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The Dark Knight – A Review

Come back Adam West, all is forgiven! Though I doubt TV’s Batman would find much of a home in the new, brutal, unrelenting Batman movie, The Dark Knight. Perhaps he could be beaten to death as a pretext for another set-piece, but beyond that – No. The Dark Knight is not a movie that would welcome West, Burt Ward, or anything fun. I know I’m going against the grain – against doctrine – to say I didn’t like The Dark Knight, but this movie is to summer what a chain-saw is to a daisy-chain. The idea that its primary audience is children and young teenagers (it carries a PG-13 rating in America and a 12 rating in Britain) is pretty bloody depressing.

The movie begins with a brilliantly staged robbery, in the style of Michael Mann’s Heat. The Joker (Batman’s nemesis) leads the raid, and one-by-one he systematically executes his fellow thieves, until he escapes, in a school bus. We are led to infer that life in Gotham City is getting worse. Batman’s heroics have inspired a new breed of criminals. His good intentions (get ready with your Iraq parallels) have gone awry and The Joker is the end result. Fuelled by madness, sadism and a need to one-up Jack Nicholson, The Joker spreads chaos across Gotham; daring Batman, not to face him, but to kill him. It’s a bit like Heart of Darkness, if Kurtz wore clown makeup.

Now ok – I was harsh with that first paragraph. Am I saying the movie isn’t well-made? No. Am I saying it isn’t well-acted? No. My only caveat – and maybe it is subjective – but: is this movie suitable for the kids who are going to want to see it? No. Face facts: this is a Batman movie. It’s based on a comic. There are toys to be sold. I’m not saying all movie violence should be censored, or even that comic-book movies can’t encompass adult themes, but comic-book movies do have some responsibility not to ape The Silence of the Lambs. There’s a passage in the Julia Phillips’ memoir You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, where she wrote that the first Batman movie was “more corrupt than dark”. And that’s The Dark Knight, to me: a relentlessly grim, cruel, wanton trawl through the underworld. More the sort of thing David Fincher thrives on than anything escapist or exciting in a conventional (old-fashioned?) sense.

As Batman, Christian Bale is angry, threatening – like he’s been in his bat-suit too long. He’s a hero the way Charles Bronson played heroes; the kind of man who wins with a frown. His romance with Maggie Gyllenhaal is only really convincing on her side – we don’t really buy that Batman would have a sex life, unless it involved Gyllenhaal whipping him and beat-cops looking on. Heath Ledger’s Joker is (believe the hype) one helluva show, but he’s also the main problem with the movie. He doesn’t play the Joker as a cackling movie villain, he plays him as a man who likes to cut people with knives – the kind who do exist – and he will give pre-teens nightmares for weeks. Aaron Eckhart (as the crusading D.A.) looks dashing and handsome – for a while. But The Dark Knight is a movie hell-bent on wrecking beauty (just look at the way they light Gyllenhaal). In the end, everyone is pulled, howling, down down down.

When Batman came out people wondered if it was too dark. When Batman Returns came out people screamed it was too dark. But both those movies were kitschy compared with The Dark Knight. These early forerunners might have dabbled with dark themes, but always in that Tim Burton, Halloween-and-lollipops style; death dressed in tinsel. The Dark Knight is a bleak thriller that features silly costumes. Its atmosphere is menacing, designed to rough you up. If this is the kind of movie that summer blockbusters are made of: who are we? It used to be we wanted escapism from summer movies (think of Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark). Now we want to be terrorised.

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3 Responses to The Dark Knight – A Review

  1. kc2 says:

    I understand where you are coming from with this review, my nephew is 5 and keeps asking if he can go see the Batman movie. It almost doesn’t make sense, kids love Batman, why can’t this be accessable to them?
    Then I stop and think…Batman has always been a mature graphic novel, it is supposed to be dark. Tim Burton knew this when he did the first 2.
    People just need to realize that this new breed of Batman movies are not for kids, unless they can handle mature subjects, the Dark Knight is for us that used to be kids and expect more than “POW” and “BAM” from our superhero.
    Besides, I was 4 (I think) when the first Batman came out, I went to see it in theaters, and I’ve seen every Batman since. These have all been rated PG13!

  2. HanseaticEd says:

    Superb review. Your words, ‘…But The Dark Knight is a movie hell-bent on wrecking beauty (just look at the way they light Gyllenhaal). In the end, everyone is pulled, howling, down down down’ are of theological import such that few would expect from Batman.

  3. Billy B says:

    I agree with KC2 – Batman is supposed to be dark – he’s a 21st century super hero – he fights with fists and likes gadgets, could be any one of us (except the fighting – “Where does he get all those wonderful toys?”). The Graphic Novels that inspired this film are a couple of the darkest out there of the “mainstream” comics (DC, Marvel, The Beano).

    The thing that impressed me most about this film was the amount of light. Burton’s Gotham was permanently nightime, bleak and foggy. Large sections of TDK are starkly lit with daylight or flourecents. Yet still Nolan manages to keep a really bleak mood to the piece, I guess with the characters, as you put it, that are more akin to actual nutters not comic book ones. This is no dark comic book, this is life with proper freaks.

    The only problem I had with this film was the voice – Batman wears a cape and armour suit, you don’t need to give him the Slipknot voice treatment, we know he’s batman! Make the delivery more stern and angry but it sounds like it hurt for Christian Bale to talk.

    I agree on the rating issue, but then I don’t think that’s the film’s fault. The movie is just how it should be and if the BBFC give it 12A then it put’s the ball in the parents court. If parents can’t read the warnings then its their fault when they have to deal with little timmy when he starts wearing mummy’s make-up and putting chelsea smiles on his sisters Bratz dolls! The rating is for kids of 12 and up. Kids under 12 can be taken but at the parents risk. The BBFC are telling you they think its for 12 and up!!!! Although having said that, times have changed with what 12 year olds are allowed to see. When the first Batman was released, as the UK’s first 12 rated film, the worst you saw was a teaser of the bullet hole in Jack’s face in the chemical plant. Now you get… well I won’t spoil it for others… but it ain’t no teaser…

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