Three weeks now since its release, and I have little to add to the sprawling discussion of The Dark Knight. An ambitious sequel — wrongly compared to Godfather II by some, more accurately compared to classic crime drama Heat — The Dark Knight for me very much exposed Iron Man as a low-fat, snack-pack superhero movie. The Dark Knight is a juicy steak, a full day’s serving of cinematic calories.
It was especially impressive on the IMAX screen. The cutting between aspect ratios was not at all jarring, and I’ve heard speculation that the editor was careful to make sure that a dark shot preceded the expansion and contraction cuts. Unfortunately, the framing has to work for 35mm, so you’re not getting much additional information in the IMAX shots except in the peripheral-vision, immersive sense. What I did take away from the IMAX is the excellent, and in the case of this film, bowel-shaking sound system. The sound cue at the end of the Hong Kong sequence vibrated my internal organs.
Though nearly universally praised, the movie does have flaws that are readily apparent —
Continue reading about The Dark Knight (major spoilers)…Dent’s descent into twofacedness is too swift, Scarecrow’s brief reappearance too useless, Lucius Fox’s assent to unconstitutional surveillance too easy, the Chinese businessman character too racist, Maggie Gyllenhall’s performance too Katieholmesian — but these are all subsumed by grand meditations on the nature of good and the nature of evil.
Director/co-writer Christopher Nolan has said that he sees a theme of ‘escalation.’ But ‘escalation’ is really not a theme, just an pattern of action. Every great plot is constantly raising the stakes. Like Nolan’s earlier films Memento and Following (even The Prestige), The Dark Knight hinges much more on ‘identity.’ Bruce Wayne seeks both to protect and to shed his second identity; Harvey Dent develops a second identity; and The Joker seems to lack an identity altogether.
In the same way David Mamet’s House of Games tipped his hand in how he builds his plots in the structure of confidence games, Christopher Nolan’s work on The Prestige reveals his attentiveness to the structure of magic tricks. The Dark Knight is full of misdirection and sleight-of-hand. There are two (if not three or four) faked deaths and a myriad of fake clown thugs and Batmen. The Joker himself seems to be a parody of a magician. (“Watch me make this pencil disappear.”) He gets his giggles from seeing his marks behave in predictable ways — as one trick is finishing, he lays the groundwork for the next.
Heath Ledger is a wonderful psychopath, but I’m beginning to wonder with all the Oscar speculation about his performance whether ‘psychopath’ is the new ‘mentally handicapped.’ Witness Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood and Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.
Where Nolan’s Batman series might hope to surpass The Godfather Trilogy is by having a great third movie. Already there are rumors of Johnny Depp as The Riddler and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as The Penguin. We might assume that The Joker won’t be back for the next installment, but I think a poor precedent was established in faking Commissioner Gordon’s death. Already word is that Aaron Eckhardt’s contract provides that Two-Face will be back and I’d lay money that Gyllenhall’s Rachel Dawes will be too.
So what did this movie add to the mythology? Nolan and co-writers David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan have done a great job of exploring Bruce Wayne’s psychology without getting touchy-feely. If anything, Bruce has receded behind the mask of Batman, to the point that he can’t control its image. All that’s left is for him to fake Batman’s death. Of course, we will all sit smugly by, knowing to ourselves that Batman is immortal.