In Brightest Day, In Blackest Knight…

So I went to see The Dark Knight last Sunday.   As always, whenever I see a film, I put all preconceptions behind me and simply watch the movie for what it has to offer.  Whether others think the film is good or bad is immaterial to me; it’s the movie that counts.

And I can say that The Dark Knight is a very good movie.  A very, very good movie.  There are flaws to be sure, but every movie has those, and on balance they don’t detract from the overall experience of The Dark Knight.  So if you haven’t already seen it, I recommend you do so.

So yes, it’s very good.   As to whether or not I “like” it, I’m finding it hard to say.  “Like” or “dislike” don’t really enter into the equation, since the movie basically kept me at arm’s length throughout.  “Liking” or “disliking” are things that I do when I’m caught up in a story with characters I care about.  Watching The Dark Knight didn’t give me that experience.  It was more like watching a sporting event–I admired the skill, precision and efficiency that went into this film.  The planning, the time and effort spent toward making everything work was evident.  It left me extremely impressed, but otherwise cold.

I had the exact same reaction to Batman Begins.  Very well put together, admirable for wanting to do things right, but never firing anything inside me that brought me into the story.  I never felt that I, personally, had a stake in any of the characters, that I could put myself into their shoes or that their fates could be my own–in much the same way that, watching a basketball game, I don’t feel that I can identify with the players on a personal level (for one thing, I’m a lousy athlete). 

Because I felt kept from really identifying myself with the characters, the flaws in the movie started nagging at me almost immediately.  For one thing, it’s simply too long.  I can think of at least two sequences that could have been dropped altogether–the bit with the accountant who wants to reveal Batman’s identity, and the final hostage situation in the abandoned building.  I’m pretty sure the Hong Kong sequence could have been eliminated, too.  But that’s irrelevant; while too long, the movie never feels too long.  I just felt it would have been much more effective if there was more focus to the story, and perhaps some of that time could have been used to shore up other elements.  One of which was the Joker.

Now, before you break out the pitchforks and torches, let me first say this:  Heath Ledger did an outstanding job, and the character was gruesomely fascinating.  As has been said elsewhere, when the Joker is on the screen, you can’t look away.  When he’s somewhere else, the movie starts to drag (just a little). 

No, the problem that I had with the Joker was that he was way too much of a deux ex machina.   His access to whatever material, locations or personnel he required was almost magical; he could literally do anything, in an incredibly short time-frame.  As an example, with the accountant sequence mentioned above, he had a massive counter-plan in place in a couple of hours or so.  No one could stop him, or even delay him for long.  His planning, and execution of those plans, went off without a hitch each and every time.  He knew the psychology of everyone in the city.  So who the heck is this guy?  Where’d he come from?  Why does he wear the makeup, since (unlike the traditional Joker) he doesn’t seem to need it?

We don’t know.  That, of course, makes him more frightening–he’s a true unknown, like Blue Velvet‘s Frank Booth.  But Frank Booth was believable; he didn’t run an entire city, he was a loathsome thug.  The Joker, for me, was far too much of an enigma.  In my mind, the lack of limitations diminished him.  There was no way for an ordinary person to escape, so again to my mind, there’s no point in trying to escape.  If he wanted you dead, you were dead, and that’s that.  He wasn’t so much a criminal psychopath as a natural force, like gravity.  It’s as if the universe created him because Batman needed a foe on such a level.  As a result, I found him a little unbelievable in a film that strives for believability.   (And I have to note that I especially didn’t believe what he told Harvey Dent, about how he was just a mad dog without a plan.  And I think the fact that Dent bought that argument made him a weaker character.)

It can be argued that Batman is similarly gifted, though he aims toward better ends.  But we see the infrastructure behind Batman; how he gets his resources, how he makes use of them.  The Joker simply shows up with everything neatly checked off and ready to go.  

So, instead of “like” or “dislike,” I’ll say this:  I admire The Dark Knight.  I admire its purity.  Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility, and make no mistake: this is one hostile film, both for the characters and the audience.  It’s dark, dark, dark and uncompromising. 

If it sounds like I’m slamming the film, I’m not.  I had a great time seeing it, and I think it’s a film well worth watching in a theatre.  It’s just that, for me at least, it comes up a little short against the Refrigerator, and I wanted the good parts to overcome the troublesome parts.

But just so we’re clear, here:  highly, highly recommended.