This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Inkdrop’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Christopher Nolan Reevaluation Part 3
Alright, here we go.
If you’ve scrolled through my film log before, you may have noticed something. Unlike most people on here, my “watched films” collection contains virtually no comic book/superhero films. Why is that? Is it because I’m a prude? Is it because I’m a young aspiring filmmaker that’s contemptuous of the big studios? Well, no. To be perfectly honest with you, it’s simply because I don’t give a fuck about them. I never have, really. There are too many movies in this world that I still need to watch and I’m not going to spend time watching stuff I have no interest in.
So why did I watch this? Well, a few reasons. First, it’s made by Christopher Nolan. Self-explanatory. And honestly, I can’t go ignoring that kind of 4.4 average rating, can I? So I decided I’d finally get around to this by making the two Nolan films I had not yet seen (the other being DKR, of course) by making first watches of them part of my Christopher Nolan Reevaluation. I thought about rewatching Batman Begins to prepare for this but I just don’t care.
Before I start ripping into this, I want to bring up the visual aesthetic to this film. Up to this point in his filmography, Nolan hadn’t really had any kind of trademark aesthetic and the technical presentation of his work (expect Memento) had honestly been pretty bland. This was where he finally started coming into his own as a director specifically, and it shows. No longer is the entire goddamn thing comprised of medium closeups. Here we actually have some refreshing variety starting to blossom, and we’re served up some 360s as well as some lovely swooping pans and tilts.
This movie also contains what was Nolan’s best action scene yet by far, the highway truck chase. It’s one of the few points where he chooses to let Hans Zimmer sit the scene out and lets what’s happening in the scene speak (or scream) for itself. And it’s actually fun to watch! It’s even edited coherently! Given that Batman Begins had some of the worst editing I’ve ever seen, it was nice to see that my eyes weren’t bleeding with this one.
Oh, and Heath Ledger’s pretty good too.
Now let me piss everyone off by talking about why I kinda didn’t really like this.
This is what passes for “mature”, “realistic” and “intelligent” in a comic book movie? How low is that bar? Based on what I saw here, it’s gotta be pretty damn low. The first 80 to 90 minutes of this film are honestly pretty awful, for numerous reasons which I’ll get into but most prominently because they’re just so fucking dumb. To the movie’s credit, it does improve slightly in the last hour, but not enough to save what came before it, and by that point the damage had been well and truly done.
None of the plot makes any sense. Joker has unlimited ability to place bombs literally wherever he wants without ever getting noticed by anyone. He’s supposed to have influence over a good chunk of Gotham’s crazies, but we don’t really ever get any kind of scale to the impact he’s making. We’re certainly not shown his group that he’s holding under him being large enough to get anything he wants accomplished done, put bombs anywhere anytime without issue, and set up an intercom that can come out of any speaker he wants. And not just him, either. Apparently in Gotham, witnesses are not put through metal detectors and are perfectly capable of sneaking guns into courtrooms. Morgan Freeman was also somehow able to keep his cell phone during his conversation with Lau, even though it was a top secret thing. This is set post 9/11, right?
My god, at least the flawed logic of The Prestige took me two viewings to pick up on! It wasn’t this severe, either!
Speaking of which, why even is Lau in this movie? What does he add? From what I can see, not much.
For a movie trying to be grownup, it’s pretty fucking silly. Not to mention the main character is still literally flying around in an air rat costume. I’m sorry, but you can only make something like that so serious.
There’s even moments that are clearly handicapped by a desired attempt by WB to get as many people in the theater as possible, like the part where Michael Jai White is killed. What was supposed to have happened to him? Joker had the knife to his face, we got a stupid high-pitched sting, cut away and he just falls over. What kind of PG13 ass horseshit is that?
On top of that, the plot itself has very little flow to it. There isn’t really a clear inciting incident to kick off the narrative, we’re just sort of thrown into the action. And not in a good way where things are immediately happening and its exciting, it’s more like there are key pieces of the story that are missing that came before where the film actually starts.
And speaking of that, the characters.
I never feel like I’m inside Bruce’s head, or like he’s someone who’s genuinely torn up inside struggling to decide what the right thing to do is. I’m not really shown his inner conflict. And shouldn’t we be? Shouldn’t that be one of the most important focal points of the story? Seeing this character sacrifice himself and his life to getting rid of crime? What I would’ve liked to have seen is his struggle with bouncing between his two worlds, or how it’s near impossible for him to have control over both at the same time. Maybe he can’t devote as much time to the people in his life or his job because he’s spending so much time getting rid of crime, and because of that people think he’s just some rich asshole, when he’s actually trying the best he can? And all his hard work’s going unnoticed? Not a bad idea, is it? Why isn’t it here? Why do we have to feel so distant from the main character when he has genuine potential to be incredibly affecting?
Even the dilemma he “goes through” later in the film is barely even explored. Should he feel responsible for the people Joker is killing? Who knows! It’s barely delved into before the plot just keeps trucking along past Harvey Dent and all the other stuff.
And then there’s my biggest issue with this, the one thing pegging everything back. The ideas are good. They really are. People civilized versus people uncivilized, what separates the two, are people naturally good or not, and so on. Those seem to be the basis of the films substance. The issue is that they are only ever explored in obvious, transparent, barebones, downright obnoxious ways that simply involve characters blatantly spelling out what the audience is supposed to get from a scene, and it gets really, really irritating. There are so many instances of this that it’s difficult to pick just one, but the one that pissed me off the most was the two boats sequence. It’s done in a way where it feels so simplified and dumbed down when it could be something quite thought provoking. Instead it’s presented in a way where no further thought is really required.
And then there’s Harvey Dent.
I haven’t mentioned this on here before, but I’m actually currently developing a story for a TV series I want to write and eventually direct when the time comes to do it. I’m expecting the writing process to take about seven or eight years. Ambitious, sure, but I’m willing and ready to put in the effort.
There is a character in my story that actually has a basic concept for an arc not that dissimilar to Dent in this film. But even though I don’t want to jerk myself off or anything, I think my character’s psychological journey is way more detailed and fleshed out than Dent’s ever is in this film. And given that I haven’t even properly started writing, that’s not good. It’s not just because it’s one 2.5 hour long movie, even in that time, Dent could’ve been better examined. Just a little chat with Joker in the hospital and he’s suddenly on his side now? That’s just not enough. That kind of change would be a slow, dangerous, grueling transformation that would need to be felt right in the twisting turning gut, and it’s just not here. He screams and yells a lot about how affected he was by Rachel’s death, but that’s kind of it.
However the worst part about his arc may have been the implication that he is a figure who needs his figure dishonestly untarnished in the eye of a public who should forever view him as a hero.
WHAT THE FUCK?! NO!!!
In fact, this should be all the more reason to be honest. Show everyone how even the most valiant and noble people can descend into corruption. Present their hero figure as a flawed human being as a way of showing to people that no one is perfect and you should draw from a variety of personal inspirations rather than idolize one individual. How the hell is this presented as the right and moral choice?
I am so much more forgiving of a movie’s flaws if it can at least win me over emotionally. If my heart was buying into what was happening, my problems with the narrative’s connective tissue would bother me so much less if I had characters I could care about and believe. But since I didn’t have that here, I gotta call the bullshit as I see it.
So what did we learn today?
Mostly that I’m best off keeping my business out of the superhero genre. There are a select few exceptions that I actually would like to watch someday, and I will be watching The Dark Knight Rises later this summer, but for the most part, I think I’ll keep trucking along my merry way.