The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)

How does a conflicted reviewer confront such a universally liked film as The Dark Knight? The hostile way most are defending Nolan’s film against negative reviews makes this a disturbing question, and taints what should be a defining moment for Hollywood filmmaking. Critics like David Denby, Dave Kehr, and a few others have been unfairly lambasted because of their negative reviews, mostly by the masses of viewers (some just plain idiots) who have instantly idolized the film (The Dark Knight is surprisingly at #1 on IMDB.com). I think this entire situation, admittedly flamed by the Heath Ledger tragedy, shows just how hungry the American movie going public is for mainstream entertainment defined by engaging, pertinent ideas, and to what lengths they’ll go to defend this collective passion. The Dark Knight does deliver a mosaic of emotions and tensions to feast on; the nuanced evil of Ledger’s Joker, the wide ranging scope of the Brothers Nolan’s script, and the haunting vision of Gotham City crumbling under the fear of uncertainty. But the paralleled insanity occurring over the film’s release just shows how far Hollywood has lowered the bar, that a very good entertainment elicits screams of outrageous defense as illogical as The Joker’s devastating mind games.

Hoopla and fanboy evangelicalism aside, The Dark Knight fascinates because it closes the gap between superhero and supervillian, making Bale’s stoic Batman and Ledger’s maniacal Joker two sides of the same coin. The real tragedy of The Dark Knight becomes how Harvey Dent, Rachel Dawes, and Gotham City as a whole get caught in this mortal battle between chaos and order. Nolan doesn’t sugarcoat the loss involved, nor does he reflect any unjust sentiment in the eyes of these consistently enraged characters. Unlike Nolan’s origin story Batman Begins, The Dark Knight feels scattered, apart of everyone’s fearful point of view, obsessed with how The Joker’s destruction crosses social and economic boundaries (look at the tense ferry sequence). The greatest element of The Dark Knight remains its mystery – The Joker’s contradicting autobiographies, Bruce Wayne’s ethical malfunctions, and Harvey Dent’s extreme cerebral and physical pain. The Dark Knight feels like it could go a number of directions, giving the audience a riveting sense of imbalance, an unlikely motif for a genre that depends on the grounded and simplistic heroism of its subjects. Thankfully, the entire film revels in this incompleteness, taking Ledger’s incendiary performance as its heart song while opening up the franchise for greater battles of morality and ethics down the road. But a masterpiece, it is not. Those faceless souls ready to violently anoint The Dark Knight as the second coming might be playing right into The Joker’s hands.

5 thoughts on “The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)

  1. As the king of an amoral universe, as a purveyor of unrestricted evil for fun, Ledger’s dastardly villain, attired as sort of a rotting Clarabell, has chosen his own damnation. He’s jumped into an abyss he has dug himself, and he wants to pull us along.
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  2. >>A genre that depends on the grounded and simplistic heroism of its subjects.

    I’m a large fan of your site – we share eerily similar tastes – but this line stuck out like a sour thumb, especially given that most of the plot is drawn from the seminal Batman works of Miller and Moore, through Nolan’s directorial filter.

    The rest of your review I don’t especially have any problem with, and this is a popular genre misconception – although, one that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, given how much respect comics have garnered as a legitimate art form in the last thirty – or more – years – and a lot of this is due to several key Batman stories, oddly enough – but, even Ebert said something similar, in his review.

  3. Henry,
    Thanks for your feedback. With the line you referred to I was speaking about how super hero films usually work as complete entities, not as incomplete, ambiguous works, The Dark Knight being the exception. Even Iron Man, a film I greatly admire, doesn’t attempt to challenge pre-conceived genre traits like The Dark Knight. I didn’t mean to come across as snobby toward comic books as a valid art form. Some of the greatest literature of the past fifty years have come from the medium, i.e. Watchmen!

  4. Ah, alright. There, I completely agree with you – Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films being the biggest and most cringe-inducing example – or, Howard the Duck, but we don’t talk about that one.
    I get the feeling Snyder, despite the source material itself, will be doing the same thing with Adrian Veidt’s character in “Watchmen,” from the look of the trailers and his continued preference for ‘sinister lighting and dark colors’ for him.

    But, yes. You’re completely correct, there; my apologies for the misunderstanding.

  5. I don’t know, I think it could legitimately be argued that this is Nolan’s masterpiece; of the several critics who’ve lambasted the film, there’s not really one that I could pick out for its’ legitimacy, and this especially goes for Denby’s review, which is rightly criticized, and not just by the basement dwellers on IMDb.

    It does have its’ flaws, but so does “Citizen Kane,” as well as any number of other well-remembered classics , or in a more contemporary light, “There Will Be Blood,” – in that regard, I don’t think this is any different.

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