Favorite reactions to The Dark Knight

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As I was walking to my car after the movie last night (that is, 4:00am) most of the 20-something crowd (well honestly, who else is going to go see a movie at 12:45 besides 20-somethings and 40-something nightowl screenwriters? There was a combination of both sitting next to me — a 20-something nightowl screenwriter who actually brought his laptop to work on his spec script while waiting for the movie to begin) were high as kites over the Dark Knight experience. There was one unhappy young lady, however, who seemed utterly baffled by a movie that she saw as a punishing ordeal. “What was that movie even about?” she cried, “What was the point of it all?” as her friends looked at her in bafflement. “What were you expecting?” one of her friends offered. “He didn’t even rescue anyone!” wailed the young lady in reply. The inflection of her remarks indicated to me that, for this woman, the “superhero movie” genre brings with it certain expectations: larger-than-life evil villains determined to destroy the world, incorruptible strongmen who stand for truth, justice, etc, damsels in distress, and a moral stance on the side of absoluted good. And yes, The Dark Knight fails to deliver on all those expectations.

(I was thinking about how the Joker doesn’t even use any kind of clown-related props, just knives and guns and bombs, and Two-Face is admirably restrained in his use of “two”-related puns.)

Some critics complain that the plotting is “muddled” or “scattershot” or “herky-jerky.” I disagree. It is certainly complex, with many different plot strands to sort through, but I never found it anything less than absorbing and fleet. (I’m seeing it again tonight, and report more.)

Other critics (sometimes the same as above) and even some fans found the action sequences baffling and incoherent. Again, they are certainly complex, but I had no trouble following the action. Sometimes I thought it could have slowed down a little bit to savor this or that detail, but I wasn’t the guy making the movie.

David Denby, in the New Yorker, laments that “Warner Bros. has continued to drain the poetry, fantasy, and comedy out of Tim Burton’s original conception for Batman“, a criticism that makes me laugh out loud and, quite obviously, misses the point of the whole movie.  As though Tim Burton’s “original conception”, with its Prince songs and very bad special effects, was somehow “the genuine article,” a primal document, as though the fifty years of comics that had preceded Tim Burton’s “original conception” don’t count, as though the predecessors that Burton drew on (Frank Miller, Fritz Lang, Ridley Scott for starters) never existed.  And don’t get me wrong, Tim Burton’s Batman blew my mind — in 1989.

Every now and then I see someone comparing to The Godfather Part II, which, as I said yesterday, is silly. Comparing it to Heat, however, is perfectly appropriate, except that The Dark Knight covers a lot more ground at a much faster tempo. I also find it to be the less operatic of the two, in spite of having its protagonists be a guy in clown makeup, a guy in a bat suit, and a guy with half a face. The other movie it reminds me of is City Hall, which, frankly, could have used a psychopath in clown makeup and a guy in a bat suit but had to make do with Al Pacino and John Cusack.

Everyone is talking about Heath Ledger’s performance, and I say “good job!” But since few are mentioning Gary Oldman, let me do so here: I think Jim Gordon is one of Gary Oldman’s greatest creations. It’s true that Heath Ledger vanishes into his role, but he’s got the makeup to help him with that — Gary Oldman vanishes into Jim Gordon with nothing but a pair of glasses and a moustache. He was more visible in Dracula, f’r Chrissakes. Oldman has always been a wonderful technician and has often specialized in The Bold Choice (cf Leon, Hannibal,The Fifth Element) but here I don’t see an “actor” anywhere in evidence, just a hard-working, middle-class Gotham City public servant, a man who loves his city and hates the things he has to do to make his family safe.

(Come to think of it, there is a scene that shows Jim Gordon’s daughter. But she looks rather too young, like, 5, to be a credible Batgirl.)

Comments

37 Responses to “Favorite reactions to The Dark Knight”
  1. black13 says:

    When I reviewed Dark Knight, I wrote that it’s not as pure fun as Iron Man, and not as testosterone-laden as Incredible Hulk, but it’s definitely the most intelligent superhero movie of all those coming out this year. Perhaps even of all superhero movies to date.

    It’s definitely the most complex superhero movie to date. And I was never lost either.

  2. craigjclark says:

    I wish I had seen the film with your audience. At the 6:30 showing I attended last night I was right next to a couple that had brought their two very young children, which I found inexcusable. As much as I was dismayed by the parent/guardian who brought a five-year-old to a 9 p.m. showing of WALL-E on Wednesday (keeping him up way past his bedtime — and then some), at least WALL-E was age-appropriate. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, is not for children at all and I wanted to say so to the parents before the film started, but held my tongue. Unsurprisingly, the children fidgeted, squirmed and were bored and/or terrified throughout, but the worst came when the little girl (who was no more than six) turned to her father and started to tell her that she didn’t like the movie and wanted to leave. He abruptly told her to shut up. I hereby nominate this man for Parent of the Year.

    • Todd says:

      I gripe all the time about there not being enough superhero stories for children, but The Dark Knight is an exceptionally well-crafted crime drama.

      One of the things that scares me, of course, about the phenomenal success of the movie is that, come Monday, all superhero movie pitches will need to sound like The Dark Knight or they won’t be greenlit. I can just hear the pitch for, say, Archie: “Riverdale is a city of great class divisions. You have the Lodges, who control the entire economy, and at the other end you have Jughead, who is driven by poverty and madness to consume cheeseburgers and wear a seventy-year-old hat. Meanwhile, Archie has tough decisions to make: should he date Betty, the girl next door who clearly loves him, or Veronica, the spoiled rich girl whose father could make him or break him in a heartbeat?”

    • mitejen says:

      That’s wretched.

      I see that all the time, horribly enough. There was a sleeping baby in Bride of Chucky (the parents were stoned) and another in Kill Bill Vol. 1.

      The worst thing I ever saw was during Signs. These two women had an eight year old boy and a girl who looked around ten, and the boy spent almost the entire movie standing in the aisle, crying and begging to be taken out. I was sitting about three rows back and I could clearly hear him saying Mommy I don’t like it, I want to go! . He wasn’t bored, he was terrified.

      His mother waved him off and pushed him away.

      • jdurall says:

        Re: That’s wretched.

        I can actually top that.

        I was present when a couple brought an infant to Black Hawk Down. They looked like exactly the sort of people who would do so – dad in a tank top with a lot of tattoos (flags and skulls) on both shoulders, and a wife who clearly didn’t want to be there. For all I know, he’d been stationed there, but a friend-of-a-friend with us who had been stationed in Somalia just prior to the events in the film said he doubted the guy was actual military.

        Naturally, the baby cried continuously once the action started. It didn’t help that this theater had the sound cranked really high, and they were not far from speakers (on the side rows). Despite numerous people asking them to take the baby out of the theater, the dad grew hostile and ignored them.

        At the half-hour mark, an usher came and told them to do something, or leave, so the guy sent his wife and daughter out of the theater to wait in the lobby while he watched the remaining 115 minutes of the movie.

        • Anonymous says:

          Re: That’s wretched.

          One of my best friends was stationed in Somalia during the events in that film, and he would never subject his wife and children to that movie. He wouldn’t even subject himself to it. In fact, he refuses to watch any war movies at all and probably never will again.
          –Ed.

  3. curt_holman says:

    Wait until they get a load of me.

    “Warner Bros. has continued to drain the poetry, fantasy, and comedy out of Tim Burton’s original conception for Batman”

    That makes me wonder if Denby was really so high on the Burton film when it came out, or if he’s just looking at it through rose-colored Bat-goggles.

    I haven’t seen the Burton Batman in a long time, but I remember it as being a terrible action movie, stagey and stiff and kind of airless. I remember seeing the film when it opened in 1989, and during the film’s biggest set piece, when the Bat-plane saved the Gotham crowd from the Joker’s deadly parade float, and Batman flew the plane up above the cloud-line so it could be framed like the bat-logo against the full moon, before freefalling back down to city-level — a guy sitting in front of me looked at his date, gave an exaggerated shrug to his date, and they walked out in the middle of the scene.

    But maybe I should revisit it.

    While watching Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, I wondered if the Hellboy movies, with their more elaborately freaky characters and monsters and even more fanciful, Gothic art direction, would have been a better match for Burton’s sensibilities than the Batman movies.

  4. mitejen says:

    I thought the entire film contained no weak performances–I’m really not a fan of the Rachael Dawes character but even Maggie Gyllenhaal (or however you spell it) made me care about her.

    I couldn’t believe how immersive it was! I was literally nowhere else during the entire film, and since my mind wanders continually no matter the situation that’s an accomplishment.

    I saw a late showing last night and most of the crowd walked out dazed, although there were few hipsters unable to restrain themselves from spouting pop film theory about it, but I think that was just a knee jerk response.

  5. smallerdemon says:

    Did the screenwriters in the audience all look at her and yell “IT’S CALLED SUBVERTING THE GENRE!” in chorus?

  6. chadu says:

    All I can say is that this movie did something to my head.

    I think you’re spot-on with the Godfather and Heat references, Todd. I had similar feelings watching DK as I did with movies like those two and Network, Touch of Evil, Chinatown, and — yes — Casablanca.

    That is, I didn’t get my “flick” type of enjoyment (downloading pure fun via the eyes into the brain; see Speed Racer), my movie type of enjoyment (engaging entertainment, somewhat thoughtless, see Star Wars), or even my film level of enjoyment (artful entertainment that touches something in thought or emotion; see The Matrix, The Princess Bride, The Incredibles, or The Empire Strikes Back).

    No, this went to a level beyond that: those movies that may not give me the jollies (as the woman you mention above seemed to be bewailing) all the time, but says something, beautifully/horribly, using words, picture, sound, and movement — all crafted with great art.

    The Dark Knight is one of those.

    Now, I need a name for that type of film experience to fit the schema.

  7. (Come to think of it, there is a scene that shows Jim Gordon’s daughter. But she looks rather too young, like, 5, to be a credible Batgirl.)

    She is also, apparently, deliberately left unnamed – she’s credited as “Gordon’s Daughter”, and Christopher Nolan has apparently refused to give her a name. I’d be interested to learn why.

  8. memento_mori says:

    SPOILERY KINDA?

    One thing I really appreciated (in accordance with Nolan layering the movie with themes of duality and identity) were all the disguises/masks/costumes in the movie.

    Batman/Bruce Wayne, of coursem and the Joker (in a clown mask, in makeup, as a cop, in a nurse’s outfit), and Harvey Dent (with his bandaged face) but also the other bank heist crooks in masks, the masked hostages, the crooks in police uniforms and even Jim Gordon masked with a helmet and SWAT uniform.

  9. I thought it was great, and yes, very Heat-like (though, oddly enough for a movie full of people in costumes, it was a whole lot less corny than Heat).

    I must confess that I do miss a little bit of the exaggerated set design and cinematography that one expects to find in a Batman movie. Nolan tread the line between reality and comic book hyper-reality a little closer to the super hero side in Batman Begins I thought, simply by choosing more Gotham-like Chicago locations. No elevated subways or Deco skyscrapers this time around, no Narrows or Wayne Manor–just AnyCity, USA municipal concrete and glass everywhere. And yeah, he could have lingered here and there a little longer just to let us savor the mood a bit. This installment was a bit more workman-like. I would have liked a touch more of the operatic. But thankfully he had an excellent script and and fantastic actors to work with.

  10. On a somewhat-related note, have you seen “Hancock,” and if so, what are your thoughts? I thought it was an interesting take on the Superhero genre.

  11. kornleaf says:

    it is very hard to compare the german expressionism influenced burton to anyone else’s style. It is looking at rembrant’s paintings of jesus and saying, “wait, that isn’t like devinci’s origional vision”

  12. Anonymous says:

    For the first time in my life, I felt a movie failed as a film but was somehow still enjoyable. It was not confusing as it was muddled (the audience members were RIGHT, it isn’t that it failed as a super-hero movie, it failed at making sense. WHAT WAS THE POINT!?!? There was no build up and no suspense) Bale was completely outclassed by everyone in the movie, the action choreography was the worst I’ve seen in many a moon, trying to be “realistic” succeeded on a very small level, and Nolan tried too many things (Two-Face’s story is worth it’s own movie. It would have been much more clearer)

    Still, the Joker was too interesting a character NOT to have fun. Every crazy scheme, every speech, every action made it worthwhile.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I used to live in Northwest Indiana, and when you’re a 20something fresh out of college, that means you go to the movies a lot, for lack of anything (non-illegal) better to do. I saw a lot of horrible audiences, but I think the folks who brought their toddlers to Christopher McQuarrie’s The Way of the Gun, which opens with the War and Peace of profanity-ridden monologues and continues with unflinchingly brutal violence, was the absolute worst.

    Then again, there were the folks I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with — the 5-year-old on my right whose parents had taken him to an R-rated Chinese-language subtitled film, who rocked back and forth and loudly whispered “Daddy, is it over yet?” at many points; the teenagers on my left making out as if the world and the movie would both end simultaneously, pausing only, at two different intervals during the film, to answer their respective cell phones; and the stringy-haired redneck in the baseball cap in front of me, who turned around several times to growl murderous threats to said teenagers.

    The audience with which I saw The Dark Knight today, blissfully far from Indiana, was pretty bad, though. I was sandwiched between people ranging from “obese” to “morbidly obese,” and when they weren’t shoving food they’d smuggled into the theater into their faces, one of them was sending and receiving text messages during the movie. I also noted that the Joker got the biggest laughs among the audience, and they weren’t entirely nervous, horrified laughs.

    I used to live in Chicago, and love it as dearly as anyone can love a city that tries to kill you for most of the year, and I was jazzed beyond words to realize I’d walked the same hallways (the Dirksen Federal Building) that Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes pass through on their way out of the Maroni trial.

    — N.A.

  14. Ok maybe I’m just being nitpicky, or I went into the movie dimwitted, but I’d consider you revealing that Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face in the film to be a spoiler. Obviously I’m aware in the comics that is who he becomes, but I didn’t know for sure till I saw the movie that he was going to be. Glad I didn’t read this before I saw it tonight, because I was very excited to see that he DID make the transformation to Two-Face.

    More importantly your writing continues to amaze me, I love reading your thoughts, especially on the Venture Bros as well as this review 🙂

  15. Anonymous says:

    How anybody could miss the point of this movie is beyond me. Also, I found the plotting absolutely clear, though certainly complex. And David Denby lost credibility quite a while ago.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about Gary Oldman. He often disappears into roles, but they’re usually much showier roles. Here, he’s simply Jim Gordon. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this Jim Gordon in the future.

    My only gripe, if you can call it that, is that the movie started to feel too long — not that my attention slacked, but simply that it raised too many new strands, particularly in the last half-hour or so. There were a few places where I wanted it to end, and it just kept going.

    But it kept going in interesting and ultimately satisfying directions. I left the theater about an hour and a half ago, and despite two nice glasses of wine, I still can’t unclench my jaw. I’m afraid I’ll be talking like (and probably about) Batman all week.

    –Ed.

    • craigjclark says:

      Curiously enough, I read a review this morning that said the movie’s biggest fault is that it could have used a little breathing room, that it would have played much better at three hours than it does at two and a half.

      • Anonymous says:

        My “favorite” experience with kids at an inappropriate movie was on opening night for “Natural Born Killers”. The lady in front of us brought what looked to be her 10-year old daughter along for the “fun”. Amazing.

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  17. Anonymous says:

    Another movie with horrible opening narration is Southland Tales. They talk and talk and have little graphs and news clippings in the begining and it is boring and doesn’t add to the understanding in the movie at all.