Revisiting The Dark Knight (Almost) Ten Years After

tdk2You Could Have It So Much Better

If I have to pick my favorite scenes or sequence in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, one would be the part when Batman failed to save Rachel Dawes, second would be the opening bank heist, Heath Ledger’s Joker bombing the hospital would be third and lastly, Batman interrogating the Joker.

The Dark Knight is not a bad movie—isn’t that great either. On paper, it’s probably the best big screen Batman adaptation. But since Batman is hardly the detective/ninja he is supposed to be in this movie (despite his rigorous training in Batman Begins), and TDK hardly a decent action-thriller, despite glimpse of greatness in the Heat-inspired opening sequence, I’d say it’s a little overrated.

Christopher Nolan can’t shoot action—let’s get that out of the way as early as possible. The action scenes in TDK are a jumbled mess, badly edited and poorly executed. Just take the part where Gordon was shot on stage. It happened so quickly and executed so poorly, that that sequence alone didn’t make much impact. It did make its point, that another major character died, but not much else. (Without the scene where Gordon’s wife was informed by the cops, it’s not too hard to miss what the hell happened there.) Which renders the reveal, or the prestige if you like, of this particular sub-plot later—that Gordon is alive and thus, was able to arrest the Joker—much less impact, like a poorly executed magic trick. They could delete that scene and the result would be the same. Also, Gordon’s death hasn’t even sink-in yet (for me at least), before it is revealed that he’s alive. Of course, all Nolan was trying to tell is that Batman, Gordon and Dent thought they were able to trick the Joker; turns out he was already ahead of them—this I’ve realized, only after watching the movie again.

Then, there’s the supposedly climactic battle where Batman tried and miraculously succeeded—despite fighting like an under-cranked ninja—in saving the hostages from Gordon’s men. Oh I forgot, he was wearing a specialized visor that renders Ethan Hunt and the rest of IMF totally old-school. Of course, the Joker’s ploy was brilliant, and Batman made a commendable job finally having realized that with the Joker, “it isn’t that simple”. What most tend to ignore, is the fact that this supposedly spectacular final battle, was awkwardly executed and visually flat.

If there’s a bigger schemer here, it’s Christopher Nolan himself—not Dent, not Batman, not the Joker. Joker’s disappearing pencil has got nothing on Nolan’s favorite trick: misdirection. While the Joker lays his plans like dominoes ready to tip over and fall one after another, Nolan layers poorly edited set-pieces with lazy exposition and badly executed action scenes, and toss them with Hans Zimmer score that should imply relentlessness and sustained tension. He loads the script with a lot of things enough to distract you from thinking how the execution—especially in terms of action film-making and visual storytelling—could have been so much better.

All this would result, nonetheless, to Nolan’s greatest inception—instilling many the idea that this ambitious but deeply flawed sequel is the Godfather II of the comic-book moviedom.

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Rants/Raves: Christopher Nolan’s Films

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Batman’s upside-down smooch.

Batman Begins (2005). Details, lots of details. As if Nolan has written a book, a manual on how to be Batman. It’s a good comic book origin story, but still, it’s got nothing on my favorite origin movies—Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.

irreversibleIrreversible (2002). A friend once told me of a movie about an amnesiac, in which the story was told in reverse—or something like that. I forgot what the title was and so when I saw this movie with the woman from Malena standing nude on the cover, I thought this was the movie he was referring to. I was wrong. He was talking about Christopher Nolan’s Memento; and this is by Gaspar Noe, a guy who surely knows how to shock.

Memento (2000). Not sure whether this or Batman Begins was first Nolan movie I saw. Here, Nolan cuts his story in the middle, then cut it further into pieces and spliced them like a puzzle. Only that, after all the pieces were in place, it kinda feels pointless. That’s it? It didn’t blew me away.

If you want something that’s really hard to follow, try Shane Carruth’s Primer—now that is one mindfuck movie!

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The Prestige (2006). Based on Christopher Priest’s novel about two magicians engaged in a stiff one-upmanship. Some critics bemoaned the lack of showy flourish, but I like it nonetheless, it’s my favorite among Nolan’s films. The story employs multiple flashbacks, shuffling the sequence of events. Yet, unlike in his other films, the non-linear storytelling is fluid and doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Also, it’s got David Bowie as the great Nikola Tesla and that Thom Yorke song at the end credits is just perfect. While the secret to Angier’s final magic act was pretty much given, I didn’t realize Borden’s trick until it was revealed. It was also quite obvious though, if one carefully pays attention. But maybe Cutter (Michael Caine) was right, I wanted to be fooled.

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The Dark Knight (2008). A friend once defended this film by saying that critics nitpick on things Nolan wasn’t particularly good at—like staging good fight scenes—that it wasn’t his forte, and that the movie was great nonetheless. Well, I don’t know. Aren’t well staged fight scenes of primary importance in movies like this? Hellboy 2, Spider-Man, Kick-Ass, and Blade 2 all have memorable fight scenes. Heck, even the third X-Men movie has at least one memorable action sequence. And despite all the detailed upgrades on the Batsuit, both looks and functionality, Christian Bale doesn’t improve much on Michael Keaton’s Bat-Stiff.

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Inception (2010). Despite its multilayered narrative, some people find Nolan’s dream within a dream movie, linear and literal. And I tend to agree with them. Aside from the arresting visuals and one inspired sequence, this was just as problematic as Memento. Unlike Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, Inception is hardly “dream-like”. Near the end of this quite long movie, when it looks like Dom Cobb will succeed anyway, no matter what the odds are, I thought that it was probably more meaningful to snuggle, take a nap and dream for real; instead of the two plus hours I just spent, inside Nolan’s shared world of daydreaming.

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