So, this past Monday I decided to listen to what the media and my compatriots were telling me to do and see The Dark Knight Rises. In a bit of a change of format for this here blog, I thought I would take stab at writing an actual movie review. First off let me say that overall I was very pleasantly surprised by this film. I definitely ENJOYED it. I say “surprised” because Batman Begins bored me to TEARS and I didn’t even see the Dark Knight. Plus I thought Inception was steaming pile of shit. So suffice it to say my expectations were a smidge low.
My biggest complaint was simply that there was just TOO MUCH GOING ON. Christopher Nolan, we’re acutely aware that you have 10,000 ideas going on in that head of yours, and we realize that you’re so uber successful that Warner Brothers would probably distribute a film that was 4 hours of you taking a dump at a child’s birthday party, but I think there is a certain level of tact to be considered when executing these ideas. I felt like the hero of the story, Batman, not only was a secondary character, but was totally engulfed in the “action” of the story. Because there was so much solid plot in the movie, and there were so many characters doing their own separate things, I didn’t know who I was supposed to be identifying with and why I was supposed to be so invested. I think the only character I was truly empathetic with was Michael Cane’s Alfred. That man played the shit out of that role! Whenever he would start to get teary I would have to clench my jaw and try not to get all misty with him! He was totally heartbreaking! But Bruce Wayne just seemed way too passive for his own good. The only substantial point of conflict was when he was trapped in that remote prison facility. And even then it was hard to hook onto what he was supposedly overcoming in that scenario. There was the old senile medic giving him advise, there was the other man taking care of him who was guiding him, but what the hell was the message or lesson he was learning there? Maybe there was something highly profound but I completely missed it. The whole thing seemed very thematically disjointed. What I gathered was mostly that he had given up on the society that turned its back on him, and then it was inevitably in jeopardy again, so he overcame that and came to its rescue. No the most nuanced emotional subtext as far as I’m concerned. I wanted to feel like there were some huge stakes that Bruce Wayne was involved and I didn’t get that.
Perhaps one of the reasons why I wasn’t as interested in Batman was because Catwoman kicked so much ass! I was a tough sell with Anne Hathaway: I think she’s annoying and goofy and looks like a freaky porcelain doll that talks and wears ballgowns. But that girl blew me away! From that first scene where she meets Bruce and she totally flips from the young ingenue bit into Catwoman…I was glued! Maybe I kinda sorta missed the Tim Burton/Michele Pfeiffer sexy-ass costume at first, but within 5 minutes I was thinking “Michelle, who?”. What really won me over about Hathaway’s catwoman was that she was clever; she’s a criminal and she’s a thief and she’s all about the bottom line, so she has this “I don’t give a fuck, a girls’ gotta eat” attitude that I thought was hot as hell. And PS it took me a good hour to realize that those “cat ears” she was wearing were really just her goggles that she flipped over her head…nice touch. I think also what’s so compelling about Catwoman is that she is so morally ambiguous and interesting. You have to wonder: “what IS it about that Selina Kyle?”. She’s a mystery. But people love mysteries, right? Plus she flips and does acrobatics and looks hot so there’s that.
However, as a counter to that, I wasn’t really feeling Tom Hardy as Bane. He was probably my least favorite part of the movie. He just wasn’t scary enough for me. Maybe it was just me, but when he was on screen I wasn’t exactly terrified, it was more along the lines of “oh yeah he’s back…he’s probably going to beat someone up again”. And when he finally executes the overthrow of Gotham’s government and frees all the prisoners, I wasn’t even totally sure why. He just wants the world to live in chaos? Or he wants to enforce his own brand of justice? And if so, then why is he even bothering if he’s going to blow the place up anyway? I wasn’t toally buying his whole shtick. Not the mention that with that vocal effect from his mask I couldn’t understand WHAT he saying half the time. And in true Christopher Nolan fashion, he turns out to not even be the real villain! Why does he do this to us!!? He spends so much time setting up one thing, and then pays off something completely different that we didn’t even care about! WHY!? So when that “pivotal” moment comes where we realize that Marion Cotillard is the real villain, Bane just suddenly gets very unceremoniously killed and that’s it. Then she dies a few minutes later. And the problem is, it’s not that this twist totally changes the circumstances of the story, it’s the same thing, the same plan, just with a different person. What’s the point? In The Sixth Sense, for example, that revelation TOTALLY changed what we thought we knew about the story. This did not. If anything it just deflates our interest in Bane. The ending in general is where the whole thing unraveled for me. Instead of everyone coming to an emotional crux, everything just kind of fizzled out and the plot just went exactly the way you thought it would: Catwoman obviously comes back, the bomb is discarded and the city is obviously saved, and then that’s that. It was missing something.
One thing I was impressed with though was the acting: in my observation, Christopher Nolan simply does not know how to properly direct actors. Did you see Inception? Ok, well so did I and I thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a smarmy asshole in that movie. He also just bugs me in general: “Oooh, you wear argyle sweaters and play acoustic guitar. We get it, you’re cute. Whatever”. But I thought he was kind of great in this. He embodied that character remarkably well. He obviously had that snarky side to him, but we got his emotional back-story and understood where he was coming from. He was compassionate but still with an edge which I personally totally responded to. My only criticism is that he was almost too compelling to be a young Robin because he would have completely upstaged Batman in this film. So, hat’s off to you, Joe!
One thing I have to bring up is the set design/cinematography. I get heat for this all the time, but I PERSONALLY don’t think that Nolan’s films are that visually interesting. Maybe (ok, most likely) I just don’t respond to his specific aesthetic, but I, yet again, wasn’t terribly impressed with the look of this film. I mean, he clearly has a thing: dudes in suits, chicks in gowns, hotel lobbies, palatial mansions, urban city streets, etc. But I’m getting a weeeee bit tired of the same dark, muted colors and generic costumes and same 3 sets in every movie. Not to mention all the shadows and side lighting that feel totally stale. Although given the “dark, gritty, real” take on the Batman franchise I suppose it was fitting. And the scene at the football field was undoubtedly badass. I just want something wacky to happen like a purple Nurf ball to come in and bit Bane in the face or something. That’s most definitely just me, though.
Oh and also Gary Oldman was good obviously.
So, that being said, I still definitely enjoyed this film. It kept me totally engaged in the plot the whole time. Perhaps that’s because the entire film was basically driven by the plot. So, in that regard, it was highly successful. But nothing really lingered for me. It didn’t inspire much thought otherwise. But, as Joe Gilis would have said, I guess I’m just “one of the message kids. Just a story won’t do”. Maybe I WOULD have turned down Gone With The Wind. But as chaotic as it may have been, I’m glad I spent a ridiculous amount of money at the Arclight to see it.