Tuesday, October 16, 2012

TDKR Double Dip: The Concise Edition

It's been a while since The Dark Knight Rises came out, since my brief opinion was posted alongside those of several colleagues, as well as my full review. There was an insane, ceaseless flood of Fan-made Gems and also a Question. It seems like a good time to go back quickly and reconsider this movie, and share with you things that I've thought and learned.

I will never stop using this image.
For starters: I can't do a Bane impression, but imitating Batman's voice is still fun as hell. Seriously, try it and just talk birth control or whether the Cards can go all the way this year or imagine hiring people for your kids' party ("does it have to be a donkey? Or do you have... ponies?..."). Imagine Batman talking to his cat. I'm laughing just typing this.

Obviously, the film was kind of divisive; some loved it, but many people hated the logic flaws and didn't like some sequences and story/plot aspects. In fact, let's be blunt: what made TDKR a tough ride for audiences were certain story elements and logic out of The Twilight Zone - as well as bloat, to the detriment of people like the title character, and Kitty Goggles.

Please, god, we wanted more kitty goggles.

It's not like the script was bad, or the acting was bad, or the action wasn't any good, or the score and cinematography were weak... Nope. It was more or less the opposite of that. There were too many extra characters (Matthew Modine?), Bale's storyline more or less just happens to him more than it made sense as a realistic sequence of events (that's what Nolan goes for). And, damn, some of this material was forced...

And I think Batman getting his back broken and then coming back from it is f--king insane and stupid, and apparently this was originally a plot in the comic books. So I guess the guys who thought up that for the comic book should be slapped - that was stupid "extreme" hacktastic bulls--t and you can go s---w yourselves for showing that to kids, much less teens and adults.

And yet The Dark Knight Rises is still pretty damn good.

I've decided that this Double Dip will be on the brief side; brief-ish. As such, there's no essay-style openings and whatnot. I'm gonna lay out the basic problems here - I'm going to explain what I think was the disconnect between Nolan's work and the reactions of some viewers. My opinions and commentary will be included. After the jump break (the link to the rest of this article), I'm going to quickly run through a few things that are problematic even if you understand the difficulties of making a pic like Rises.

Many people missed the most interesting thing about Nolan's approach - it's a great use of the source material for the style of motion pictures. You can't have 6 to 10 good movies about The Caped Crusader, not just because that would take massive amounts of time and money, but because the cast and crew could barely keep that straight over the 10 or so years it would take to make them. People would drop out of the production, continuity/quality would drop, the audience would have a hard time handling it all...

However, you can have 1000+ decent comics about Batman. I haven't known much about them since my teens, but there's a huge difference in the medium of film to the medium of comic books. The film format doesn't allow for the number of stories (because of time and money), which means that a director and writer have to choose something specific to tell.

People also expect different things when they're looking at a human's body than when they look at a drawing of same. The biggest twist here is that Batman is mostly just a focused vigilante with a mind for social justice - he's not much of a detective, and we never get a sense that he patrols the city. Apparently, very few people had any idea that Christopher Nolan had a very specific sort of story that he wanted to unravel before the masses.

Ultimately, it might have been best if Nolan began the whole affair with some sort of author's note - either at a huge, televised press conference or as some text that would appear before the credits rolled on Batman Begins. Nolan should have explained that he was using Batman to tell one particular type of story, and that he'd be following through on those specific ideas and themes until he brought it to a dramatic end.

Oh, wait, he did, but not in a direct interview.

In short, Nolan should've let everyone know that they were about to watch an opera with a masked super-hero - not some on-going series of the adventures of an adventurous, troubled man who dresses up to fight crime.

My mental image of Batman will always begin and end with the Bat-cave. I have no special ideas or requirements for how it should appear on film or TV, really. However, I always remember that you've got a crime-fighter with a powerful computer, his own little armory, and a whole wealth of mementos from the cases that he solved.

I'd never be angry that Nolan didn't include a life-sized T-Rex or a penny that's the size of that same T-Rex. But I would be kind of angry that he chose to tell the story of a Batman who fought three specific threats and then retired. I don't think it's expecting a lot, or that Chris would've had to bend over backwards to include this sort of stuff. I just know that "quitter-Batman" is the lamest-sounding Batman. And that's before we get to other plot/story issues that are just... a bit hard to swallow.

There's the whole "broken back" thing, wherein we're supposed to believe that Batman has had his spine damaged to the point where vertebrae are just sticking out of him. We're also asked to believe that, contrary to years of medical research, firmly slapping the spine back into place will fix everything. Good god, even with the best physical condition, that's a biblical-level of healing powers...

Still, Nolan salvages the time spent on this plot because of how Bale, his costars, and the film's tone handle those scenes. They make the hero deal with the worst possible outcomes, while holding on to his moral and ethical center, as well as his mission. It might make no sense that Batman quit in the first place, and I still think he'd be crippled/dead, but I'll be generous enough to go along with that, for my first viewing in the theater and my initial reaction...

Moreover, the siege of Gotham is overdone, overlong, and overblown. But it sure is different from anything I've seen in a film narrative, and it is very well-executed. A lot of bad movies don't work within their own logic, but BB, TDK, and TDKR set up this environment where the wholesale take-over of a major American city can work. And, let's be honest, it's exactly the sort of situation that comic books like to set up - we're just not used to seeing them in live-action form.

Bruce Wayne's pauper status, however, is dumb, dumb, dumb. I suppose it didn't waste much time on this thread in the narrative, and the scenes showing his reaction to this weren't bad. But it's all based on some kind of dream logic where the stock exchange computers are compromised and suddenly a super-wealthy guy is poor, and everyone acts like it's business as usual.

I think all the bait-and-switch with the backstory of the villains is problematic. It leaves one of them really, really undeveloped while depriving the other one of development for a long, long time. And that whole Uzbeki prison thing was kind of a big headache, anyway; a lot of the material around it felt like BS, much less the stuff in it. We could've just brought back Rutger Hauer's role from BB.

The entire "released prisoners" thing is also crazy. Nolan is making deep points about people and society, but a real mass prison breakout would've been horrifying, in a major city. There would've been tons of sexual assault incidents, kids getting hurt, and lots of the gang activity would be very disorganized.

Oh, also, prisons aren't often located in the heart of a city, are they?

I'm not sure if it's just the awkward voice-work, or the execution, but the only way Bane's idea makes sense if he's in the League of Shadows. Only they could give him the training to go after a city as well as Batman, as well as all of the cops in a city, along with... yada yada yada. TDKR's own story is not enough to justify the villain's ability to defeat the hero; it only works with that insane-ass twist that they execute about 20 minutes before the end.

What do I mean by all this? I don't know how Bane's crew could recruit Catwoman to go after Batman. It's not just about the beginning, and trying to get him to come out of hiding - it's about whether they even needed to (they didn't), and whether they knew he'd come out to play in any case Man these movies are full of manipulation.

Also, while it was an appropriate comic book plot that Batman's tools are taken over by crooks, I didn't actually like that they did it. The entire idea is almost supernaturally full of s--t, that they knew where they were going, that they did it, that no one noticed.

With all the magical money and gear that Bane & crew seem to have, Batman's tools don't mean that much. And since Bruce was a haunted, retired waste, they could've busted the prison no problem, I'm guessing.

Actually, I would have deeply preferred some villain other than the wrestler-guy, although it doesn't work out too badly. It felt like using that specific character wasn't the best that the writers could have done - unless it mattered less because they were trying to end their franchise... Seriously, it was annoying and painful to watch Bale punch at Tom Hardy as if Batman didn't know martial arts, or use tools and weapons to hurt people - just throwing big, slow haymaker punches.

And how - oh dear god how did it take like 2 and 1/2 hours to say, "...maybe I should go for the mask?"

I honestly feel like the entire sewer section of the movie is something the movie might've been better off without. Too many logic problems are raised by it - especially the cop parade, the insane way the cops are then peacefully imprisoned, like idiots, by a bunch of vicious murderers (who feed them for months?).

And I don't think anyone can explain why Bats had a stinger missile-toting tumbler, except for that the writers wanted something to be able to threaten his bat-plane-o-copter thing.

I have a future Fan-made Gem coming up, and in it, the How It Should've Ended group points out something that was basically movie-breaking stupidity: Morgan Freeman giving up a super-bomb to a madman when he has some sort of self-destruct device. Certainly not when there was an abort button the whole time, which comes into play later. That was, in short, laughably dumb.

I could go on, but I don't need to. All of those are massive logic problems in what was still a very exciting, stylish, entertaining, and well-made picture. I just wish the Nolan brothers didn't have such an operatic rise and fall thing going on for the protagonist. I mean, the dark knight already rose at the start of the picture.

So, then he... rose again?

Or, in the alternative, Chris Nolan should've let everyone know what kind of story we were in for. If people knew that it's the type of theme-heavy narrative that's going to create points and counterpoints, they'll understand why you have things get melodramatic (Harvey Dent) or indulgently absurd (he's poor now?). If Mr. Nolan had done this, people wouldn't be complaining like I was after the Star Wars Prequels...

And that's my response to some of the larger problems in TDKR. I still liked what was on-screen and enjoyed the overall story, even if how it got there was stupid or insane at times (and/or often). For a picture and a series like this, I could really write a whole essay (or three), but it feels right to just point these things out simply.

It's not just that a lot of the movie is satisfying enough anyway. If I really got emotionally charged by what Nolan... did wrong/didn't do right, then I'd be giving too much time and energy to what's ultimately, a super-hero movie. It couldn't help but feel... a bit silly. Those pix all ask you to accept a lot of crazy stuff from the get-go, right?...

In closing, I wish the movie were tighter - not so loose in plot progression or character development. But I wish a lot of things, and you should really skip the rest of this paragraph if you don't want spoilers: I wish Batman didn't have 3 adventures and then quit, basically losing his manhood because his stupid butler was a f--king liar (and was double-lame for taking his lie back later), then go fight crime again because of a fine-ass woman, then get beat to s--t because he bare-knuckle brawls(?) a massive f--king 'roid head(?!?), then somehow heal a broken back, oh and he also lost everything, but then he retired again, and he's not poor anymore. We can all have a toast in Italy, just like Alfie always wanted.

But the movie was still pretty damn good. I can't be too upset with anyone here, since it was still made very well.

That's all for today, so I'll see you all back here tomorrow. I'll be posting that HISHE video in... maybe two weeks. PS, I wanted more kitty goggles - there should be a director's cut of this movie where Anne Hathaway is on-screen for about... 70 more minutes. That would satisfy me.


  1. Wow, a lot to chew on, even in the concise edition. I'm still laughing at the idea of Nolan introducing his movie and its themes, a la Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

    A quick take: agreed on the story sprawl, love your "three adventures" point, and very deeply agreed on the desire for more kitty goggles. I'm a little less bothered by the many small problems (for example the way it's described the "broken back" might have been something less crippling, like a slipped disk) and more by the bigger ones--like, what the hell kind of thematic sense was Bane's endgame supposed to make? I still have a great love for this movie, although I wonder if it'll decrease on a second viewing.

    1. Yeah, I might've abused the word "concise," I haven't looked at the word count =) But I did mean to pack this full of ideas, and not waste a lot of time on rhetoric or doing point-counterpoint.

      It is a silly idea to have Nolan speak first, but I wish there had been some big interview or press conference where he made those points - "I'm doing a theme-heavy super-hero opera" - really clear for the audience. I would've been more certain what to expect, that's for sure...

      I'm glad you agree on those points! Those were some of the strongest "coulda, woulda, shoulda" elements for me. You're very right, though, the Bane situation was a problem - it's just that getting into all the issues that make Bane a weird fit here would be like tugging on a sweater and not knowing if you'll undo the whole thing...

      I, too, wonder how much joy it'll give me next time. Well, we'll both get to find out in December!


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