Sunday, July 20, 2008

Movie Review - The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is widely being hailed as one of the greatest comic book movies ever made. This is a fallacy, not because of the film's quality, but because it can not reasonably be called a "comic book" movie.

This is a crime story, a drama, a suspense, but never a comic book movie.

Most critics will celebrate the lengths this movie goes to separate itself from its origins. But we in The Middle Room do not consider comic books something to be ashamed of. The movie does an impressive job of making Gotham city "real", but this very premise is flawed. Gotham is not real. There is no Batman, no Joker.

Let us pause a moment to ensure the reader that we do not consider The Dark Knight bad. In all honesty, we think it may be as good a film as any comic book movie since the original Superman. But it is not one of them.

What's missing is style, not substance. There is a way that things appear in comic books, larger and more imposing than life. This is more the case with Batman comics than most characters. Batman is meant to appear to be more than a man. While the movie pays lip service to this ideal, we are never shown a version of Batman that backs up these claims. If Batman is a symbol, show us a symbol. Show us a world of symbols, in fact.

No, the movie seeks a sense of realism. The Batcave is conveniently absent, written out due to the events at the conclusion of Batman Begins. There is precedence for their solution, taken from comics in the 70s when Bruce Wayne decided he needed to be closer to the streets of Gotham, but the loss is deeply felt here. Likewise, the Batsuit, here imagined as a modified combat suit, disappoints (as it did in the first installment we might add). But most, we miss Gotham, traditionally displayed as a taller, older city, a character in its own right. Instead, we are presented with Chicago.

Fortunately, our villains have more substance. The Joker is near perfect (though the make-up was again overly... realistic). His character has never been this frightening, and as long time fans of the comic, this means a great deal. Two-Face is also handled superbly, perhaps with more care than we've ever seen.

And the movie itself: well written, well acted, well shot, and all of that. The characters of The Joker, Harvey Dent, Rachel Dawes, and James Gordon are handled masterfully. The last few minutes were melodramatic and illogical, but such is life.

As a film, compared to the likes of The Godfather, this would deserve four stars out of five - objectively, it's that good. But, as a comic book movie - a Batman movie - we can only give it three stars against Batman: Mask of The Phantasm.

We enjoyed the Dark Knight; we will surely want a copy in our DVD collection, but we wish it were less embarrassed by its source. Taking the premise seriously is less impressive when that premise is so understated.

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