A Disappointing Continuation
Where did it all go wrong? Unfortunately all the hype turned out to be exactly that. Just hype. This is a mediocre and highly repetitive film, perhaps marginally better than average action movie. It certainly is a major improvement over the recent mess that was The Hulk, but that's not saying much. Then again, even The Hulk managed a little better in the character department for its first third, before devolving into mindless dross.
They seem to have forgotten the things that made the first of the new Christian Bale Batman movies a success (In more than just box office). Dark Knight is a bloated misshapen mess of a film, with little coherent structure. From it's rather lacklustre opening to it's weak finale, we are just treated to a variety of scenes that just seem to have been lumped together.
At 152 minutes, someone needed to seriously take the editing scissors to the negative. Then again, if the fat had been trimmed from this film, there wouldn't be much left. The first film worked, because we had different locations, an interesting back story, and some genuine character moments, that all came together to make the 'action' parts enjoyable. Because they had a reason for being, and we became invested in what happened to the characters.
Dark Knight is simply a collection of action scenes, and 'Joker' scenes for the sake of it. Heath Ledger is serviceable as the Joker, but it's debatable as to whether he gives an Oscar worthy performance. Jack Nicholson at least had a certain level of theatricality to make the character work, in Burton's Batman. Though in Heath Ledger's defence, he had very little to work with, character-wise. I think he did the best he could with it, despite lots of pointless 'Joker-giggling' and 'oh, look, I'm insane' expressions. There are virtually no meaningful character moments in the film, no real structure to the story, and so there is no emotional involvement in the action. The fight scenes seemed to lack any genuine sense of threat or risk, because it never felt like Batman was ever in danger. In the previous film, he was fighting people of equal training and skill, so you felt he was having to struggle to defeat his enemy. In Dark Knight, he's simply going through the motions. And any genuine threat in the violence is shied away from. Don't believe the other reviews. There's plenty of 'action' in this film, but not a lot of 'violence' as such. Which isn't always a good thing. It may keep it child-friendly (in a way) for the most part, but leaves us with no real sense of consequence or risk.
In terms of setting, this time around they decided to film mostly on real city locations. The idea being, that this will make the atmosphere more realistic. Unfortunately this works against it. The ever so slight fantasy feel of Gotham in the first film, helps us as the viewer, to dwell in their reality and accept the fantastical parts. By bringing this new film more into the world of everyday reality, the more outlandish elements become less believable than they might have otherwise been, thereby resulting in a detachment from events, rather than drawing us in.
Morgan Freeman is poorly used, with little to get his teeth into. While perhaps he did not have a large part in the previous film either, he was at least imbued with some sense of personality and a genuine feeling of necessity to the plot. Michael Caine fairs a little better, and is one of the few characters to maintain a reasonable level of personality and purpose, that is on a par with his character in Batman Begins.
As for the Harvey Dent character, Aaron Eckhart is simply adequate, but apart from his general role as the District Attorney, his evolution into the 'Two Face' villain feels utterly superfluous and tacked-on for the sake of cramming in another temporary antagonist. Though admittedly, he has stunningly well executed CGI enhanced make-up. (unfortunately the un-shrivelled eye ruins the effect, since it simply would not have likely survived the wounds, and even if it had, would dry up and wither, without its surrounding tissue, eyelids and moisture.) He is supposed to be some sort of example about how evil can change and affect even the best of people, but it all feels clumsily executed and poorly resolved.
So what's good? Maggie Gyllenhall as Rachel Dawes, brings her character some much needed depth. She's a more mature actress, both in style and looks, than Katie Holmes was (As the same character in the previous film). She also has a rather sad and tired appearance, which keeps her from looking like the typical overly-pretty female love-interest. She felt like a character that you could imagine he had grown up with and loved for herself, rather than simply an attractive face.
To be honest, that's about the best that can be said, in comparison to the previous film. And in it's own right, it is a movie that can best be described as an enjoyable distraction, with virtually nothing to remember once you walk out.
Sadly, this is very much another forgettable summer blockbuster. What makes it so disappointing is not that it is actually that bad, but simply that it should have been so much better, and certainly does not live up to the hype.