|"You got your classic super hero in my crappy advertising campaign!"|
"You got your crappy advertising campaign in my classic super hero!"
"They don't really taste very good together."
"No, they don't."
I won't go into the things that I thought were good because everyone else is talking about those and I generally agree with what others like about the movie.
Here's where this post gets a little spoilerific, so read on with care (it's also REALLY long).
1) What's the plot of DK? Give it to me in one or two sentences. Here's as close as I could come:
Harvey Dent does his best to shut down the mob families that run Gotham City with the help of his Assistant DA, Rachel Dawes, ace police detective Jim Gordon and, the Batman. Oh and the Joker is the monkey wrench.
Sounds like a riveting plot, huh? Cop goes after mobsters who are being messed with by a backstoryless disfigured guy in clown makeup. OH yeah and Batman's in it. Really, Batman is superfluous. You could have stuck John Ashcroft in there instead of Batman and largely you'd be able to get away with it.
2) Joker has no concrete (or even vague) backstory. That was fine in the comic, since eventually they'd have to get to it, but the movie never does and it kind of shows in Ledger's performance. He's good, but feels like he's sprung from Chris Nolan's forehead, as opposed to seeming like something specific made him like he is. I don't need something spelled out--but I need more than the suggestion that he is a force of nature and that's it. He can represent a force of nature, but he still should have a backstory.
3) No sense of passing time. How many days pass during the events of the movie? One? Three? Ten? Can't tell. I don't need an exact number, but a sense that time passes would be nice. Too many films don't bother with this, concentrating instead on the constant flow of action scenes.
4) The constant flow of action scenes. While I've seen movies with more back-to-back action, this movie never lets you rest. There wasn't necessarily action in every scene, but it's not a movie that slows down. Sadly, this doesn't give us time to absorb much and as a result there were huge chunks of this movie where I had no idea what was happening or why. After about 90 minutes (I'm guessing it was that far into it) I started wondering how long this movie would be. I even found myself wishing there was a dance number in it like in "Spider-Man 3" so I'd have a good excuse to walk out early, like I did in "Spider-Man 3." However, there were no dance scenes, but there were plenty of things that happened so quickly that I was left wondering just what was going on.
4a) Case in point: The idiotically contrived ferry scene. Why did city authorities put all these prisoners on a ferry and all these civilians on another ferry at the same time? I missed that whole thing. Is that the only way to get prisoners to and from the prison? Seems absurd to me (but I'll get into this more in a bit).
4b) Case in point #2: The attempt on Dent's life. Why does Bruce Wayne go to the vacant office where the tied-up police officers are just before the attempt on Dent's life is made?
5) Massive, massive plot holes. I understand you want to keep the movie moving, Chris, but you didn't show us a few things we really needed to see.
5a) Batman catches Rachel after she falls off the building (Superman, 1978, much?). She then has a cute line about the fall, but then that's it--the scene ends and the movie goes on with no mention of what happened to the Joker. The reason she fell out of the window in the first place is because Joker shoved her. He's still up at the Wayne Penthouse threatening the lives of Bruce Wayne's partygoers. What happened to those people and how did the Joker get out of there?
5b) They capture Joker after Gordon comes back from faking his own death. Gordon sits down to question Joker for the first time. He explains that both Rachel and Harvey have been kidnapped, now Gordon wants to know where they are. Gee, Chris! Perhaps seeing them get kidnapped MIGHT be a good thing to show in your movie? Especially considering the importance of the kidnapping. This one event leads to serious character changes across a number of characters, yet the catalyst is missing from the screen and is only mentioned in dialogue.
Moving pictures, Chris! This isn't radio!
5b i) Gordon leaves and Batman continues the interrogation by beating up the Joker, who seems to be completely fine after having the shit kicked out of him by Batman. Last time I checked, the Joker doesn't have any super powers and isn't known for his rigorous work outs.
5b ii) So, Batman, the outlaw vigilante is allowed to interrogate suspects in official police interrogation rooms? Aren't there cameras running? Perhaps a person nearby with a clear understanding of the law, that vigilantes are criminals and should be arrested, could, uh, arrest Batman? Yes, arresting Batman would be a stupid plot point. But why not get a little more creative? Have Batman appear in Joker's holding cell without complete police cooperation?? Batman's supposed to have ninja-like training, yet to interrogate a suspect, he gets permission first, using Gordon as his opening act???
5b iii) So, Joker finally caves under Batman's "interrogation" tactics and spills the beans. Ultimately, we discover that he's lied, swapping the two locations, so Batman goes after Dent, instead of Rachel. What I don't get is why Joker told the truth at all and then, why Batman believed him at all. More than just liberals know that torture doesn't work. The Joker is also a criminal mastermind. So, why does Batman think beating "the truth" out of the Joker will work?
Here's a better question, why did Chris Nolan think that this was a good choice for his script?
5c) Joker visits Two-Face in the hospital. After we see Gordon tell Harvey the department nickname for him, Joker shows up and thoroughly explains his own motivation for everything. I hate it when screenwriters don't understand the difference between subtext and text. Subtext is the unspoken motivation under everything a character does. The key to keeping it "sub"text is by never having a character EXPLAIN HIMSELF WITH PERFECT LUCIDITY. NO ONE DOES THIS IN REAL LIFE. It's why we have shrinks. However, the Joker does it with excruciating detail in this scene and again at the end when Batman captures him. This is what we writers call "SPOON-FEEDING". This phrase is chosen on purpose, because who do you normally spoon-feed? CHILDREN. So, when movies spoon-feed you entire swaths of character motivation in dialogue, the film is treating you like a child, assuming you won't understand what the hell they're trying to say with the film or the character.
I understand that Joker was trying to incite Two-Face to continue down the path to evil, but the Harvey from the comic is already schizophrenic, so he's got that covered. How much more interesting would that scene have been if Joker sees that the two have things in common?
5c i) By the way, would it have been too much to ask that we see why Gordon's people called Dent "Two-Face" behind his back? I mean, in the comic, Dent used his political power to cover up the fact that he had bouts with schizophrenia in his past. So, he was wrestling with his darker side long before half of his face was melted off. This movie seems to suggest that a frustrated cop can be driven batshit (!) insane by being disfigured and having his fiancee die. Yes, it's emotionally traumatic to have a fiancee die, but does it normally (or even abnormally) cause people to suddenly suffer from multiple personalities?
5c ii) Two-Face's escape from the hospital. Right after Joker leaves the hospital, he blows it up. Yet, somehow Harvey survives. How?
5d) I've already mentioned the contrived ferry-confrontation sequence. I have no idea how this ended up working since the movie kept jumping from one thing to the next to the next, but what kind of absurd BS is this? So, if the prisoners don't blow up the civilians before the civilians blow up the prisoners, Joker will blow them both up at 12 midnight (I think that was the time). What a chunky-ass moral lesson that is. Could you and your brother make it a bit more convoluted, Chris?
How "ironic" that the biggest, meanest prisoner was the only one to really do the "right" thing (by forcing his decision on the other prisoners), meanwhile the mostly white civilians vote overwhelmingly to blow up the prisoners, yet the one white guy with the balls to say he'd carry through the unjust execution loses his nerve just before the time is up. Later, Batman claims this as proof that Gotham City is "full" of "good" people. Mmmmm, not really, Batsy-Watsy. It just means that randomly people didn't blow each other up--as the movie (I think inadvertently) shows.
6) So, Batman builds a computer that taps into every cell phone in Gotham and uses the speakers and microphones to function as a sort of sonar that allows Batman to see into every space in the city and hear what people are saying. This will aid him in tracking down the Joker. Rightfully, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) immediately declares that this is too much power for one man to have. Bruce insists that Lucius work the machine for him because he needs to capture Joker before he kills again. Lucius immediately caves with the caveat "OK, but just this once." He adds that he'll quit if the device isn't immediately destroyed after they're done with it. Ahh, so it's OK to violate the Constitution and hundreds of thousands of American's rights "just once" in the interest of catching a bad guy.
Yeah, the Constitution is fine until it gets a little inconvenient (ironically a point the Joker makes in one of his speeches, which is supposed to be counteracted when those people on the ferries don't blow each other up).
6a) Bruce tells Lucius that once the Joker is captured, he should just enter his own name into the massive eavesdropping computer and that will shut it down. In fact, it destroys the machine entirely--which seems very convenient for the plot. Bruce just happened to whip this system together (without Lucius' knowledge) to use only once.
6b) Speaking of this Super Sonar, somehow it gets integrated into his cowl allowing him to "see" the 3-D images the technology creates. Of course, somehow through it all, he's still beating the daylights out of cops--yeah right, I had trouble focusing on those sequences and I was just sitting there--how could he be beating someone up in front of him while looking at a 3-D image of the floor above him?
7) The movie had three climax-sized scenes that contribute to a really bad case of "Multiple Ending Syndrome." This is a syndrome where filmmakers can't decide where to end their movie. Like in "A.I." Stephen Spielberg had his android boy get trapped on the bottom of the ocean, then get discovered by aliens(?) then get a robot creation of his mom, who then dies. In DK, there weren't as many endings, but most of them were huge enough to be climaxes for their own movies.
7a) In any other movie, the badguy blowing up a hospital would be the climax. It's what the whole movie would build up to. In this, it's just one of four huge scenes.
7b) Harvey and Rachel are strapped to big oil drums in two different parts of Gotham and Batman must try to save them both. Big explosions ensue and so does major emotional trauma.
7c) Inexplicably two ferries are loaded with prisoners on one and civilians on the other. Joker threatens to blow them up. The crisis is averted when the people of Gotham ultimately do the right thing (even though the civilians want to blow up the prisoners and only one prisoner chooses for everyone else). Batman isn't even involved in this part of the movie, however, except to stop the Joker from blowing both ferries up at the end.
7d) Meanwhile, the Joker is holding hostages in a building overlooking the ferries. This is the actual climax, where Joker is captured. This is also when he delivers another one of his expository speeches where he explains his subtext to Batman (and us). Here, however, the usually quiet-ish Batman gets chatty, also, explaining how Joker is wrong. The only thing I thought worked here was that Batman didn't kill Joker and Joker's explanation of it. This was something to the effect of: "Your rules stop you from killing me and it's my lack of rules that keeps me from killing you!" This is the only part of either character's speech that should have stayed because everything else was just the filmmakers explaining to us the moral arguments they, themselves were trying to make. This is kind of funny since the whole point of having heroes and villains do all this is so that you don't have to get directly preachy--talk about missing the point!
7e) Yep, one more ending and it could even be considered a climax--this ending has Harvey Dent holding Jim Gordon's family hostage. This was a generally good scene, but I didn't understand why Gordon's son kept being the focal point. This is a comic-geek issue I have, so I won't go into it here. This is also where another stupidly expository speech happens toward the end. Batman repeats an early speech given by Alfred about how Batman "isn't a hero" so he can take the extra slings and arrows the city needs to throw at him while he does his job. Ironically, this is the very definition of a hero.--one who sacrifices for the good of others. So, he IS a hero because he takes the blame for the murders of the police officers Dent kills. Yet, the movie literally says the opposite.
Luckily, the movie ends right after this last bit.
I have only a couple nits to pick with DK:
1) When the Batmobile/Tumbler is destroyed (why did it HAVE to be destroyed??) he escapes the heavily armored vehicle in the Batmobile's "escape pod"--or as they later call it, the Batpod. Yep, he keeps using the thing throughout the rest of the film. I mean, what hero uses an escape pod as a regular vehicle for the rest of the movie??? Hell, the thing doesn't even provide any cover and looks about as stable as a unicycle.
2) Gotham City did not look anything like the Gotham City from "Batman Begins." It looked like a regular old city. Pretty damn boring to look at, if you ask me.
Here are my comic book issues with this movie:
1) In the final climax of the movie, Harvey holds a gun to Gordon's son's head--Batman saves Gordon's son from falling to his death. Gordon's son delivers the "ironic" from-the-mouth-of-babes comment that eventually leads to the mention of the movie's title. The true irony here is that I don't remember Gordon ever having a son in the comic--his daughter, however, eventually becomes Batgirl and then later Oracle (after the Joker shoots her through the spine in a brilliant comic called "The Killing Joke"). So why not focus on the daughter?? I just don't get it.
2) Joker's backstory. Yes, Joker is a force of nature, I get it, but in the comic he was a genuinely tragic character. We feel bad for him after we learn the how and why he became who he is now. I don't really feel anything for the Joker aside from sadness that Heath Ledger is dead.
3) In the comic, Harvey Dent was always Two-Face, but did a good job of keeping his "evil" side hidden from others. His schizophrenic background was completely ignored in the movie. I think it would have helped make Dent a more tragic and interesting character.
4) In the comic (if memory serves), Gotham is established as being on the east coast--New Jersey, I think. South Jersey. Sure, everyone knows Gotham is just a metaphor for New York City, but even accepting that, why did Bruce Wayne's Lamborghini has Illinois plates on it. OK, this makes three nits I've picked with DK.
5) In the classic graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller, Harvey Dent eventually undergoes therapy and surgery to become a decent guy again. However, the mental therapy doesn't take, despite him looking normal. He kidnaps Selina Kyle (Catwoman) who is old and retired now, and when Batman apprehends him, Dent admits that he's still crazy and that the changes are only skin-deep. He asks Batman at one point, something along the lines of: "What do you see when you look at me?? What do you see???"
Batman replies with simply: "A reflection, Harvey."
How brilliant is that? Yet, the idea of Batman being insane (even a little) is ignored entirely in this movie. The irony that Nolan has completely lost is that Batman, Joker and Two-Face are all different sides of the same coin (yes, I know a coin only has two sides, but stay with me)--Harvey is the center point--he represents the balance of justice--he contains both the right and the wrong. Batman is on the right side and the Joker on the wrong. However, none of these guys are "good" in any real sense--but that's what makes them all interesting and tragic characters. This (in my opinion) very basic concept has been lost on Chris Nolan and every other director of Batman movies. I do think the first "Batman the Animated Series" creators understood this. To date, I feel that their interpretation of the Batman universe is the best amalgam of the comics.
If you're like most folks who actually read this whole thing (thank you, by the way) right now you're probably thinking to yourself "Yeah, but none of that stuff bothered me."
Well, that's fine. That doesn't make the film a perfect movie, however. I'm simply presenting what I felt were weaknesses in the film.
For the record, I really liked "Batman Begins" a lot and went into "Dark Knight" wanting to like it, too. But right when we didn't see how Joker escaped from Bruce's penthouse, the film started to lose me. Sure, it was still entertaining, but it really was a mess.
I don't want anyone to enjoy the film less, I just want people to stop praising it as though it is some flawless work of art. I mean, do we need another movie like "Titanic" whose audience was so incredibly wrong about? I don't think so.
Please, I hope everyone can enjoy "Dark Knight". I also hope everyone can see it's flaws.