As i think about what to write about The Dark Knight what comes to mind most, is the question why i don’t really like it. It’s not one thing of course it is a combination, some of which is the film’s fault and a lot of which is my own. As a result this review seems to look like my review of The Desolation of Smaug, as what i don’t like about the film overshadows my thoughts on what i do like…
As i had stated in my review for Batman Begins, when i left the theatre i was so pumped up and excited by what i saw i just couldn’t wait for more, quite literally the first thing i did when i got home was look up news on when and what the sequel would be and come out, and so it was for the better part of 3 years i would regularly check up on news on The Dark Knight. I read on set diaries, speculations, interviews, and waited every day for more. I watched all three trailers to death, i read trailer brake downs on those three trailers to death, i went to I Am Legend only because it had the opening heist in it, i followed the viral campaign as best i could and marvelled at that first picture of the Joker along with the rest of the internet. i literally counted the days to its release (a day before my birthday truly there is a god in this universe) with every day that i had to wait being excruciating. I convinced myself that this would be a movie event of my lifetime and not only fulfil completely the promise of Batman Begins but be head and shoulders better.
And then something happened…
About a month before the film came out, i stopped my near religious following of the campaign completely, and i can’t really say why. I guess i had my fill, the cup that held of my self hype had over filled and i kinda stopped caring. I had almost forgotten that it was coming out when it did, and me and my lady bought tickets to see it on my birthday. I stood in the line and chatted with some film school friends we had bumped into and all the while in the back of my head i was thinking: “Here it is, i’ve waited for this movie for 3 years, why am i not more excited to see it?”
I don’t have the answer to this question, when the film was finished and i left with my lady that sense of elation that i had with Batman Begins was missing, completely i might add. I didn’t feel disappointed with what i had seen but i came out just wondering what i was going to do next, and it certainly wasn’t to start the process of waiting for the sequel again. Which brings us to:
The elephant in the room is indeed Heath Ledger’s Joker, and what a Joker he is. Ledger brings us a person who is equal parts viscous and darkly funny, and like a perfect storm he is endlessly fascinating to watch. His presence and performance not only steals every scene he’s in it makes his absence in all the others almost unbearable. For better or worse, it is with this film that Ledger has left his mark on pop culture for years to come.
Yes there is plenty good about The Dark Knight that i haven’t covered, its script, its performances, but what i don’t like about the film has eaten up most of my thoughts on the it, and i’m not going to spend hours sitting at my keyboard trying to find nice things to say about it when millions of people already have.
There are only a few things that the film does by itself that i don’t like, the rest is mostly a result of my own expectations and experiences leading up to my viewing.
One of things that threw me off is the recasting of Rachel Dawes with Maggie Gyllenhaal as opposed to Katie Holmes. Recasting at least for me seldom ever works, i have difficulty applying the new person’s face to the character that i knew and liked before, so that immediately throws a small wrench into the film. While yes Gyllenhaal is indeed the better actress the part really didn’t need one, Holmes would’ve done just fine with the material in The Dark Knight. As a result of this difficulty the whole relationship between Bruce and Rachel doesn’t fit well with me. I can’t help but not accept that this Rachel is the same person as in Batman Begins and that lends her death a sense of hollowness.
Another thing is that they killed off Two Face, and i had expected him to play a major role in the upcoming sequel, it was kind of shock and i had trouble accepting that such a major villain whom is so close to Bruce and Batman was given so little room in the series to breath. Not to mention in a series that wants to present as realistic portrayal of this world as possible, his design is laughably cartoonish in appearance and a disappointment to see when it is unveiled in all its CGI glory.
Also it would seem that i just don’t really care what happens to Bruce at all in this film, he put his fears behind him and now he must face what he created. As a result those father son themes that help me hold Batman Begins in such high regard are missing for the most part and it leaves a major hole in the character. This change is necessary however as Bruce Wayne must evolve throughout the series in order to not become a boring static character, and it is in the francise’s best nature that he change. However it still saps much of that “likability” that i had of Bruce in Batman Begins. Here he is indeed a completely unrelatable man to me: rich, slightly psychotic, and runs around in a suit at night.
The majority of the rest comes from my over saturation with the film and its marketing. I have already said that i watched the trailer to death (hundreds of times i mean that quite literally) and therefore all of the moments in it were spoiled. No tension was preserved for the scene where Batman almost runs over the Joker in the streets. Through the watching and the reading of those trailer breakdowns an image and expectation formed of what the story would be and how it would play out, and as The Dark Knight continued to unspool and very little of my expectations were met my dissatisfaction grew. It also didn’t help that i had already watched (and used up my excitement of watching) the opening scene about six months previous to watching the actual film, and i will say that is a dreadful way to start a movie.
You can hopefully see how all of this starts to add up, how my disappointments and dissatisfaction snowball, and to this day i can’t shake these disappointments from my viewings of the film. I can’t build up enough excitement about it as it was all spent out a month before i saw the film, but one of the biggest detriments to my enjoyment is what happened after the film came out.
Everyone i knew loved it, heralded it as a water shed moment and cinematic achievement of the decade, but to me i was just confused as to why i didn’t like it as much as everyone else. I watched it i believe 3 times and my opinion never improved, but everyone elses stayed the same. It was maddening, i couldn’t understand why, i envied those that came out of the screenings just as excited as i was when i came out of Begins. There was that IMDB debacle where people were trying to vote it up and declare it the best movie ever made as if it’s ranking on a website would assure that.
Then there was the constant proclamations and lobbying and pressure that Heath Ledger get the Oscar and the riot and anarchy that would reign if he were snubbed. I’m going to be brutally honest here and say if Ledger hadn’t died he would not have gotten the Oscar guys, did he deserve one? Sure, he gave a monumental performance, but it was in no way a one horse race as, Robert Downey Jr. gave an equally memorable performance in Tropic Thunder and he stood no chance of winning against the three other Oscar bait contenders nor would Ledger, had he not tragically died. After all The Dark Knight wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture nor was Nolan nominated for Best Director.
Although these problems don’t effect the movie in and of themselves, the saturation of The Dark Knight in the theatres and movie news and forums really soured my opinon to all of this.
It continues to puzzle me why i don’t love The Dark Knight. I’ve probably spent hundreds of hours pondering why its been years since i’ve watched it, and it will be years before i do so again. I suppose it’s because it’s not just one thing, but an amalgamation of many different little things. However if i was forced to choose i place the blame completely upon my dried up enthusiasm and self-induced over hyping, this is what the after math of Episode One must’ve felt like for all the people who hate it. The film collapsed under the weight of my own expectations and it could never have been as good as i wanted it to be or as i needed it to be.
I wish i could side with popular opinion and rate The Dark Knight higher, but that would just be lying to myself and i’m not going to do that, not ever. If you want a recommendation, yes it is a good movie and worth seeing but i don’t think i will ever really like it.
** 1/2 OUT OF FIVE