BP’s Top 100 Challenge #41: The Dark Knight, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I don’t think my opinions about The Dark Knight are going to be very popular. I know it is the fan favorite of the Christopher Nolan ‘Batman’ films. And I agree that it is the best of the Christopher Nolan Batman films and I really like it but I do have some problems with it and many re-watches over years haven’t helped dissipate them.
I always like to start with things that I like about the film and there is a lot to like here. The film has some really fantastic action sequences. The action sequences are a lot of fun in the film. The first scene when we see Batman go after Scarecrow and you see how all his little gadgets make him look super strong and super human really works. Particularly in contrast to the fake Batman’s with their guns. And of course, the big semi-truck chase scene underneath Gotham that ends with the Jokers truck flipping end over end is really spectacular.
It is also a beautiful film. There are some really great shots and effective visuals. Nolan has a gift for creating moments in all of his films that not only make gorgeous still-shots but make the moving image pop. The shot of the Joker in Gotham lock-up behind bars is stunning, as is the shot of him standing in front of a huge pile of burning money. There are also some great performances. Heath Ledgers’ Joker is demented and perfect for the film. I was a huge Heath Ledger fan from the first time I saw him in 10 Things I Hate About You and was really saddened by his passing after this film. Ledger brought the perfect level of manic insanity that the Joker needs. Also his physical performance was remarkable. The shot of him walking away from the hospital in the nurse’s uniform with his arms sort of flapping out from his body is haunting and creepy. Ledger tapped into the completely repugnant but also captivating aspects of the Joker and his performance elevated the entire film. I have always liked Christian Bale as Batman but I notice for the first time on this viewing how grating his “Batman” voice really is. The other returning characters like Alfred and Gordon were great and also help bring a lot of heart and humanity to the film.
I think the film is at its best when it asks you to consider your own morality. For me the best sequence is when the two boats, one full of criminals and one full of civilians, each have a detonator and have to choose whether to blow the other up to save their own lives. Even the civilian man who is most vocal cannot bring himself to take the lives of a boat full of criminals. But when the big burly criminal in the orange jump suit throws the detonator out the window and chooses peace over death, that is really powerful. It might be that I love that sequence so much because it backs up my personal beliefs about humanity but I find it very effective.
As you can see, I like the film but I also have some problems with The Dark Knight. My biggest complaint is that the film tries to do way too much. I feel like there is a pacing problem with the film, to me there are too many ending to the film. There are about four points in when it could have ended and still felt like a complete film: 1.) When Rachel is blown up and Harvey is saved instead; 2.) When the Joker is caught and brought to prison; 3.) When the Joker is finally caught and left hanging from the high rise; and 4.) The actual final ending of the film. All of those moments feel like endings and that in turn makes it feel like the film is dragging on. I also think trying to crowbar in Two-Face as a second villain was a huge mistake. The Joker is the perfect villain for the film and the birth of Two-Face feels incredibly rushed. Harvey Dent goes from do-gooder to crazy lunatic in less than a day. And yes, I get that the plot wanted to use the Joker to turn Dent so the city would lose its hero. And I get that Dent was destroyed by the loss of Rachel but it really does not work for me.
I am not sure The Dark Knight is one of the top 100 films of all time but it a very good movie and I will rate it in context with the top 100 list. I do have problems with the dual villains and too many endings but I still enjoyed re-watching the film.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
The Dark Knight ranking: Battleship