGHTING NINJA THAT EVER EXISTED, THEN RETURNS TO HIS HOMETOWN TO DRESS AS A GIANT BAT, DRIVE A WEAPONS-LOADED MINITANK, AND CLEAN UP ALL THE CRIME IN THE CITY BY ESSENTIALLY SINGLEHANDEDLY PUNCHING IT IN THE FACE EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. AND NOW HE’S GOING TO FIGHT AN EVIL CLOWN. So please tell me…what type of mental case creates or watches a movie with a premise so clearly meant to be inherently ridiculous and then turns around DEMANDS REALISM?
It’s the exact kind of premise that works best when you embrace how preposterous the premise is and respectfully have fun with it anyway. This is what made the Burton Batman so great. It took the source material seriously but not too seriously, while keeping the fun, over the top stuff for the people who appreciate the more wacky and exciting aspects of the mythos. It had something for almost all ages and tried to enjoy itself.
Besides, for all those attempts at realism, once The Dark Knight introduced a villain with a half-handsome/half-monster face with a giant, functional eyeball despite the eyelid being burnt off, it was automatically catapulted into the realm of cartoonishly unrealistic anyway! So Nolan might as well have left the other whimsical elements of the Batman mythos in.
Chris Nolan can not shoot action.
He simply sucks at it. His camera work is horrible. You have a general idea what’s going on in the fights, but it’s never really clearly shot. We have a general idea on how he flipped the truck using the batwires, but it’s not exactly clear what was happening or how he knew it was going to happen. Outside of the explosions, nothing else in the actions scenes worked; they just came off frenetic, claustrophobic and clumsy. Very, very clumsy. The New Yorker provides a very accurate description of Nolan’s action scenes:
Men crash through windows of glass-walled office buildings, and there are many fights that employ the devastating martial-arts system known as the Keysi Fighting Method. Christian Bale, who plays Bruce Wayne (and Batman), spent months training under the masters of the ferocious and delicate K.F.M. Unfortunately, I can?t tell you a thing about it, because the combat is photographed close up, in semidarkness, and cut at the speed of a fifteen-second commercial. Instead of enjoying the formalized beauty of a fighting discipline, we see a lot of flailing movement and bodies hitting the floor like grain sacks. All this ruckus is accompanied by pounding thuds on the soundtrack, with two veteran Hollywood composers (Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard) providing additional bass-heavy stomps in every scene, even when nothing is going on. At times, the movie sounds like two excited mattresses making love in an echo chamber.
Disingenuous, hypocritical moralizing
This movie tries to have its cake and eat it too. It is cynical, depressing and ugly throughout, showing everything ugly about society and human nature, yet it pretends to ultimately be about hope and rising above the evil. The Joker is effectively presented as the moral center of the movie, the only person who not only stays true to his code throughout but never even questions his beliefs or wavers from them. Batman is weak and indecisive, letting people die on his watch regularly, agonizing over every decision, and even trying to steal a woman he loves from her fiance while claiming to admire said fiance.
Harvey Dent, after being shown to be such a beacon of integrity, immediately becomes a psychotic mass murderer and attempted child killer after his fiancee dies and he gets burned. The whole movie seems dedicated to proving the Joker right about society and showing that only he had anything resembling a consistent moral code. But wait! At the end there are two boats that don’t blow each other up (barely). So obviously people are not so bad, right? Oh, and Batman doesn’t kill. So that makes Batman morally superior to the Joker and also proves the Joker wrong again. Yay.
Except Batman kills Two-Face about five minutes later with no problem!! What’s the point of putting so much value into the fact that Batman won’t kill, presenting his inability to kill the Joker (and even going so far as to save him) as a moral victory over the Joker ONLY TO HAVE HIM KILL ANOTHER CHARACTER FIVE MINUTES LATER? And if killing is okay after all, then why does the Joker not deserve it more than Harvey? It’s one thing for him to not proactively kill the Joker, but for Batman to actually expend the effort to risk his well-being to save the Joker from falling to his death?! The same guy who let a villain die in the first installment? (Remember the quote, “I’m not going to kill you, but I don’t have to save you.”?)
Also, although the boat scene is supposedly shows that human nature is not so bad and that the Joker is wrong about how despicable society is, is that the image that really comes across? In actuality, if you stop to think about the scene, the message is much more cynical. It’s all about moral relativism. The boat scene teaches us that the authority figures, the police, are no more moral, in fact maybe even less moral, than the death row criminal, who is the one who actually does the right thing. If anything, that irony to me supports the Joker’s worldview of society’s authority figures as being populated by unreliable, hypocritical frauds since the police and civilians don’t do the right thing while the murderers actually have more of a conscience.
The message is that the average person who follows the rules or is in charge of enforcing them, when under pressure, is at the end of the day no morally better than your worst death row murderer. So even though the Joker lost because the ships didn’t blow up, he has still proven to be sort of right about the ugliness of humanity.
Moving the Goalposts
I already know what the #1 defense from fanboys regarding this movie is going to be, “Oh My God, it’s a comic book, get over it, it’s not supposed to be realistic, get a life!” And you know what, I agree, it shouldn’t be realistic. The problem is, I’m not the one that set this standard of realism, it’s the creators of the movie and the fans of this movie that did that. I judge a movie according to the standards it sets for itself, and the creators of this movie clearly want to present an adult, high Art, pretentious movie that we should take as seriously as any other sophisticated arthouse movie. This so-called gravitas and unflinching “realism” is exactly what this movie’s fans tell us is so great about it. They claim it’s a psychologically intense tour-de-force along the lines of the Godfather 2 or Silence of the Lambs, and just as grounded in reality.
Yet once you accept the premise that this is meant to be a realistic, adult, intellectual and high Art movie and start judging it by those standards, then you have to start taking it to task for the limitless ways it fails in plot mechanics, characterization, motivations and logic under those higher standards. Viewing this movie by the standards of realism means you start pointing out the myriad of endless plot holes in this movie, ridiculous coincidences and senseless occurrences, like the utter stupidity of the cops at every turn (for example locking the Joker up without ever bothering to remove his makeup and send a picture of his unmade-up face to every federal and local law enforcement bureau in an effort to uncover his identity, then leaving him unprotected and not handcuffed in the interrogation room guarded by a single cop, even though he’s proven to be badass enough to fight the Batman and wreak total mayhem across the city?)
And once you start critiquing the movie according to realistic standards, these exact same people change their tune and start saying “What do you want, it’s only a comic book movie! It’s about a guy that dresses up as a bat! It’s a superhero movie! What do you expect, Shakespeare?! It’s not supposed to be realistic!”
You can’t have it both ways.
And if you are going to practice selective realism, why only select using realism in areas that will make the movie more boring and incoherent and illogical? So we can’t use suspension of disbelief to make the Joker as visually unique as the comics and previous movies with chalk-white skin and creepy red lips and actual green hair. We can’t suspend our disbelief and just have a guy who is rich and has cool gadgets for fighting crime with no deeper explanation; we must forever be bogged down with tedious details describing the “process” by which he gets every last toy. We’re not allowed to suspend our disbelief enough to have fantastic, over the top fight scenes like you see in movies like Kill Bill and Die Hard 4, movies that are somehow less ashamed of superhero comic conventions and the laws of physics than this actual superhero movie. We’re supposed to accept boring, incoherent plodding fighting instead.
But what we should we save our moments of suspension of disbelief for according to Dark Knight and its fans? Plot holes and wildly illogical story sequences! Using suspension of disbelief for anything that would make the movie more escapist and fun is forbidden, but for anything that makes the movie a more incoherent, jumbled and illogical mess, then it’s okay to accept the unbelievable.
See, I watched Spider-Man 1 and 2 and both movies were loaded with plot holes. How was Peter Parker able to put together such an expensive and complicated looking costume if he’s poor? How is it that the only two people in town who end up with superpowers happen to know each other? And don’t get me started on the improbably coincidences and the laws of physics broken throughout both movies. Yet in those movies I totally don’t care about the plot holes because Sam Raimi obviously shows us that the movie is in no ways meant to take itself seriously, therefore minor plot holes aren’t a big deal.
It’s tongue-in-cheek, unafraid to embrace the more ridiculous but entertaining and fun conventions of the superhero genre and is unashamed to be unrealistic in order to have some damn fun with the premise . So for his movie, I don’t bother to apply the same stringent levels of judgment regarding plot holes and logic. Nolan, on the other hand, seems ashamed to be doing a superhero movie and tries to excise everything superheroic he can get away with excising from the movie, opting for pretentiousness instead. And ironically he ends up with a movie less in touch with humanity than a movie like Spider-Man 2.
As the Daily Mail said, “The Dark Knight an unintentionally sick spectacle, pretending to justify law and justice, but in reality celebrating violence and chaos.” A commenter on the website rottentomatoes.com said it way better than I ever could, so I’ll just quote him:
I kept getting exhausted and repulsed by how The Dark Knight continually had its cake and ate it too, by how it shoved oppressively bleak moments in our faces, then turned away from them later on: Gary Oldman gets shot, and we have to deal with his wife breaking down and screaming at the policeman who inform her of his death; but a half-hour later: no, he’s not really dead! We have to watch minute after minute of prisoners and civilians on two different barges decide whether or not to detonate explosives rigged to the others’ boat, and linger over their “screw everyone else, I’m totally in it for myself” rottenness (and *no one* on either boat stands up and says, “stop these madmen!” — but oh yeah, then the prisoner decides to throw the detonator out the boat window, and the civilian decides he doesn’t have the heart to go through with it — so you see, folks, the moviemakers finally demonstrated to us that these people REALLY aren’t rotten after all, even though they’ve just forced us to deal with five straight minutes of odious human nature. And then we have to endure another five solid minutes of Aaron Eckhart’s character’s holding a gun to a child’s head, to possibly avenge his girlfriend’s death, while Batman stands by and does nothing except to try to talk him out of it. So many scenes seemed intentionally designed to make us all feel powerless against society’s innate evil, and linger over and shove the rottenness of humanity down the audience’s throats. The constant foisting of fear and oppression and helplessness, going hand in hand with vigilante justice (and even an indirect justification of the Patriot Act, with Bruce Wayne’s radio-monitoring device) made me wonder if Dick Cheney had co-written the screenplay. My wife and I left the theater both wondering out loud, is THIS the movie that our country really needs to be tuning into right now? But of course, we’re only two small voices amongst the movie’s $150 million opening weekend, and after all (as so many fanboys are quick to point out), “it’s only a movie.”
I was so glad I didn’t see this on IMAX. First because the action outside of the explosions was horribly shot, so seeing it on a big screen would have done nothing for me. And second because the close-ups of Maggie Gyllenhaal were painful enough on a regular screen, seeing her on IMAX would have made it that much worse. I just can’t buy a powerful DA and a billionaire fighting over a chick who resembles a sad turtle or a cabbage patch kid that’s all grown up. You mean to tell me that Bruce Wayne has that gorgeous ballerina, who is shown to actually have a scintillating intellect to boot, and he’s pining over a homely girl that looks over 40? And it wouldn’t be so bad if she had a sparkling personality, but she just came off sanctimonious and dull. What a step down from the Kim Basinger days.
No nuance or subtlety in the Joker.
Fans are clamoring to say that finally the Joker was done right, like the comics? Give me a break. The Joker is not a hideously scarred, limping, stooped over creep in the comic books. In the comics he actually looks on fight sight like he’s bordering between creepy and harmless. That’s exactly what makes him so cool. He can look like a harmless clown on the outside at times, harmless enough that children would approach him, but beneath that clownlike exterior belies the unpredictable, and psychotic murderer underneath. It’s a great dichotomy: he looks like a somewhat creepy clown or jester, immaculately dressed in a pressed suit, but he’s a nutty loose cannon that can go crazy on you at any minute.
In fact, cognitive dissonance is one of the reasons I think Batman and Joker work as archnemeses on a subconscious level: the one who looks more likely to be the bad guy, a dark avenging demon of the night, is the good guy; the one who looks a brighter and happier clown is actually the psychopathic force of evil. However Nolan has created a bad guy that blatantly looks crazy and psychotic and depraved from the moment you see him, before he even speaks, like Leatherface or the blonde Japanese guy from Ichi the Killer.
When you see Ledger’s Joker, there’s no doubt from the beginning that you are looking at a depraved lunatic, that subtle cognitive dissonance you get from seeing a fun looking clown also switch into psycho killer mode is taken away and instead you just see a guy that looks like a sick serial killer acting like a sick serial killer. (I think Ledger did a wonderful, although overrated job, and I don’t blame him for the lack of subtlety. I think he was playing exactly what he was told to play, and he did it well).
Plot holes and bad scene transitions galore.
Batman leaves a party of billionaires upstairs alone with the Joker to save Rachel Dawes. The Joker was up there searching for Harvey Dent. We never cut back upstairs to find out what happened. Did the Joker just give up and leave? Did Batman even try to go up and catch him? We never find out because it just jumps to the next scene. The movie is loaded with tons of inexplicable scene jumps like this, like when Harvey and Rachel are suddenly kidnapped.
How did Joker plan in the beginning heist for the kids’ schoolbuses to have such a perfectly timed gap in between them for him to drive his own schoolbus into during his escape? They just drove behind each other in congested traffic with a huge enough gap between them for another school bus to just jump into? And Joker somehow planned for this?
Bruce Wayne is shown as unable to do anything technical without Lucius Fox’s assistance, even to change his costume, yet at the end he miraculously can suddenly singlehandedly use and upgrade the sonar trick Lucius Fox showed him earlier and create a program to somehow make every cell phone in Gotham City broadcast a video signal that he can watch through some space-age lenses that cover his eyes in the Batsuit and are fed through a supercomputer in his secret lair. (So the Joker having chalk white skin and having over-the-top fun fight scenes are too ludricous for Nolan’s “realistic” vision, but that crazy tech wasn’t?)
How about how ridiculous Gordon and Batman’s plan was of faking Gordon’s death and just transporting Harvey while hoping the Joker would attack…yet when it happened they still seemed totally unprepared for it. A commenter at imdb.com nailed it (found through The Dark Knight Sucks):
If I understand it correctly, Gordon faked his own death (even though it?s edited to make it look like he got shot for real) to protect his family. Batman then decides to announce who he is but Dent takes his place. The Joker intercepts the Dent convoy but is himself intercepted by Batman. Carnage ensues including the destruction of large parts of the Gotham road system and various buildings and, seemingly by fortune, Batman, the Joker and, the driver of the convoy who is, of course, Gordon, reach a point at which the Joker is captured. Unfortunately for them that’s what he wanted all along.
So: doesn’t make very little sense when you try and add it up from characters? POV. Why would Gordon legitimise such a ridiculous plan: there?s no guarantee it would work and he’s placing the lives of his men and Dent in very real jeopardy because he knows the Joker is coming for them. Batman may suffer from incredible pride but there?s no way he could have planned, forseen or even imagained such a successful scenario as him flipping the Joker?s truck, faking his defeat and Gordon?s reappearance because it all happened just metres away from his vehicle. The Joker needs Dent for phase 2 of this particular plan os his attempt at killing him is self serving. He needs to be caught AND he needs the guy with the phone in his stomach to make it with him otherwise he?s got no way to get Lao or the money. He surely should have walked into the station with his men a la Se7en!
I put this to a friend and he suggested the whole “agent of chaos” angle which doesn’t work for me because Dent, Gordon and Batman aren’t agents of chaos and that’s the force they’re fighting against. If the Joker had initiated this then, yes, I could agree. But this is their party which the Joker crashes.
And even more plot holes. Okay, Harvey Dent is supposed to be some hotshot District Attorney right? And his fiancee is a rising star Assistant DA in his office? And they spend all their time together? Well let’s look at their stellar legal work in action, as described by Dark Knight Sucks:
Well, the writers must have been a bit more lazy on the day they wrote the segment where Rachel and Harvey were trying to nail Lau on something. Particularly, they were trying to use Lau as a means to incriminate all the crime heads in Chicago (I mean Gotham).
Apparently, they got Batman to go all the way to China, risk his life, illegally kidnap a Chinese citizen who had not been convicted or even indicted on any US-based crime, and bring him back for questioning and they didn?t have an actual plan. They had NO IDEA what to nail him on, they just knew that he was the money-man for the mob. So, when he finally admits to being the banker for numerous criminal organizations, Harvey has a eureka moment with Rachel and blurts ?we can get them on RICO!?, presuming of course they can prove just one of the organizations pooling their money with Lau had committed crimes.
A bit of education: RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) is a US federal law. That means HAD that been the case that Harvey chose to pursue that path, he would have to hand over the entire case to a FEDERAL court, taking it completely out of his hands to prosecute – his jurisdiction was at a city level for Chicago (I mean Gotham). He was not a federal prosecutor. If he was, he would be referred to in the movie as a United States Attorney. If some want to argue semantics that he was a federal attorney and merely referred to as a District Attorney, that argument will fail because such positions are appointed by the President of the United States. They are not elected to that position, as is the case with Harvey Dent (it?s pretty clear in both the viral marketing and election context of the movie).
That was just one flaw with that segment; another flaw is the fact that Lau’s lawyer just stood there doing nothing while Harvey and Rachel were using unjust tactics to pressure him to talk, making implications they would place his life in danger based on how much he cooperates. Because, without those tactics, they didn?t seem to even have a clue of what to get Lau to admit to which might implicate the criminals they were after.
So basically these legal eagles didn’t think of the RICO statute, simply the most obvious and most-used statute used against the mob, until a EUREKA! moment occurred during an interrogation.
Batman is impotent in his own movie.
A good villain should be a step or two ahead of the hero throughout the movie. It keeps it exciting, and you want the hero to be challenged. But at some point there should be a scene where there hero turns it around and ends up getting ahead of the villain and outsmarting him once and for all in the endgame. This never really happens. The only “victory” Batman gets is when the two boats don’t blow up, which happens out of dumb luck. It could have easily gone the other way. Batman didn’t actually save those people, they saved themselves, no thanks to him.
He spends the whole movie jumping through the Joker’s hoops, and even when he physically defeats him, it still seems like part of Joker’s plan. Then he sends Batman to chase after Harvey Dent, showing Batman that he corrupted someone thought to be uncorruptible. Chalk up another victory to the Joker, and another instance where Batman is two steps behind the Joker.
But at least Batman got ONE moral victory in right? He still doesn’t kill, right? He managed to stop the Joker without killing him or letting him die. Too bad five minutes later even that victory is undermined by Batman killing Harvey Dent. So Joker not only corrupted Harvey Dent, he got Batman to kill at the same time. Great job, Batman! NY Magazine has a great piece on the impotence of this Batman throughout the movie:
From the beginning of The Dark Knight, Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is only the fifth- or sixth-most-interesting character in his own movie. (The Joker, Harvey Dent, Gordon, Rachel Dawes, and even Alfred the butler are more intriguing onscreen than Batman.) Sure, it’s not uncommon for criminals and supporting characters to be flashier than the superhero in a comic-book movie. It is uncommon, though, for the hero to serve as Batman does in The Dark Knight as little more than a patsy: just one of Gotham’s wind-up toys, serving only to be set in motion by the Joker and sent into yet another trap. Unlike in most superhero movies, Batman isn’t two steps ahead of the criminals, or even of us; instead, he’s constantly behind, until even the audience can see the plots developing, and Batman’s investigations making things worse.And so throughout The Dark Knight, Batman himself is further and further marginalized, made more and more impotent. Batman can’t stop the violence, can’t crack the case, and his inability to comprehend the pure malevolent chaos that the Joker represents costs dozens of Gotham residents their lives. In so exhilaratingly illustrating the expression of that pure chaos , and in the dire straits it eventually puts our so-called hero in, The Dark Knight can be read as a philosophical argument against superheroes in a complicated world.
[EDIT: Originally I had a section here speculating about why this movie was so popular, but I've since removed it.]
Let the flaming begin.