Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Face It - 'The Dark Knight' is Actually Shit

After hearing David M. Jackson dissing The Dark Knight recently, I could not resist asking him to share his thoughts on the film in the week leading up to the end of Nolan's trilogy.  So if you're a big fan, prepare to grit your teeth and read on.  You may not agree but I hope you will be entertained!  I can't wait to hear what you all have to say in response to this one!  And stay tuned, as before the end of the week, David will be back with why the only return of Batman he's interested in is Batman Returns.  (-Pete)

You should all feel sorry for me. I have just put myself through something terrible for you – in order to write this review, I had to sit through 2008’s Guinness-turd enema The Dark Shite Knight.

I say sit through, it was more like whipping myself with razorwire and then rolling in elephant dung being bored to tears, preached and having my intelligence insulted until I died.

But, like the cinephile Jesus I am, I have rolled back the rock of popular opinion and returned to life with the ultimate word of God upon my lips.

The Dark Knight  is shit.

Let that sink in for a while. Let the rage and denial flow through you. Enter the bargaining stage of grief. And finally ... accept.

This movie needles me in many ways – the terrible pacing, the recycled philosophy and thought experiments that any A – Level Sociology student knows, the bland action scenes and the insistence on realism when the subject matter is inherently unrealistic. It’s almost as if Nolan actively hates the very idea of Batman and wants to deconstruct it on every level. It seems fitting that Bane’s mission in the forthcoming Dark Knight Rises is pretty much that.

Let’s start with a topic of massive contention for me – Nolan’s constant dumbing down of Batman, his reduction to military / industrial practicality in terms of his appearance and equipment. I guess when you have to face the fact that Batman has always been an unhinged playboy who constantly fails in his relationships with women, thus seeking outlet by running around at night in fetish gear beating up victims of economic inequality ... well, there’s a lot of suspension of disbelief involved there.

So Nolan does not trust his audience to do that anymore. He does not keep faith with us. In Batman Begins – a competent, somewhat enjoyable film – he hit a happy medium. He’d ditched the archly implied sexual deviance that Burton had put into Batman Returns but kept a relatively organic, shady and fluid batsuit to complement the way Batsy goes about his biz. The Batman Begins Batman is still a creature of dramatic intensity, using the theatre of ninja smoke-bombs alongside disorienting swarms of bats. Maybe they were impractical, but they gave atmosphere. They went along with along the symbolism and bizarre-o terror tactics that have always made Batman interesting.

Not so the Dark Knight Batman. They’re scarcely the same character. It’s like Nolan just declared ‘fuck this shit, it’s too silly’ and threw his hands up in the air, scattering all the huge wads of money he’d built a throne out of due to the first film. The new Batman doesn’t bother with things like shadows, his suit is angular and looks like it is made out of cheap, shiny, mass-produced components rather than being bespoke. It makes me laugh that in the first film, it is explicitly shown that the suit starts out that way and he goes to all kinds of lengths including airbrushing to hide it! His modus operandi in this follow-up becomes straightforward soldiery, making him more man than bat and missing the point. As a cop flatly points out in the following clip, which really should have been re-done in ADR:

God, so awful. A multi-million dollar production and they couldn’t afford to re-record this dope’s line? Anyway, part of the problem with characterisation also comes from Bale himself. His Bruce Wayne is as bad as his bat. Y’know, I’ve heard people deify Bale as ‘the greatest actor of our generation’ but I’ve really seen no proof. Granted, he’s good in American Psycho but that’s just because he’s playing himself if on-set outbursts are anything to go by – if you missed that bit of news, here’s the catch-up:

Bale fools you into thinking he’s a great actor. He’s not. He’s a walking Kuleshov effect. What is that, you say? Wikipedia to the rescue! 

“The Kuleshov Effect is a film editing (montage) effect demonstrated by Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov in the 1910s and 1920s.Kuleshov edited together a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mosjoukine was alternated with various other shots (a plate of soup, a girl, a little girl's coffin). The film was shown to an audience who believed that the expression on Mosjoukine's face was different each time he appeared, depending on whether he was "looking at" the plate of soup, the girl, or the coffin, showing an expression of hunger, desire or grief respectively. Actually the footage of Mosjoukine was the same shot repeated over and over again. Vsevolod Pudovkin (who later claimed to have been the co-creator of the experiment) described in 1929 how the audience "raved about the acting... the heavy pensiveness of his mood over the forgotten soup, were touched and moved by the deep sorrow with which he looked on the dead child, and noted the lust with which he observed the woman. But we knew that in all three cases the face was exactly the same."

Bale is the modern equivalent of Mosjoukine. He has maybe three expressions – a slight frown:

A queer little half-smile with the lips curled up at the edges (note that he sometimes combines these two expressions as a trade-off for ‘bemusement’):

And this little pout which he routinely uses to express annoyance:

The man is as believable and emotive as a vinegar-soaked, oven-baked and varnished prize conker. The merit? He has a very symmetrical, conventionally attractive face that serves as a wonderful blank canvas for suckers to project whatever emotion they want onto.

Keaton’s Batman and Bruce Wayne both had all kinds of little gestures and nuances to give you cues, Bale’s do not. Which leads me onto the abysmally tedious, head-thumping and expository screen-writing that this lack of acting ability necessitates.

I watched the movie again in the attempt to isolate finer points of contention but the stiff academic discussions the characters have about themselves just rolled over me and made me feel tired. The problem isn’t that it’s too clever, it’s that I’d read it all before in Neitsche, Juvenal and Durkheim.

The philosophy cut ‘n’ paste starts at the beginning – Wayne comes in with some totty, interrupting Dent and Rachel Dawes at dinner. They proceed to discuss the relative merits of vigilantes versus legal prosecutors, citing Batsy’s presumed insanity and likeness in methodology to terrorists. Fine as a set-up. But then, the film proceeds to repeat this conversation in different words over and over – Batwayne has the discussion again with Dawes, and the reason she prefers Dent to Wayne is also pretty much why a prosecutor is preferable to a vigilante, he discusses it again with Gordon, it’s outlined by the Joker ... it’s just the same thing over and over again. I’m quite bright, I get it – OK?

Please, I came to watch a movie. Show me, don’t tell me. Obey the basic principle of cinema, especially when I already know the academic background. Don’t discuss the hypothesis with me, show me the testing process in action.

As for the issue of conflicted identity that is so key to Batman, Alfred harps on about the Wayne family legacy and Bruce’s duty to at least appear normal as interminably as he did in the first one. Keaton’s Batwayne simply makes a fumbled remark: “I’m sorry, I mistook me for somebody else,” in Batman Returns.  Same thing, less patronising, takes five less minutes of valuable screen time.

This all leads me to another thing – the dreadful pacing. There’s a lot of filler and unnecessary conversations. It’s actually making my head hurt now. It feels like I’ve been writing this forever but the film itself is only just reaching the end where the Joker says “I took Gotham’s white knight, and brought him down to our level,” and we say, ‘yes, we just fucking watched it happen – did you think we missed it? Jesus titty-fucking-christ!’. Seriously, when I watched this in the cinema I thought (and hoped) it would end just after the face-palm inducing bat-pod flip and the endless shots of it cutting through traffic and driving through a shopping mall. Guess what? My brother took me cutting through oncoming traffic at about 40mph on a CBR when I was fifteen. It wasn’t a big thing to me then, and it’s certainly not a big thing for Batman now. Just dull. The whole set-up is a dismally failed attempt to recreate the exhilarating rooftop-to-rooftop boosting Batmobile in Begins. But it’s mainly just a shit-looking bike made out of bits of old meccano going in straight lines. The mentally retarded text-crawl on this fan video says everything about why I hate the flip, too:

Anyway -  philosophy and screenwriting - also known as ‘write your screenplay with frequent use of cut and paste from a philosophy wiki’ to Nolan and Goyer. One of the film’s central conceits is the Joker’s attempt to demonstrate that the ‘good people’ are just as wicked as any criminal if pushed, only in a fortunate position where they are not always pushed. There are two boats, each loaded with explosives and a detonator. The question is, who will blow the other boat first and would they be right? Nice try if this wasn’t just Flood and Dresher’s 1950 thought-experiment ‘The Prisoner’s Dilemma’ with slightly higher stakes. Replace ‘confess’ with ‘push button’.

I would have been less annoyed if the Joker had signposted that he was recycling this famous idea on purpose. But it’s made out to be wholly original.

The same problem comes with Dent’s ‘clever revelation’ that the mob bosses can’t be busted for violent crime but for something as mundane as tax evasion. It’s not clever or new. All American lawyers should know it. IT’S HOW AL CAPONE WAS BUSTED FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE.

Lastly the score. Listless, low-pitched and bland. Just repeated strokes of the cello and farting brass on a loop. No personality, utterly forgettable, barely comment-worthy. It just fades into the background. The following video is from Batman Begins, but that was lumbered with tedious post-Gladiator Hans Zimmer sausage-factory tripe as well. Someone has put Danny Elfman’s music from the Burton 1989 Batman over it. Notice how Elfman’s score is actually interesting, and that you can even remember it when the video is over? Could you even hum a bar of Zimmer’s score to me? No? I rest my case.

That’s it. I’m tired. I’m really fed up with this. I’m sure there’s more I could say, but I’ve got a headache after diving head-first into this cinematic treacle. I’m gonna kill Pete for asking me to do this.


David M. Jackson is a teacher, blogger and author who’s sure he’d make more money doing the latter for a living, but teaches because they let him use gasoline and explosives to make his points about the futility of human endeavour.

His incredible immaturity makes him the ideal film critic.

If you liked this or any of the other articles by David M. Jackson, you can stalk him like a freak in a cum-stained parka on Twitter @DavidMJackson or maybe buy his book about the morality of law enforcement and vigilantism. It does a far better job than The Dark Shite, and didn’t require fifteen pints of high-iron beverage and a hosepipe to produce.

It’s called ‘Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity’ and sees cybernetically enhanced super-cop Jennifer Carter uncover a terrible plot to overthrow the British government while on the run from the very institution she is trying to save.

It’s very violent, which he knows you’ll love because you’re a sadist. It’s mainly racists that get hurt, so it’s OK.

Other articles by David M. Jackson on I Love That Film:

Are James Cameron’s Movies Misandrist, and What Would he Hope to Gain if They Were?

Why I Love Aliens

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