Monday, July 21, 2008

BuboBlog Reviews 'The Dark Knight'

Given that "The Dark Knight" made $155 million in its opening weekend, America apparently didn't wait for the BuboBlog review before seeing the movie. Well, here it is anyway. Screw you, America.

It was hard to avoid having super-high expectations going into this movie. I mean, Christopher Nolan is always awesome. Heath Ledger was supposedly great. And there was talk of it being the best superhero film of all time.

The truth? It's good, maybe great. But probably not the best superhero movie of all time — or even of the summer. (That honor goes to "Iron Man"). It's also not the best film of Nolan's career. I still think "Memento" and the vastly underrated "The Prestige" are his pinnacle achievements. I give "The Dark Knight" ***1/2 (out of four).

Even though I liked the movie, and Ledger was indeed great, I won't use this review to further praise the film — you've already seen plenty of that elsewhere. So I'll focus on what didn't work. (Some minor spoilers below.)

1. There was too much going on. It wasn't especially hard to follow the plot, even though it got a little convoluted at times. But there were interesting ideas that were never fully explored because they had to share screen time with so many other plotlines. In addition to the Joker, there's Harvey Dent/Two Face, mafia kingpins, Chinese money launderers, blackmailing disgruntled Wayne Enterprises employees, copycat batmen, and even the Scarecrow (from "Batman Begins"), who returns for an absolutely useless cameo.

Nolan presents intriguing elements: such as a "prisoner's dilemma"-type problem involving two ferries wired to explode. Or a setup in which the Joker calls on Gotham to assassinate a man to prevent the destruction of a hospital.

But it's hard to sink your teeth into these scenarios because Nolan jumps right to the next thing. With the hospital threat, the joker blows up the hospital after everyone has been evacuated. So who cares...the tension just petered out.

You got the feeling that the dirty-cops issue was supposed to be a big deal — a la "The Departed." But it just comes off as a not-too-interesting sideline.

There's one scene where the Joker torches a giant pile of money. While it burns, he meets with a crime boss. The scene ends with him telling his men to kill the mobster. But what was the point of this scene? Does it mean the Joker took over Gotham's organized crime world? Or did they rebuff him because he's a "freak"? It's muddled...

"The Dark Knight" also touches on the issue of spying on people in order to fight crime. It's odd because the movie seems to be making the point that you shouldn't do this. And yet, essentially, Batman thwarts the Joker (and saves lives) by tapping into innocent people's phones. Isn't that exactly what George Bush wants to do?

You compare all this with "Iron Man," which wasn't as ambitious with its plotting and had a fairly conventional showdown at the end. But the point was always clear, with fewer of the murkiness between plotlines.

2. The dialogue in "The Dark Knight" wasn't as snappy as "Iron Man's." And it often veered into cliche territory, such as Dent saying, "It's always darkest before the dawn." Some of the lines that Batman delivers to the Joker during their final confrontation come off as clunky and overwrought.

3. The visual look of Gotham is no longer, well, Gothic. I think it's great that Nolan is trying to be as realistic as he can within the realm of a superhero story, but the city basically just looks like Chicago with its identifying characteristics removed. (There's a funny part where someone mentions Gotham's bridge-and-tunnel crowd. As far as I know, this term is never applied to Chicago because the only bridges are the ones crossing the rivers inside the city, no? But maybe Gotham has bridges and tunnels. It's also noted in the movie that metropolitan Gotham has 30 million people. That would make it much bigger than any real-life U.S. city.)

Nolan's first Batman movie never had the over-the-top look of Tim Burton's films, but Gotham was a comic book city. The crumbling tenements of the Narrows neighborhood were dark and creepy and didn't resemble a real, modern American city. There's nothing like that in "The Dark Knight."

4. Pretty minor point here, but I wonder if Maggie Gyllenhaal could have been shot in a more flattering light? She takes the role that Katie Holmes played in the first film. While she may be a step up from Holmes in the acting department, she looks a bit haggard in much of the film...unlike Christian Bale, who looks awesome — and as Gavin-esque as ever!