Reviewed Apr 15, 2012
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.
Isn't it funny that true classics can stand up to decades of close scrutiny and critical analysis, yet still retain their standing among the greatest films of all time...but a deluge of completely obvious flaws in today's so-called "masterpieces" are immediately evident upon first viewing?
Let's begin this review by asking a question: what does it mean for a film to be "intelligent" or "mature"? These types of words are frequently kicked around like a ten-cent hacky sack when people discuss films such as this, but what do they mean? In what context do these adjectives apply? I would like to find out.
I'll begin at the top and work my way down, starting with the best aspects of this film and concluding with the worst. Please note that this will not be a leizurely stroll down a grassy hill with a pail of water, but more like a step out of an airplane in turbulance at 40,000ft. No parachutes will be provided.
Heath Ledger, your performance is far too good to be in a movie this poor.
And now, the rest.
As good as the performance as the Joker is, it's really all for nothing. The Joker is such a dumb character - meaning, he does incredibly dumb things for one of two possible reasons: to appear cool and dark and awesome, or because the plot calls for it. There are too many glaring examples of this, from the holiptal scene to the ferry boats to pretty much every scene he appears in. The hospital, for example...Joker is able to simply walk into the hospital, wire the entire structure with several thousand kilos of explosives, and walk out without anyone noticing...just because he was wearing a nurse's outfit? I'm not sure if I can believe that. Not even in a movie where a ninja billionaire plays after-dark vigilante in a rubber bat costume. Perhaps it was his league of henchmen, who, seemingly overnight, grew from a small gang of random dudes to a sizeable organization capable of operating rapidly and without flaw - a group we're told is made up primarily of schizos and psychopaths from Askham Asylum. Were they all released in a sudden mass exodus? And the Joker is really lucky that they all decided to become hyper-obedient and hyper-competent criminals, robbers, terrorists and explosive experts. Yeah, right. As if running a criminal empire made up of Arkham inmates would be an easy task in any way whatsoever. I think it would be a lot more entertaining and intelligent to see the Joker having to deal with insane and imperfect henchmen to inject a little conflict and doubt into his side of the story - will Joker be able to do what he wants to do? Sadly, this is not the case. At all. Joker simply surfs on the action, survives all kinds of explosions and automobile crashes, and moves around the city as if Gotham was butter and he was a hot knife. Yawn.
And while we're still on the terrorist threat at the hospital, why was everyone evacuated...*except* Harvey Dent? You know, the District Attorney who's been all over the news? The guy for whom you are doing the evacuation?!
How about the ferry boats...nobody seemed to notice the thousands of gallons of flammable liquid in the engine rooms? Is there a deleted scene on the blu-ray where Joker robs a small middle-eastern country of their entire oil reserve, by chance? And what was with that scene with all the people on the boats, anyway? It's a huge departure from the main action to a bunch of random, unknown characters late in the story that served no previous purpose and ended just as quick as it began. Where did that come from? What was the point of that? I'd rather see what the main characters were up to at the climax of the film, not a bunch of anonymous strangers.
I know the writers were trying to set Joker up as a dangerous villain who was capable of anything, but the problem with that is the notion of being capable of anything completely defies the mature and intelligent tone the film was desperately trying to strike. Joker never faces any obstacles - he plants bombs anywhere he wants, as if everyone in Gotham simply allowed him to do so! There is no realism in that. That type of writing is the exact opposite of mature and intelligent. And hell - Batman never seems to have a difficult time doing anything, either. He pulls technological rabbits out of a hat seemingly at will. Way to struggle, Bruce.
Moving on to Batman himself, Christian "Bane of Cinema's Existence" Bale once again proves to be the most over-rated actor in the history of the medium. He brings his trademark painted-stick charisma and shit-savoring, sub-70 IQ dumbass grin back again, along with a new and improved Marge Simpson impression. There's a pointless sub-plot where some random guy on TV says he knows who Batman really is, but that goes absolutely nowhere and has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Come on, random guy, how difficult is it to discern that it would take a man of great wealth to afford his own personal state of the art custom tank? The people in Gotham are humans, right? They have brains like us, right? They have the same form of currency as we do in real American, right? I assume they do, as evidenced by yet another entirely extraneous scene where Batman galavants to Hong Kong to kidnap yet another random guy who has no other critical function in the movie. What purpose do these characters serve in an already over-long film? They are superfluous - get them out of here. They are making an already bad movie even worse.
And that dumb cell-phone gag was ridiculous, unbelievable, and felt completely out of place, both thematically and in comparison to the attempted realism that the film was striving for oh so very desperately. It may be the most far-fetched idea I've ever seen in a movie. Sure, it's a comic book movie, but when you take great pains to show the audience how serious you're trying to be, it comes off as convincing as a 12-year-old smoking a cigarette to get people to think he's cool. Fucking absurd.
So, what is Batman's motive? What does he want? Sure, he wants to stop Joker and all that, but what about all the other conflicts going on with his character, like his relationship with Rachel? Does he love or or doesn't he? Where is the scene that tells us that he loves her? There is none. Where is the scene that tells us that he doesn't love her? Again, there is none. So...what's going on, Bruce? Why not clue us in a little bit. Where is the scene that tells us why he believes he must put down the cape and stop being Batman? He does this, but we don't know why. Does he want to live a normal life? We don't know. Why did he believe his only hope for no longer having to be Batman rested in Harvey? And why did he feel all hope was lost for his goal of no longer being Batman when Harvey vanished from the hospital to become a psychotic killer? We have no idea. His actions make no sense and we're left to assume his motives - not a good thing.
There's the letter to Bruce from Rachel, but that comes *after* her death, which is too late to serve the function of telling us there was a great romantic bond between them that necessitated Bruce stopping his crusade as Batman so they could be together. Plus, it only tells us *her* feelings, not Bruce's. Because the scene is done the way it is, it is impossible to tell if Batman is amping his assault because of Rachel, or Harvey, or the threat of their imminent death. Once again, we are left to assume. If that is indeed the scene that tells us Bruce is deeply in love with Rachel, it is handled very badly to the point that it is virtually non-existent and comes far too late in the story to function at all. We should have known long before this that Bruce was deeply in love with Rachel, and that his crusade as Batman was preventing him from being with Rachel...but there is no such scene that tells us this.
Is that a hallmark of maturity and intelligence in screenwriting? Not in any way.
Why is Rachel even in this movie? She seems to act only as a device to pit Harvey and Bruce against one another without having anything to do the rest of the time except play the part of a schoolgirl with a crush. At least Katie Holmes's Rachel Dawes was a strong willed lawyer that fought for what's right. Maggie's Rachel Dawes needs to grow up and find some better priorities. I suppose the only positive thing that can be said of her is that she fits in perfectly with the rest of the non-developed, off-the-shelf, one-dimensional cardboard "characters" in this movie - and the movie is littered with them, each one taking away valuable screen-time from the hero. For a film called "The Dark Knight", there is a very significant lack of Batman doing things.
The movie tries to be realistic, but logic has no place anywhere. It tries to be dramatic, but the drama is manufactured, out of place, and doesn't build up from anything. Lots of poor philosophical monologues going nowhere - and for all the pseudo-intellectual monologues and faux-philosophical rambling, it all just ended up with someone getting punched or shot.
Gordon getting shot was the worst of all. It was all part of a grand scheme to get the Joker to chase Dent to get him out in the open so he can be caught...but the problem with that is, in order for the plan to succeed, they needed to know the mayor was going to be shot at from the ground and who was going to do the shooting in order for Gordon to jump in front of the bullet. If they knew that much about the Joker's plan, why not just stop him? Conversely, if Gordon made up the idea of faking his death on the spot, wouldn't the Joker still know about it since it's one of the cops who pronounces him dead after checking him for a pulse? This wasn't Gordon's trusted partner with a shady past - this was an ordinary patrol officer. Since they already know much of the force is on the take, it seems moronic and ridiculous to make the entire plan hinge on trusting a random cop to be honest and play along.
The action itself is somewhere between sub-par and average. Even Nolan's most ardent advocates will tell you that he can't direct an action scene, so I won't bother going into those details. However, it's not only his failing as a director to shoot the action, but his failing as a writer to come up with interesting set-pieces in the first place. The best we get here is the truck chase, which keeps up with the theme of ignoring any form of logic, and the entire police transport of a high-profile prisoner, with dozens of vehicles escorting him and SWAT teams all over the place, falls apart when one single trailer truck shows up, rendering the entirety of the convoy helpless. But even so, the chase itself is nothing that we haven't seen before - and seen executed better. All this movie can offer us in the way of action is a bunch of extraordinarily violent vehicle crashes that everyone walks away from without even getting their hair messed up. And explosions. This movie has A LOT of explosions. You know those dumb action movies people say they can't stand because it's just a bunch of explosions? Guess what...this is one of those movies!
The ending of this film felt completely out of place because it did not build from the narrative. It was manufactured. Everything about the end of this film is just wrong. How does Batman "sacrifice himself" for Gotham in the end? The only way for it to be tragic and a sacrifice is if you believe that Bruce's goal was to stop being Batman. A man who is already an outcast and despised by the police that agrees to continue to be an outcast and despised by the police is not a sacrifice. The ending only works if Bruce wanted to stop being an outcast only to be forced to continue to be an outcast in order to protect the greater good. But where are the scenes that show us Bruce's desire/need to put down the cape and live a normal life? I don't understand why Bruce put down the bat suit in the first place. We were never given that information. And if he wanted to so badly, wouldn't now be the perfect time with all the police on the lookout for him? Seems like an unnecessary risk for him and a nice deterrent for petty criminals -having the police on guard as well as the idea of Batman being a murderer. Instead, Bruce keeps going as Batman even though Gordon knows that he's is innocent? The ending of this film makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever.
So, where are all the examples of this movie showcasing maturity and intelligence? Just because you take your story as serious as Shakespeare and make it as humorless as a child's funeral doesn't make it "intelligent" or "mature". It makes it pretty dull, hypocritical, pretentious, and most of all, just plain bad.
I know people will complain about me being so harsh on a comic-book movie, but you wouldn't look at obvious mistakes in a children's film and excuse them on the grounds that it's only a kid's movie, would you? Pixar wouldn't.
This is the most over-rated movie ever made.