By Steven Moore
[In trying to write an article on The Dark Knight and its flaws, I decided to write it in the form of an open letter to my fellow podcaster, and Rant Pad contributor, Nate Griffis, to finally put down his gleeful exuberance and appalling joy whenever this film is casually mentioned in conversation. It’s a flawed film, and here’s why:]
In anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises, I’m going to try to explain why The Dark Knight isn’t the flawless masterpiece you think it is, in hopes of tempering some of your enthusiasm for the last installment (as well as my own). I have tried to make this case many times, but you are always too busy writing articles on obscure Korean cinema to listen. I realize that deep down, you probably avoid the obvious flaws in The Dark Knight because you feel guilty about your self-absorbed billionaire playboy lifestyle and 16-pack-a-day cigarette habit. There was also that incident where you accidentally picked me up from work, and your girlfriend got blown up. Whatever the actual reason, you and many other misguided people seem to think that The Dark Knight is one of the greatest movies ever made.
I must admit up front, The Dark Knight is easily in the top five superhero movies. The problems I have with the film are small flaws that only become more glaring because they detract from Christopher Nolan’s otherwise immaculate look at the hero’s sacrifice in the face of pure evil. In fact, all my problems with the film are directed solely at Nolan’s portrayal of Batman, and Christian Bale’s execution of him as a character. I think we can both agree that Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is not just brilliant, but enlightening. No villain has ever encapsulated evil for evil’s sake like the Joker, and Heath Ledger embodied that sensibility. Often we uphold artists who have died young above their actual accomplishments. I don’t know that Ledger would have gone on to do anything as amazing as this role, but I cannot overstate the quality of his performance in this particular case.
Another admission in the spirit of full disclosure: I believe Michael Keaton to have been the best-cast Batman in the history of the character. If you need a moment to cool down, perhaps punch a pillow, I understand. One of the reasons Keaton was so great, and Christain Bale is not, is that Keaton never seemed at ease in the playboy role. He played Bruce Wayne as someone who doesn’t quite fit into the life he was handed. Keaton doesn’t quite look the part, and his attempts at nonchalance have a brusque edge. Bale is such an amazing actor that he forgets that Bruce Wayne is not also an actor. His switch from narcissistic philanderer to altruistic hero is too polished. It’s as though he has truly become a different person, something a trained actor is accustomed to, but not someone who has spent his life studying martial arts and technology.
The common complaint against the movie is Bale’s deep gravelly Batman voice. While I find it distracting, I understand the intention. Unfortunately, Nolan has set a high bar for himself, and if I am considering intent instead of story and character while watching the movie, that’s a flaw in the film. I understand how you, Nate, as someone who also uses technology to enhance your voice, might appreciate the time and energy Nolan took to convey an idea with Batman’s voice, but art should never come before entertainment. (Trivia: Nate actually sounds like a 87-year-old woman who has smoked cigars all her life. He alters his voice with filters for the podcast.)
My final complaint about the film is the sheer number of gadgets Batman has available to him at any given moment. Nolan is careful not to have the Deus Ex Machina utility belt, giving us a more gritty, vulnerable look at Batman and Gotham City. The gadget-laden Batman of previous films and television doesn’t fit the new vision of Gotham where the Joker is more than just a supervillian foil. Here he is the personification of a brilliant mind gone off the rails. The face of chaos attacked by a projectile shaped like a bat is weak, if only because it reminds me that this is a comic book movie where things are silly sometimes. Bat-zip lines and gliders feel out of place in this world. A Batman who relies instead on his training and perhaps a few select tools seems a more appropriate Batman for the tone of the world Nolan has built for us.
Again, The Dark Knight is an amazing film, and I’m sure Rises will be equally amazing. But I’m slightly nervous that the trailers seem to display more of the gadgety-ness and not one, but two over-wrought character voices. We’ll see if Nolan is able to make it less conspicuous in the context of this movie. I’m sure you’ll love every minute of it, and I will love about 89.5% of it, which incidentally is also roughly the score I would give X-Men: First Class.
The Dark Knight is an amazing supervillain movie, not an amazing superhero movie. It’s not me, it’s you. I hope we can still be friends.
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