I have to admit that, though I did enjoy the movie, I do not understand why so many people are praising The Dark Knight for its grim realism. In fact, it is very odd to me that they are doing so. Are these people thinking about what they are saying? Honestly, the idea that a cartoon character like Batman should be the subject of a realistic movie is absurd. The movie's realistic elements inevitably emphasize, by way of contrast, the utterly unrealistic nature of its central characters, as well as the equally fantastic nature of its narrative. Unfortunately for a film like The Dark Knight, by so reminding the discerning viewer of the unrealistic nature of these elements, its realism makes such details ridiculous. The movie, instead of being made harsh and gritty by its realism, is made into a hokey, childish cartoon.
To this, I might add that realism is always the final retreat of the unimaginative mind. It is the only approach available to that person whose perspectives are so narrow that anything outside of the ordinary is automatically dismissed. Regrettably, by eliminating any flights of the imagination from a work, its maker eliminates those very things that could have given it charm. By taking meter from poetry, stylization from acting, emotional qualities from the objects of painting, and the like, a person removes the very qualities that make these things art.
Not surprisingly, from its beginning until its end, The Dark Knight is visually pedestrian. The costumes are about as inspired as those one might see in any television sitcom. The sets are just as forgettable. Even the film's locations present the viewer with nothing more than some generic big American city. There is not a single moment in which the director has included any sort of intriguing image. The result is a film that, while competently made, is never likely to draw the viewer into its world.
The narrative is just as ordinary. Much of it consists of a series of lackluster confrontations between the forces of law and order and various criminals. Other parts, in which the Joker's grandiose schemes are made the film's focus, though not actually realistic (even if presented as if they were), are imbued with such trite morality lessons that they are just as disappointing. The resolution of one particular crisis involving a pair of ferries carrying refugees out of Gotham is especially predictable. I was, at no point, impressed with the narrative. That said, though it is nothing special, the story is still interesting, and it did keep my attention throughout the film's duration.
I was even a little disappointed with The Dark Knight's villain, the Joker. The characters is not especially well realized. He is undoubtedly psychotic, and thoroughly repugnant visually, but he is, at the same time, rather bland. His madness never has any motive, not even in his personality, which is almost entirely ignored. The Joker just appears and causes trouble. Even if all he desires is to bring about chaos, some insight into his character, however brief, might have helped to make him more engaging. Instead of being captivating, he is just a generic fiend. All of this said, thanks to Ledger's performance, the Joker is the single most interesting character in the film.
Another element Nolan has included in his movie that could have been interesting, but is ultimately disappointing, is the theme of vigilantism. Obviously, given the nature of the character of Batman, such a theme is inevitable in any work centered on him, though many of the authors of such works have de-emphasized it. Nolan does not, however. Instead, he often seems to blur the line between the actions taken by his protagonists and those taken by their enemies. Both the heroes and the villains here are extremely violent individuals, and both are more than ready to torture their opponents, commit crimes, and engage in some very disreputable actions. It is, consequently, a shame that instead of presenting real meditations on such deeds, the director simply presents the crimes committed by the good guys as justified and those committed by the bad guys as reprehensible. Nolan does have the Joker mention that Batman is a freak like he himself is, but that is as far as he goes. He never really equates the nature of their actions. I found it interesting that the film's hero is as much a criminal as are any of its villains, and, I have to say, I was, as a result, somewhat disappointed that Nolan wasted a chance to develop a theme that he brought into his movie. Rather than doing so, he just presents Batman's vigilante activities as heroic, in the same way that D.W. Griffith valorizes such activities when committed by the Klansmen who are the heroes of his The Birth of a Nation.
Having so criticized The Dark Knight, I should say that I did, in fact, enjoy watching it, which is something I cannot say about the director's first Batman movie. For one thing, the action sequences are vastly superior to those in the original. While they are never stunning, they are coherent. The viewer is not presented with anything inspired, but he is not baffled by a series of blurred, unidentifiable images either. In fact, it is probable that the viewer will like the movie's adventurous content. It is actually pretty exciting.
Lastly, I should say that the actors generally acquit themselves well. All of the supporting players certainly do, and Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is undoubtedly grotesque. As I already mentioned, the character is not well developed (which is a fault of the script), but he is nicely brought to life by the actor, who makes what could have been an utterly dull character at least somewhat interesting. The only performer whose work in the film irked me was Bale. As Bruce Wayne, he does a fine job, but his characterization of Batman can be grating. This is largely a result of the way he invariably speaks in a husky whisper whenever he is dressed as the Caped Crusader. It sounds as though Batman is always making an obscene telephone call.
While there is nothing special about The Dark Knight, it is not a bad movie. It may not be memorable or noteworthy, but it could still provide a reasonably fun way to spend an afternoon.
Review by Keith Allen
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