THE DARK KNIGHT Movie Review: Four Words… “Are you on Crack?!”

This has been a great year for movies.

I’ve seen more films in the theater this year then I’ve seen in the last few years combined. Much of this has to do with me being on the west coast and taking advantage of the movie going groups/scene out here. And much of this has to do with there actually being a ton of really exciting looking films coming out.

This summer particularly has been the summer of the Super-Hero film. With IRON MAN, HULK, WANTED, HANCOCK, HELLBOY, heck even INDIANA JONES. Comic properties this summer have a license to print money with IRON MAN, INDIANA JONES, and HANCOCK leading the pack with blockbuster domestic revenues of between $220 and $330 MILLION DOLLARS to date! WoW, those are impressive numbers!

However, WARNER BROTHERS (that was not having a good summer, their highest grossing movie prior to DK being the $80million from GET SMART) hits a home run with THE DARK KNIGHT. In about 3 weeks, since 18 July 08, THE DARK KNIGHT has grossed over $441 MILLION DOLLARS domestically. It is well on its way to grossing over HALF A BILLION DOLLARS!

Those are impressive numbers. Though honestly, given the fact that this movie has been given a tremendous hype campaign, along with opening on over 9400 screens (according to such sources as HOLLYWOOD.COM and CNN.COM), the highest number of screens ever, a record breaking number of screens (three times what its closest competition opened with); a record breaking opening is to be expected.

That’s just common sense. That’s just math and the law of averages.

Opening in more theaters and more screens means more people can see the film. Plus opening in IMAX screens, where the ticket price is higher, again inflates the revenue this movie is going to generate.

Add the fact that WARNER BROTHERS cozied up to every critic they could find prior to the movie even hitting theaters, and you have record hype to go along with a record number of movie screens. So yeah THE DARK KNIGHT is going to crack half a billion dollars. But that has less to do with it being a great movie, and everything to do with it having a record breaking marketing campaign, and screen release.

HANCOCK which had perhaps the worst marketing campaign of any film I’ve ever seen, opened on a little over 3000 screens, with tons of negative pre-release reviews… HANCOCK was a film marketed to fail, with dismal support from its studio SONY, and negative critical feedback… and managed to surprise everyone by not failing, in fact it’s succeeding pretty darn well. According to VARIETY and MOVIE TIME it has currently grossed over $220 million dollars domestically in a little over a month!

So it’s going to crack 300 Million easily! My point being you put the number of screens and marketing of DARK KNIGHT behind HANCOCK, or IRON MAN they would have cracked the 500 Million dollar mark as well! Honestly HANCOCK with no support is going to do at least half of DARK NIGHTS domestic gross. So just following the math, putting subjective concepts aside, and extrapolating from what the movies are currently doing, if HANCOCK or IRON MAN had opened on as many screens as DARK KNIGHT, with its positive marketing, they would surpass DARK KNIGHT in domestic gross. Period.

DARK KNIGHT’s success is one of marketing more than content. Over 9000 screens, including IMAX screens, and a critical marketing hype campaign bordering on religious hysteria goes a long way toward filling seats. The movie is good, but it is not the masterpiece the critics would delude you into believing.

And I freely admit I’m not a fan of Christopher Nolan, I think he’s an extremely overrated director. I’m not a fan of any of his films. He has a tendency to start films well, but lose his way by the time he gets to the end. MEMENTO…ehh, I could take it or leave it. INSOMNIA… ehhh, just…. much ado about nothing, BATMAN BEGINS…solid beginning, tedious middle, idiotic end…. Stupidest costume ever, PRESTIGE…good beginning, ending…. not so much, it’s a poor man’s ILLUSIONIST.

So that brings us to DARK KNIGHT. Two complaints off the top:

1/ The costumes, both old and new, are still horrendously stupid. How you can spend over a 100 Million on a movie and be unable to come up with a suit that doesn’t make people want to laugh out loud when they see your protagonist is beyond me.

Sandy Collora, A director and Special Effects/Makeup Designer, a year or two before BATMAN BEGINS created for $50,000 a short fan film called BATMAN DEAD END (you can view it here: I defy you, I utterly defy you to compare the look of the BATMAN he creates in that film, to the transformer looking nonsense that Nolan has Bale wearing, and in any way prefer Nolan’s version (And no, I don’t know Mr. Collora personally, I just saw his film a few years ago and was then, and remain now… utterly impressed by his brilliant take on the character of the Batman. He got it right).

Collora’s version looks like someone you do not, in this world, want to meet in a dark alley. Nolan’s version looks like a hobo got a hold of some cardboard and Styrofoam, and makes you pee yourself laughing whenever you see him on screen.

Bottom Line; Nolan’s version of Batman is handicapped by a stupid costume, and how you mess that up, when you have over seven decades of comics/storyboards to choose from is completely beyond me. The movie works far better when they don’t have Bale in that laugh inducing box, someone calls a costume. It is inexcusable. And moving on to my next issue…

2/ THE LOVE INTEREST… Maggie Gyllenhaal…. in a word: no. Just no. I don’t want to be cruel here, she may be a nice lady but she’s not remotely the type of person men are going to fight over. So her being a love interest for a billionaire, and the city’s DA, both men that could have their pick of women… was not remotely credible. It’s plain poor casting. Plus in addition to not being the woman for the part, Gyllenhaal lacked the presence to bring anything to her scenes. My opinion admitedly, others may have loved her, but I found her, like the suit, an obvious and inexplicable weakness that should not have made it into the final film. I think it would have been a far stronger film with an actress of say the stature of Nicole Kidman or Rosanna Arquette.

Okay those were the two glaring warts, that continued to bug me throughout the movie. But I’ll give Nolan credit for an ambitious script, that tosses in everything and the kitchen sink. It’s not a great movie, but it has great moments. It is easily Nolan’s best film, and central to this is the performance of Heath Ledger, absolutely phenomenal in his role as the Joker. I did not see Heath Ledger in this movie, he completely created something else, completely was this thing, this… Joker. I think talk of this film being a masterpiece is BS, talk of it being a great film is BS, what I don’t think is BS, is talk of Ledger being nominated for a best actor award.

Like I have said, I’ve seen a lot of films this year, Ledger’s performance ranks up there with the best of them. He single-handedly makes this entire film… better than it would otherwise be. He makes me survive the horrendous scenes of Bale trying to act wrapped in a transformer suit, and helps get my mind off pondering why Maggie Gyllenhaal is even in this film.

His performance makes a trite villain, true. And an uneven film, nearly fluid.

Add to that, moments of cinematic greatness, the triple assassination scene stands out as… brilliant. That you have to hand it to Nolan for, that’s a masterful bit of direction and editing. So there was a lot to like in this movie, and it worked largely because the movie stayed away from Bale in the suit, and Gyllenhaal’s screen time was relatively brief. But ultimately the last act is all about the suit, and that’s the part that works the least for me. So while strong in parts, it’s unfortunately another Nolan ending that leaves something to be desired.

But it’s a far stronger film than anything previous from Nolan. I just think he tries too hard for his films to have a gotcha ending, rather than just a good ending. He’s not David Fincher or early Shyamalan, he can’t pull off the gotcha ending, so he needs to stay away from trying to be cute, and just try for solid and consistent.

So while I hated choices the filmmakers made, that I think unnecessarily hampered a film that could have been… great, they made enough right choices to get this very long film, my grade of: B. Recommended with reservations. (Oh and next Batman movie, hire Mr. Collora to do the suit! 🙂 )