The Dark Knight
(Initial 35 mm review)
Mild spoilers, but if you know Batman they won’t be.
I believe in Gotham City. I believe in Harvey Dent. I believe in Batman. He’s the only comic book hero I’ve ever really followed, and in fact, enjoyed on several levels. But until Batman Begins the Caped Crusader had not been given the correct tone. Not that the comics always get him right either, but I’ve been waiting for a film that gives us the Gotham City of The Long Halloween or Dark Victory.
Sadly, this is, despite the celestial hype, not that film, and it’s really not as good as its predecessor. The film feels procedural, deliberate, and when contrasted with the anarchy represented by the Joker, it seems a film at odds with itself. Form and content collide unintended here, and what we have is a dualistic film. Half of it wants to wallow in the existential dilemma caused by The Joker, while the other wants to revel in his sadism. And the film doesn’t really cover much ground in between. It’s either sadistic or preachy. Preachy in that the film takes some interesting more philosophical liberties with the Harvey Dent origin story, but the film plays the dualism motif so much, and so often, that when it decides to actually comment on it, its overkill.
What made Batman Begins a great film was the portrayal of the peripheral characters, the characters played by Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman. They added the emotional connections in that film but they’re relegated here to just plot devices. And for a film so sleek and well made, it’s structurally flawed. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t love the film and then I realized, it can’t decide on its protagonist. It seems to want to be the Joker, yet, it’s afraid to fully commit, and then decides on Batman, who to that point in the film has been surprisingly one-dimensional, and even at times almost a secondary figure. The missed opportunity is Jim Gordon. Gary Oldman, even with Ledger’s amazing performance considered, does the best acting in this film, but his character, the emotional key in the world of Batman, is left with nothing to do.
The film also feels, even at 2 ½ hours, truncated. The Scarecow pops up and leaves without any explanation as to how he got free or what happened to him. Batman saves Rachael Dawes from the Joker by jumping out of a building, but never goes back into the building to get Harvey Dent who’s locked in a closet, yet in the next scene Harvey’s fine. And once Dent’s character “changes” the film almost drops him in favor of an extended action scene involving a totally unnecessary character. It’s almost like Nolan’s flawed The Prestige, where he thinks that if he gives us enough of the complex plot, we’ll overlook the fact that the characters are never developed beyond pieces of that plot.
In the end, there’s too much in this film. It allows for all of the explosions and fights for its rouges but not enough for the emotional or intellectual development of either. It should have either been about Dent or the Joker. I see what they’re doing in trying to use Dent as a metaphor to explain the situation between the two, but he was far too underdeveloped for me to care. I’ll see it again, hoping, like Batman, to be proved wrong about Harvey Dent.