Saturday, July 19, 2008

Knot A Good Knight

Just a note to Christopher Nolan from Polonius before I start:

[B]revity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward

Somewhere inside The Dark Knight's bloated carcass is a really, really good 108 minute movie that gets talked to death. Nolan flogs it into a 152 minutes that feel like 200.

It has the same affliction as the latest Indiana Jones attempt. You shouldn't have to be checking your watch during the chase scenes wondering when the next lecture kicks in.

We get it, Chris. We understand that the Joker and Batman aren't so different. We get it that Harvey Dent is the Great Hope Of Gotham and deserves to get the girl. We get it that it's not all just black and white and you have to make choices. We get it. We get it. We get it. There's no need to ramble on like Frank Herbert on an absinthe bender.

Chris, we loved Batman Begins. You made good use of Christian Bale and Michael Caine in The Prestige. Why, oh why did you have to get all preachy on us?

I know the critics love that stuff. And, truth be told, it's nice when a movie can be more than the sum of its explosions. Just, why in the world did you think you needed to go over and over the same ground like a Tim Powers novel? Powers gets paid by the word. There's no need for your movie to hang around like a drunken brother-in-law.

To be fair there are some good set pieces. The bit with the light poles just after coming up from "Lower 5th St" made me stand up and cheer. Morgan Freeman delivers a line to the accountant just after, "Let me get this straight," that may be the funniest in any of the Batman flicks. But that isn't enough.

Christian Bale became THE Batman for me in Batman Begins. In this movie he's just a pawn in a suit that's more important than he is. The conceit of running his voice through a fuzzbox is only the second most annoying recurring tech bit in the movie.

Large swathes of the cast are wasted. Cillian Murphy is back as The Scarecrow but only for a minute. He then pops up later in a role as mere window dressing. Eric Roberts is very good in a role that could have been played by most any of the out of worker Sopranos second unit. He also comes in billed behind Chin Han as Lau in billing reminiscent of Hawaii 5-0. Anthony Michael Hall is the TV interviewer that you can't quite place.

And speaking of that TV interview. In this movie there are more people who know Batman's secret identity than frat houses with a copy of the Paris Hilton video. My God, it's the worst kept secret since The Crying Game.

Maggie Gyllenhall does yeoman's work in a thankless reprise of the Katie Holmes role. At least she's not looking down the barrel of a Scientology wedding. Aaron Eckhart does a great job as Harvey Dent but things don't look good for a sequel. But these are not the performers you'd go to see.

The late Heath Ledger does give an amazing performance as the Joker. Try to imagine what Jim Carrey might have done with The Riddler if someone had the huevos to actually direct him. Ledger swings from tightly threatening to wildly raving with little rhyme or reason. This is truly his movie. Oscar? I dunno. But an incredible performance, nonetheless.

I'll leave you with an example of the degree to which this movie sails out over the top.

Early on Nolan sets up a new villain who pulls off a perfect Gotham City crime. Batman then chases halfway round the world to get next to this supervillain both technologically and in the flesh. In a magnificent set-piece the Batman takes advantage and turns this villain to leverage. The villain then disappears for most of 90 minutes and is brought down in a denouement that left me wondering, "That's it? What about the other half? And which one of Gamble's men made the grade and what about...?"

But Nolan has moved on to the next dialogue of exposition. He'd rather tell us what he thinks the story means than let us figure it out. Based on Batman Begins I thought he had a higher opinion of his audience.

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