Was The Dark Knight Really That Good?
In build-up to the July 20 release of The Dark Knight Rises and the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, a look back at the flaws in 2008’s The Dark Knight…
In 2008, Christopher Nolan brought his interpretation of Batman back to the big screen in the form of The Dark Knight, a film reviewed as being both a ‘haunting’ and ‘engrossing’ tragedy, with a ‘gritty and ‘deft’ script. The film was given almost universal acclaim and film critics and fans alike seemed to struggle to see any negativity or issues arise from the 152 minute run-time of the movie.
Surprising to me, let alone anyone else, I wasn’t one of those people. Even after £25 and three cinema viewings of The Dark Knight, followed by countless DVD playbacks of the movie, I was forced to accept an almost unbelievable truth: I didn’t love The Dark Knight.
The film was good, no question, maybe even great. It’s main theme concerning the battle between good and evil was refreshed and revitalised by Nolan in his take on the battle being just as much an inner one as opposed to a conflict of two or more people or organizations. Yet even his original take on an unoriginal theme didn’t help the film from being let-down by a lack of conviction on the ideas and symbolisms it brought up and aimed to utilize.
Much was made of the performance in the movie by the late, great Heath Ledger as Batman’s arch-nemesis the Joker. ‘Outstanding’, ‘mesmerizing’ and ‘unique’ are just a few of the words used from others to describe his portrayal of a mad, psychopathic killer, with no other goal but to be evil in its most purest and frightening form.
Whilst his performance was given almost perfect acclaim, I couldn’t help but feel that his performance showed glimpses of ‘outstanding’, with at times it being ‘mesmerizing’. But for me, as for an all-round finished product, Ledger’s quality of performance was brought down, no, let down by the movie’s plot and script.
Nolan and his team seemed to want this Joker to be the epitome of uncontrollable evil; a completely legit and almost ideal approach for the Joker in terms of Nolan’s Batman universe. What happened however was that the Joker came across as someone who wanted to be seen by others as this uncontrollable evil, even if on closer inspection and analysis was really a cunning master-mind who managed to carry out his plans in totally unbelievable circumstances and in an unrealistic time-span.
From rigging an entire city hospital and two ferries with explosives, to robbing a bank with 6 guys and escaping using a school bus, the Joker became too unbelievable for him to reflect on me as a viewer as a real threat, and I mean this completely in relation to Nolan’s Batman universe.
Whilst many say Ledger’s Joker was a psychological menace, most of his plans involved blowing up stuff. Admittedly, blowing up buildings and transportation takes psychological dysfunctionality but it came to a point where the Joker just seemed like another thug, the only difference being he wore make-up and didn’t want to kill Batman, rather watch him squirm at the thought of him being the one to blame for the deaths in Gotham.
And then there was the idea that the Joker didn’t have plans. Cue the hospital scene with Harvey Dent where the Joker claims not to be a ‘schemer’, someone ‘without a plan’. Yet almost every act of his involved highly intricate and complicated planning. You don’t just rob a bank as you walk down the street, or spontaneously decide to bomb a hospital and accomplish that within less than a day as the Joker so easily managed. People argue that when Joker claims not to have a plan he means an overall plan yet if you recall the hospital scene, Dent at first blames the Joker, 'your men, your plan', only for the Joker to reply with 'do i really look like a guy with a plan?'. The Joker does claim he doesn't plan his actions, not just an overall one; for example, for the death of Rachel, it's clear he did plan with the swapping of the street names and Rachel telling Harvey how she was told 'only one' of them would 'make it'.
So whereas the character of Joker wasn’t entirely convincing or scary for that matter, Ledger was still able to pull off a number of highly memorable, applaudable moments, even if mostly comedic. His introduction to the audience through the mask reveal towards the conclusion of the bank robbery/prologue was nothing short of genius and his ‘pencil trick’ alone has racked up millions of hits on YouTube.
Although for me his performance wasn’t the one many say it is, his Oscar win was already long and unquestionably overdue. And with his impressive - yet short - history in Hollywood, I can happily accept the praise given to him as it appears to me as more a reflection on his other works combined with the Joker as opposed to the Joker alone.
In my eyes no flaw was greater in The Dark Knight than that of the story of Harvey Dent. Aaron Eckhart played the obnoxious yet committed politician/lawyer perfectly but it all fell apart as soon as the Joker ‘blew him half to hell’.
With the woman he loved murdered and his face severely burned, Dent could be forgiven for being angry and vengeful, but for him to be confronted in his hospital room by the Joker and then let him walk away without so much as a scratch was embarrassingly bad writing.
However manipulative and sly the Joker was, there was simply no believability in the way Harvey Dent transitioned into Two-Face. For Dent, a respectable and intelligent man, to be convinced by the Joker that he wasn’t the one to blame for Rachel’s demise, but rather that Batman and Gordon were to blame was ridiculous.
There was no doubting that the story needed Dent to become Two-Face for the theme of good and evil to be truly emphasized to the audience, but the way that Nolan and his team wrote that change was almost an insult to the work that had been done up to that point in the film on Dent’s character. His downfall was ultimately unbelievable, unconvincing and heavily rushed as the film drew to a close. For that reason the film suffered greatly.
And so with the two main flaws covered I’d like to mention briefly other flaws the movie had; one of which was the re-casting of Maggie Gyllenhaal as replacement for Katie Holmes to play the role of Rachel Dawes. Whilst in Batman Begins Rachel was intelligent, strong-minded, confident and independent, Dark Knight’s Rachel was a loved-up teenager who we never see have any moment of independence as her character is used solely as a device to pit Bruce and Dent against each other as opposed to Batman and Dent against each other.
Other flaws include the pointless inclusion of Commissioner Gordon faking his own death, a plotline used only it appears to try and show the hatred growing for Batman by Gotham’s citizens as they look to point the finger of blame at him as opposed to anyone else.
Dramatization was given centre-stage over logic and although that is needed in order to express certain elements, perhaps more than ever in comic book to movie adaptations, logic was lost almost completely in The Dark Knight and as a result my connection to the film decreased; unlike in Batman Begins, where the emotion of Bruce losing his parents and taking up the position of guardian to Gotham made for both an emotive and action-packed super-hero movie.
No film is perfect and no film ever will be. And opinions will always be opinions as they are just that: opinions.
The Dark Knight had a great amount of things that worked and ultimately, whatever I may say about it, it remains one of the most popular films of this generation. Nolan’s revolution of the super-hero genre has allowed for him to make mistakes and get away with it, and that seems about right. All I hope for is that I don’t have the same disappointed feeling I did after seeing The Dark Knight when I see The Dark Knight Rises on July 20.
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