Director: Christopher Nolan
Running time: 152 minutes
Synopsis and Evaluation
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a follow-up to his Batman Begins, is probably the most anticipated film of the year, if not of the millennium so far. Warner Bros. churned out a massive promotional campaign for the movie with catchy taglines, countless variations of movie posters and viral marketing. With the revitalization of the Batman franchise in 2005, hardcore and casual fans of the character awaited with much excitement and hype. The movie is already a critical and commercial success breaking box office records left and right and entering the discussions for the Greatest Superhero Movie of All-Time.
In various promotional materials fed to the public, it was very clear from the very start that the star of the show this time is The Joker (Heath Ledger). We see his messy make-up, sardonic smile and sarcastic collisions of his hands populating the Internet and our television tubes.
In conceiving the Joker character for the movie, Christopher Nolan together with his co-writers decided not to delve into the sadistic character’s origins to portray him as “absolute.” Absolute as in pure and empty? Or absolute as in “absolutely evil?” For those who have not read any Batman comic (or at least The Killing Joke), they will definitely wonder where Joker came from or how he became Joker in the first place.
It has been said that there were numerous versions as to the origins of Joker. This might be a reason why writers opted to leave that out from the story arc. But it would be very interesting to see the writer’s adaptation or version of the Joker’s past. As it appeared, Joker is a pure maniac without any compelling reason for doing what he does. He’s destroying the world just to prove that there are people as evil as him, if only driven to madness. But what drove him to prove that point? What happened to him in the past that enables him to channel all that hatred within himself and release its vileness and wickedness to people, to the world? As it stands, I can’t feel his hatred, pain, suffering, or whatever I am supposed to feel. It’s an empty slate. As much as Heath Ledger morphed into The Joker character, the character is still hollow, meaningless and boring — not far from Burton’s portrayal in Batman played by Jack Nicholson which I also didn’t like.
It was a missed opportunity because I truly believed that The Joker is a very interesting character to explore. Just like Batman, he had a bitter past that molded his current actions and behavior. It might be better if the film delved into The Joker’s life a little bit more to show why he became what he is today. Preserving the mystery behind a character is one thing but shrouding his entire identity to preserve such mystery is another thing entirely. He was not fleshed out as much as I hoped for.
Well, that decision cut a small chunk from its very long running time which brings me to my main gripe about this film — it’s a hodge-podge of many ideas that did not blend in successfully. Just like the case with The Joker, no character was adequately fleshed out (Dent’s character, a little bit). The Dark Knight, the supposedly main character, was relegated to a supporting role just like the previous Batman films except Begins, an approach which I definitely do not prefer.
Moreover, TDK is an incoherent and unfocused work which is perplexed about the direction in wants to take. It attempted to discuss a lot of things (e.g. The Joker, Harvey Dent’s transformation, Bruce’s romance with Rachel Dawes, the Gordon situation, the mobsters) but failed to bring a lasting impression in any one of them. It seems that the entire movie is one big build-up for the momentum or climax that did not occur. If there’s a moment in the film that supposedly is the climax, I’m pretty sure I did not feel it.
This is why I like Begins way more than TDK because it has consistency. It is coherent. Its effort is more focused that enabled it to tightly grip my attention which is not the same case with TDK. TDK felt overlong and repetitive. It became a torture during the latter parts of the movie.
I don’t know if I’m supposed to feel this but TDK, in my opinion, is in the same breadth as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. They both tried to compress a plethora of mish-mashed ideas into 120-150 minute spectacles that did not hold together — where the parts did not form a greater sum, an objective which they are supposed to achieve. Both came out flat and disappointing.
The Final Word
The Dark Knight is not a bad film. It just suffered from an attempt to cram as many ideas as the filmmakers can into a single movie that unfortunately did not bind together. It suffered from the pitfalls of trying to make an epic film. It lost its focus and coherence along the way that inevitably doomed its promising potential. It’s definitely better than a lot of superhero movies but it’s not the or one of the greatest.