Two (kind of connected) things I like in a movie are a sense of mystery and being credited with some intelligence. To put it another way, I hate movies that feel the need to explain everything.
To illustrate, consider Christopher Nolan’s two Batman movies. I wasn’t such a big fan of the first movie, partly because it felt the need to explain everything. Maybe this was a deliberate ploy by the writer to reach out to an audience which doesn’t normally like this kind of thing because they find it too outlandish and unbelievable, by saying “Look – it makes perfect sense! Here’s how he does it!”, but it led to a lot of awfully dull scenes of Bruce Wayne manufacturing gadgets and designing vehicles. Plus, the villains were boring.
The Dark Knight on the other hand, is not only admirably ambitious in terms of plot and themes, but it also credits you with enough grey matter to be able to figure things out for yourself, rather than telling you what’s happening every step of the way. Consider the first film’s flashbacks to Wayne’s parents’ murder (to be fair the comics tend to rehash this scene an awful lot too, as a reminder of his “motivation”). All that was missing was a framing scene of Wayne on his analyst’s couch, saying “Let me tell you about my mother…”. Now contrast that with the new film’s approach to The Joker. Not only are we given no background on the character, but The Joker (and, by extension, the writers) mocks others’ desire to “know” him by telling constantly varying versions of his life story. What matters is not who he is, but what he is, and how that relates to what Batman is, and what they are to each other. In that sense they work better not as characters, in the nineteenth-century novelistic tradition, but as archetypes and as vehicles for the ideas the film-makers wish to explore. Ideas of heroism, terrorism, order, anarchy, outcasts versus members of society, public appearances versus private motivations.
Similarly, there are several times when we are presented with a jump in time and have to connect the dots to establish what happened in the intervening period (Six Feet Under often did this, with an indeterminate amount of time passing between one episode and the next leaving you to fill in the blank for yourself).
In some ways this is a messy film, which is hardly surprising given its length and the amount of plot and issues it tries to stuff into its running time. There are several narrative loose ends and unexplored ideas which seem to have been left over from previous script drafts (for example The Scarecrow and his group of “fake” Batmen). But I’ve always preferred films which overreach to ones which aim low and hit their target, and I love it when, as in this case, I can’t tell when the film is going to end. What I mean by that is that there’s a scene about two-thirds of the way through the film which feels like the big climax, but then it keeps going and there’s another forty minutes of plot developments and confrontations. I couldn’t feel where the end of the film would be, almost as if it could have carried on indefinitely, and I really appreciated not being able to say to myself “Ok, there’s going to be one more action scene and then an epilogue to tie up the loose ends, then roll credits”.
One last thought. I see Dark Knight merchandise in the shops clearly aimed at children (lunchboxes, sticker books). Are these same children seriously expected to sit through a two-and-a-half-hour movie about post-9/11 paranoia, politics, morality and mutilation?