At the time of writing, Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film, “The Dark Knight”, sits as the number four greatest film of all time on IMDB’s top 250 list, only bested by “The Shawshank Redemption” and the first two “Godfather” films. It is one point ahead of “Pulp Fiction”. When everyone went crazy for the film upon its release, I figured a lot of the hype was built on Heath Ledger’s untimely death during the making of; a sort of necromancy written large. But here we are, almost seven years later, and the film is still regarded as one of the all time greats. Which I find odd given it is identifiably one of the worst films of all time.
So why do I assert that “The Dark Knight” is one of the worst films of all time? It’s long, about nothing, no fun and unbelievably boring. And on the last point, I do mean Coleman Francis level boring. Only having said that, I really do like all three of Coleman’s shitcakes better than “The Dark Knight”, even “Beast of Yucca Flats”. People who cherish the film seem to take a nonsensical, two pronged approach whenever it is criticised. If you say it isn’t about anything and has nothing to say, they retort that “The Dark Knight” is just a superhero movie and aren’t you expecting a lot here? When you respond then by saying, okay, but if we’re judging it by that yardstick it’s slow moving as hell and not in anyway exciting or even marginally coherent. “Superman” it ain’t, in other words. They then say that it’s slow because it’s dark and meaningful, taking the conversation back to square one.
The muddled thinking that went into the making of “The Dark Knight” is clear from any interview with Nolan on the topic of the film. Take the Joker character: Nolan said when the film was first released that they had based the Joker’s personality on Johnny Rotten.
“We very much took the view in looking at the character of The Joker that what’s strong about him is this idea of anarchy. We wanted to show the pure anarchy of someone who wants to do harm purely for its own sake.”
Okay, here’s the thing: whatever one might say about Jonathan Rotten ne Lydon, he is not, nor ever was a nihilist. The first side of the Sex Pistols only album contains one of the strongest anti-abortion songs ever written and closes with the most in your face denunciation of the British monarchy of all time. The guy believes in stuff, that’s pretty clear. When you understand your antecedents to that level of total misconception, it says something about the whole piece. Particularly when you’ve set out to make a superhero movie that is supposed to be existentially profound.
Take one of my real bugbears in regards to the “Dark Knight” and how deep it supposedly is – the boat scene. You know the one. The scene that made everyone talk about just “how dark” the film is in the first place. For those of you who haven’t seen the film or can’t remember what I’m talking about, here is the basic setup: there are two boats, crossing Gotham City’s harbour in different directions. The Joker sets up each with a bomb on board to blow them to smithereens, and a detonator to explode the other boat on each as well. The Joker takes over each ship so they can’t just sail away and then instructs each boatload that they have in their hands a detonator to destroy the other boat, something that they had better do before the other boatload decides to explode the lot of them.
To spice this up, one boat is packed full of “normal folk”, i.e. tax payin’ citizens coming home from work. The other: a boat-load of ne’er-do-well criminals. How they take over the boat and are in charge of it is really boring, like most of the movie – just go with it. So what happens in this incredibly “dark” scene? Each group of people ignores game theory completely and lays down their arms. In other words, even the criminals don’t blow up the normal people in order to save themselves. And this is supposed to be dark and twisted.
You want dark and twisted? Make the boat scene the first one in the movie. Same scenario, except this time round have the normal people panic and press the button, frying the criminals. They watch out the side of the boat in horror as burning bodies hurl themselves into the water for respite. The next moment, they die in an explosion as well. The Joker was playing with them and always intended to kill both sets of passengers, regardless of who did what. The Joker laughs evilly. Cut to opening credits. Now that’s dark.
I suppose I shouldn’t get so worked up about the plaudits handed to a superhero movie made seven years ago, but the reason it gets to me is something Bill Hicks once put beautifully.
“You’re lowering the standard!” he used to rant. He said this in the context of shitty pop music, but it can be applied to other areas of popular culture. If you can be called a genius for making something as rubbish as “The Dark Knight” why make anything good? And sure enough, even Chris Nolan has drank this punch. A guy who started off making the very good “Memento”, he’s now taken to directing piles of overlong, pretentious nonsense. Rewarding bad behaviour, as the audience did with “The Dark Knight” has its consequences.