The bursting $300 million dollar - in less than two weeks - popularity of The Dark Knight isn't surprising. In fact, it's the perfect film to serve as the centerpiece for the 2008 summer season. It signifies where we're at in film culture: a place were sadism sells (it's replaced sex), nihilism rules (it's replaced rebellion), and gutter cinematography is cool (it's replaced spectacle).
If you thought people over rated Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy, then the hyperbole surrounding The Dark Knight will spin you towards the exit doors. Even critics who should know better are calling it "audacious", "a gold standard", a "symphony". This is proof that our standards have lowered.
The Dark Knight also solidifies how disinterested Christopher Nolan continues to be in communicating with his audience. Like Tony Scott exploiting the pain of Hurricane Katrina victims in his dreadful Deja Vu, Nolan taps the pain and panic of New Yorkers during 9/11 and clumsily tries to fold it into a soft-headed critique of our government's intrusive power grab. In contrast, superior filmmakers like Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg have used their own fictional films (World Trade Center and War Of The Worlds) to invoke the anxiety and fear Americans felt on that day and used it to create compassionate, empathetic art.
But Nolan is like fellow opportunist Paul Greengrass, taking real-life tragedy and crafting nouveau action passages out of it. Sitting through this two and a half hour dreck (Nolan's attempt at an epic...) simply reinforces the outlandishness of the UK Guardian's recent comparison of Nolan to Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.
Once the The Dark Knight starts, Nolan wastes little time before setting us up for another of his dreary dystopian dream lands. The Joker stands on the corner opposite from the bank he's about to rob, holding a dirty, mopey clown mask. Nolan's camera calmly adores it like the blank, soulless world view he subscribes to. In fact, Heath Ledger's overall interpretation of The Joker isn't far from modern cinemas other nihilistic, self-righteous killers John Doe (from Se7en) & Jigsaw (from Saw). Sadly, film goers have latched onto these creeps as some kind of band of iconic anti-heroes who preach ugly truths while on their (and our) way to hell.
Nolan gives The Joker his moment when a henchman gets greedy about his share of the stolen loot. In an act of self-sacrifice, The Joker burns his own half and waxes anti-capitalistic about the ills of money; it's his "right on!" moment. The scene is sure to excite charged-up bobos who feign outrage at this type of soporific money-is-evil message only because they already have enough in their bank accounts to grant them the free time to go on-and-on pretending like they actually hate it.
But it is The Dark Knight's veiled brutality that truly disgusts. To score that crucial PG-13 rating, Nolan calculated his cutaways in a method that kept his film safe enough for the kiddos yet sick enough for blood lusting fan boys to get all giggly over. When The Joker forces three hoods into a battle-to-the-death match with only a broken pool cue as a weapon, it's as appalling as a Rob Zombie murder sequence. Not showing the action doesn't hide the tendency. It's simply softcore sadism.
Like most hacks, the violence and action staged by Nolan simply exists to illicit reactions of "whoa!" and "cool" from the audience (to hacks, that is a sign of success). "That was so awesome!", a guy in front of me said when Eric Roberts' character fell from a roof and snapped his ankles in a cracking close-up.
Ten years ago The Dark Knight would have been dismissed as a rehash of The Crow. How soon we forget, these days, and how quickly we forgive poor film making. Having a dry period of quality doesn't mean you need to prop up paper monuments in the meantime. Wait it out. The cycle will refresh itself.
In the meantime, send Christopher Nolan some e-mails asking...
WHY SO SADISTIC???