Sunday, July 20, 2008


Well, I paid my six bucks (10 AM Sunday screening) and sat through it. All two-and-a-half hours, plus the trailers for Watchmen and The Spirit and a few other things that look substantially more entertaining, like Bolt, the animated movie about a dog who thinks he's super-powered (he's actually just the star of his own TV show).

The Dark Knight gives you a lot to think about. Unfortunately, most of what I wound up thinking was, "Really? Really?"

I'm starting to really hate comic-book movies, and I'm not just talking about superhero stuff - Sin City and 300 fall under this umbrella, too. Comics have engaged in a decades-long effort to be taken seriously as Aaaahhht, and they've finally got Hollywood studios convinced. The trouble is, they haven't got critics convinced. Critics are still skittish about praising comic-book movies, for fear the innate silliness of the whole movie-critical enterprise will be revealed. So the ones that get the best reviews are the ones that suck the hardest, because the critic hive-mind POV is that the darker and more bleak your movie is, the better it is, and their intellectual paranoia means that goes double for comic-book movies.

The Dark Knight pushes pretty much every movie-critic joy-button. It's long, dark (both thematically and literally, taking place almost entirely at night or in unlit buildings), and it's got a massively overwrought performance at its core. Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker had me almost literally scratching my head in the theater, wondering, "This is what scares you people? This? What are you, some kind of pussy?" Maybe this just means I'm a depraved sociopath myself, but his antics were never scary, and only amusing maybe twice: When he made the pencil disappear, and when he was pulling out bigger and bigger guns to get into an armored truck, eventually graduating to an RPG. Otherwise, it was a tic parade (limp, constant lip-licking, hair-flipping, blah blah blah), and if he is nominated for a trophy at the big trade show at year's end, it will almost certainly remind me of an Entertainment Weekly writer's famous joke, from when John Lithgow won an Emmy for Third Rock From The Sun in 1997: "I thought the award was for the best acting, not the most acting."

Christian Bale, who I've liked quite a bit in other roles, is just as bad: As Batman, he huffs out his words in a voice one step removed from the "Cookie Monster" style familiar to death metal fans, and as Bruce Wayne, he's the emptiest of empty suits, like a Hallmark Channel version of Patrick Bateman. Aaron Eckhart, as Harvey Dent, was better, but still far from the peaks he hit in Thank You For Smoking, his best performance to date and one that could have informed this one, had he gotten better material to work with. (The less said about the replacement of Katie Holmes - with whom Eckhart worked in TYFS - with a sad cartoon turtle, the better.)

I feel like I'm devoting more typing time to this movie than it deserves, so I'll wind up by saying: Too long by at least 45 minutes and three or four plot twists, staggering under the weight of its own pomposity, nice-looking at times but way too earnest about repeatedly hammering the audience with slab after clanging slab of pseudo-philosophical dialogue about how bad, and venal, and stupid, people are. I was honestly surprised the director didn't throw some kind of ham-handed criticism of people's taste for onscreen violence in there, too, but I guess if you're gonna be as obsessed with delivering what you're convinced are "shocking truths" to your viewers as director Christopher Nolan and his screenwriting partner/brother Jonathan apparently are, you've gotta be equally sure that they're gonna be interested in sitting there and taking their punishment, which requires thinking of them as more than just a set of nerve endings and sensory appetites to be probed and sated.

The best superhero movie of recent years has been The Fantastic Four, because it didn't feel the need to be deep and dark: It was funny, and entertaining, and took the sheer coolness of super-powers for granted, and its writers and director knew that was enough. Instead of spending your money on this, go back and give TFF another look. And when you do, remember that it got crushed by critics, precisely because it wasn't "gritty."

It seems I'm not alone.

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