Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More The Dark Knight, or On Not Being The Best

Previously, Your Correspondent's objections to the ostensible central conflict of The Dark Knight have been noted. However, of course, the Joker is not the centre of the movie.

What is the centre of The Dark Knight? Is it the character of Bruce Wayne/Gravelly Elmer Fudd? Because the centrepoint of that character's arc, dramatic though it is, is supremely dumb: what logic was it that dictated that the midpoint of the New Batman Trilogy(?) would be Wayne renouncing his crimefighting days? Are we supposed to buy, for a fraction of a second, that this is actually happening? It's the weakest midpoint in such a plot-strong movie in quite some time, because it's such an implausible possibility that you just resent the movie for making like you could ever be buying into it. Ocean's 11-type hoodwinks only work if there's the vaguest sense that the ruse is a plausible series of events. In fact the only sensible reason one can see for this silly timewaster of an arc is that in the middle part of trilogies*, the hero ought to get to his lowest point w/r/t his powers, destiny etc. There's nothing wrong with playing by the rules, but does it have to feel quite this arbitrary?

Is the centre of The Dark Knight Harvey Dent/Twoface? Because that's a mighty performance, possibly the film's best (Caine is unfailingly admirable; Oldman loses himself behind that comical moustache and emerges essaying Jim Gordon far better than he deserves to; but Eckhart's snappy hubris fits the role of Dent to a tee). But it's also horribly underused; his character has a hard time living up to his role as the franchise's compelling villain (which, your correspondent humbly submits, Twoface is), swaddled as he is in every other character's heavy-handed pontificating as to what Dent Represents. Harvey Dent is the film's most likeable character because he's the only one actually doing anything, instead of talking endlessly about the vital symbolic importance of Harvey Dent.

Is the centre of The Dark Knight, perhaps, the Bruce/Harvey/Rachel triangle? Because, gross. Rachel's role in the movie couldn't be any more shamelessly plot-serving if the Joker had just put her in a fridge and been done with it. The character exists solely as a bargaining chip between the two male heroes, which wouldn't in itself be terrible (just lazy business as usual for geek movies) if her involvement hadn't extended to being blown to bits for the sole purpose of eliciting angst from said heroes. New rule for the writing of female characters in movies marketed toward teenage boys and manchildren: ask yourself this. Could your female character be replaced by the right breed of dog? If your reasoning in the negative involves the words "kiss", "naked", or "mother", Try Harder.

The centre of The Dark Knight as far as Your Correspondent could see, though, was none of the above. It wasn't the action, because that was admirably pedestrian (camera right way up, film moves at the same speed as people, time not confused with bullets, thank you very much!). As mentioned previously, the pacing of the film is first-rate, ensuring that even when the pic is driving one mental with its inadequacies it refuses to let up with the enthralling. But the real centre of the pic is its tone: the movie has a cool, concretey harshness to it, a real-world blood-and-guts brains-in-heads gravity that sets it apart not just from the majority of superhero pics but from the majority of pics in its demographic market.

Does this make The Dark Knight highly enjoyable? That it does. Does it make it one of the best movies ever (or, as popular opinion might have it, the Single Best Movie Ever Made)? No, because you can't be the best at something just by copying something else really well. Not even if that something is Heat.

The Dark Knight's opening bank heist is thrilling and well paced and packs a lot of character into a short space and has an electrifying staccatto score that's the worst-hidden example of temp love (in this case, for Elliot Goldenthal's score from Heat's bank robbery) in years. The Dark Knight's colour pallette is cool and stony and grimly vibrant and depicts Real Life exactly as envisaged by Dante Spinotti thirteen years ago. The Dark Knight's set pieces are huge weighty cross-city crime chases and executions that flit masterfully between protagonists in a manner openly borrowed from - but nowhere near as flawlessly carried off as - the 1995 epic.

Christopher Nolan has openly stated that Heat was an influence, and the comparison has been widely-made. And it's a damn fine choice of movie to copy, and an admirable goal to import that picture's vast emotional canvas into this movie's caped shenanighans. But you can't make the best movie ever - or even one of the best movies ever - simply by recycling someone else's schtick and putting a jet-powered motorbike in it.

That's not to say that Nolan isn't free to shoot The Caped Crusader largely in DV except for the scene where The Penguin is gunned down in his own Korean nightclub.

* The presumption here isn't in fact that The Dark Knight intends to be the middle part of a trilogy; the presumption is that the powers behind The Dark Knight feel it can run and run until it's no longer profitable, which is only good and right; however as Christopher Nolan is by no means a stupid man, let's run with the assumption that The Dark Knight sets itself as the middle part of what aim to be three really good movies with an overarching arc between them. After all, in not being a huge waste of time, the movie has already trumped Batman Returns, so let's see how far this goes.

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