July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Brutal, overlong, redundant, needlessly complex, and mostly Batman-free. My grade: C-plus.
My feeling walking out of the theater was that Christopher Nolan did not have a strong need to make a third movie. DKR retreads many of the same ideas explored in Batman Begins, but with a scarier villain than Ras Al Guhl.
Stub Hubby Review: Batman Begins & The Dark Knight
Ann Hathaway nailed it,
and the costume looks
less fake than this too.
What did I like about DKR? Bane is menacing, Anne Hathaway's Catwoman is just as I remember her from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is strong as a passionate, hotheaded cop. Burn Gorman (Torchwood, Bleak House, Layer Cake) is a creepy-looking minion. I liked the imagery of the prison pit, even if this Jungian metaphor was covered already in Batman Begins. There's only so much "freshman year philosophy" (as my wife calls it) I can take before it becomes meaningless. Bruce Wayne is strong because he doesn't fear death. No wait, fearing death makes you strong? Either way, I don't think you can repair a compound fracture of a back vertebrae by hanging the patient from a rope and punching them in the back, no matter how many push-ups you do afterwards. What's the co-pay for that? The last act takes place in wintertime, and the snow was very realistic, and I loved the drifting, floating snowflakes a lot. Very convincing.
I have not read Bane-Batman comics before, and neither have millions of moviegoers, so what he's like on the page isn't relevant. Bane is a force of nature. He is an implacable pile of deadly muscles. He moves slowly but with complete economy of motion. Each death by his hand (or boot, or knee) is a model of efficiency. Bane wears a gas mask and speaks through it like Darth Vader. I know secondhand that in the comics Bane's strength comes from the gas, but I think we're told in DKR that, also like Vader, the gas mask merely keeps movie Bane alive. I repeat this Vader comparison because no one has ever complained about comprehending Vader's dialog in the Star Wars movies. I could only make out about half of what Bane said in DKR. At first, I just wrote it off- as long as I got the gist of his dialog, I could keep up, right? This turned out to be not good enough. Bane's worldview is the engine for all the action in the movie. It was impossible for me to get behind the purpose of the chaos if I barely understood why it was happening in the first place.
In a pivotal scene -- a scene that sets in motion the last 45 minutes of the movie -- Bane addresses a football stadium via a referee's radio headset. I literally thought to myself- how is anyone going to be able to make out what he's saying? This is like talking at the McDonald's drive-thru intercom, with a walkie-talkie!

Also, the tenor and accent of Bane's dialog was completely inconsistent. Sometimes the rich aristocratic melodic tone was there, sometimes not. Sometimes it sounded like he was talking into a red Solo cup, sometimes a tin can. I was baffled by this. Looking at Darth Vader as a model, I'm stunned that this essential component to the success of the film was botched so badly. Tom Hardy is so compelling in Nolan's previous movie, Inception, it's a shame his portrayal, while magnetic in the physicality and sheer terror, was ultimately flawed.

Also- Stub Hubby Review: Inception

I like surprises. I like twists. I just complained in my Brave review last week that the whole second half of Brave was a pedestrian "let's get it over with" slog. So how did DKR surprise me in a bad way? This might be hard to explain without giving it all away, but I'll try. I am all in favor of twists and reveals. You can have twists where characters are keeping secrets, and when they're revealed, what came before becomes more powerful. Unfortunately, the big reveal in DKR undermines what came before, and serves only as a clever misdirection on the part of the screenwriter. The big secret, revealed in the last half hour, makes the main conflict at the heart of the movie hollow and irrelevant.

Just as Nolan avoided sequel-itis with The Dark Knight, DKR has all the symptoms of the dreaded affliction in this third installment:
  • Characters from the last movie return for no good reason • Actually, Dr. Crane coming back for no good reason isn't a bad thing- it's a brief dose of levity in a relentlessly grim third act.
  • The protagonist gets less screen time than the antagonist • Worst case ever- Batman is barely in the first act of the movie, Bruce Wayne is literally absent for the entire second act of the movie too.
  • The superhero gets new gadgets or vehicles • Batman gives the Bat-cycle to Catwoman, and Lucius Fox gives Wayne a new Bat-plane. It's too bad, because the arrival of the Bat-plane explains how the movie is going to end for us.
  • Too many opponents • Too many everyone in this movie- Nolan has to keep the following major characters moving:
    1. Batman - kept on ice for whole middle of the movie
    2. Bane - the real star of the movie
    3. Catwoman
    4. Comissioner Gordon - he's missing in the hospital for the whole first half of the action
    5. Alfred - He retires halfway through. What was the point of Alfred leaving if he doesn't reappear at the most opportune moment to rescue Bruce when he needs helping the most?
    6. Lucius Fox - Explaining plot details real folksy-like
    7. Marion Cotillard - Her part of the movie is boring yet essential to moving the plot along.
    8. Joseph Gordon Levitt - A hotheaded GPD cop, no surprise here, he's the Robin character, even if Nolan thinks we're supposed to be surprised.
Really terrific.
 Setting: Batman Begins and TDK looked like they were filmed in Chicago- aerial shots looked like a more intricate New York City-ish coastline. DKR looks and feels exactly like New York City. The aerial shots look like NYC, the Empire State Building is featured, I think I saw One World Trade Center too. Uninventing a fictional Gotham is weird when Wayne Manor in Batman Begins looks like the pastoral countryside of England, transplanted to New Jersey's Palisades in DKR. It was completely disconcerting to watch all the bridges to Manhattan blown up. It crossed a line between comic book Gotham City and a world where 9-11 happened.

Stub Hubby & Batman