Like A Bad Soufflé, The Dark Knight Rises Falls Flat

(Very mucho SPOILERS-O-RAMA throughout, should you be concerned about such things)

 

What with all of our Dark Knight talk these past weeks, I figured I should say something now that I’ve actually seen it. The problem is that the problem with The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s an affectless exercise in big budget filmmaking, neither especially good nor especially bad. It merely is. There’s nothing to get angry about and nothing to get excited about. I walked out with the feeling that I’d been given a job, that is, to see The Dark Knight Rises, that I’d completed the job satisfactorily, and now that I was done I could move on to other things. It was rather like pulling weeds in the garden on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Not a task one is eager to do, but at the same time, it’s a nice day, you’re outside, and those weeds need pulling, so there’s nothing very bad about it either.

flowers or the trowel? it’s your call, evil-doer!

In retrospect, I find I like the movie less and less. Is there much to praise? It has that Nolan look to it, but I find I don’t much like that look. It worked for me in The Dark Knight, more or less. But with Inception and now TDKR, I find the look boring and predictable. The Imax sequences, though lovely in how dense and rich they are in comparison to the rest of the movie, I felt I’d already seen in The Dark Knight. They impressed me hugely then. Now it’s just more swirling shots of cityscapes and car chases.

The Joker in Imax

Sorry, right, praise, I’m looking for something to praise. Anne Hathaway pulls of a great Cat Woman, or whatever they call her. She gets to be Han Solo, out for herself until the end, when she shows up at the last second to save the day. Or part of the day. What does she do again? I think she shoots something. Or someone. Anyway, she does a nice job. Michael Caine is great as always. Too bad he has to vanish for no discernable reason midway through, in a completely baffling scene. Isn’t Alfred’s whole reason for existence to help Bruce Wayne pull through the hard times? And then he up and leaves, and Bruce, all teary eyed, lets him, and then he’s gone and no one really cares.

“you’re doing the wrong thing, so I’ll just be leaving now.”

Which the big problem with this movie is that no one is allowed to care about anyone. As in Batman Begins, Nolan strips out all emotion in place of endless weighty thematic exposition. He moves his chess pieces around well enough, he knows what relationships need to be present, but he doesn’t allow those relationships to have any emotional meaning for the characters. Look at the end. We get the big twist—oh my god! Miranda Tate is the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul! Bane is just some guy!—and what does it matter? It’s intellectually interesting, it fits right in with this kind of movie, and it’s totally unaffecting because neither we nor anyone in the movie cares about her. She’s just that businesswoman Bruce got it on with. Oh, she’s evil? Well, okay, sure. Was Bruce into her? Who knows. In the end he runs off with Cat Woman.

“You look like my mother with those pearls on. Will you marry me?”

I’ve been trying to figure out the character of Bruce Wayne. He’s a bit murky. He’s been pulling a Howard Hughes for eight years because the Joker blew up what’s her name. Cat Woman steals his fingerprints, Bane turns up, and he’s back to being Batman. Only he gets his ass kicked, winds up in a prison, where the ancient art of “rope hanging” heals his broken back (and his knees and joints and everything else that doctor told him was messed up?). But he can’t escape, because he doesn’t fear death. His lack of concern for himself, driven by epic self-pity regarding, presumably, the deaths of what’s her name and his parents, means he can’t, um, climb high enough, or no, he’s not afraid enough of falling, he welcomes falling, he welcomes dying, so by learning to accept his inner pain, by desiring life, and therefore fearing death, only then may he escape and fight the good fight. I think.

I suppose, to be fair, with that set-up, he can either live or die in the end. Which is likely why Nolan has him do both. Me, I don’t think his living happily ever after rings true to the spirit of these movies. It feels way off. Especially considering Batman’s seemingly final encounter with Cat Woman, where when she tells him he’s already given Gotham everything, he says, “Not everything. Not yet.” I.e., he hasn’t given his life yet. What else could that possibly mean? Nothing. It’s there to have exactly that impact. It’s that moment when we know he’s going to die. It’s a line with emotional weight! Fantastic. And he does it, he sacrifices himself to save the city and its people. Only wait, no he didn’t, he ran away to Europe where he’s living large with Cat Woman, and it’s cool just to nod at Alfred, because talking to him would, um, well, look, Alfred had this fantasy back when Bruce—oh, nevermind.

“I’ll blow myself up to save you!”

It’s cheap, this ending. It’s a cop-out. And what of Robin? He takes over the Batman game? Why? Is Batman a vigilante the city doesn’t need or isn’t he? The cops are corrupt and worthless as Robin sees it, yet they’re the heroes of the movie. Is Gordon a hero? Robin calls him out for daring to lie about Harvey Dent. So is Gordon corrupt for passing whatever the Dent Act is? I’m afraid that as far as justice goes, this movie is at least as addlebrained as Hang ‘Em High, as discussed by the Evil One. The ideas are there, but no sense is made of them.

The same goes for Bane and his plan. What is it, exactly? It’s to blow up Gotham with a big-ass bomb. So why the allusions to the poor being screwed by the rich? It seems to be shoehorned in for the sake of topicality without meaning anything to anyone, aside from Cat Woman, vaguely. Are we supposed to kind of like Bane for crushing the wealthy of Gotham? Are the people of Gotham supposed to like it? As presented, no, they don’t. So what’s being said here? Nolan has said that the movie is his version of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, hence the revolution and so on. Only how does that fit in here again? Ra’s al Ghul wanted to destroy the city. He never said anything about revolution and show trials. And his daughter wants the same thing, plus the death of Batman.

“yarrble garbble yarghmschmargler!”

Poor Tom Hardy and his horrible mask. Masks can work for bad guys (see Darth Vader and The Humongous for prime examples), but here it’s a total flop. Bane is barely a character; he’s the mask and nothing more. And having to strain to make out what the villian is saying, whether or not his words really matter, is no fun at all. A movie like this is only ever as good as its villian, and Bane is not only boring, he’s not even the real villian. The real villian, Talia al Ghul, is, I don’t know, nothing aside from vengeful, I guess. She stabs Batman to no effect whatsoever and rides in a truck for awhile before keeling over dead. Was I supposed to care about that?

“Just walk away.”

Is this even a Batman movie? It feels more like one of the Bourne movies, or James Bond, or something where Bruce Willis saves New York and a small child from terrorists.

I don’t even know what else to say. This little rant feels as middle-of-the-road as the movie. I just can’t get up a Prometheus-sized head of passionate angry steam here.

To sum up: The Dark Knight Rises came out. It’s your job to see it. When it’s over, you may return to your lives as they were. No harm no foul.

17 responses on “Like A Bad Soufflé, The Dark Knight Rises Falls Flat

  1. I’ve been thinking about how there was almost something interesting said about hope in this film. Almost. There was the “only with hope is there punishment” piece from Bane about the pit/prison. And there was the “don’t let the kiddies die without hope” bit from Robin when he’s ushering them back onto the bus just before the bomb is supposed to kaboom. There could have been so much more done with this that, imho, would have made for a richer theme than the murky and senseless “power to the downtrodden masses – oops! just kidding! now we’re going to blow you all up” theme.

  2. well. yes.

    i was considering writing something about this movie, but i too am having trouble caring enough.

    basically: it is the same as The Dark Knight, only without Heath Ledger. it made as little sense when it’s all picked apart. the characters have the same complete lack of motivation or emotional resonance. it looks purty now and again. Bane is a terrible, terrible, terrible villain. he’s terrible. watching him act through a 1960s back massager set on high was just as infuriating as i predicted. i think i saw his eyes twitch once? i might have imagined it.

    are we really supposed to believe in the end that he did all of this because he loves Talia? like a daughter? or like a lover. or like faye dunaway in chinatown? because really: fuck off.

    but as completely stupid as the fission-reactor-going-to-explode-in-exactly-5:42 plot device was, it was at least more interesting than will-the-ferry-passengers-blow-up-the-other-ferry stuff.

    although at least Jokers plan didn’t involve him dying pointlessly. weren’t Bane and Talia supposed to have some sort of escape submarine or something ready?

    whatever. asking questions about these movies is a waste of time. unlike you, i enjoyed it well enough. but maybe that’s because i just watched the Dark Knight again and remembered just how dumb that movie was—and so my expectations were lower and met.

    i went for spectacle. i got spectacle.

    i would like to say something intelligent about Hang ’em High, The Dark Knight Rises, and justice, but hell if I can figure out what it is yet.

  3. Your review makes me angry. Because the movie is so much worse than you have made it out to be.

    Why does everyone insist on being kind to Nolan? Or cutting him slack? He loathes the very basic rules of a coherent story. He becomes bored with major story points moments after introducing them and discards them haphazardly. His films are completely devoid of emotion or passion or love.

    They are clinical discussions of theme done with the subtlety of the AIDS epidemic. And about as enjoyable.

    I have literally heard people I know and respect say “You have to disregard the logic flaws in a Nolan film because of the type of movies he makes.”

    Really? I do?

    Why?

    Please….someone answer why I MUST ignore LOGIC FLAWS in a Christopher Nolan movie. I don’t in David Lean movies. Or Coppola movies. Or Scorsese movies. Or Herzog movies. Or Welles movies. Or Cronenberg movies. Or Kubrick movies. Or Lumet movies.

    I mean…sure…maybe in a Lynch movie I will disregard logic or conventional story telling techniques. But those movies really AREN’T about logic or reason. They’re windows into nightmares and dreams and basic human impulses. They aren’t about plot or story. They are pure, raw emotion. And they exist to remind us of the primal urges we too often try to ignore or pretend we’ve evolved beyond as “civilized human beings.”

    Nolan…does not…make…these types…of movies.

    And I refuse to make apologies for his terrible filmmaking instincts. And you should not either.

    His legacy will be empowering legions of white, 20-40 year old fanboys– allowing them to to wage a totalitarian regime over the film industry for the foreseeable future.

    Well done, Nolan. The nerds are now the bullies.

    And film is doomed.

    When we wonder how we ended up with “Thor 4: Hammer Time!,” look no further than this Nolan chump.”

  4. basically: it is the same as The Dark Knight, only without Heath Ledger.

    So, utterly forgettable?

  5. Good post! Solid notes on a weak entry in the series.

    I was pleasantly surprised by Catwoman. Totally bought her as a master criminal. Very pleased that they skipped her origin story.

    Disappointed in the whole third act. Whatever Wayne’s emotional journey is supposed to be in the Far-Offistan prison sequences, it is no excuse for Batman forgetting about grappling hooks. There are only four or five essential character traits for Batman, and one of them is that he totally knows about grappling hooks. At the bottom of a deep hole that contains shitloads of rope and pointy metal scraps, his goal is improved jumping? The only thing about the movie that actually made me mad.

    I think the Tale Of Two Cities claim is a feint on Nolan’s part. A better reading is: League of Shadows is the Koch brothers, and the whole exercise in Gotham is their puppetry of the Tea Party. Though trumpeting populism, their actual behavior is fascistic suppression of the populace and, ultimately, the chaotic annihilation of urban life. Batman is Warren Buffet, the one incongruously virtuous member of the ruling class, and they successfully hamstring him first through a daring act of fraud in the financial services industry and then through a head-to-head confrontation (the Bane/Batman sewer slugfest represents an election post-Citizens United, a competition fought no longer by ideological postures but by the brute force of Capitalism itself).

    As for Bane, I quote David Rees, via twitter:
    “If you’ve ever fantasized about a Scottish Foghorn Leghorn w/ a dollhouse radiator stuck in his mouth, you gotta see Dark Knight Rises!”

    • Grappling hooks! You’re hired!

      Catwoman was good. How does she get her legs so high? Grappling hooks!

      If you’re right about your interpretation of Nolan’s spew, then one thing is clear: we’ll be as good at saving ourselves from corporate overlords as Matthew Modine is at tactics and strategy. I know! that whole plan the Redcoats had at Lexington? let’s do that! genius! now, watch me catch this bullet with my face.

      also, once (if)we’re saved? distract yourself from the extremely fatal ecological disaster with statues and fernet. fernet will make you want to die anyway.

  6. All I know is, Batman must be one hell of a swimmer.

    I assume Part IV will be the story of how everyone in Gotham dies a slow death by radiation poisoning.

    Part V will take place 200 years in the future when, thanks to the League of Shadows having actually won (see radiation poisoning above), Gotham is a thriving, happy metropolis of non-evil, non-slothful nice people, whose only threat is a terrorist organization of Bat Monsters intent on spreading their nefarious brand of vigilante justice by all means possible. Their saviour comes in the form of the re-animated corpse of the Joker, who in this movie represents the effects of global warming on the economies of third world countries.

  7. Pingback: Prognosticontemplation | Stand By For Mind Control·

  8. This is fun. I agree with pretty much all of that, Supreme Being, although I totally loved The Dark Knight, and rewatching it before this movie just confirmed that. Though to be fair, most of my love rests on Heath Ledger’s shoulders. And let’s ignore the last act of that movie, where Batman has to save each and every clown mask-wearing hostage because he forgets that he owns a cell phone and Commissioner Gordon’s number.
    But what else is wrong with this new movie? (oh, agreed, Catwoman was hot, and I almost actually gave a shit about her story). So a bunch of terrorists broke into the stock exchange, held everyone at gunpoint while they linked up to the big board with some mystery program in front of everyone, making mystery stock trades (’cause you couldn’t ever do that remotely via the Internet), and then the next day Bruce Wayne makes a billion uncharacteristically bad stock trades and loses his empire. I guess nobody would figure out that connection. They wouldn’t ever invalidate that day’s trading, say, after a fucking terrorist attack *inside* the trading center. Fine.
    The thing is, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit actually, as an action movie. It just had very little to do with Batman. I think Batman kind of got in Chris Nolan’s way while he made his movie about terrorists.
    Oh, and can we have no more tired end-of-movie climaxes where the hero selflessly guides the nuclear weapon out of harm’s way, but of course survives? I’m looking at you, Superman Returns, Avengers. Superman II, you’re cool. You set up the movie and release General Zod and friends from the Forbidden Zone.

    • speaking of which, when is someone going to reboot The Forbidden Zone? that movie is crying out for the trilogy treatment!

      talking to mr. Karter Hol, we were trying to determine how long Batman was actually Batman in the Nolan world. six months? a year? i’d say very generously a year. the first movie ends with Gordon saying, hey look, some guy left a joker card. so basically Batman becomes Batman over a few months, he is Batman for a few months, then he holes up in his mansion for EIGHT YEARS because he’s so very sad, and then he comes out of retirement for a few months before running away to europe to be a rich playboy again. powerful stuff.

      and yeah, i disagree with the Evil One on The Dark Knight. it’s considerably better, and not only because Heath Ledger is so fucking good. it’s better because it’s a simple story, it’s a Batman story, and however clunky it may be at times, you understand what the characters want and are trying to do.

      • You know, when I saw Danny Elfman give a talk, they talked about people currently making a sequel to The Forbidden Zone, I shit you not. Danny didn’t really know anything about it, though.
        Yes, TDK has a story that actually fits together and is simple. The Joker has a plan, it actually makes some sense as a plan, and all he has is that he’s one step ahead, because it’s his plan and he’s fucking insane. And that’s enough to bring Gotham to its knees. Beautiful. The last act gets bogged down, but mostly that’s because it gets all convoluted trying to set up the next movie.
        Also, there are almost no CGI effects in TDK. I mean, I’m sure they used computers all over the place to make things look nice, but the basics of almost every effects shot are guys on wires and practical effects. When that football stadium explodes in TDKR, it really showed just how shitty full-CGI shots look. They look terrible. It’s a strong point of this whole series that there’s not a lot of CGI.
        I hated that this movie started with Bruce Wayne all old and frail and having not been Batman at all for years. That just sucks. I came to see a Batman movie, give me Batman. I already saw him learn how to be Batman, that was the first movie.

        • The Joker’s plan could only work in a movie. It’s reactionary to unpredictable stimuli. It’s as stupid and implausible as Bane’s. He may had a recognizable goal, but that’s really it. If he wanted to turn Gotham into chaos, all he needed to do was start charging 93.5¢ for the bus. Exactly change only.

          Can we stop making excuses for the Dark Knight because we like it? It’s likable. It isn’t a good script, though. If one more person tells me it’s simple I’m going to have hysterics. It is so not simple.

          Wall-E was simple. Vanishing Point was simple. The Dark Knight is baroque.

  9. Simple? no. the Dark Knight plot is just as goofy as TDKR. way too many boondoggles. way too long and filled with loose ends that all somehow lead to perfectly executed plans.

    Heath Ledger? he can take at least 75% of the credit.

    Clear motivations? okay. yes. that’s a good point. while their actions are screwy, i do more or less get what the characters want in Dark Knight. not so in TDKR.

    Batman story? this is something i’ve heard people saying. doesn’t mean a thing to me. Batman isn’t Jesus, and even Python and Scorcese had a go at re-booting Jesus. “is it INTERESTING” is much more important to me than “is it true to the source material.” i just got finished writing about how I want Superman to do something wrong—it’s not “Superman,” but it’d be interesting. let’s not confuse “engaging” for “accurate” as accurate is meaningless, subjective, and derivative.

    and I’m not really sure how DK is more of a Batman story than TDKR? The loss of his parents, his drive to protect the innocent, his mania—neither film showcases those things which have traditionally been the root of Batman’s character. In Dark Knight? What does he really want? To retire. That’s a Batman story?

    but: TDKR isn’t a great film. i do like DK better. it was at least the pinnacle of whatever this trilogy is. all i’ve said is that the differences between these two films are minor, not major. neither of them is as good as The Prestige.

  10. YOU ARE THE DUMBEST PERSON EVER IF YOU DON’T LIKE THIS MOVIE AND YOU SHOULD DIE YOU STUPID IDIOT!!!!!!!!!!!

    Sorry. This thread needed a fanboy rant.

    Whats-her-name was great as the Catwoman person. I have chosen to believe that Alfred *imagined* seeing Bruce in Italy to make himself feel better. Michael Caine made me cry during the funeral scene. Alfred drinks Fernet. Christian Bale had his shirt off a couple of times.

    In summary, I love Michael Caine. Christian Bale is hot. Thank you.

  11. thank you, sissa. here i’d gone and slammed the new Batman, and no internet fanboy jerkwads had issued any death threats! what does a guy have to write on the web these days to be hated and despised?

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.