A catch-22: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight demands, in a mean, raspy voice, to be taken more seriously than your average comic book movie. But when one endeavors to do just that—to analyze its loudly explicated themes of duality and ethical impasse; to parse the implications of having its villain be referred to and self-identify as a “terrorist;” to consider the use of invasive surveillance technology as a post–Patriot Act plot point—one is reprimanded for bullying a defenseless Pop object. Hey, guys, why so serious?
It’s a frustrating double standard, and while it shouldn’t preclude an examination of what’s wrong with The Dark Knight, it does give a critic pause—and so does the astounding volume of angry correspondence generated by the film’s fans on message boards and website comment threads. Those critics who didn’t see fit to acclaim the film a masterpiece, or at least a genre high water mark, find themselves perched precariously above an angry horde calling for their heads (or worse), much like —SPOILER ALERT! —Batman at the end of The Dark Knight. For the eight people reading this who didn’t see the film on its record-breaking opening weekend, the film’s final moments find Batman manfully taking the rap for the crimes of the deceased Two-Face/Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) so as to make the latter a martyr for good in the eyes of a populace reeling from the brutal crimes perpetrated by the Joker (Heath Ledger).
Click here to read all of Adam Nayman’s review of The Dark Knight.
Talking faux-seriously about juvenilia has become a marvelous way to avoid talking seriously about the serious. The slew of hyperbolic, overheated critical rhetoric that follows in the wake—hell, in advance of—the latest high concept blockbuster is enough to make one gag. In these cases, critical investigation has by and large become a matter of repeating verbatim the films’ stridently announced surface-level themes with some linguistic curlicues and intellectual tumbling tossed in. As it has so often, commercial calculation finds a willing handmaiden in critical laziness, even (or perhaps especially) that evinced by those more intelligent and discerning writers who devote their efforts and talents towards designing elaborate intellectual justifications for films that neither require nor deserve them.
What’s most obscene about this pop-cultural mythmaking is that it works so resolutely against expanding taste or knowledge about movies. By focusing so obsessively and voluminously on the most readily, tyrannically available items, critical discussion is not simply reflecting the commercial film distribution situation in North America, but actively contributing to it. By elevating the latest pop detritus to the level of godhead, by implicitly declaring the centrality of pop moviemaking (most often bad pop moviemaking) above all else, it only further occludes those films that don’t have the advantage of being relentlessly drilled into our consciousness by the marketing machine. Why bother wrestling in print with films that are challenging, strange, obscure, or entertaining in different and novel ways when The Truth is playing in 2500 theatres?
All of which is a grand lead-up to the comparatively puny declaration that Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II is a lousy piece of moviemaking and a lousier work of imagination, its thunderous acclamation aside. Click here to read all of Andrew Tracy’s review of Hellboy II: The Golden Showers.