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The UNpopular Opinion: The Dark Knight

09.23.2010


written by Gino Pagliuca

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

You all knew this film was bound to come up. By now the thought has crossed your mind that perhaps this column is a sad attempt to piss people off and get innocent, fun-loving fanboys’ Star Wars underoos in a bunch. I say you're wrong, my imaginary friends. Before going any further please be sure you've understood the disclaimer above, and more important still, that I am now the 4th contributor to this column. That's right, I'm not the same guy that hated THE GODFATHER, or the other guy that liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. Nope, I'm just the sumbitch that thinks THE DARK KNIGHT has gotten far more credit than it deserves (Masterpiece? Really?!). Actually, it’s a terrible movie and I'm not here to discuss what I think we can all agree works in the film (visuals and effects, and most of the principal actors), but rather most (not all) of the stuff that doesn't work for me.

First off, some pertinent background info on yours truly: I love Batman. Like most, I dig him because he's a real guy with pretty cool gadgets, kick-ass ass-kicking ability, and a brain that never quits (and he seems to do pretty well with the ladies). I grew-up on the Adam West series, watched Burton bring him to brooding life on the big screen (only to have Schumacher turn it into ice capades), love the look of Bruce Timm's Animated Series, and since childhood have read stacks of comics and landmark paperbacks about the caped crusader: My all-time favorite is Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli's YEAR ONE. I’ve always enjoyed a serious approach to the character, which is why Christopher Nolan, director of the entertaining modern-noir brain teaser, MEMENTO, seemed to me the perfect choice to make audiences believe a man could fight crime while donning a bat suit in the real world (mind you, I was just as happy when they announced Darren Aronofsky was working on a reboot before him). I guess this is a good time to remind you that we're not here to talk about BATMAN BEGINS.

"And here… we… go!"


“Oh, hi doggie.”

Its a stretch, but I get the fascination and excitement that has propelled THE DARK KNIGHT to mega-blockbuster status (to the tune of 1 billion dollars worldwide). What I don't understand is how this film became a critical darling, so much so that it was considered one of 2008's Best Films by many, and had various filmmaking nominations to back that up. Let's get the nitpicking out of the way first, and by that I mean, dogs.

To be fair I actually appreciate the inclusion of a detail like Bats’ inability to fend off canine attacks, that is if it were only a detail. Mentioned throughout the film in several beats of expository dialog, I can’t help but wonder why Nolan constantly wants to draw our attention to dogs and how dangerous they are. Why does such a smart man with access to some of the most technologically advanced crime-fighting gadgets have so much trouble neutralizing man’s best friend? Whatever that reason might be it's clear that The Chechen (one of many B-grade mob bosses featured in the film) and The Joker are savvy to this Achilles’ heel. I guess if you had an endless crop of henchmen to do your bidding, like every illegal outfit in this film seems to have, surely you could delegate a few men to doggie duty.

This brings me to nitpick number 2; where do all these lackeys come from? I imagine a scenario similar to the one in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (the 1990 movie), where runaways and generally misguided youth are seduced by pizza and video games to a depot that shelters and trains them to become the very best at mindless wrong-doing. It's not something I can’t get past, but it’s the kind of cliché I would expect such a film to handle with more care and restraint.

The last bit of this entrée is dedicated to the easy ditch that is Dr. Jonathan Crane’s (Scarecrow) apprehension. A major threat in BATMAN BEGINS, we find him here peddling drugs in parking lots like a low-level thug with a goofy mask. Despite Batman having to defeat the aforementioned henchmen, dogs, Batmen copy-cats, and even tripping over the use of his own silly metal-bending gadget, he still manages to bring Scarecrow’s getaway to a screeching halt by landing on the van’s roof and collapsing the suspension - accomplished with the weight of his own body. Insult to injury, Bruce Wayne’s biggest concern following that scene was the dogs.


“hooooooooooooooooooooooockkk…”

I think we can all agree that Christian Bale’s choice for Batman’s voice was, to put it mildly, shit; and it doesn't help that they gave his alter ego so much dialog. There are many instances where his actions would have been plenty; one such moment being when he bothers to respond to Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts), who mocks Batman’s choice of holding him over a ledge only a few stories high because the threat of this fall won't kill him, with “I’m counting on it”! It's minor here, but I mention this scene because it also showcases another problem with our hero; no one fears him anymore.

No one is impressed by this man, his costume, his car and all the shit that suggests. Harvey Dent hardly gives him a second look when they first meet, having summoned him to the GPD rooftop using the bat-light, because he’s too busy talking to Gordon. I suppose this lack of interest suits Bruce Wayne just fine since it also doesn’t seem anyone wants to know his secret identity anymore (I'm not counting that half-assed blackmail scenario, which is just another plot device to trigger one of the Joker's hair-brain schemes). Even when Batman blows up the side of a building in China, we never get a clue that authorities there really care to put together the obvious pieces; that Gotham’s protector kidnapped the same man that Wayne Enterprises was doing business with (this info would at least make it to those crime bosses who could surely figure it out, no?). I would think the world’s greatest detective would have considered this and avoided the link by performing this stunt without the costume. After-all he did bother to set-up that alibi with the boat-load of Russian ballerinas!

What about Bruce/Batman, the friend? With Harvey’s face irreparably disfigured, his girl murdered in cold blood, and his purpose as a whole rendered to shit, it couldn’t possibly get worse, could it? It can and it does when Batman brings Dent his lucky coin, which he just so happened to find while standing 6 feet above a pile of rubble, now charred on one side from the explosion that killed Rachel. The fact that this might severely piss Dent off never seemed to have crossed his mind: What an asshole.

Finally, its his brash decision-making, which like everything else he does, just doesn’t make sense. The best example I can think of is the plan he proposes to Gordon at the very end, after having been unconcious only moments ago. When did he come up with this whole plan, and why does he have to have Gordon execute it right then? Why does Gordon go along with it? Its completely reasonable that he would disappear so he could clear his head, catch his breath and make an informed decision the following day. Nope, instead they wrap up the movie right then and there with lots and lots of dialog.

I conclude that, while unintentional on the part of the filmmakers (another reason they blew it), Batman/Bruce Wayne is not very good at what he does. He can’t track the deadly Joker (who not only sticks out like a sore thumb with or without make-up, but his plans involve using giant barrels of gas and explosives, bright yellow school buses in broad daylight that crash into banks, and busting up penthouse parties Batman's actually attending, to name a few) at any capacity without the use of some epically bullshit gadgets (the cell phone whatever-you-call-it). Not to mention that his carelessness gets loads of innocent people hurt or killed throughout the film (everything involving Harvey Dent’s transport scene). In one scene intended to break the tension and offer a laugh, we see some kids alone in the back seat of a car pretending to shoot at the other parked cars which coincidentally begin to explode at that very moment (courtesy of the bat-pod). What’s actually going on in that scene (Batman is causing an insane amount of property damage), what could have happened (kids could have been blown to bits) and what possibly happened (he killed other civilians that were napping or chilling in their cars. Why not, those kids were there, right?) is nuts, and yet he never stops to consider any of this.


“The A-Team ain’t got nothin’ on me”!

Now how about that Joker? Here was the one bright spot and truly inspired part of the movie (courtesy of the late great, Heath Ledger), and yet you never believe or care about any of his actions. He can tell us how crazy he is or what he’s done or is going to do, and it may or may not be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that what he’s getting away with so easily is complete bullshit (he blows up the entire Police precinct and everyone around seems to die or disappear, but he's left standing). There doesn’t seem to be any safety net with this guy, but it quickly goes from potentially thrilling to utterly dull. He’s perfectly reckless, but considering the scope of his plans (a bank heist, assassination attempts, flinging corpses from skyscrapers, blowing up hospitals, rigging 2 ferries to blow, rigging warehouses to blow up Rachel and Harvey, rigging a fat crook to blow so he can escape from jail – you get the picture) and his methods, I never believe he could get that done; especially considering that whole movies are made that revolve around any single one of those complex schemes.


“I know this doesn't make any sense, and sure we haven't really tested it, but trust me... you'll get the hang of it.”

Not unlike James Bond, Batman typically has a wide variety of cool and handy gadgets that are just the thing he needs to get out of a tight spot. Well, the gadgets are here, but most of them don’t seem to serve their purpose. The clunky bat-pod I mentioned before can hardly turn (unless the script requires it to, as it does when it manages to weave under Joker’s rig as they race towards each other) or breeze through traffic without having to blow stuff up. But as uncool and impractical they made the bat-pod seem, that cell-phone monstrosity they rigged up at the end of the film takes the cake. There isn’t one thing about that machine that the film can sell. I have no problem swallowing a spoonful of bullshit for the sake of entertainment if you make it sweet, but everything they showcase about this machine just seems implausible and useless. Sure, Lucius somehow uses it in the movie, but it's the equivalent of watching a kid sitting in a soap box pretending it's a rocket-ship. They could just as easily have said the machine could give the Joker a brain tumor at the push of a button and it would made as much sense.


“Wanna see my stamp collection?"

Its clear that Nolan, or the Nolan bros., feel the need to tell their story via dialog; probably the most excruciating part of sitting through THE DARK KNIGHT. Despite the many problems I have with it, this is what makes it unbearable. I could hardly make it 8min. through the movie (why would that mobster say “Pity there’s only one of you”? when he sees the single Batman silhouette, only to discover, yes, there’s many more! This kind of stuff happens throughout the film and it's like dragging nails across a chalkboard). With the very best of everything at his disposal (visuals, sound, actors and effects), he still needs to have characters conversing in every scene about what is happening or what is going to happen, or have them offer some convenient bit of info or insight. You could excise that whole conversation from the opening heist between the clowns as they discuss who "this Joker guy" is, and it would instantly be a better scene (it would still have problems, just less). Unfortnately, even with the cop-out dialog, very little ties together. The plot plays out like a chess match where Nolan controls both sides of the board and moves his pieces around however he feels to suit his story; it doesn't work. In a scene where the Joker throws Rachel off a building only to be saved in a nick of time by Batman (still a painful looking crash), not only does she seem unimpressed, but we cut from here to another scene without ever knowing what happened to the Joker (or anyone else for that matter). A TDK fan pointed out to me that "he probably took the elevator down, got in his car and left". Thanks for that.


“Those guys better show up from behind me soon or this is gonna get awwwwwkwaaaaard.”

This isn’t a costumed version of THE UNTOUCHABLES or HEAT, although it certainly seems like it wanted to play in that sandbox. In the end, THE DARK KNIGHT fails by its own standards; it wants to be realistic and taken seriously, and yet if audiences do so the film self-destructs. There are some great ideas but most are poorly developed. What makes it all the more disappointing is when you consider how much genuine hard work went into all aspects of this production with the clear intention of making a quality film. No doubt about it, I have gotten carried away on certain points, and still left several untouched. That said, I look forward to reading your comments and thoughts on the film below, and hopefully take part in a healthy and interesting discussion.

Read the fan reviews of THE DARK KNIGHT over at Movie Fan Central and post your own agreement/rebuttal on your own MFC page!

Extra Tidbit: INCEPTION is this year’s THE DARK KNIGHT (I enjoyed it more than the latter, but calling it a masterpiece baffles me).
Source: JoBlo.com

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