Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight‘ is the latest addition to the trend of painfully overplotted comic book movies. I’m not exactly certain when the habit of inflating a paper-thin pulp story into a full-blown bildungsroman. But since the late ’80′s it’s been necessary for each comic book movie to have at least two villains and as many as 4. (Notably, Tim Burton’s 1989 movie only had one villain, The Joker.)
While this installment of Batman seems to be the most successful commercial film since James Cameron’s ‘Titanic‘, you’d think that such a movie would have to have a simple storyline to keep selling tickets at such a rapid pace, week after week. Not so, here.
Despite the relatively simple two-villain interplay and some romantic conflict lifted from a drugstore novel, TDK takes what should be a simple, 90-minute flick and turns it into an angsty and operatic 150-minute movie that will challenge your kidneys to make it to the end-credits.
What Nolan, his co-writer and brother, Christopher and David Goyer attempt to do with that extra hour is create a dramatically plausible Batman, capable of transcendin multple genres at once — the Historical Allegory, the science-fiction flick, the comic book flick and the Lifetime movie-of-the-Week, where the Rachel Dawes character is concerned.. Promotional materials for the movie indication Nolan’s interest in creating a film more ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ than Spider-Man in it’s sensibility.
One of the things that Anne-the-filmmaker, my Cineblog partner here complained about was the lack of focus that many of the shots seemed to have. That could be easily chalked-up to the oversized IMAX film-format that Nolan and chose to shoot much of the movie on — a variation on 70mm film-stock that runs at roughly 3x the conventional frame-rate, roughly 60 frames-per-second.
The problem for non-IMAX theaters is that the prints for conventional theaters are shrunk-down and de-resed for the 35mm/24fps resolution of conventional theaters, resulting in a smaller, fuzzier picture.
Story problems begin when they try to fuse Batman’s street-level crime-drama with the international, high-finance aspects, The Joker’s terrorist ambitions and the romantic ambitions of Bruce Wayne’s double-antagonist, Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. Like the IMAX film, the whole thing just doesn’t scale well.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the first 15 minutes are thrilling — some unidentified criminals execute a well coordinated heist of a mob bank. As, in the best caper flics, it’s a delight to watch a bunch of characters execute a well-planned heist. But once Nolan finishes that sequence, the whole affair proceeds to become another two or three movies, piled into the same movie screen. For another 140 minutes.
Bruce Wayne is Batman; we know that from Batman Begins. Rachel Dawes, Wayne’s childhood sweetheart in the prior movie — Katie Holmes , there, reprised here by Maggie Gyllenhaal. And then there’s ADA Harvey Dent, competing for Dawes’ affections and that of Gotham’s chief prosecutor. Finally, there’s The Joker, the movie most easily identifiable villain.
Whether or not it was Nolan’s intention to comment upon Human Civilization after 9-11, it’s become apparent that Batman has become too good at his job. Violent crime in Gotham has apparently plummeted some 90%, because Batman has successfully detected and prosecuted all criminal enterprises in Gotham since the end of the first movie. He’s so successful that the police department routinely broadcasts the Bat-signal, simply to discourage criminal activity.
Madman that he is, The Joker sees this detente as a business opportunity. Now that organized crime is hunkered-down around its boardroom tables, The Joker elects to set off random explosions and make off with the criminals’ dirty money.
The Joker describes himself as an agent of chaos. Throughout the film, he repeatedly raises the bar, first by offering a cash reward for Batman’s identity and then, inexplicably, a bounty on a Wayne Corporation employee who may have a line on Batman’s identity
So what’s to like here? More than two and a half hours of bladder-challenging Batman, if that’s your cup of tea. Heeth Ledger’s last performance and Aaron Eckhart’s best ever. The effects might get an Oscar, if only because the media has gushed about the film all summer. Me. I’m waiting for Aranofsky to direct a redacted version of the ‘Hush‘ storyline.