Before you read the title of this post and jump to conclusions, hear me out first. Put those batarangs away, fanboys.
Let me start off by saying that I really liked The Dark Knight. Hell, I would go so far as to say that I loved it. It was easily the best Batman movie of all time and the new standard by which all future comic book movies will be judged. The story was entertaining and I thought all the actors involved did wonderful jobs. I had a fantastic time seeing the movie in IMAX and I plan on purchasing the movie on DVD when I can nab it for a few dollars off.
But let's not get too ahead of ourselves.
Was The Dark Knight one of the best movies of all time? I don't think so. I wouldn't even say it was the best movie of 2008.
And don't doubt for a second that I am the target market for this movie. I'm a male, age 18-30. I've been reading comic books since I was 8 years old and have always been a huge Batman fan. I read Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns more times than I care to admit. I cheered when the annoying Jason Todd was crowbarred to death. Hell, I even pushed my way through Grant Morrison's trippy, confusing and oft-delayed (though never dull) Batman RIP story this year. So if anyone had a reason to label The Dark Knight as one of the greatest movies ever, it's someone like me.
But I don't. Though it was a great movie, it's far from a masterpiece.
At this time last year, TDK had more hype behind it than any movie I can remember in years. Fueled by the success of the first movie, the addition of one of the most classic villains in comic book history and the tragic death of Heath Ledger, it seemed like there was no way for TDK to live up to the hype.
But it did. In my lifetime, I don't think I've seen any movie meet the impossibly high expectations that TDK had. And this is part of the problem. Just because the expectations were high and the movie was somehow able to meet them, I think people thought that it was one of the all time greatest movies just based on that. And I'm not saying that breaking the all time one-day and first-weekend box office records is a small feat, but I think it too probably influenced people. When a movie starts doing that kind of business, I think people sort of feel like it has to be one of the best films they've ever seen.
If you look at the IMDB Top 250 movies of all time, you'll see movies listed that are not only considered some of the greatest stories to grace the big screen, but some of the best pieces of art ever produced, regardless of medium. Take a look at the following list:
It's A Wonderful Life
Some of the greatest movies of all time, right? That's not the only thing they have in common. They're also all ranked below TDK on the list. Right now, TDK sits at #4 all time, below The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather Parts I and II (NOTE: When trying to make an all-time great movie, make sure to put 'The' in the title).
Obviously, the people have spoken, as these ranks are voted on by the users of IMDB. It's true that there was some speculation that many of those votes were from people signing up countless IMDB profiles in an attempt to inflate TDK's score, but I consider that a wash since just as many people who hate TDK did the same thing to artificially lower its score.
That being said, I don't think TDK is a solid enough movie to stack up against the all time greats when all is said and done. Here are a few reasons why:
1. The Story Gets Slippery At Times: No one has to remind me about the willing suspension of disbelief. I'm not going to say TDK's story was weak in some places because there's no way a guy in a bat suit would go around beating people up in real life. Even inside the world of a superhero vigilante, there are some parts of the movie that border on ridiculous. For instance, are we to believe that just one day after an attempt on the mayor's life, the Joker (sans makeup, but still with terribly noticeable scars) was able to get close enough to him to make an attempt on his life? Wouldn't there be some increased security?
And what about when Jim Gordon fakes his death in order to go undercover and bust the Joker? What kind of a man would not only lie to his own wife, but his child as well by faking his own death to go undercover? Especially when being undercover really didn't do that much to help in the first place. I know the police eventually got the Joker, but are you telling me that if Gordon was replaced with a highly-trained military officer during that prison transport that the job wouldn't have been done just as well? It may seem like these points are a bit moot in a movie where a guy hangs out in a rubber suit, but if TDK wants to be thought of as less of a 'comic movie' and more of a 'real movie' then it should be prepared to face the questions I'd ask of any movie, flying rodent or not.
2. The Third Act Was Almost A Tank Job: The part of the movie with the two boats wired with explosives had its moments, but for the most part, the last 30 minutes or so of the movie were much worse than what came before it. The movie should have ended after Joker blew up the buildings with Rachel and Harvey Dent inside of them. Batman stands on a pile of rubble with Dent's coin in his hand after losing the woman he's loved for years. The Joker escapes in a stolen police car. Bruce Wayne slouches in a chair, exhausted from living his double life and wondering if it's worth everything he has to risk and will most likely lose in the long run. Are you telling me that wouldn't have been a fantastic place for the movie to end? If you're trying to make a gritty, dark movie, ending it at the point where things look the most bleak and where the most questions remain seems like the best thing to do.
But TDK kept going. They wanted to fit in more of a resolution with Joker and cram in Two Face by the end of the flick, which I think is the biggest mistake TDK made. As much as this movie was about Batman and his quest to not be needed anymore, I think it was equally Harvey Dent's story as well. He was the savior. He was the white knight that would lead Gotham back to being a safe place to live. For him to turn from the embodiment of everything that could be right with Gotham into the exact opposite should have been entirely fleshed out in the eventual third movie.
Instead, Dent's transformation into Two Face happened in a 5 minute hospital room scene with Joker. While I thought it was a killer scene (no pun intended), I think the downfall of Dent deserved much more attention. I feel like the last act of TDK tried to get everything sewn up in a nice little package waaaaay too quickly. And the entire sonar scene made me all kinds of dizzy.
3. Heath Ledger Was Good, But Not Golden: With all respect to Heath Ledger, I don't think his portrayal of the Joker was worthy of a little golden statue. I will agree that the Joker was probably one of the best parts of TDK and I found myself riveted every time he was onscreen. While I think Ledger did an admirable job, I believe that a lot more of the credit than most people are giving should go to Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer for the story and script. Part of the reason Heath Ledger was so fantastic was because he was given a knockout part to play in the movies and some of the best lines in any movie this year. And while I don't want to take away from Heath's performance too much, I can't help but feel like there are others who could have played the part just as well. While I wouldn't be mad if Ledger got nominated for an Oscar (He's already been nominated for a Golden Globe), I don't think he should win. Like I said, because of the wide open and ambiguous character of the Joker, I think the role could have been performed by just about anyone with a decent amount of talent and been just as good. I think Golden Globes and Oscars should go to people that pull off a role so perfectly, no one else could have done the same job.
Take Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder for example. Like the Joker, he had fantastic writing and some great makeup to help the performance. But there was just something more that Downey Jr. brought to the role that I thought was missing from Ledger's performance. Sure, any actor can be made up to look black like Downey Jr. was, but in my opinion, no one on the planet could have pulled off the role of Kirk Lazarus but him. The Joker was scary as hell, but the second time I watched TDK, it just seemed like he was just smacking his lips and making odd faces at people. Ledger's performance in Brokeback Mountain (again, no pun intended) blows the Joker out of the water every day of the week.
(And if you really want to see the best supporting acting of the year, don't miss Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road. Pulling off the near-impossible task of holding his own onscreen with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, Shannon turns in a performance that steals the entire movie in about 8 total minutes of screen time.)
4. The 'Myth' Of Batman No Longer Existed: One of the things that bothered me the most about TDK was the fact that Batman would just wander around and not really care who saw him. To me, Batman is much more effective and terrifying to bad guys as a myth, a legend that may or may not be true. The unknown is what strikes fear into the heart of most criminals. In the original Batman movie, it was debated the entire time whether Batman even existed, let alone if he was a good guy or some kind of monster. In TDK, the police have no problem not only letting Batman into the police station, but allowing him to go into an interrogation room with the Joker and try to get information out of him. Where's the mystery? Commissioner Gordon is supposed to be the only one on the police force that has any contact with the Caped Crusader! What's next? Batman hitting the bars after hours with the off-duty mall cops? Batman at Starbucks?
Honestly, if TDK scores a Best Picture Oscar nomination, I think it'll be just to boost the ratings for the show. I mean, is this really one of the best movies ever made? Are my kids going to go as nuts for it as people did this summer? I say no, and that's really going to be the biggest test. I think that removed from all the hype and the tragic passing of Heath Ledger and away from the broken box office records, 20 years from now, TDK may not seem as phenomenal as it does today. It'll hold up and still be good in the future, but years from now, I think we'll be able to see that it just isn't on par with the greatest films from years past.
I don't mean to be nit-picky about this movie. I just wanted to make the point that, while it's still an excellent film, The Dark Knight is by no means a flawless film as some may want to believe. As a comic book movie, it's absolutely moved the bar up for what people should expect in the future. As a regular old movie, it was suspenseful and fun and everything that going to a summer blockbuster should be.
But is it one of the greatest movies of all time? I don't think so.