Debating The Dark Knight
Peter Suderman calls for a chill-out:
Let's be clear: The Dark Knight is in many ways a very good movie, but it's no masterpiece, and it's certainly not worth seeing five times in a weekend, or maybe even five times ever. It's not Godfather II, or Aliens, or even Terminator 2. It isn't a flawless movie -- not by a long shot -- and pretty much all of the complaints about its plot holes are reasonable and accurate. It's only Shakespearean in the sense that the entirety of the last few centuries of popular drama have been influenced by the Bard. What it is, though, is a compelling, comparatively thoughtful summer movie with tremendous scope, real moral complexity, beautifully moody cinematography, a handful of breathtaking action scenes, and one genuinely brilliant and powerful performance from Heath Ledger. Do the film's most slobbering boosters deserve ridicule? Probably. Does the film (or those who enjoyed it) deserve epic griping sessions from those who didn't care for it and are peeved that it made enough money to buy functional Bat-suits for everyone on the production? I think not. It's understandable that the film's combination of critical and financial success might create the impression of overkill. But just as the exuberance of the film's loudest supporters needs to be tempered, so does the grousing of the embittered minority who disliked it. It's not solid gold encrusted with perfectly cut diamonds, but it ain't peanut-ridden crap either.
Well, I don't know. Obviously the stakes in any argument about a given movie's worth are pretty low, but to the extent that debates about popcorn movies can be said to matter, I think that this one does. Based on its critical reception (and its staggering box office), The Dark Knight looks like it has a chance to do something that none of the recent spate of comic-book blockbusters have managed - namely, enter the middlebrow pantheon and be remembered as one of modern Hollywood's classic blockbusters. I'm thinking here of films like, yes, Aliens and Terminator 2; I'm also thinking of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lord of the Rings; E.T. and Back to the Future, Stars Wars and Jaws and quite a few others as well. These aren't all the sort of classics that you'd teach in film school (though some are), but they're classics all the same, and the debate over The Dark Knight will have a real impact on whether Nolan's film enters that charmed circle, whether it gets one foot in but always has its quality contested (which is what's happened to Titanic, I think), or whether it's remembered the way I think Iron Man will be, or the first two Spiderman movies: As a high-end summer thrill ride that isn't, in the end, in the same league with Marty McFly and Luke Skywalker, Ripley and Indiana Jones. So I say let the haters hate.