As of Today, The Dark Knight is the #1 film of all-time on IMDB.
Fuck the Godfather, Batman rocks!
Okay, it’s impossible to deny The Dark Knight is a very good film. I’d go so far as to call many of its aspects phenomenal and can’t imagine someone not liking the films as a whole. Universal adoration is tricky feat and TDK might have pulled it off. And sure, I hope it gets some Oscar respect because it is tremendously well made and most Oscar-calibur films are bland as sin (not including last years No Country and There Will Be Blood). And like most award films, TDK features a bevy of great performances (and even one classic performance). I hope it gets its due, yada yada yada, all that good stuff.
But… we need a little appropriation and discretion here. To those swarming the boards of IMDB, it’s not the greatest film ever. Time decides those kind of things. Not internet rating systems. Not critics. Not reviews. Not awards. Only Time. And time is the very reason people still reference Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction but seem to have forgotten about forest gumps very existence (seriously, I’ve seen more references to Cast Away recently in the wake of Wall-E).
Hell, I wouldn’t even call The Dark Knight the greatest comic book movie of all time. It’s in the conversation sure, but to make the argument so clear-cut as most critics and fellow nerds have is slightly ridiculous. Tim Burton’s original Batman was just as visionary, albeit in other ways. Even Spider-Man 2 dealt with a lot of the same issues as TDK and I might say it’s even more flawless. Hell, I had just as good a time watching Iron Man as I did this film. And that’s okay folks. Serious doesn’t = better. It’s just different.
Another thing. The Dark Knight DID NOT transcend comic book movies. That’s a bold face lie propagated by a lot of reviewers and people who don’t read comics. If anything, the movies have just finally caught up to the comics after 20+ years. There’s nothing about TDK that hasn’t really been explored by Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Killing Joke. And guess what? That’s also okay. It’s been a long time coming and I sincerely appreciate the effort.
I think what makes The Dark Knight such a hit with critics and audiences is that we all collectively realize there should be a lot more films like it. Iron Man was brain candy perfected, the very thing studios have been wanting to shell out to us for years. It was sweet, fun, exciting and light. A perfect concoction really.
So why is it we all go apeshit for 3 hour crime epic on the nuances of anarchy and alternative heroism?
Easy. Because we don’t get enough thoughtfulness in our popcorn movies. The studios are looking to turn in a product they can predict and so a genuinely scary bad guy who strives of anarchy makes em a little nervous. And our cultures “serious” films are almost as flimsy and predictable as the super-hero movies. The various endings of prestige pictures have become as predictable to american audiences as “the good guy wins.”
American film-going audiences are much better than people realize. Yeah, many can’t necessarily articulate their sentiments but they are perceptive as hell. and that’s why TDK is getting so much acclaim. It’s filling a void modern movies have left in us and I love that.
So as for the actual movie… here’s some nerd analysis:
TDK was bloated. There’s no way around. It was all incredibly well executed and directed so you don’t notice it so much. But damn, a lot of stuff never really came to fruition (what was the significance of Joker breaking the Asian crime-lord guy out of jail? I think he burned him in the money pile but it was never made clear. Seriously. Messy for something that occupied a half hour+ of running time.
The film also features a lot of great political, social, and legal commentary. It’s stuff you don’t get too much of in these films and that’s shame. Sure it’s laid on a little thick, but at least it’s not politico-lite (corruption versus good! etc). It’s a nice touch (Devin Faraci did some nice work in his review comparing it to The Wire)
Honestly, I loved Aaron Eckhart (I usually appreciate his work in general) and his take on Harvey Dent. He was really the driving force of the film since the entire plot is really just a reaction to his very presence. They enforce his whole persona very much: he is our very ideals, as the oft referenced “White Knight.” It was all really nicely observed. With Eckhart being our ideals, that leaves Gary Oldman to pull off some tremendous humanity as the everyman Lt. Gordon. Considering how many baddies Oldman’s played in his time it’s a special revelation to see him like this. I liked him just the same way with his performance in Batman Begins. Maggie Gyylleennhhaallll shows why Katie Holmes not-as-distracting-as-everyone-claims performance in BB was actually much worse than I thought: with just a few more scenes she turns the Rachel character from merely servicable to fully-functional with in the world of TDK. I’m amazed how much her presence changed the dynamic, and even made the endeavor a little sexual, which is desperately needed in the dour landscape of this films. And yeah, Michael Caine is good as always. Hell, all the actors in this film are just good.
Which brings us to Heath Ledger.
With Heath’s Joker, well, you really have to just see it. There’s no real way to explain and the reason the hyperbole doesn’t get in the way is because there’s no real apt way to describe it. It’s a special performance. It’s unique. It’s easily one of the great all time villain performances. My friend Ken aptly described it as “100% nihilistic glee” but there’s more to it then that. It’s jaw-dropping in its nuance and exclamations. The Joker’s intro to the crime syndicates (not opening bank job) was electric, the entire theater just came alive watching him on screen. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen something like that. Right afterwards, I wanted to see the film again, but only just his scenes. They took what was started with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and perfected it. There’s no origin story. Attempts to throw a little pop psychology in the mix are wonderfully ridiculed by the Joker himself. As the Nolan bros put it, their Joker is “absolute.”
Which makes the whole thing a little bittersweet. There’s a line near the end where Joker looks at Batman and says “we’re going to do this forever.” It’s a tremendous nod to the endless cyclical nature of hero and villain in comics… But it won’t be going on forever. Ledger died and I think this incarnation of the character dies with him. Perhaps it’s just too good to spoil. It’s too much his own. And a part of me hates that. I hate that we won’t see more of him. Maybe it’s better that way, maybe it makes it timeless. But the very turmoil in my mind is proof-positive of the effectiveness of his performance: We want it to live forever.
You’ll also notice I haven’t made mention of Batman or Bale yet. That’s cause Batman’s boring.
Let’s get serious folks, people are attracted to Batman because he is our dark fantasy. He’s what we wish we could be, but that makes him far from human or interesting. In the better versions of the comics he’s only interesting when we get into those more difficult moral dilemmas. The film deals with that stuff tangentially but far too swiftly (I sincerely hope it’s what they address it more clearly in the next one).
But I finally came on board with this version of Batman with that memorable ending. Well, it’s memorable to me. It’s not a stunner or anything, but just a remarkable clarification of the things you realize they’ve been hitting you over the head with the entire movie. They finally get to heart of Batman’s very existence as really nothing more than an idea. Which is really the right way to go in this thing. At the very end, after we realize The Joker was really going after the White Knight Harvey Dent (Devin Faraci also did a nice comparison saying that Batman almost works as the Joker’s accomplice in anarchy), they finally bring it back to Batz. He makes a choice to sacrifice his own image, which is sometimes the one thing a hero is never seems willing to do. And by making that sacrifice, he honors his namesake:
He’s The Dark Knight bitch.