You 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.