Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stubs - The Dark Knight

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Based on characters by Bob Kane. Produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, and Charles Roven. Run Time: 152. Color. U.S. Action, Adventure, Comic Book.

I will admit while I’ve seen this film at least three times, I’m a little at a loss to explain why this was such a runaway hit when it was first released, bringing in more than a billion dollars worldwide. It is very dark and a little long for my tastes, but obviously not for a vast majority of moviegoers.

Let me start out by acknowledging the obvious: Heath Ledger’s Joker was one of the highlights of the movie. It was not a performance I would have expected from Ledger, but it points to what should have been a remarkable career. Ledger’s death prior to the film’s release makes the loss of that potential even sadder.

But while Ledger’s performance is mesmerizing, the film isn’t always. And there are plot holes that you could drive a big yellow school bus through. The Joker is depicted as a loner against the well-established mobs in Gotham City, but he has to be one of the most well-organized of all criminals ever. His plans are always flawless, not just in their set up and execution, but also in the anticipation of how people will react to the obstacles he places before them.

A prime example of that is the sequence involving transporting D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who claims to be Batman, from the City to County Jail. That motorcade is doomed from the start as the police fail to secure the route and then make one dumb decision after another. But The Joker is ready with not only a willing legion of big truck drivers and rigs but also with machine guns and bazookas. And when the police decide to abandon the route, the Joker seems to have anticipated that as well, down to the street they would use, etc.

In addition to his prowess of planning, he seems to have an endless legion of minions, even after he kills off the first group of accomplices in the bank robbery that opens the film. Doesn’t word of that sort of thing spread through the underground of gangsters?

The Joker’s crew though isn’t limited to hoods but includes truck drivers and policemen. You have to wonder how someone that burns all their money can afford to keep such a criminal enterprise going. But apparently, a guy that claims not to plan things out is omnipresent. He knows which policewoman has a mother in the hospital, while at the same time has the time to plant explosives on two separate ferries leaving Gotham. And in addition to being everywhere, no one ever seems to see him doing any of that setup.

Take for example the opening. The Joker makes his escape on a school bus by driving it through the wall of a bank building and getting in line with other school buses which happen to have space enough for his. Either all the other school bus drivers are in on the heist or the bus driver behind him doesn’t think it’s worth calling in the incident that had taken place right in front of him. Either way I find it hard to believe, even in the context of a comic-based world that no one notices a guy with green hair, white face makeup, and red lipstick.

If anything, The Dark Knight suffers from almost too much plot. The battle between Batman and The Joker wasn’t enough, so they throw in, almost wedging it in, the story of Two-Face, Harvey Dent disfigured after being burned in a Joker plot that also kills off Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Someone who had been a crusader against criminals blames Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldham) for his losses, rather than the Joker, who he is even in a position to kill at one point, but off-screen doesn’t and for no explanation.

Another thing that perplexes me is the major change that Gotham has gone through between Batman Begins and this movie. Even though three years have passed since the first film’s release, Batman Begins ends by setting up this film, which suggests the action in Dark Knight is a continuation. In the meantime, Gotham City has gone through a radical change and doesn’t look like it used to. How can that be explained? And it bothered me that every public building seemed to be new and modern. Gotham’s big General Hospital seems too new and too small for the city it’s supposed to serve. 

Usually, old General hospitals are large, marble structures dating back from the WPA days. But Gotham’s is only about four stories tall and looks much more modern. Apparently, Gotham City doesn’t suffer from any of the infrastructure problems every other major city has, where public buildings are used until they fall down. Gone too is the mass transit system from Batman Begins as well as Arkham Asylum. I think what made these changes stand out for me so much was an extra on the Batman Begins Blu-ray that discusses designing Gotham and the care they took in doing so. In this movie, all that planning seems to have been thrown out. For me, at least, it was jarring.

Getting back to the acting, Christian Bale is a good choice to play Bruce Wayne and Batman, with the exception of being Batman’s voice. In this film, as well as in the first, the voice is so different as to be almost comical. Obviously, Bale is trying to distinguish his Batman voice from his Bruce Wayne, but when you see the effort being made, some of the magic is lost. What’s worse is that Howard Wollowitz (Simon Helberg) and Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) on TV’s Big Bang Theory can both make the same voice.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is an acting upgrade from Katie Holmes, who played Rachel in the first movie, but she is not as pretty as her predecessor. Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) put in solid performances as minor though important characters in the first two (and presumably the third film as well). The rest of the supporting cast, including Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon) all put in good showings.

The Dark Knight has all the makings of a good movie: An accomplished director, well-known comic book characters to build on and a great bit of acting from Heath Ledger. However, it goes on too long and tries to wedge in too much story. After a while, the viewer finds himself waiting for the movie to be over, which is never a good sign. Having not seen the third and final Nolan directed feature, I think this trilogy could have made five movies, rather than three.

The Dark Knight is available at the WB Shop:

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