The Dark Knight Rises thoughts

SPOILER ALERT in the basic tonal, “what did I think of it,” “I liked this storyline and that character” kind of way. I’m not blowing any secrets or anything.

My favorite thing about The Dark Knight Rises was Bane’s voice. That’s not a joke. It’s not a backhanded compliment, given that TDKR is my favorite of the three Christopher Nolan Batman movies. (Not the highest bar to clear, admittedly, but still.) No, Bane’s voice is legitimately wonderful. Theatrical, grandiose, mocking, filled with evil good cheer, ending every sentence on AN UP NOTE! As a friend of mine put it, since Tom Hardy’s mouth is obscure for the duration of the film by Bane’s mouthpiece mask, it’s entirely possible all his dialogue was ADR’d by Brian Blessed. It’s an over-the-top supervillainish delight from start to finish. I’m going to start using it EVERY DAY! I’m going to order VEGETARIAN BURRITOS THIS WAY!

Take this flash of joyous weirdness as a sign that in The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan has almost entirely jettisoned the flaws that marred, well, every other Christopher Nolan movie I’ve seen. There are no massive, gaping holes in the plot: The doomsday weapon makes sense, the tasks each player takes up on the road to the climax make sense, the reasons people are or aren’t able to do certain things throughout the course of the film make sense. The character motivations are rock solid as well: For once, Batman’s professed goals and his methods line up, the more superfluous elements of the villain’s plan are adequately explained and justified, and you’re never once required to swallow outrageous out-of-character behavior by anyone in service of the needs of the story. Nor are you ever suddenly required to invest a ton of your dramatic interest into someone you actually don’t care about — no random MTA employees narrating the path of the doomsday device, no boatfuls of commuters and criminals upon whom the climax rests, no making us pretend to think Harvey Dent is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Best of all, the tedious, dorm-room-bullshit-session dueling speeches about morality and the nature of heroism are gone. The villains are motivated by fanaticism and, even better for a superhero vs. supervillain story, straight-up revenge. The heroes are heroes because they try to stop people from murdering other people. There’s no need to gussy it up any further than that.

Everyone looks and sounds great, too. Bane especially: Tom Hardy is a gorilla, he’s got a fabulous winter coat, and jesus I really couldn’t oversell that voice if I tried. Christian Bale looks like he’s been running a 101-degree fever for five years. Anne Hathaway looks like the perfected T-1000 to the Kristen Stewart/Krysten Ritter prototype models, and her Catwoman’s wit, competence, and mission-to-mission, fight-to-fight success ratio make her basically the Batman you kinda wish you’d had throughout the whole series. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s weirdly-prominent-but-okay-I’ll-roll-with-it young cop is just so handsome in his dress blues and detective suit I could die. I love the way Gary Oldman wears that mustache. There’s funny cameo after funny cameo, including two that brought down the house (one unintentionally, I think); my favorite was Officer Jack Bass.

Would you believe there’s inventively, coherently staged action, too? The opening sequence involving an airplane was astonishingly loud and intense, the kind of thing that will send too-young children bawling and screaming from the theater, but it’s perfect if you’re the kind of adult who’d kind of like to see what powerful, well-trained human monsters would do in a crazily dangerous environment like that. There’s a brief Batman attack seen from the POV of his victim that made me laugh out loud, it was such a good idea. As I said, Catwoman’s fights are some Bourne-level shit. The terrorist attacks are Stockhausen-style works of death-art. All of the car/motorcycle/etc. chases are vastly more spatially coherent than the truck sequence from The Dark Knight, and therefore gripping enough that they don’t require the presence of Heath Ledger and a bazooka to get over.

Do I have quibbles? Oh boy, do I. It remains really bizarre how little agency Batman has vs. the other heroic characters—it’s his name on the building, after all. We’ve never really gotten the sense that he’s actually unusually good at any given aspect of his job; we see lots of people who are better at each of them (detective work, fighting, technology, inspiring people, etc.) While it’s reductive and mistaken to look at Bane as an anti-Occupy allegory — his populist rhetoric is a transparent, acknowledge sham, and more than that it’s a mixture of Occupy anti-1% stuff and Dubya Bush “not conquerors but liberators” schtick — it’s still the case that, in the wake of how American law enforcement violently cracked down on Occupy from coast to coast, there’s something preposterously reactionary about scenes where an army of fully armed policemen charge screaming and guns-blazing into a crowd of civilians, and this is presented as heroic. Even when we “know” on an intellectual level that the civilians are almost all Bane goons and freed gangsters, it’s the image that matters. (That’s to say nothing of the way the film presents a working-class revolution going straight to looting and kangaroo courts, do not pass go, do not collect $200.) The shift in quality between IMAX and non-IMAX scenes was distracting at times, though Nolan’s genuinely gorgeous and immersive cityscape shots — one after another after another — were worth it. Hans Zimmer simultaneously overscored and underscored the thing, his melody-free horns and strings a constant, blaring mosquito buzz in the ear. There were two boy-soprano music cues too many.

But nothing made me roll my eyes or want to leave, which is more than I can say, again, for any other Christopher Nolan movie I’ve seen. It was solid, (can’t believe I’m about to say this) unpretentious fun. I was entertained for the entire two hours and forty minutes. BANE VOICE!

6 Responses to The Dark Knight Rises thoughts

  1. Bob Temuka says:

    The BANE VOICE was brilliant, especially since it was the one thing I was genuinely worried about before the film, (I couldn’t understand a fucking word he said when they did the preview with the plane months and months ago), but man – that was a classic villain voice. I could have listened to him saying “Mr WAY-ANE” over and over again.

  2. Rev'd '76 says:

    Yours is the first recommendation for this film’s existence I’d take, disenchanted as I am with both superflix in general and post-Prestige Nolan. Like you, I could not -stand- Bat Begins; TDK, there were many fine moments, the majority involving everyone EXCEPT your lead character & actor. Bale’s been the weak link throughout these things, as I simply don’t enjoy him in a heroic lead. He’s fantastic when there’s something slightly off-kilter & potentially bent about his role, but as Bruce Wayne he simply can’t sell it the way Keaton could. That’s the script’s fault, of course. I feel the film versions of Wayne since the Burton Bats have been too whitebread to be believed.

    Please note I am doing my utmost to avoid mentioning BAT-VOICE, which recalls 90s cartoon Wolverine more than anything.

    But back to Nolan. Inception was interesting in its gameplay, as was TDK, but intellectual tinkering won’t have me following for long without a coherent emotional hook, and nothing Nolan’s done since Prestige has worked for me– which is a shame, because Memento & Prestige work that angle with a profound & unsettling thoroughness in a way other members of the Millennial Club rarely can. Aaronofsky is a marvelous stylist, yet tends to leave me cold; his biggest boon as a filmmaker is his relentless focus, though I frequently question whether his subjects merit the attention. (Requiem, with its broadly-cast net, is THE exception; it’s a film that hurts on every level, like Lars von Trier at his most misanthropic & malicious.) Wes Anderson’s on-again off-again because he tends to get lost in the wilds of his own wit, usually leaving the characters stranded. (Tannenbaums / Moonrise are the standouts for being so heartfelt & twee they’re their own science!) Nolan, though… I always want to believe in the people in his films, and it upsets me if I can’t. The fact that I couldn’t get into Bruce for two whole movies– at a time when Morrison was working himself to the bone to resurrect Wayne as Batman’s core –that was disappointing in the extreme. Inception did nothing to relieve that. It made me wonder if he was going off his game, if the obscene budgets were somehow taking over, if he had gone Hollywood in the Supertramp sense.

    So I’ll bite, for his last Bat. If for no other reason than the cast surrounding Wayne. I adore Hardy– see Bronson, if you haven’t already –and of course Caine et al. can do no wrong for me. There hasn’t been a better Alfred, really, ever. I just wanna see Caine on projects I feel are worthy of him again, same as Bale. Lord, PRESTIGE!!

  3. Curt says:

    I’m glad you called out the scene where the poor, embattled COPS rallied to fight Bane’s Occupiers. It was such a disgusting inversion of stuff like this, I’m not sure I can agree that it’s “reductive and mistaken to look at Bane as an anti-Occupy allegory.” Then there’s this (via). And I thought Nolan put his thumb on the scales with reactionary sympathies in presenting GWOT issues in DK, too. Really, that wouldn’t bother me so much in general, but that one scene turned my stomach and just about soured the whole movie for me, which is a shame, because it is strong in all the ways you go into above.

  4. [...] to pitch-black night in less than eight minutes.* Furthermore, although I hate to disagree with Sean, at times Bane sounds like Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery (and apparently — beware of [...]

  5. Jon Hastings says:

    I thought it was clumsily directed — maybe the most clumsily-directed of any of Nolan’s movies. The opening sequence had an amazing concept, and I give Nolan points for thinking big, but the staging and editing was awkward, with characters seeming to teleport around the interior of the plane. I felt, throughout, that Nolan was working on a scale that didn’t allow him to do more than barely hold things together — and even then the forward momentum came from Hans Zimmer’s score rather than from the filmmaking itself. (In “The Prestige” and “Batman Begins”, I thought there was a visual logic to the way the story unfolded, and even though “The Dark Knight” and “Inception” both start to show signs of strain from their immensity, Nolan balanced that massiveness with some great image-making.)

    I thought he bungled the action staging, in general. There’s that really emabrassing scene where Joseph Gordon-Levitt commandeers a care and drives down what seems to be a street from the abadoned set of “Predator 2″. Likewise the moment near the end when Anne Hathaway is staring down that wall of cars: there’s a similar scene in “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” that is handled with much more flair and visual competence (and that’s not even one of the best “Resident Evil” movies). A big problem with the movie is that Nolan is unable to create the sense that Gotham is an actual, living city. That’s not a problem in a movie like Burton’s “Batman Returns”, where everything is stylized, but “Dark Knight Rises” seems to model itself on more “realistic” action movies and so comes up short. The problem, again, seems to be the size of the undertaking. The confrontation between the police and the mob, for example, is staged in the most inelegant, simplistic way possible: Nolan doesn’t know what to do with crowds except have them line up and collide (even Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” does a better job at making this kind of scene feel less-contrived). And he flubs a lot of little moments, too: the break-up speech Alfred delivers is undermined by the fact that he seems to have shot it without Bale and Caine being in the same room as each other at the same time.

    Having said all that, this is probably my favorite of his Batman movies, and my favorite of his movies, period, apart from “The Prestige”. The macro level storytelling is extremely compelling, and all the plot twists work out and fall into place in a very satisfactory way. I also really appreciated the attempts at a lighter tone. Even though Nolan’s direction is too heavy-handed to really build on these moments, I liked the jokes, and Anne Hathaway’s performance, and, jeez, Bale’s performance (and the entire conception of Bruce Wayne in this movie), and the movie’s take on the characters in general. I loved the way it really dug into the Denny O’Neil stuff, and, for me, it retroactively made the earlier movies better by opening up the world of these movies and casting them as taking place in an O’Neil-style pulp-fiction universe (more “The Shadow” and “Doc Savage” and less Frank Miller’s urban vigilante). The clumsiness of the whole ordeal stopped bothering me (though I didn’t stop noticing it), and the story really did “sweep me away”.

    I do disagree a bit about the politics. It is definitely a pro-authority movie, but I thought Bane’s plan had to do as much with parodying Tea Party/Libertarian rhetoric as OWS. That is, I think Bane, the character, is the one doing the parodying. He is, after all, planning to destory Gotham City no matter what, so what he does to the city before that seems to me to be a kind of lesson. He gets rid of the police force and then cuts the city off from the Federal government, and HIS joke seems to be alonmg the lines of, let’s see how well these people do without the government to protect them from themselves. But Nolan likes to muddy up the waters like that when it comes to his political allegories, so I’m definitely not saying there’s no anti-OWS element here (and the police vs. mob scene definitely calls that to mind more than it does anything having to do with right-libertarians…)

    Finally, I agree about Tom Hardy’s line readings. Also, his eyes in his last big scenes. Great actor.

  6. Curt says:

    Maybe my gut reaction to that one scene overwhelmed my sense of some of the nuances you mention. I went in sort of primed to see the movie in that light, though, since I’d read ahead of time the article about writer David Goyer also being involved in the Call of Duty videogame that is being marketed with a Julian Assange-like “Messiah of the 99%” as the villain, and was reminded of the article by a trailer of the game that ran before DKR. So I was already waiting to see how significant the anti-OWS element would be, and then that scene pounded my “confirmation bias” button.

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