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this vast and brooding spirit

The Dark Knight Rises

I should say up front that I've never really gone for Batman, at least not the Nolan film version. I like a bit of splash and spandex with my superheroes, not this tortured, gritty, brooding thing, this tone of relentless angst. I am willing to concede that Nolan's first two Batman movies were excellent films which brought a new seriousness to the genre and all that jazz, and were extremely well cast and filmed. I just didn't enjoy them very much. Given that it's just taken me a week to drag myself into eventually watching the second half of The Dark Knight Rises, I'm forced to add that in addition to its unrelenting grim, this wasn't even a particularly good film quite apart from its failure to pander to my personal superhero proclivities.

This wasn't a good script. Honestly, the plot made no damned sense: if you're going to nuke the hell out of Gotham, why spend three months letting it descend into anarchy first? And I have absolutely no sympathy for those ridiculous jail set-ups where you can see the sky but can't climb up to it. With everyone on board with the escape idea and the amount of material they had down there, they could have rigged something to get them all out a long time before Batman dropped in. Likewise, Gotham city police's collective tactical abilities are apparently in the stunned herring class. Also, the twist reveal of the bad guy was spottable a mile off, if only because the sudden daddy-issued femme fatale to the hero's gonads has become something of a cliché in the modern action movie (its recurrence in James Bond films is probably what gave me the sense of acute déja vu).

And the dodgy script is a problem, because it undermines what's actually a hell of a good cast. I was thinking about it during one of the interchanges between Commissioner Gordon and Blake: Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are highly accomplished actors, as is Bale himself; even Anne Hathaway was pretty good in this role. But the more grounded reality of the Gordon/Blake scenes makes you realise how badly the script serves Batman himself, who's a two-dimensional cypher as Wayne, and an awkward caricature as Batman. The gravelly voice is really bordering on the ridiculous. And his motivations make no damned sense. Bale is a good actor, but the script gives him zip to work with. Bane falls into the same trap: dehumanised by the mask, rendered absurd by the voice, and devoid of consistent motivation. He was only scary at odd moments. (Also, complete waste of Tom Hardy. Sorry.)

As the crowning iniquity of the script, I think Nolan lost his grasp completely when he tried to have his tonal cake and eat it too. The movie purports to be all serious about corruption and the failure of systems and ultimately, about sacrifice; the gritty tone of the movie is necessary for its attempted confrontation of failure and loss, and victories clawed out only at horrible cost. Batman's absolute identification of himself with the city is a powerful trope in the films; if he had hauled the nuke out to sea and gracefully perished, I would have had a lot more respect for Dark Knight Rises. But the giant set-piece fake death thing which allows him to start afresh somewhere else is straight out of a completely different and far more up-beat paradigm, the essentially comic-book unreality (no-one stays dead!) which Nolan's films have so self-consciously denied throughout.

This film went further with the industrial-military feel than the previous ones, and lost, to me, some of that beautifully visual sense of the Gothic cityscape. It also failed dismally, to my mind, to render Batman himself as a compelling physical presence: even with the film's insistence on injury and damage, that costume doesn't quite cohere, appearing stiff and awkward and the cape simply absurd. I did like the bike's cornering capabilities, though. Cute. And Catwoman's headset ears. But that's symptomatic: the bits that worked were the ones that were fun, that nodded, even momentarily, to the comic-book identity of the myth. The rest was an overblown and badly-contained wallow in its own sense of angst.
Batman's always been about the tortured hero, but I also found it quite joyless. Hathaway's Catwoman was the brightest thing about the film.

I'm hoping Nolan's treatment of our favourite son of Krypton is a little less dour, as I'm a bigger fan of Superman (and Henry Cavill). :-)



Edited at 2013-03-17 07:44 pm (UTC)
"Joyless" is exactly right. How did the historical swings between campy and grim in the comics end up so firmly and irrevocably in the "grim" camp? It's sheer bloody-mindedness, to try and make an icon of gritty realism from a man who dresses up as a bat. Honestly.

With you on the Superman fear. I rather liked Bryan Singer's film, in sharp contradistinction to most other viewers - it managed to be slightly serious without losing all sense of idealism or fun. The Nolan/Zach Snyder producer/director combo does not fill me with hope, althoug I suppose there's always a chance they'll cancel out each other's more egregious and diametrically opposing flaws.
not this tortured, gritty, brooding thing, this tone of relentless angst.

I feel this way about all my entertainment: films, books, television, etc. I find the kind of...wallowing...this film expresses just boring and tiresome. It's so self-indulgently self-absorbed I want to grab it by the lapels and shake it. I don't expect sunshine, lollipops and rainbows--I also don't expect a single note of "Life sucketh."

Which makes me very, very nervous about Man of Steel. Because Superman is my Favorite. He's the one everyone thinks is a caricature, as if choosing to do the right thing is boring, or easy, or simple. I don't know if Nolan even understands that. It's like the people who think Lupin was boring and only Snape was interesting. (I found it quite the opposite: I predicted Snape's obsession with/love for Lily during the Three Year Summer. Snape was easy to understand. I was Snape about *my* school years. He was so, so, so very simple.)

Between Nolan for the film and the attempt to put OS Card as writer for Superman in the comics, I am dreadfully worried about Superman.
Oh, lord, yes, I share the grab-it-and-shake-it impulse - bloody teenage self-indulgent brooding. I think Marvel are doing so much better a job than DC because they've hit a good balance between the essentially mythic and consolatory aspect of superheroes, and at least some kind of nod to contemporary realism and actual risk.

Superman was my first ever superhero crush, and I still have a huge fondness for him, but his depiction is always a problem. So much of his construction is so idealised and so basically overpowered, trying to temper that for realism and relatability runs a very real risk of over-compensation into untoward angst. (And, apparently, outbreaks of alliteration). But I agree, taken as a whole Superman is anything but simple. In the same way that Captain America isn't, actually. I share your concerns.
A trend I do not like
There is a trend that's been happening in sci-fi/comic movies in the last 10 years or so, a move towards more realistic and grim. You can see it in the new Batmans, the new Star Trek, and the Avengers (somewhat less there).

I wonder if the filmmakers have realised that the world is shitty, there's a recession on and climate change means we'll all be dead in 50 years, and they'd better just get that across to us now. Movies are about blatant escapism and they seem to have forgotten that.

I have not read your review above. I haven't seen the movie in question nor do I plan to. The Burton Batmans will always be the "real" ones for me - just the right mix of redonk camp and brooding emo. As with ST: the new one is fine as an action movie set in space, but it has none of the humour, camp and idealistic "we're all going to be ok, the world ends up a much better place in a couple of centuries" vibe that the originals had.

Sigh. Woe. Get off my lawn.
Re: A trend I do not like
You may want to read the review, given that that I absolutely agree with you and trash the film completely on very similar grounds :>.