I found this weekend’s record-breaking grosses for “The Dark Knight” terribly depressing. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I was part of those grosses, we saw the film on Sunday night. I did not care for the film but my fear about its massive profits rests more in how this will affect the already vision-impaired movie executives who, in their idiocy, will interpret this as a clarion call to green-light an endless list of superhero movies and to put the kibosh on anything that includes skilled character development.
Not that I have any desire to trash the talented actors and filmmakers who gave us the newest Batman flick. Director Christopher Nolan, along with “Dark Knight” screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, cinematographer Wally Pfister, and stars Christian Bale and Michael Caine were all in our house two years ago when our first floor was transformed into a period London tavern for Nolan’s film “The Prestige.” They couldn’t have been nicer or more professional. I am a huge fan of Nolan’s film “Memento” and I liked “Batman Begins.” But this one? Not so much.
I just didn’t get it. The look of the film was great although I preferred the old stylized versions of Gotham City instead of the clearly recognizable downtown Chicago streets that were used here. Batman’s gadgets were top-notch but maybe we’re so used to those by now they’re just not that exciting (I remember how in the James Bond movies of the 60s, the introduction of each film’s gadgets was always so thrilling—are we just too jaded in today’s high-tech world?). The violence was so intense and pervasive that I’m starting to give more credence to the folks that claim such films desensitize young people and run the risk of turning us all into crazed killers. After two hours and forty minutes of such unrelenting violence, I was ready to grab a machine gun and mow down all the people in the sold-out theatre who were talking or texting during the film.
The acting? I can’t complain although I have to admit I was far more interested in Bale’s zillionaire Bruce Wayne than I was in his monotone, nearly lifeless Batman. My favorite Christian Bale performances were when he played a young Nazi in “Swing Kids” and as the emaciated Trevor Reznik in “The Machinist.” Now word comes today that he spent four hours in a London police station this morning being questioned about allegations from his mother and sister that he assaulted them on Sunday night. Bale has denied the charges, but WTF? Something is going on in that family. What really got my attention in the news report is that the police did not question him on Monday because they did not want to interfere with last night’s European premiere of “The Dark Knight.” Excuse me? The police ignored an official complaint of assault because of a movie premiere? Did those orders come from the Gotham City PD?
The biggest draw this weekend was undoubtedly Heath Ledger, who was quite good in his creepy portrayal of the Joker—certainly light years away from Cesar Romero or Jack Nicholson’s take on the character. I’ve no doubt a substantial portion of the weekend grosses are due to the curiosity of many to see Ledger’s final performance. I just hope his young daughter doesn’t see it—not exactly the way anyone would want to remember Daddy. I doubt that this disturbing role had anything to do with Ledger’s accidental death last January despite the salacious reports that try to connect his own Dark Side to the Joker’s. Ledger was an extremely talented actor who was able to disappear into every part he played. As riveting as he was in the film, I’m just sorry they didn’t provide the Joker with more of an interesting back story. I could have used a little less crazy, a little more character analysis.
I think Michael Caine was the perfect choice for Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler and Batman’s confidante. The friends we were with accused Caine of phoning in his performance but at least he provided a few light moments in this deadly serious tale. I get that the Batman movies have tried to distance themselves from the slapstick fun of the 1960s TV series, but could someone inform the producers that even serious films could use a few laughs? Hell, there were scenes in “Sophie’s Choice” that had me in stitches, but “The Dark Knight” takes itself so seriously I would've needed to grab the Joker’s paring knife to put a smile on my face. Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman were both wasted, and what was with Freeman’s sudden bout of ethics? He’s fine with all sorts of mayhem, illegal activity, and danger, but he draws the line when Bruce Wayne figures out a way to bug every cell phone in Gotham City in order to catch the Joker? Was that a veiled criticism of the Patriot Act?
Maggie Gyllenhaal took over the thankless role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes for this film, but in my opinion that part should have been tossed the minute Holmes turned down the sequel. Dawes is not even a “real” Batman character, she was invented for the last film in an attempt to give the series a character that provided Batman with the same angst that Spiderman had to face with Kirsten Dunst. But Dunst’s character achieved its purpose beautifully while Rachel Dawes’ motivations never made any sense. (And just to be clear, I am a huge fan of Gyllenhaal’s, I just didn’t think she belonged in this film.)
Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent is an interesting character and he does a good job with the District Attorney who becomes an Obama-like savior for the desperate citizens of crime-ridden Gotham City, but (warning: spoiler ahead!) his transformation into Harvey Two-Face is absurd. To go from being such a fantastic guy to a child-killing monster all because of a severe facial disfigurement makes no psychological sense at all. Eckhart’s makeup or the CGI effects that ravaged half of his face were excellent (notice how even after he turns into Two-Face, he is still coiffing and blow drying the side of his head with that perfect hair) but more was needed to make this character work.
Oy, enough with my sniping already, don’t you just hate people who endlessly kvetch about other people’s creative endeavors? I do admire Nolan’s attempts to re-invent this character. My only question is—why? If I had my way, they’d retire the series and let Nolan use his creativity to make more truly original films like “Memento.” But fat chance of that after the biggest opening weekend in movie history. Still, who am I to diss a movie that seems to be striking such a nerve? I should shut up until I come out with my own Batman flick. Of course, MY version would star 79-year old Adam West as Batman and 75-year-old Julie Newmar as Catwoman. Do you think it will be a hit?