Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

If I tell you not to see The Dark Knight Rises, will you listen? If I tell you it's a bad movie, will you care? I assume not. I assume that, as a cultural touchstone and the follow-up to the most successful superhero movie of all time, you'll see it anyway. And you probably should. This is one of those movies you kind of need to have an opinion about: it's divisive. And I'm sure a lot of you will like it. There are things to like. It's fairly well shot, the action is pretty good, and Catwoman is really quite amazing. 

But it was nowhere near enough.

According to the internet, Dark Knight Rises was budgeted at around $250 million. Avengers, in contrast, was a relatively low-budget art house film at $220 million. Keep in mind that Disney still managed to squeeze out a 3D version at the lower price-point, as well as a Hulk. While I'm sure Warner Bros. will get their money's worth at the box office, I certainly felt ripped off.

There are many diverse and valid interpretations of Batman. This wasn't one of them. It's cribbed from some great versions of the character, but only superficially. There are elements of the character lifted from Kingdom Come, Dark Knight Returns, and Batman Beyond, but they're taken so far out of context as to be laughably stupid. For example, Bruce Wayne retiring and wasting away in his mansion is far more believable if he's 70 than 34. Also, Bruce is a total dick in this movie.  

As bad as Batman was, this Gotham is even worse. Rather than go through the trouble of creating a city with its own character and complexity, Nolan stole New York. Sure, there was a prison and a football stadium in the middle of Manhattan, but other than that, it was just New York City. As in, you can actually see the half-finished Freedom Tower. It's right there. Oh, and now they're on Williams Street: didn't even bother to digitally change the street sign. This is at least as much a New York movie as Ghostbusters.

I'm sure it's all intentional: Gotham was Chicago in the last movie; New York in this one. Gotham's every city (or something). It's a real city, with real problems, real villains. And the real villains in this movie are basically Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Regardless of the justification, it comes off as lazy. Actually, a lot of this movie does.

Like the other movies in the trilogy, the plot's lifted from a handful of famous Batman stories, stuck in a blender, then sewn back together. But this time it lacks nuance. Comic geeks will see the threads a mile away: Knightfall, Dark Knight Returns, and No Man's Land seem to make up the majority of the structure. Again, don't get excited: none of these stories were given the treatment they deserve, just faint echoes of elements sacrificing what made these stories worth telling.

To put it bluntly, this was to several of the greatest Batman stories ever told what X-Men 3 was to the Dark Phoenix Saga. This is by far a better movie, but there was a similar sense of sacrifice; by touching on these ideas, the filmmakers have made it less possible for them to actually ever be adapted faithfully.

Like I said earlier, there were some solid aspects, first and foremost Catwoman. But it should be noted that she doesn't actually belong here. She's superimposed on a story she doesn't fit in. Ironically, the best part of the movie actually makes the movie as whole worse by slowing it down and dragging it out.

Meanwhile, the plot is a mess. There are holes, non sequiturs, and even a key section I'm pretty sure was out of order. Things happen which make absolutely no sense. And, finally, the end may pull on your heartstrings if you don't think about it, but if you're paying attention, Batman just comes off as a total asshole.

I know not everyone is having the same reaction, but I've noticed some trends worth considering. The people who love this movie, by and large, aren't Batman fans: they're Nolan fans. If you've never read the stories this is taken from and you love Nolan's first two installments, this might satisfy you. But if you're a diehard fan, I think this is mostly just going to piss you off.

I mean, come on. At the very least, they could have gone with "Richard."


Justin Leone said...
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Justin Leone said...
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Justin Leone said...


I was also pretty disappointed. The prison was unbelievable (at no point did I think Batman would be thwarted by a high wall), Gotham being a nearly un-altered New York City (landmarks and all) was distracting, Bane's motivations largely unexplored, the ease and simplicity of Bane's plot wasn't very interesting. Various story elements completely unexplained (how did Bruce Wayne get back to, and infiltrate, New York City, in a fairly short time period with no resources to work with). It seemed weird that Bane's plot involved tunneling underneath Wayne enterprises without anyone noticing. The whole "clean sweep" program thing seemed like a random, undeveloped MacGuffin added to give Catwoman motivation. I'm still not entirely sure what the stock exchange heist was all about. I think it had to do with framing Bruce for something, but it seemed like an extremely round-about and risky way of doing it.

And speaking of the villain's plan:

It was probably the most hackneyed and convoluted method of acquiring a WMD imaginable, and relied on Bruce having a huge (and uncharacteristic) lapse in judgement. The plan would have failed if Bruce hadn't gone joyriding on the batcycle (which accomplished little other than securing Bane's escape). It would have failed if Bruce had chosen someone else to give the company to. It would have failed if Bruce chose to flood the reactor. It would have failed if Batman didn't attack Bane with virtually no equipment. I know Batman doesn't use guns, but he usually brings some gadgets, just in case punching the villain proves ineffective. All these things make it a really, really bad plan, because it requires a hero (and remember, they knew all along that Bruce Wayne is Batman) who's primary power is being on top of things, to relentlessly act like an idiot. It only seemed to make ANY sense because the writers obliged them.

And when the writers are so opaquely complicit in their own plot coming to fruition, it's not good writing.

Take, by contrast, Batman's fight with the Joker at the end of Dark Knight. Punching fails, he whips out a hidden gadget that turns the tables. Then the Joker whips out a hidden aspect of his plan to turn the tables back, with the great line "you didn't think I'd risk the battle for Gotham's soul in a fistfight with YOU!"

That's how villain plans are supposed to work when they're well written. Bet on the hero being heroic, then pull the rug out from under them. In this one, they simply bet on the hero being incompetent.

(btw, sorry for the 2 deleted comments right above this one... in the first one, I forgot a spoiler tag. In the second one, I put brackets around the word spoiler, which apparently told Blogger that I didn't actually want to include that text).

Arun said...

I am a Batman fan and liked this movie for all its faults. Yes it was overlong, had excess of characters and major plot holes.

Still, liked the way Bruce Wayne's story was brought full circle.

Check out my review .


Erin Snyder said...

Justin - I agree with more or less every point you make, though I think Bane's plan at the Stock Exchange was slightly better thought out than you're giving it credit for: he was setting up a program to effectively lose Wayne's personal fortune (using Wayne's fingerprints obtained by Catwoman to bypass some sort of security system) by simulating a series of bad trades. This would mean Wayne would lose the company, and it would default to Daggett. It didn't quite work out that way, since Wayne managed to position Miranda into gaining control (of course, that was convenient as well). I said "slightly better thought out" because absolutely none of this was actually necessary, since Bane took over the city through military means, rendering the legal control of Wayne Enterprises a moot point.

buddy2blogger: Thanks for stopping by! Quick question. You mentioned you're a Batman fan - could you expand on that? I'm not trying to undercut your point of view; I'm just trying to test a theory. Would you describe yourself as a fan from the movies, comics, the Adam West TV show, various animated series, or all of the above?

If you're a fan of the comics, which of these (if any) have you read: No Man's Land, Dark Knight Returns, and/or Knightfall? For the record, I've never actually read Knightfall, so this certainly isn't some kind of litmus test! I'm interested in the relationship between familiarity with the source material and opinion of the movie, and I'd love to know something about your background with the character.

Unknown said...

"Uninspired" is the word that sums it up, I think. While I did overall enjoy the movie, it really did have an enormous amount of faults and missed opportunities. There were a bafflingly large amount of inconsistencies all over the place, existing seemingly purely for convenience's sake, for example. Why did Batman show up randomly to save Blake when he'd just finished saying that he was going somewhere else entirely? How did Batman get back into Gotham? And seriously, what the fuck was up with Batman's knees and other injuries?

But I think one of the most frustrating things about the movie was the missed thematic opportunities; there are several lines that highlight some really interesting themes that are then never followed up on or explored at all. How does Batman react when it turns out that who the city really needs is Bruce Wayne, when he wants to be Batman? In what ways has the idolization of Harvey Dent been used to create a system of corruption that has been used to oppress unfairly? Is Batman really willing to give "everything" that he has to the people of Gotham, and what sort of toll does that take on him as he approaches the final, inevitable sacrifice? All of those would have been so much cooler to explore than what the movie was, which was... what was the theme of this one? It was kind of incomprehensible, really.

Anyway, yeah, I still enjoyed it. Batman punched dudes and stuff blew up and cool shit happened. But, especially compared to Dark Knight, I absolutely thought that this movie really felt, as you put it in your G+ comment Erin, uninspired.

Arun said...

Would you describe yourself as a fan from the movies, comics, the Adam West TV show, various animated series, or all of the above?
I have seen the Adam West series and the 1966 movie, 1992 Batman TAS, The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond, The Batman, The Batman vs. Dracula, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Batman:Gotham Knight, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Batman: Under the Red Hood, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, some episodes of Super Friends , the Tim Burton movies, Batman and Robin and of course Nolan's trilogy. I generally like all of these, but all time favorites would be the 1992 Batman TAS, the Nolan trilogy, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Batman Beyond.

If you're a fan of the comics, which of these (if any) have you read: No Man's Land, Dark Knight Returns, and/or Knightfall?
I have read "Daughter of the Demon", which introduced Ra's Al Ghul. I know the plot of Dark Knight Returns and Knightfall (thanks to Wikipedia) but have never read them.

I would say Batman is one of my favorite fictional characters along with Superman, Magneto and Cyclops.

Is there anything else I can help you with :)

Erin Snyder said...

buddy2blogger: Batman TAS (and subsequent spin-offs) are amazing; most of my favorite Batman stories are in those shows. Likewise, Daughter of the Demon is good reading - Denny O'Neil's simply awesome. I wish the movie had stuck closer to those stories when dealing with Talia - her portrayal really bugged me (I did like Nolan's Ras in part 1, though).

I brought up those comics because a great deal of the movie is drawn from them - Bruce's retirement and return is from mostly pulled from DKR (plus there are some parallels between Bane's role in this movie and the Mutant Leader from that book), Knightfall's contribution is fairly well known, and No Man's Land details a story where Gotham gets cut off from the rest of the country, similar to what Bane accomplished in the movie.

My theory is that the more attached someone is to these books, the less they're likely to enjoy the movie.

If I'm right, I certainly feel bad for anyone who ran out to the comic shop to pick up some of those trades in anticipation of the film.

On an unrelated note, you have my sincere condolences regarding your love of Cyclops. I hope I'm wrong about how AVX is likely to end, but... it's not looking hopeful.