Yesterday I put together a particularly scathing review of Batman Begins 2: The Dark Night, but I thought I was maybe a bit too harsh, so I waited to publish it. After reflecting further, I realized the film had some strengths. I thought it deserved a second chance, so I went to see it again last night. The weekend hype was over, the media has moved on to putting out countless stories about that other summer blockbuster coming up, Swing Vote, and now I could settle in and just be a regular filmgoer and maybe relax into it a little bit. And I have to admit, my view of BB2: The Dark Night has changed quite a bit. I now believe it is, in fact, one of the worst Batman movies ever made. And while the crime story was compelling, it was basically the characters and the acting that sunk this film.
Honestly, where do I even begin? First of all, the protagonist of our story, Batman, is this brooding, lonely hero(?), but director Christopher Noland did not even bother to tell the audience why. No details of his origin can be found in this film, eschewing the standards of all previous Batman movies since Tim Burton launched the franchise. Not one mention of his dead parents. No flashback of young Bruce Wayne watching his parents get shot. Not one scene with star Christian Bale looking directly into the camera and saying, “And that’s when I decided to become Batman.” I felt a little lost without these crucial scenes that I’m used to seeing.
Noland decided that his lovelorn Wayne could either sit around in his fabulous penthouse apartment and be sad about his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), dating the new District Attorney, or he could go out and be the gravelly-voiced Batman and solve crimes. As Wayne, Bale has playful interaction with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart while they wear fabulous outfits and eat expensive dinners. The scenes were barely saved only by the talent and charm of the actors, but what is this, a romantic comedy?
One thought about Gyllenhaal. Is anyone else missing Katie Holmes, here? Where does the indie star get off completely changing the character to be this tall, pasty red-head? She could have at least tried to use some of the standards set by Holmes from the last movie. I guess when you’re an indie actor, you can make choices that defy convention and buck the standards and everyone should just be happy she’s bringing her indie cred to a big blockbuster film.
Of course, no one can talk about Batman without mentioning his nemesis, the Joker, played beautifully by Aussie sensation, Heath Ledger. I think we should have seen more of the Joker, but Noland really dropped the ball here for more reasons than just that. We got three different versions of where the scars on his face come from! I know films do rewrites to scripts as the filming goes on, but holey shamoley, the continuity is way off. These glaring errors may not have been so bad if it was written like he was intentionally lying, but it’s clear that Noland went way overbudget and they couldn’t afford to do reshoots. Did they really think we wouldn’t notice? Plus, I was interested to learn more about Joker’s powers and where they came from. The Joker obviously has the power to teleport, because he shows up exactly where he needs to be absolutely out of nowhere in ten different freaking scenes. Noland notoriously used practical effects where CG effects would have been completely fine (the truck flip scene, Gyllenhaal sliding down a building, etc). I guess a glowing ball of energy teleporting around town would have taken us out of the reality of it? If you say so, Noland.
Another word about casting. Heath Ledger really brought the darkness to the Joker, making him everything Jack Nicholson showed us the Joker should be from Tim Burton’s Batman. But he really pushed the envelope to give us the scariest nihilist to ever wreak havoc on the silver screen. He also had some of the funniest lines in the movie, even once referencing other projects in Ledger’s career, like when he played the little boy in Jerry MacGuire 15 years ago. I suppose I can give him a pass for not winking to the camera and really knocking the line, “You complete me,” out of the park, but only because the rest of his performance salvages this nightmare of a film. I really look forward to see what Ledger will do with the Joker in the rumored next film of the trilogy, Batman Begins 3: Trial of the Riddler.
Speaking of characters, just what happened to the ‘character’ of Gotham City? Apparently in one year (of movie time), the city dismantled its elevated train system, tore down the Wayne building in the middle of town, sank the Narrows neighborhood into the ocean, and put street cleaners on duty twenty four hours a day. Oh, and everyone lives and works in tall glass skyscrapers. I can understand modernizing Gotham (see Joel Shumacher’s brilliantly designed neon-kaleidoscopian Gotham from Batman & Robin, for example), but Gotham has never looked so bright and clean! It’s like I was visiting Chicago. Oh that’s right, I was. I’ve lived in Chicago for awhile now, and I truly don’t know how non-Chicago residents felt about this ‘new’ Gotham, but for someone who recognized every exterior shot it was quite distracting. I was definitely taken out of the movie during every scene. What’s also interesting is that all the citizens of Gotham can fit onto one ferry boat, while all the prisoners of Gotham fit on another. They have just as many criminals locked up as they have citizens! Strike two for trying to be “realistic,” Noland.
I swore I would keep this review under 350 words, and I’ve already gone waay over that. I haven’t even mentioned Two-Face (Eckhart), Jim Gordon (played by Gary Oldman), and Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman), but I’ll be brief. They all sucked.
I hope Christopher Noland can make some improvements with this mess he’s got himself into. I barely tolerated Batman Begins, but BB2:TDN is clearly way off the mark of what a good Batman movie should be. The third installment of the series should be interesting, to say the least. But I swear if Gotham City ‘resembles’ Los Angeles next time, I don’t care if they get Malkovich to play the Riddler, I’m walking the hell out of there.