Dark Knight Strange Love: Or How I’ve Learned to Stop Listening to the Hype Machine and Love My Doubts
With the hype machine spreading throughout America like Scarecrow’s fear toxin, I feel like the only one wearing my gas mask. I realize that advance reviews have been good. I realize that ever since the first trailer dropped, a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for Heath Ledger has been an inevitability (I stated it officially a month ago, and I’m counting down the days). I realize that with the grandeur of the success of Batman Begins, everyone immediately expects this will be the best comic book film of all time.
Forgive me, but I’m just not quite ready to crown the savior when I haven’t seen the miracles, and everyone and their cousin has been so eager to believe.
Now, I’m not saying the film won’t be great (I’m sure it will), or that the casting isn’t spot-on (it is), or that Chris Nolan isn’t the most sure-handed thrill director around (sorry M. Night… he is). In fact, I’m not doubting the quality of the film at all. I’m doubting the hyperbole, the premeditated greatness of this film, the hype bomb that hit nuclear upon Ledger’s accidental death. What if, and please Lord Jesus almighty upon High forgive me for voicing this, but what if… the film is just a good comic book flick? What will happen then? Will we all shrug our shoulders and say, “Maybe next time?” Or (and this is what I fear) what if it’s one of those films impossible to criticize because it’s become such an event, such a monumental film release, such an unavoidable juggernaut that whether or not it fulfills the prophecy, it will still claim the title?
My doubts don’t begin with the trailer for this flick, which is splendidly crafted, and gives you just enough of the villain’s performances to tease you and leave you wanting more. They start with Batman Begins. No one seems to want to admit it, because it’s the closest that anyone has come to hitting a homerun with a Batman film, but there are some serious flaws in the film, some serious drags in tempo, and one big fat lifeless performance by Katie Holmes. Perhaps the studio heads are to blame, and Nolan was told that Batman needed a love interest—this certainly wouldn’t be the first superfluous woman in a Batman film—but the camera follows her so often, and so many of the plot twists and turns include her, that I have trouble dismissing her as simply “the weak love interest.” Her scenes in the film drag an already long film down to the ground—the flick was 140 minutes, by the way, and The Dark Knight is longer. Is this indicative of a problem in the new film? Of course not, and the replacement of Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal can only help the quality of these scenes. But Rachel Dawes is not even close to as interesting as the Mary Jane Parkers or the Lois Lanes of the comic book world, and one would hope her role is limited in this film—but I have doubts.
Don’t get me wrong, please don’t come after me with your pitchforks and torches. The first film manages to be the best Batman film AND overrated at the same time. On IMDB.com, people have it ranked at the 101st best film of all time, in front of Back to the Future, Strangers on a Train, The Wizard of Oz, and Fargo. Now, this doesn’t really mean anything on a list that has two Star Wars films in the Top 10—it’s a list made by internet geeks. But it’s listed at least 60 spots above the next superhero film. Who are these people who believe Batman Begins to be the best comic book movie of all time?
Here’s a nitpicky point that bugs me when folks refer to Batman Begins as well. I kept hearing about how realistic Batman Begins is, how this is what a superhero movie should feel like—it’s dark, gritty, a notable lack of witty one-liners, and it’s put into a realistic setting. Again, simply because this looks more like a real city than the statue-laden Gotham City of the Joel Schumacher flicks does NOT make the film any more realistic than any other comic film. The central plot point involves a machine that evaporates any water within reach, despite the fact that humans are more than 60% water. The action is still sleek and choreographed. Christian Bale does a growly Batman voice, despite the fact that it’s no more intimidating than his normal voice, and it certainly wouldn’t fool anyone in real life into believing that it’s not Bruce Wayne. Just because the film believes itself to be more serious than the other comic book films doesn’t make it more worthy of praise.
And when did the world decide that fun comic book films aren’t terrific examples of cinema in their own right? The beginning of X2: X-Men United has one of the best opening scenes of ANY film of the last decade, maybe more. There are sequences in X2, Iron Man, Spider-Man 2, and even in the old Christopher Reeves sequel Superman 2, that are more unforgettable than anything in Batman Begins. Sometimes, films that are filled with colorful effects, one-liners, and a general sense of fun can still be executed flawlessly, with tons of suspense and high stakes for the world. We can laugh and smile and cheer with our heroes. Characters RARELY smile in Batman Begins, and Lord knows the word “fun” rarely can be used (with the exception of Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, who gives his performance a wink and a nod without losing any of the character’s gravity). Does that make the film more realistic, more grounded, less corny, less fantastical? I don’t believe so, no.
Again, I’m not attempt to discredit the film, since it’s terrific, and certainly the best Batman film to date by a mile. I’m merely using my criticisms of the first film to explain my tempered expectations for the sequel. I was always looking forward to it, especially Heath Ledger as the Joker, but once he died, it seemed like everyone became so much more excited about it, while my excitement level stayed the same. I mean, folks have been concerned about other superhero films with multiple villains– why does no one have these doubts for this film? Folks have been concerned when main characters are recast in other franchises– why does no one have these doubts for this film? Folks have been concerned with other summer action films that are over two and a half hours long– why does no one have these doubts for this film? It’s as if when Heath Ledger died, all potential concern about the film died with him. All I’ve seen is the trailer, and I expect the majority of the American population is in the exact same boat. So friends, I ask you: can you stop putting The Dark Knight on our Best Comic Book Film Ever lists already? Can you stop acting like I swore in public when I say I just don’t know if it’s going to be THAT great? Can you stop saying “But the reviews are coming in, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” if you have also not seen the completed film?
I’d like to end with a factoid. Heath Ledger’s Joker has recently been named the 5th greatest villain of all time by a Moviefone poll. Can we at least wait until the movie comes out? Hopefully Friday at midnight, I’ll love it, I’ll think Heath Ledger’s last role is iconic, and I’ll think it’s the best comic book film of all time. But like most of the rest of you, I just don’t know.