The Dark Knight’s New Clothes

I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight – and I was disappointed.

It wasn’t crap – I didn’t leave feeling I’d wasted my time, like I did after sitting through the new Indiana Jones movie – it just wasn’t the towering celluloid triumph just about every frothing geek reviewer over the last three months has been creaming about.

The frustrating thing about it is that all the parts are there. Caine and Oldman are brilliant and Heath Ledger is the Joker.  There’s absolutely no trace of the guy from Brokeback Mountain; not an atom of the bozo from 10 Things I Hate About You.  His was, literally, the performance of a lifetime. 

There are fine set pieces too.  In fact, a whole string of ’em.  Exploding henchmen, fake batmen, base jumping and real stunts…


But, but, but. 

In Nolan’s desire to make The Batman real and relevant; to make a movie that erases the memory of the camp TV series and Schumacher’s abortive tenure – he sucks all the exuberance from… everything. 

Batman should be a fantastic, improbable character and Gotham a hyperreal extrapolation of urban claustrophobia.  Burton’s bi-polar stories might be too slick and leatherette for noughties taste, but he knew how to do extremes.   In making both the city and the bat ordinary, Chris Nolan robs them of dramatic impact.  Only Ledger’s malevolent clown projects the mix of menace and madness that should have been threaded throughout the narrative.  Everywhere else The Dark Knight is simply not dark enough.  It cuts away from the gore, lingers in the daylight and talks too much.

There are casting problems too – I don’t buy the laconic, plain looking Maggie Gyllenhaal as the woman Gotham’s two most eligible bachelors are head over heels with.  And Aaron Eckhart is drowning as Harvey Dent.  Drowning.

I came away with a yawning hole in my satisfaction – yearning for a shorter cut of the movie with more Joker and less daytime.  I wanted the batcave and Wayne Manor by moonlight.  In future I might even want Robin in the mix (but no Riddler or Penguin).  Most of all, I want a much darker knight to return – a mean and wounded Batman driven by vengeance rather than a sense of justice.  Justice is Superman’s job.

That, ultimately, was this movie’s biggest flaw. When Bale’s Bruce Wayne says he must reveal his identity to save Gotham, to save his loved ones from being killed, I just don’t believe him.  He’s so contained and controlled that I don’t believe he feels anything. 

Next time around – and there will certainly be a next time given The Dark Knight’s phenomenal box office – I fear we’ll just get more of the same;  Heat in a cape.  I’m not sure if I’ll bother.

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