Gone is Gotham.

Everyone can stop complaining about the heat, please. Don’t you know I’ve been waiting years for a summer with weather as perfect as this one has been? And after such a horrible winter! It hasn’t been a summer of rock and roll, bike rides, and carefree painting, it hasn’t been a summer of weddings and budding romance, it hasn’t even been a summer of decomposing apartment managers (thank God!) But it’s been a hot summer, and therefore a good one, if uneventful.

Well, I did see The Dark Knight, and since everyone has been pouring forth the same obvious praises (It’s the best Batman film to date, Heath Ledger’s performance was un-flippin-believable, No other superheroes need apply, etcetera, etcetera) I will take a minute to make two slight criticisms. Slight because the sheer awesomeness of this movie overshadows most of my nitpicking. I don’t think there are any spoilers here, but if you haven’t seen it yet you might want to play it safe and skip this one.

Nitpick number one: A Missing Character. No, Batman was present and accounted for, as was Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Fox, Salvator Maroni, Harvey Dent, and of course the Joker. They even kept the girl around, which seems very un-Bruce-Wayne-like. So anyway, who could this missing character be? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not a person. It’s Gotham City! This movie was over two and a half hours long, and at no point in it did Gotham make an appearance. Sure, they called it Gotham, but come on. It was Chicago, baldly. I’ve heard opinions and read reviews that praise this decision, to leave the Windy City undisguised, to shoot so many scenes in daylight, because it brings the movie to a very real level, makes it relevant and timely in an age when America is scared of criminals but even more scared of itself. Well that’s nice, but here is what I think: it’s still a movie. It’s still a movie about a man who wears a bat suit and swings around in the dark beating up thugs. Sure, there is crime in Chicago and every other regular looking city in America, but we can see that on the ten-o’clock news. When I watch it on the big screen I want to be taken somewhere else, I want there to be an element of playful darkness and dark playfulness, and no other city has come close to being as delicious to watch as Gotham. Until now. I really missed it in this movie.

Nitpick number two: Christopher Nolan… I love the man, I love the movies he makes, including The Dark Knight. But there is something about his storytelling that pushes my limit. Maybe after making Memento he felt that each transition in all of his subsequent movies could be just as jarring, I’m not sure. I didn’t notice it in Batman Begins, but there were definitely moments in The Dark Knight where I felt like I had been running along with the movie and suddenly, with a scene change, was made to stop where I was, losing some momentum and taking a few extra moments to get back on track. It makes you conscious of the fact that you are sitting in a theater, staring at a screen, and not actually there where the action is taking place. Granted, this happened very few times (maybe twice?) but it left me feeling a little like I did after watching The Prestige, which was, “Am I sure that this movie was made to its absolute greatest potential?” And I don’t think it was. Of course I watched The Prestige a number of times after the first viewing and came to terms with the parts that bothered me and liked the film more and more each time I saw it. Which is what I imagine will happen with The Dark Knight. But as awesome as The Dark Knight was, for now I’d have to say (and I don’t say this lightly!) I liked Batman Begins better. Anyway, considering what I just said about Christopher Nolan, I’d still list him as one of my favorite directors and I really hope he signs on for the next Batman movie. Is it too early to start talking about the next Batman movie?

Well, okay, I don’t like writing reviews. I hope we can consider the above post to be more of a conversation starter than a review. What did you think of the film?

4 Responses

  1. Hey, glad you’re willing to take on the year’s finest film to date. I’m going to come down in favor of Chicago as Gotham in this case, specifically because of the larger picture of what Nolan is accomplishing. Art Deco Gotham is by far my favorite fictional city, red sky and all. However, with The Dark Knight ruminating so heavily, almost oppressively, on the war on terror, it seemed to me that in order to take the audience to a place where they actually have to deal with the questions of torture, due process, the origins of non-capitalist fundamentalism and the erosion of civil liberties, the Joker’s brand of terrorism couldn’t take place in a faux city where the audience could shrug off the menace. By not disguising Chicago and by avoiding any CGI-looking explosions or pyrotechnics, Nolan deliberately forces his audience to wrestle with issues that are easily pushed to the back of our psyche, because frankly, they are agonizing questions and are much easier to ignore. Nolan’s strength as a writer is how intricately he weaves fundamental ethical issues into riveting pop-art films. As such, The Dark Knight didn’t make me uncomfortable because of what was happening on screen, it made me uncomfortable because of what is happening in the world everyday.

    But yeah, the Gotham of Batman Returns is pretty dang awesome.

  2. Points well made Age… especially about not being able to shrug off “the Joker’s brand of terrorism” when it is happening in a universe exactly like ours (this kind of crime was actually happening just on the other side of the state line??) But maybe I wanted to shrug it off. Maybe I didn’t want this film to be as real as Christopher Nolan wanted it to be. But then, maybe that’s my own flaw, and not a flaw in the movie. Like you said, these issues are easier to ignore. Or if not a personal flaw, then just an opinion which, in the end, doesn’t hold any more weight than the thousands of opinions to the contrary. Thanks for the input!

  3. Not many people dare say anything negative about this movie because in many ways, it is really good and people dont want its unique coolness to be overshadowed. My response after I saw it was similar to yours ” …the sheer awesomeness of this movie overshadows most of my nitpicking”.

    I think it is the best superhero movie ever, I think it is an improvement from the last batman, I think it goes beyond just being a superhero movie, and given how awesome the movie is, it aches (as the first one did to me for playing it safe and having a mediocre climax to comply with what the movie is supposed to be) to see that it wasn’t the masterpiece it could have been. So I loved it when you asked if it was made to its greatest potential, which I think those who dare to look at it objectively, come to the sad terms it doesn’t, as it is so great in some aspects that you can see there was potential for more.

    About Gotham City, that is kind of how I felt when I saw Batman Begins, so by now I was ok with that, as I was ok with the lack of more theatrical music like it used to have in previous movies and in the animated series. So I do think, as Adrian said, that these new concepts for music and setting fit Nolan’s movies well, even if I was fond of them.

    About your point number 2, I completely agree. The movie is clearly flawed when it comes to pacing and storytelling. The movie is so good in its own way that it matters little, but there are still issues there. Someone from the New Yorker I think it was, was blaming the movie for being pure climax as if that were bad. I regarded that negative criticism as a positive one, but when I saw it, I did find the storytelling could have used some fixes and pretty much understood what he meant. I think part of this was caused by the restraints of wanting so eagerly to make PG13 a movie that I doubt was conceived in a way that could fit that rating, but that might only be part of it.

    I don’t want to try to come with ideas that point out its flaws and its acheivements. For the positive stuff, it has been talked around the world enough and I’ll just repeat I consider it a great, unique movie; for the negative stuff, I’ll give you a link of a good review I agree with in arguments, but not in overall feel: http://www.thehousenextdooronline.com/2008/07/trickster-heaven-two-faced-hell-dark.html

    It is a very negative review that explains many things I too didn’t fully like about the movie, though this author really hated it, especially for watching it receiving all the praise it did and having people creating in their minds a little bit more relevance in the film than the film actually accomplished. As for me, I am not giving those things as much weight as he did as I am also considering its accomplishments which I think still make it noteworthy, at the very least, as being likely to be the best mainstream comic superhero adaptation to a movie in history.

    I think Nolan is still a good filmmaker, if not the one with most relevantly artistic sensibilities; one with attention to detail to manufacture well developed movies that go beyond what we are content to accept as a movie product.

    PS did you know he might give Terminator a decent rebirth? the fourth part is coming out by him, shwarzennegger-less and with christian bale.

  4. Alex, almost better than the negative review you linked to was all of the vehement comments that people left in response… people are really protective of this film! You made some great points as well, and yeah, I’d rather see Batman in the hands of Nolan than anyone else, flaws or no flaws. (Personally I was more than happy that the worst bits of violence/gore took place off screen!) As for the Terminator, I haven’t seen any of those movies yet, and so didn’t get too excited when I saw the trailer for the new one. I didn’t know that Nolan was directing though… maybe I’ll let you screen it for me :)

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