I was recently caught off-guard this past Saturday night when, in the middle of talking to a guy–not un-cute, I might add for my own vanity–he suddenly stopped with a look of epiphany mixed with suspicious disgust in just the right ratio that I may have mistaken it for awkward flirting. Until he asked, with such a look, “Are you the girl who doesn’t like ‘The Dark Knight?’” So, what, this is now a stigma to describe me by? A marker of my cultural pariah status?
Fine. I don’t like “The Dark Knight.” In fact, I will say that I hate “The Dark Knight,” if only because everyone else is so utterly, blindly and unquestioningly in love with “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan and matte black that I just can’t take it anymore. I’m coming out of my reticent party corner to dispel these ridiculous misconceptions of what could and should have been the greatest movie of our time, and why it spiraled so delicately into a pile of simply written dialogue and morally lofty set pieces.
So here it is: a list of the three reasons why “The Dark Knight” just isn’t that great–not to prove a point or administer a tirade against the lionized film, but because I seriously wonder if people are that bad at movies or if they’re willfully blinding themselves to the creaky screws of the “Dark Knight” machinery…
We’ll start here because it’s most obvious that if there’s anything good about this movie, it’s the Joker. From his eerily dapper digs to Heath Ledger’s lip-licking utterances, the Joker is the perfect villain…just not a comic-book villain. But why is he such a devil without a cause? Oh yeah, there’s no reason.
Over the course of the Batman franchise history, the Joker has had several backstories, the most prevalent of which has him as an aspiring comedian who quits his engineering gig only to tumble into a brew of nuclear waste. With his pregnant wife and unborn baby dead–household accident, whodathunk?–the deformed goon goes all the way to loony land. Now, isn’t that satisfying?
Our beloved “Dark Knight” Joker has no interesting backstory, and that was on purpose. Chris Nolan and company elided the Joker’s origin story so that the character would be presented as “absolute.” Pure, irrational evil, however, is only relevant during a horror movie or a biblical tale. What makes a character interesting is the tale of how they came to be (“Batman Begins,” anyone?) and the inner conflict the audience experiences upon realizing that there is no good and evil but only motivations and desires, of which the Joker has none. Even Regina George had depth.
Hell, that’s the whole appeal of Bruce Wayne/Batman; he’s a spoiled rich kid in a corrupted city who can’t decide whether to use his resources to buttress the failing law or just take it over himself. Dil-emm-a!
I’d almost forgive the mindlessness of the Joker’s craziness, but Nolan decides to limply create dimension by having the Joker spout a few contradicting little “daddy killed mommy” backstories that occur too infrequently to paint the portrait of a conniving or delusional mastermind. Maybe the other origin stories got relayed to the deleted scenes.
While we appreciate the magnitude and gravity of most comic-book tests of strength, we’d prefer them without a simplified moral conundrum to oh-my-gosh complicate our heroes’ paths. The first of these comes as a delightful love-triangle trolley dilemma as Batman must choose his true love, Rachel Dawes, or the one district attorney who can maybe save Gotham City, Harvey Dent. The one he loves or the potential many Dent could save? Holy heart failure, Batman! I smell a deontology/utilitarianism mist wafting over this one! And don’t forget that Dawes doesn’t love Bruce and she’s about to marry Dent.
Now that we’ve added that whole jealous almost-lover bent in there, Nolan can cue the dramatic and visually striking death device that is…Dent and Dawes strapped to chairs in anonymous warehouses full of tin drums. Tin drums!? Man, how will Batman ever make a decision?
Points for sure because Bruce goes to save Dawes, hinting at a shred of preserved humanity. But minus double for the fact that the Joker–what a prankster, that one–actually told Batman and the entire Gotham City PD that Rachel was where Harvey really was and vice versa, like a sneaky game of Go Fish.
Perhaps the only more tired homily than the Dent-Dawes bit is the two-boats-in-a-harbor dilemma that gets audience participation. Will the boat of morally upright citizens blow away the certainly morally destitute convicts lest they all be bombed to smithereens? Not if that one extra-tough convict has anything to say about it! Points for playing on racial stereotypes by having the big black guy be the only level-headed one? Hell no…it’s as if Nolan et al. are ridiculing themselves with the tropes on tropes on not-tropes.
Also, if you’re going to have something so absurd, could at least one of those Titanics of innocents have exploded? The everyone-gets-saved grab bag is so deus ex machina that even “The Amazing Spider-Man” doesn’t deal that.
The greatest failure in straying from the comic-book genre is that “The Dark Knight” has a ton of visually pleasing, perhaps even mentally probing scenes, but it doesn’t do anything. At the end there is a great live-action storyboard with panes of editing, sets, shots, but no story. Which is just part of the reason why I have little hope for “The Dark Knight Rises.”
I’m sure that the majority of responses to this rant will be along the lines of “You don’t like it because everyone likes it!” And to that I say, yeah, a little bit, but not entirely. I really, desperately want to love “The Dark Knight.” Because the only thing worse than liking something everyone else hates (Lana Del Rey) is not liking something everyone else is obsessed with.
Perhaps it’s not the fault of the movie, but the hype machine that is the Internet has blown a cloud of smoke so thick over this mirror that I fear audiences everywhere will be blinded for decades. This movie has had people everywhere from Facebook friends to respected journalists touting it as the messiah of our cinematic century. And now “The Dark Knight Rises” has been grandfathered into this anointed franchise, with publications ladling ridiculous praises like “potent, persuasive and hypnotic, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ has us at is mercy.” Really, L.A. Times? I wasn’t aware this film has a corporeal perfume.
What’s worst is that when you ask these disciples what it is about the movie they love so much, they first scoff at the fact that you don’t feel the same way, as if loving “The Dark Knight” is as essential as breathing oxygen or showing a U.S. passport at the Tijuana border. Then they try to convince you of how “epic,” “amazing” and “bad-ass” it is.
And so no, I don’t have much hope for “The Dark Knight Rises.”