Topic: Ten-Year Anniversary Reflection on 'The Dark Knight'
The article is kind of a trifle, tbh — I just like milestones and anniversaries.
I have a tendency to fix your typos.
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The article is kind of a trifle, tbh — I just like milestones and anniversaries.
The flaws of this one are more evident with every rewatch for me, but so are its strengths—it's so goddamned refreshing to watch a superhero movie where the biggest stakes are a hospital getting blown up, and that actually looks like, y'know, a movie, not wet concrete.
And it'll never stop having a special place in my heart, because twelve-year-old me was obsessed with it—it was the first "dark/gritty/'adult' " movie I had ever seen, and thus an important part of my filmwatching development (for better or worse).
Last edited by DarthPraxus (2018-07-18 21:36:52)
I think TDK and some of the Phase 1 Marvel stuff were superhero films at their finest (I'm thinking Iron Man, Captain America). You're right that TDK went for lower stakes and did it really well, but superhero stuff nowadays - that I do still enjoy, don't get me wrong - is like watching a television show with an couple of two-hour-long episodes coming out a year than watching some movies that happen to be related.
And there's nothing wrong with that, I suppose, it's just a different mindset than one has going into TDK.
First off, I'm glad I'm getting in on this discussion before there's, like, 20 pages.
Secondly, I love TDK. It's not a perfect movie by any means. It almost exists in the form of its own symbolism. The movie itself can sometimes be neither here nor there. That came out wrong. The movie is really good, and gets down to the core of Batman and what he is and why he exists. But there's a lot of parts that stand out to me (and I think, to everyone) and then sections that feel almost like filler. When you rewatch the movie, you're just waiting to get to the parts that really grab you.
In that sense, the IDEA of this movie is amazing. It exists as a benchmark for what Batman movies could be (and to an extent, should be).
It also works as a reverse cautionary tale. Other superhero movies tried to emulate it (*cough*ManofSteel*cough*) not understanding what made it successful to begin with. This movie came out and the whole of Hollywood went "It was gritty! That's the secret!"
*Ron Howard narration* It wasn't.
The thing that gets me about this movie in general is that it's sandwiched between two very mediocre movies. Batman Begins is cool enough, I have no real beef with it, but it's an action romp. Then TDK comes out and it's like "wait WHAT", then TDKR came out and it just didn't capture the same lightning in a bottle.
The flaws of this one
Ooh! Type more things!
Doing as ordered!
Well, you guys covered most of 'em on the DiF. The final act stretches on too long, especially once the Joker has been defeated. The rest of the film is more deliberately paced than a lot of superhero stuff but still has a constant momentum, whereas everything after the hospital just sort of meanders. It doesn't help that so much is predicated on the sonar system, which along with the magic bullet reconstuctor is a smidge too far into the cartoonish tonally. I get it, it's a Batman movie, but it's still a Batman movie that has two very distinct tones that don't always mesh. And that's aggravated by the fact that, while power and responsibility and the limits of superhero jurisdiction have been themes of the movie up to this point, the sonar device really does just come out of nowhere as soon as it's needed.
Related to the above, the Harvey arc starts to feel tacked on toward the end. On the one hand, I get it. Nolan wasn't planning on a sequel to this movie, so if he was gonna feature Dent he had to make him Two-Face by the end. But he really does just slide from saint to monster without much in between. All of his scenes post-explosion are still really effective—Eckhart sells the hell out of it and that final scene with Gordon's kid is terrific. But the connective tissue just isn't there.
I think my biggest problem that isn't touched on in your commentary is that the entire resolution of the ferry scenario feels totally cheap. I posted this excerpt from Elizabeth Sandifer's analysis of the movie a while back and still agree with it:
I don’t want to go too far towards “the Joker was right” here, although I’ll admit that’s more because of the historic lameness of that argument than out of any particularly substantive objection. The reasons he’s wrong mostly come down to the distortions necessary to transmute anarchism into straightforward villainy. He’s a sadist who blows up civilians for no reason other than the fun of it. But what interests me is how terrible a job Nolan does selling the apparently straightforward case that he’s wrong. His final comeuppance - the stunt with the two boats - may well be the single worst sequence Christopher Nolan has ever committed to film.
To recap, the Joker has taken two boats - one a prison transport ship, the other full of civilians - and put bombs on each one, with the detonators given to the people on the other boat. The point is, as he puts it, a “social experiment” to see who blows who up first. Its resolution is that neither boat blows up the other because, in one case, a bussinessman is unable to bring himself to do it while in the other what the script describes as a “huge, tattooed prisoner” (played, of course, by a suitably intimidating looking black actor) demands to be given the detonator so that he can make the hard decision, only to heroically chuck it out a window. It is gobsmackingly schmaltzy, and completely lacking in any conviction - a hopelessly contrived affirmation of the basic goodness of human nature that literally nothing else anywhere in Nolan’s trilogy backs up. It’s as though the film recognizes the suppressed possibility that the Joker might not be as self-evidently awful as it desperately wants him to be and goes to ostentatious lengths to deny a possibility that it can’t even acknowledge in the first place.
And no wonder. In marked contrast to R’as al Ghul, whose sense of Gotham’s decadence seemed utterly contradictory given his own methodology and whose solution was simply to eliminate the entire city, the Joker clearly wants the city to survive in what he views as a better form, and is thoroughly coherent in diagnosing its problems. Consider his monologue about how “nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gangbanger will get shot or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics. because it's all part of the plan,” which is, notably, a more coherent response to R’as al Ghul’s whole “we tried to destroy Gotham with economics” thing than literally anything Batman says over the entirety of Batman Begins.
Every single time humanity is presented with a chance to be good (in the saintly sense of the ferry solution, anyway) in the rest of the movie, it fails to take it. Batman tortures mobsters and surveils the city of Gotham. Ordinary citizens try to kill Coleman Reese when the Joker says he'll blow up a hospital otherwise. Corrupt financiers make deals with the mob. The mob makes a deal with a terrorist. The police are laced with corruption. And Nolan has set up the Joker as this leftist boogeyman but has no idea what to do with him because of how compelling his pessimism is, so his solution is to have the populace behave completely differently than they do for the rest of the film for no reason. If anything, the citizens have even less reason to be noble than they did before—the Joker reigns, Batman has failed several times, Harvey Dent has vanished, the police are overwhelmed. And yet, when things look darkest, they choose to start being selfless for . . . reasons.
It would totally fit the world of, say, Spider-Man 2, which takes as read the fundamental goodness of ordinary people. In this one? Doesn't wash.
Last edited by DarthPraxus (2018-07-18 21:30:25)
That was awesome. Very clarifying, thanks.
I have this essay slowly brewing in my head that compares The Dark Knight to The Last Jedi, as I think that there's some very interesting similarities that could come to light under such analysis. The thesis is that both these movies basically consist of poorly/loosely connected but interesting scenes that serve as a vehicle for emotionally heavy acting. Or something like that. So look for that at some point in the future. I was considering pitching it to Martin to let me have a go of it on the Extended Edition.