Monday, July 30, 2012

I didn't care for "The Dark Knight Rises"

Opinions seem to be split on "The Dark Knight Rises," the final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman-opus.

Spoilers! I'd like to note that the ending of this movie was spoiled for me on opening day when I was reading my office's Facebook page and one of our students posted the ending because s/he is a massive asshat and can suck my freshly sharpened Batarang, thank you very much.

I've read a couple of reviews calling it a masterful, fitting end to a grand, sweeping trilogy, and other reviews calling it a sloppy, incoherent mess.

And I really, REALLY want to be in the fitting end camp. Batman! Catwoman! 'Splosions! IM-splosions! I loved it's predecessor, "The Dark Knight." It's one of my favorite movies of all time, and it's definitely the best superhero movie ever made. It blew everything else out of the water, the original "Batman," "X2," "Spider-Man," "The Incredibles," nothing else comes close to touching the depth and thematic resonance of "The Dark Knight."  

Maybe that was the problem. Maybe my expectations were just too high for the sequel, which isn't a bad movie, really. I liked the villain, I liked Catwoman, I liked John Blake, and the action scenes were cool. I was never bored, exactly, but neither was I sucked into the world, the characters, and their struggles. I had too many questions that were never answered, and I kept getting lured into a philosophical theme only to have that theme discarded for the next plot twist.
The twist is she's my best friend and lets me ride that Batcycle.

Here were my main problems: there was hardly any actual Batman or Batmanning (yes, it's a verb) in this Batman movie, Bruce Wayne was the least interesting person on-screen, I could drive a Bat-wing through the plot-holes, and there was no central theme to hold the whole thing together.

The last one is my biggest gripe. "The Dark Knight" introduced it's thesis early on. What separates heroes from villains? Every action sequence, every line of dialogue, and every character development served to expound on that thesis. Every part of that story worked to expand and explore the basic themes of heroism, evil, and the difference between the two.

The difference is just knives and pocket lint.
What is the theme in "The Dark Knight Rises"? Is it that the past always comes back to haunt you? Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne seem pretty haunted by the lies they told about Harvey Dent at the end of "The Dark Knight." Selina Kyle is wholly motivated by her quest to escape her past crimes and her past selves (she's complicated; I liked her a lot). Bane, too, uses his tragic childhood to fuel his quest for--well, that's one of the plot holes I mentioned earlier. Bane is a lot of fun to watch, but damned if I could figure out what he or Talia really wanted in the end.

Then the movie just sort of forgets that it wants to explore how the past binds and shapes us, and decides it's going to talk about hope instead. Bane doesn't want to kill Batman or destroy the city right now. He wants to give it a few months, long enough for people to get some hope that they'll be saved, and THEN he'll crush them. I think. Seriously, the villainous plots in this movie remind me of a Venture Bros. episode. "I dare you to make less sense!"
More plausible than this movie

So then maybe the movie is supposed to be about fear? About how fear of death is what makes you achieve great things? And you can't fall into despair and hope for death, because then you won't be able to jump really far, even thought there's CLEARLY a rope attached to the lip of that big well and you could just shimmy up the damn rope now that you've cured your eight-year-long limp and your broken back with some prison calisthenics. That plot point did not make a damn bit of sense. And this is coming from someone who read the comic this movie is based on, which had Bruce Wayne's doctor girlfriend curing his broken back with her psychic powers and was STILL more believable that whatever crazy shit went down in the third act of "The Dark Knight Rises."
Somehow still more plausible than this movie

All of these themes are rich fodder for a Batman story. The impact of the past on the present, the power of hope, the function of fear, all good stuff and all covered in the two earlier Nolan Bat-movies, which is why I understand how a lot of people can feel this movie is a fitting end to the trilogy. But "The Dark Knight Rises" never stuck with any of these themes long enough for me to get emotionally or intellectually invested.

I wouldn't have cared so much about themes if the story had been able to pick up the slack. "The Dark Knight Rises" had a very complicated story, and it's lack of thematic coherence made it impossible for that story to mean anything to me. The main reasons I saw "The Avengers" six times this summer (get that judgey look off your face) are because it was fun, funny, and had a simple story that was executed very well.
You make me feel less alone inside.

"The Dark Knight Rises" wasn't fun, it was depressing; it wasn't funny and could barely stir itself to be witty (again, Catwoman is the exception here. I liked her a lot, did I mention that? She brought style, wit, and pizazz to every scene she was in. They should have just made an Anne Hathaway Catwoman movie. I'd watch it twice); and the story left me empty inside. I felt a deeper emotional response to Bruce Banner having his first Hulk-out than I did to Bruce Wayne climbing out of the prison. Considering that the latter is supposed to be the hero's triumphant ascent from the abyss and the former is almost a throwaway scene in the middle of the second act, that's not a good sign. Bruce 1>Bruce 2. A new universal constant? I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens with the Batman reboot.

PS, they're already rebooting the Batman movie because they want to make a Justice League movie ala "The Avengers" and they need a version of Batman that can exist in a world with the Justice League. Nolan's Batman isn't suited for that. I fear that the studios will take the wrong lessons from the success of Nolan's franchise and give us a bunch of superhero movies that are dark, gritty, and completely lacking in maturity, emotional depth, or compelling storytelling. It's exactly what happened to comic books in the wake of "Watchmen" and "The Dark Knight Returns."
This is what happened.

Cross your fingers, folks. The next few summers are going to be bumpy.

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