The Dark Knight’s Problem
(Before you get started, feel free to read Jim Emerson’s recent detailed analysis – not only of the movie, but of his initial nalysis of the movie. Yay, meta-analysis!)
One day, I will make a film that is not as good as I think it is. And on that day, a smug 20-something will take to the internet and tear it apart.
Karma is a bitch.
It’s getting to the point when I bring up The Dark Knight, people groan and roll their eyes in the same way they do when I bring up President Lincoln. Why, exactly, do I feel the need to attack this bastion of goodness, this beloved icon, this epic moral center of so many peoples’ lives?
Many worse movies came out in 2008 and since. Yet I’ve given none of them as many words as this one. Mostly, I think, because people treat it as the apex of cinema, and as someone who not only works in the arts, but watches a lot of movies, this bothers me greatly. I don’t care if you like it (or whether you think it’s good or bad – and I submit it’s fairly good), but if it gets upheld as a standard for filmmaking for the upcoming generation of moviemakers, the overall quality of films made will decline.
The Dark Knight is powerful. Ledger’s performance, big explosions, bad villains with far different motives, Gyllenhaal rather than Holmes, yada, yada, good. But it wasn’t thoroughly enjoyable (subjective) or well-done (objective).
1. The emotional climaxes are in the wrong places.
When most of your movie is running at fever pitch, you must necessarily add a few spaces for the audience to breathe. Unfortunately, The Dark Knight puts them in the wrong places, places where Humans In Danger should be more hyped up. This results in an imbalance, a feeling of unreality the movie can’t overcome. You really mean to tell me on two ships, one full of hardened criminals and one full of civilians who have never been in such a situation, no panic breaks out? Everyone just listens to one impromptu speaker and accepts his authority?
(The key to this quandary is that though the movie never tells us the charges are rigged so whoever pushed the button would blow themselves up. How do I know this? Well, they have to be, that’s all.)
The movie touches on mob mentality when the city turns against Batman, but mob mentality tends toward the degenerative, especially in stressful circumstances involving only strangers, as better demonstrated here. The movie should have played panic up in the boat situation and compensated by giving some of the conversational scenes more restraint, or even giving the guests at the party (more on that later) less shreiking to do, as that was a situation where drawing attention to oneself would likely have a negative effect on you individually.
2. The editing is horrid.
As an editor, I cringe at that blanket statement. After all, one can only edit with what one is given, and a bad shot list, poor direction, and continuity errors may not give you much to work with. Then, even after you’ve tried to fix what may actually be bad cinematography, acting, or planning, the director comes and stands over your shoulder and makes all sorts of revisions. No matter that it disrupts the spacial organization, no matter that it crosses the 180-line at every cut, the audience won’t notice or care! Perhaps I should say, the edit is extremely horrid. <– detailed video analysis
Subconsciously viewers must notice, but many didn’t care. That poor editor was probably just waiting for feedback to vindicate his arguments, and instead the cheering drowned out his groans.
3. [The wrong] storylines are left hanging.
I’ve no idea whether this was do to cuts in the edit room or simply terrible writing. The most egregious error is when Batman leaps out the window after Rachel, and in the next cut we see . . . Commissioner Gordon in his office the next morning. What happened to all the terrified partygoers? Did the minions continue to terrorize them? Did they all die? Did they continue searching for Harvey Dent? Speaking of which, where did Harvey go to? Or, perhaps, did the Joker yell ‘CUT’ and the minions happily took off their masks and dispersed, arm-in-arm with the partygoers? It’s an egregious oversight.
Worse, though, is how the villains are treated. Let’s be blunt. When Heath Ledger died, the film had yet to be finished, and had 6 months until premiering. To kill Two-Face and let the Joker’s escape was the second-worst of all possible moves (the worse being an end of the Joker which too closely mimicked real life). What should have happened was, remove the ambiguity about the Joker, and cut Two-Face’s death scene, which is already problematic. Why? Because to introduce Harvey, then injure him, then turn him into Two-Face, is quite an arc for one of Batman’s greatest villains, let alone to include his death. Let him live for the third movie. Heck, let him live to haunt the edges of Gotham’s underbelly and never be mentioned in the Nolan trilogy again. Just don’t try to contain his character arc in one film, especially one that already has a bigger-than-life villain.
The Dark Knight is an enjoyable blockbuster, and I’m looking forward to seeing The Dark Knight Rises. Though I don’t actually expect a fine work of art, I’m going to withhold judgement (and review reading) until I see it.
After that, expect judgement.