(Duy here. I've said before that I would see The Dark Knight Rises and that I wouldn't write about it if I didn't like it. I'm sticking to that, but Back Issue Ben wanted to write about it — he actually did before I even saw it, and now that I've seen it, I got to read it and am running it. Suffice it to say, while I don't always agree with the opinions of my guest Cubers, I pretty much do agree with most of this one.)
The Dark Knight Rises
by Ben Smith
I went into The Dark Knight Rises with the lowest of expectations, and it still found a way to disappoint me. I haven't been the biggest fan of Nolan's take on the character of Batman, but through the previous two movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, I could at least concede that the movies were well acted and generally entertaining to watch. Dark Knight Rises is neither. Furthermore, as much as I could nitpick the plot of the previous two films, they weren't so bad that they took me completely out of the movie the way Rises does. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First off, let's discuss the acting.
I've seen Tom Hardy receive a lot of praise online and from co-workers for his portrayal of the bruising Bane, and I suppose he does a good job. Though, it doesn't seem that hard to walk around with a mask the entire movie and talk with a cartoon voice. (Seriously, that voice made me laugh the first time I heard it in the movie. I don't know that that is the desired response. He sounded like a British Speak-and-Spell with terrorist tendencies). He's a physically imposing presence, but I'm still not convinced you can't hire a professional wrestler to do the exact same thing.
Christian Bale is the star of these movies, and yet nobody ever seems to so much as notice him in them. The main reaction people have to him is the BATMAN VOICE, and he does it again in this movie, to even more hilarious results. His rendition of "where's the trigger?" near the end of the movie resulted in Back Issue Ben nearly having a seizure from laughing so hard. (My laughing and repeating the "where's the trigger line", prompted my four-year-old son to start saying it, with increasing levels of commitment, merely serving to perpetuate our laughter. It was a great family moment. Thank you, Dark Knight Rises)
Anne Hathaway is impressive as Catwoman at the beginning of the movie. Her performance in that early scene where she switches from nervous, to badass, to scared victim, and back is one of the highlights of the movie. Unfortunately, I don't think she's given a whole lot more to do for the rest of the movie. I mean, I know she's running around as Catwoman, but that's mostly it, running around. (Not that seeing her run around in a black bodysuit is anything to be cynical about, so I'm not going to be too critical here.)
Joseph Gordon Levitt was pretty good as Dick Grayson. Unfortunately, he wasn't Dick Grayson. I know some people were probably happy that he was worked into the movies in this vague way, but all it did for me is wish that he was actually playing Robin outright. He looks the part, he had the heart and compassion of the character down. He would have been great at it. Otherwise, they're just trying to set him up as the next Batman in a movie that will probably never be made, because Nolan is done and the next person they hire will want to do their own thing. (There's a joke about "Dick" and "Rises" in there somewhere. Must....find....it)
The two highlights and anchors of the previous films, for me, were Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. With good reason, these guys are highly accomplished and respected actors. Which makes their misuse in this movie a borderline criminal act. (Wouldn't that be great to see on the news? "Director arrested for misuse of actor in film". I'd read that article). Morgan Freeman is given nothing to do in this movie. He makes a really good hostage. He has nothing to work with. Michael Caine has too much to work with at the beginning of the movie. He's the father, he's the source of Wikipedia like information about Bane, he's got random tales and wisdom. Caine has been the emotional center of the previous movies for me. (In Batman Begins, when kid Bruce starts crying to Alfred....well, it hits me in my robot heart. I'll say that much). Not so here. I found the dialogue he was given was trying a little too hard to hit the viewer, and it missed the mark for his one.
Overall, the much ballyhooed "funny parts" were delivered so badly that they weren't funny (Batman's "So that's what that feels like" line to Catwoman might have been good if it wasn't delivered in the BATMAN VOICE), and many of the serious parts were delivered so badly that they were funny. The dialogue was exposition heavy and tried to provide explanations for the shortcuts in the movie. (The scene where Daggett tells Bane, "you're pure evil" is memorably bad).
Main example: there is a device that Catwoman is after throughout the movie. I'm going to paraphrase an exchange early in the movie. (I'm doing this from memory, but overall I believe it to be pretty accurate, so get off my case).
Catwoman: "You should have just given me what I wanted."
Criminal: "Oh, you mean the clean slate? The magic device you plug your name and birth date into, and it erases your electronic history?"
Wow, who talks like that outside of 1980s comic books? (Tom DeFalco called, he wants his dialogue back). (I don't know why I'm picking on Tom DeFalco. Let's just move on). It's the main problem I had with the Green Lantern movie. The characters explain, explain, explain everything in the movie. It's not natural, it's noticeable, and it's clunky.
Secondly, is it entertaining to watch?
The first time we see Batman at all is forty minutes into the movie. Now, this isn't the first chapter of a new version of the character, where we have to slog through the obligatory origin story before we can get to the good stuff. (I'm not really entirely sure this is a complaint of mine, because I think the Batman costume in these movies looks so ridiculous, that they're better off without it. But still, it is supposed to be a Batman movie). This is the pulse-pounding (should be) action-packed conclusion to one of the most highly regarded comic book film series of all time. There's an action sequence at the beginning to introduce Bane (speaking of, I'm not sure two people would just dangle straight down if they're being towed by an airplane), and then we are treated to thirty-five minutes of exposition and set-up. I know those that defend the movie will argue that this is all key development in this ultra-complex and "mature" take on the character, and my response to them is this picture of Batman punching the Scarecrow.
That's what I want to see.
One hour and twenty minutes into the movie, we get our first substantial fight, between Batman and Bane. Let me repeat that for you. The first fight in this movie is one hour and twenty minutes into it. Not only that, but it is largely a boring fight. The standard "you're too outclassed, but we have to show you really getting pounded so when you win in the last act it will be more impressive" Hollywood cliché. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer mastered this fight). Nothing but telegraphed haymakers delivered with lots of grunting and Liefeld-ian faces.
I know we have an auteur making these films, and he wants to explore themes and use Batman as a vehicle to comment on modern society and whatnot. Which is fine, but I kind of want to see him punch things too. Batman fighting on screen shouldn't be less impressive than Hawkeye and Black Widow from the Avengers movie. (Sorry, I tried really hard not to bring Avengers into this, because I don't think they're similar movies at all. But let's face it, they're going to be linked together forever for no other reason than they both will have dominated the summer of 2012. They will be the Magic and Bird of comic book movies, for my sports geeks out there. Or they won't be, I don't know, give me a break).
Beyond all that, this movie is something that I can't say any other Nolan movie has ever been, and that is that it is completely predictable. I knew everything that was going to happen before it happened. As soon as Alfred was going on about his trips to that cafe (totally stolen from Good Will Hunting by the way), I knew exactly how the end of the movie was going to go down. Immediately. This was twenty minutes or so into the movie, and I knew what the ending was going to be. I knew Batman would appear to die, and then the last shot of the movie would be Alfred and Bruce giving each other the head nods in this restaurant. Over and over again, there wasn't a moment in this movie where I thought, "Wow, didn't see that coming". (I knew right from the beginning that that was Talia, to the point it was frustrating me that it was taking so long for them to reveal it. Not really a complaint I guess, because they can't do it too early, but whatever, it's my review).
Quick tangent: I have been accused more than once recently of not liking the character of Batman. My response to that is to travel back to 1989, and watch a young Back Issue Ben going to see the Tim Burton Batman movie at least eight times, and painting a large yellow oval bat symbol on his bedroom wall. I'd also invite you to see my movie collection, where you'll find all four volumes of The Animated Series on DVD, the 1966 movie, and all four of the 1990s movies. My son is wearing Batman underwear to daycare today. Don't try to discredit my opinion by claiming I hate the character.
Lastly, the plot. Oh, the wonderful plot.
Nolan's Batman movies are grounded in making the character and his world believable, and yet nothing that happens in Dark Knight Rises is believable.
Nolan established a world where everything down to Batman's cape is explained to the point where any sense of wonder, or of the fantastic, was stripmined right out of the movie. Yes it is still about a man that dresses up like a bat and fights crime, but he did his best to dress it up in a real-world setting that makes the viewer believe that this could really happen. (This isn't just my geek-voice complaining. I have heard that exact thing described to me as a positive from many co-workers). This is the internal logic and foundation of the movies that Nolan established. That's what makes the more fantastic leaps you're required to make in Rises all the more impossible to accept.
In a world where Batman suffers real physical damage from his exploits, we're also expected to ignore that he wills himself back into health not once, but twice, within the span of this movie. The second time is so impossible (I'm no doctor, but it seems pretty damn impossible to go from your spine sticking out of your back to doing pushups in three months) there is no continuing on at that point. There's no way I could continue to play fair with that movie as I'm watching it, if the people making the movie aren't going to play fair with me. This isn't some movie full of characters that crawl up walls, where you could conceivably allow yourself to believe they could heal from a broken spine in a few months. This was a world about a real man, doing extraordinary things, healing in an unreal way. In a world where the Joker is just some madman that wears smeared makeup, that does not fit. I'm sorry.
Batman is so distraught over the death of Rachel Dawes, that he has put himself into self-imposed exile at the beginning of the movie, for eight years. Batman has quit on Gotham and his mission over his sadness of the death of a loved one. Repeat that again in your head for me. It's okay, I'll wait for you. Batman was born out of the death of his parents at the hands of a criminal. An act he vowed to himself to try and prevent from happening to anyone else. So, what prompts him to give up his quest at the beginning of this movie? The death of a loved one at the hands of criminals! Wow. Look, I know you can make the argument that he couldn't handle his role in the death of Rachel, and maybe that's a reasonable explanation, but it's not really a Batman that I want to root for. A guy that quits helping others because he's sad. I know they make a big deal about the streets being safer, but as near as I can tell, Catwoman didn't invent people to hire her to steal Wayne's fingerprints. Crime still exists, even if it's only on the level of, say, a mugger sticking up families on their way out of the theatre.
There is no discernible reason given in the movie, for Batman to trust Catwoman as much as he does. All he knows about her is that she is a lifetime thief and she's kinda hot (I guess hotness wins out!). The fact that his plan to save the day at the end of the movie relies so much on her, when the last time he saw her, she was betraying him so badly that he ended up getting his back broken and thrown in a hole, is beyond any reasonable sort of explanation.
There are so many more:
- Why are the police kept alive underground, by Bane and his crew? He kills everyone else he runs across in the movie, but their master plan just involves leaving them buried underground. (On that note, those policemen looked surprisingly well-shaven and healthy when they're freed from their underground prison. I've imagined a dream scenario where they actually enjoy being down there, and they've set up all kinds of areas to work out, and someone created his own barber business because he happened to have a shaving kit in his backpack, and someone set up a garden to grow fruits and stuff. They were down there for months, they had a lot of time).
- Blake just waltzes into Wayne Manor and says, "hey, I know you're Batman, because you got that Batman kinda smile." One, Bruce doesn't even offer up so much as a "nuh-uh" in response. Second, I'm now going to use "you got that Batman smile" on as regular a basis as possible.
- Batman takes the time to create a big gasoline outline of his bat symbol, all while a bomb that is going to destroy the city is quickly ticking down, and Commissioner Gordon is being marched to his death. Way to prioritize Batman. Gotta get your brand out there.
- You're telling me an adolescent child is the only one that could escape that pit? Nobody thought to tie a bunch of ropes together? Why throw Batman into what seems to be the mostly easily escapable prison in history? At the very least, why throw him into one that has a built in escape route? I don't even understand the logistics of this pit. You have to climb up to a certain point, and then jump across to his platform. Can you not just continue climbing up the conveniently provided rope? Someone feel free to explain this to me, because I am confused.
- Are there any citizens of Gotham that aren't cops or criminals? You'd have to think the regular citizens would outnumber the prisoners released from Blackgate by a significant margin. That the citizens seem so eager and willing to descend into chaos says a lot about the hope that was supposedly provided by the end of The Dark Knight.
Side note: Mrs. Back Issue Ben felt it was pretty sad that we will not be able to let our young boys watch these Batman movies. Primarily because someone is being brutally murdered for no reason other than to show how evil and badass Bane is, every time the character appears on camera. Add that to the Joker from The Dark Knight, and these are not exactly family friendly films. Batman is still a superhero right? Shouldn't kids be able to see his movies? I get that he's a character open to various interpretations and levels of complexity, but that just seems wrong to me. I don't know, I don't have an answer for that one.
There are many many more examples I could give, but there is no need to go into all of them. I think you get the drift. But I'll end this whole shebang on this last one.
Yes, Batman saves the day at the end. He save the city from total destruction at the hands of a nuclear bomb, and it's a feel good-moment and everyone claps. But does he really save the city? Because of Batman's direct inaction, and mind-boggling decision-making, Gotham is in complete ruin. The citizens of the city, at best, were subjected to terrorist rule for months, and at worst, participated in it. The city has been demolished, the bridges in and out blown to pieces, even the football stadium was destroyed (that's just mean), and the water is probably not going to be drinkable any time soon. The hope that many of the film's supporters would have you believe exists at the end, does not exist. Bane and Talia successfully destroyed the city of Gotham. Even worse, Bruce Wayne has abandoned them to their ruin. He decided that getting rid of the bomb he created, and had a direct impact in putting into the hands of terrorists, was good enough, and he's done. He successfully got rid of the immediate problem for Gotham, but left the city to figure out the rest. The bad guys won; it just doesn't seem like it unless you look hard enough.
Which is The Dark Knight Rises itself. Maybe on the surface it seems like a good movie (it's certainly got lots of violence and takes itself seriously enough) but if you look hard enough, you can see the flaws in the movie. Maybe I'm one of the few that couldn't look past them, and if I am, that kind of saddens me. I think we should expect more, and demand more, from our entertainment than a movie of loosely connected big ideas all held together by overwhelming violence and a desire to seem "serious."
In other words, I can't wait for Avengers to come out on DVD.