A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Dark Knight

August 30, 2010

The Dark Knight

Let me start out by saying right up front that I don’t believe that this is as good a movie as Batman Begins. Its plot is convoluted and inconsistent. It gives the impression of being written by committee and perhaps re-written as well. The deus-ex-machina super tech device Batman uses in the movie’s conclusion is not only a cop out because it gives Batman powers he never had in the cannon but it contributes nothing to the end of the movie.

Oh, the movie has its great parts. Plenty of them. It just gets it a bit muddled.

Let’s start with the good bits. The greatest of which, naturally, is Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning portrayal of the Joker. As I said in the conclusion to my review last night The Dark Knight is about villains. It’s about what breaks a man and drives him to unspeakable acts. What’s funny about this is that we get no real insight into what created the Joker. He bursts onto the scene fully realized as an unpredictable force of nature. What’s so delightful about Ledger’s Joker is that he’s such a simple character. I am reminded of Don John in Much Ado About Nothing: “though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.” The joker is an odd mix of impulsive acts of random violence with meticulously planned schemes. At one point he claims to be “a man of his word,” which is pretty much true. No matter how brash and insane his ultimatums may appear he does follow through on them.

The way Heath portrays the Joker, with his twitches, his gravelly voice and his strange mannerisms, is mesmerizing and horrifying. The Joker of the comic books uses “laughing gas” to kill people and leave their faces in a taught grin, but this Joker isn’t scarred by chemical burns, he is just scarred by violence. (It’s never explained where he gets his scars, and it doesn’t really matter.) So he mutilates his victims in a much more hands-on way; with knives. It’s more real, more direct, and lends a lot of tension to scenes in the film.

The other primary character introduced in this movie is Harvey Dent. Aaron Eckhart portrays Harvey and has to embody his tragic tale. I do appreciate the tone that Chris Nolan has chosen to take with the story of Two Face. He’s always been a sort of sad figure, what with his fall from grace and descent into madness. Nolan here removes a lot of Dent’s obsession with duality and concentrates instead on his transformation from a steadfast crusader for justice into a madman who relies on chance to remove any responsibility for the atrocities he commits in his insanity. Once he gives up on the notion of justice it’s not Harvey Dent that does any of the killing – it’s the coin that commands him and absolves him.

If anything I kind of wish this aspect of Dent’s tragedy could have been explored in greater depth. One of the problems the movie has is that once it has meticulously spent a couple hours bringing Harvey to the breaking point and pushing him over it then has to quickly resolve his plot in double time. This is symptomatic of a greater problem that plagues the entire movie; it is very strangely paced. The meat of the movie is in the Joker and his schemes and Dent and his fall, but there’s a whole lot of superfluous stuff padding out the first half of the film. There’s a plot about all the remaining mob bosses in Gotham pooling their money and having it stolen by a bookkeeper from China which is entirely unnecessary. You could cut everything having to do with the mob and Lau and it would leave the movie much streamlined and tighter. Maybe it would have allowed for more time resolving Dent’s plot.

Another problem is the Joker’s wildly changing attitude towards Batman. At the start of the movie he tells the mob mosses that he’ll kill Batman for them in exchange for money. Then he tells the people of Gotham that he’ll kill people every day until Batman gives himself up and removes his mask. Then in a sudden and complete 180 he declares that he DOESN’T want Batman’s identity revealed after all and will blow up a hospital unless somebody kills the one person who claims to know Batman’s identity. On the one hand it makes little sense to expect consistency from a madman like the Joker, but on the other he is portrayed as somebody with simple tastes for chaos and violence who knows what he wants and will hesitate at nothing to achieve it, so this strangely morphing attitude towards Batman feels wrong.

My final problem with the movie is the entire final act with the Joker. He has this moment of absolute triumph where he has succeeded in corrupting Harvey Dent and created Two Face, and blown up a hospital besides (by far my favorite scene in the movie) and then he goes off on this complete tangent. Rather than concentrating the end of the movie on Harvey Dent and what the Joker describes as a battle for Gotham’s soul there’s this silly extrapolation of the prisoner’s dilemma with a bunch of people trapped on a pair of ferries. To top that off there’s the sonar technology that Batman uses to battle Joker’s minions and a couple SWAT teams, which doesn’t actually contribute to the resolution of things in any way and is just an excuse to have a bunch of swirly blue and white computer animation during a fight scene.

Part of what made Batman Begins so wonderful was the way that the story was told on so many levels and was so cleverly threaded through the whole movie. This movie has a deeper and darker story to tell, but it loses the plot and ambles off into generic action movie land in the later half. Still: I enjoyed watching it again in spite of its flaws because Heath Ledger’s Joker is so compelling, terrifying and entertaining. I could wish that it were more, but I do appreciate it for what it is.

August 30, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,


  1. I’ve always thought that this film relied heavily on characters (and acting ability) in a way the other Batman films do not. Plot is secondary in this film, but Ledger was just so flipping wonderful that I just don’t care. 🙂

    Comment by Trisha | August 31, 2010 | Reply

    • Oh, there’s no doubt that it’s more character driven than your average summer action flick. You’ll notice that I didn’t really spend any time in my review talking about the special effects or the action, which is because I think of this as more of a serious drama set in the Batman universe. And, yes, Ledger is reason enough to watch the film over and over again.

      Comment by tanatoes | September 1, 2010 | Reply

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