The Dark Knight comes out tomorrow on DVD, and I figured now was a good time to look back and consider just how good the film actually is. It has been several months since we were in the throes of box-office madness of Titanic-like proportions, so perhaps we can approach this film with some distance before appraising it.
I was going to issue a SPOILER WARNING, but if you haven't seen the film by now, that can only mean you died before it was released and you're somehow able to read blogs from beyond the grave but not watch movies.
TDK is not without its share of problems. To name a few:
-A scene early on involving the Scarecrow that provides a quick, and really unnecessary, resolution to a plot thread from Batman Begins.
-Nolan's direction of fight scenes leaves something to be desired. He repeatedly violates John McTiernan's principle of geography of scene, the concept that the audience should know where the actors are, what they are doing, and why, at all times. Some argue that Nolan's approach gets you to feel what it's like to be in a melee, but I don't buy that. I've never been in a huge brawl, but I've played my share of teams sports where there were always many things happening at once. No matter what, you still have an idea of what's going on around you.
-Harvey Dent's transformation into Two-Face occurs with comic-book speed. I'm willing to see him go vigilante on the mobsters and crooked cops after his fiancee dies and he loses half his face. But I didn't buy for a minute his ready willingness to turn a gun on Gordon, Gordon's family, and Batman.
-Related to the above point, the last 45 minutes of the film are rushed, as if Nolan and co. were trying to cram too much plot into a story that was already plot-heavy. I can't take credit for this idea, but others have said that TDK would have been better film if Nolan had ended it right after the Joker escapes from the police station, either with the image of him sticking his head out of the cruiser or Batman standing over the rubble of the recently-destroyed warehouse where Rachel met her Maker. It would have been a true Empire Strikes Back kick in the bread basket that would have set up a sequel perfectly. I'm inclined to agree.
-We lose sight of Batman. It was bound to happen when they decided to introduce two other main/supporting characters (Joker and Dent) and elevate Gordon's role from minor to major. Even Morgan Freeman's character gets his own arch. Nolan did what no one else had ever done with the caped crusader in Batman Begins: Batman was the most interesting character on screen at all times. In TDK, though, his psychological journey isn't as compelling, and Batman doesn't dominate the screen the way he did in the previous film. This story is as much everybody else's as it is his. I'm reminded of Eastwood's lament to Sergio Leone during their making of For A Few Dollars More and even more so during The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. Apparently, Clint kept saying that he was getting smaller and smaller each time out.
But with all that being said, TDK is a masterpiece. A flawed masterpiece, yes, but a masterpiece nonetheless. It is one of those rare instances where a piece of art, while not perfect, appears to be perfect. Or, it's perfect despite its faults.
The classical allusions are everywhere. Batman, Gordon, and Dent are Gotham's First Triumvirate. Dent's White Knight could have been pulled out of a Shakespearean tragedy, his only character flaw being that he was too good for this world.
At nearly three hours long, the film moves really well (until, arguably, the end when it moves too well). There are some great dramatic reversals, most notably Gordon's reappearance, Batman just a shadow standing over the Joker, Rachel's demise, Joker orchestrating and carrying out his escape from the police station.
Nolan hits all the right notes throughout. When he wants us to laugh, we laugh. When he wants us to cringe, we cringe. When he wants us to jump, we jump (the dummy banging against the Mayor's window).
While Batman may have been downplayed in this one, the performances are all top-notch. Ledger's Joker is a force of nature. IMHO, Eckhart's Dent is just as good as Ledger's Joker; unfortunately, his Two-Face is problematic. I don't think that's Eckhart's fault though. The script is the issue here.
Most importantly, TDK is damned entertaining. The film is big, the story is epic, the stakes are constantly enormous. It's heavy, but it's fun. TDK gives you your money's worth, and then some.
19 hours ago