Friday, August 01, 2008

The (far too) Dark Knight

I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would. In fact, I’m not sure whether I liked it at all.

True, our appreciation of the movie wasn’t helped by the half hour queue for tickets, or the queue inside to get into the auditorium. Or by the sozzled older couple behind us who kept trying to tell us how they hadn’t had to queue for the cinema since they were kids, during the War. But this was a film I was eagerly anticipating, and had been for weeks. Why did I feel so let down?

Well, first off, it’s unrelentingly dark. Batman Begins had plenty of humour to balance the darkness of the storyline. There were a couple of comic moments in this one, but really not enough.

Much had been made about Heath Leger’s performance as the Joker. It was very high grade acting - enough to make you forget it was Heath Ledger you were watching. But this Joker was truly horrible, using a knife as his principle weapon because it was "slower" and therefore more satisfying.

The Joker’s obsession with knives was a focal point of the film, and a disturbing one. (At one point he empties his pockets in custody, and places a row of knives onto the table.) Given the current climate of fear surrounding stabbings and knife crime, I’m surprised this film got such a low age certificate. On top of the discussion about how stabbing a person is a much more satisfactory way to kill them, there are three occasions where the Joker holds a knife in someone’s mouth as he threatens them.

It’s a bad, bad time to be talking about bad, bad crimes and those scenes should have been cut.

Batman himself, takes on the role of Dark Knight as opposed to Harvey Dent as Gotham’s White Night. But when a hero beats up an unresisting villain, as Batman does with the Joker in a police cell, we know we’ve moved somewhere else as a society. This simply isn’t right. Batman’s subsequent noble willingness to become a hate figure in order to preserve the reputation of the tragic Harvey Dent, is less of a sacrifice simply because he has already become an amoral monster.

And the use of two villains in superhero movies really has to stop. It didn’t work in Spider-Man 3. It didn’t work in any of the earlier Batmans, with the exception of Batman Returns. It’s just not good movie-making practice. You end up with a wasted storyline and an under-used character when you try and squeeze two villains into one film. When Dent becomes Two-Face, he has about ten minutes in which to be evil enough to merit Batman’s attention. That’s not long enough for the tragedy of a fall from grace to be accurately communicated to the audience.

It also lengthens the film well beyond any reasonable time. If you can’t tell the story in two hours, then you’ve failed as a story-teller. They could have left out Dent’s subsequent reinvention as Two-Face and left him on a hospital bed. They could have had Dent become a villain by killing the Joker in revenge. There were so many better ways to end this film than the way they did.

So, for all those reasons, The Dark Knight failed. I left the cinema feeling oppressed and depressed by it - partly because it didn’t live up to it’s hype; partly because it chose to be oppressive. I can’t really recommend it to anyone.

And that perhaps is the biggest shame of all.

Jongudmund’s Rating: 5/10

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