I am shocked at how bad DARK KNIGHT RISES is.
To me Nolan, even at his best (THE PRESTIGE, MEMENTO), has never been more than a mildly interesting filmmaker. He’s ambitious in the least absorbing of ways. He’s way too pretentious to really play off the important pulp he seems to be reaching for. He habitually overcomplicates things. And yet I found DARK KNIGHT RETURNS to be pretty engaging. It certainly had many faults (some of them ideological) and it undeniably benefitted immensely from Heath Ledger’s performance. Still, it was enough to encourage me to go see RISES on the big screen.
And that’s how I found myself sitting through a three-hour exorcise in bloated, clumsy and sometimes surprisingly amateurish filmmaking. With every passing scene my initial curiosity turned to a finely honed hatred.
So I am now an official hater. And let me tell you people something. It’s okay to hate. When this much money is spent on the whims of one man’s vision and that vision turns out to be so tepid and have such a huge disregard for the power and grace of restrained, well-crafted narrative, then yeah… it’s okay to hate. Hate with all your heart. In fact, you can hate twice as much if you’re a creator of narratives yourself, because this guy just got paid millions and millions and millions of dollars to cinematically and narratively masturbate.
First, let’s talk about the good (ahhh charity). Ann Hathaway’s Catwoman is, by miles, the best thing in this overcrowded, misguided concoction. Mila Kunis would’ve been better, but we take what we can get. Of course Hathaway is never called Catwoman, because ultimately Nolan is embarrassed to be doing a superhero movie, as virtually every creative decision he makes here proves, but that’s okay, she’s still cool. However, like all things a little bit interesting in this movie, her character and storyline are steamrolled down into a flat, boring, cacophony and no room is spared for a real or lovely moment. Remember the Joker hanging out the cop car window in DARK KNIGHT? God, what an amazing shot that was! What a moment of character clarity created through pure cinema! Well guess what, Nolan can’t be bothered with shit like that this time around and it’s a great loss to the film.
Good, that was the best thing I could say about the movie. Now that that’s out of the way… let’s start really hating on this thing.
First, the basics.
The music is relentlessly pounding. Mind-numbing actually. I assume the purpose was to distract us from the rickety story, but it actually induces a kind of battered apathy after three hours.
Christian Bale phones in his performance. He plays Batman as a mouth-breather. He actually never closes his mouth when in the cowl. Maybe he cant breath out of his nose in that thing, but he looks like some poor kid at summer camp with severe allergies. Let’s not even discuss Batman’s voice. That’s just low hanging fruit. Bale seems to be incapable of bringing even the slightest touch of character to Bruce Wayne. He basically just plays his own dazed, hyper-sensitive self. I totally expected him, as Bruce Wayne, to start ranting at someone off-camera at any moment, “Are you professional or not?!?!” Dick.
And where is Batman the master martial artist? Batman the World’s Greatest Detective? Batman the unstoppable force of nature? Not here. Not in this movie. This movie is about Batman the whiny self-involved bitch.
The amazing Tom Hardy is completely wasted on this film… and also mostly unintelligible. He somehow manages, despite Nolan’s best efforts, to make Bane seem genuinely dangerous. But this is because Hardy is an incredible physical actor, not because of a single scripted action or piece of dialog.
The script is an absolute train wreck. There are more plot holes and leaps of logic in this film than in THE AVENGERS, and that movie had a Norse God fighting alongside a monster-of-science against giant interdimensional worms.
So those are my general complaints. Now let’s move on to a partial rundown of specific logic loops, sustained stupidity and other asinine aspects that shows Nolan is just basically shrugging and calling it an act of creativity.
BEWARE SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON!
1. Bane performs a massive terrorist raid on the stock exchange to make a single trade that causes Bruce Wayne to go broke. Okay… A. Hacking a computer system does not require proximal space violence. You hack from a remote location. B. What you’re telling me is that the authorities didn’t shut down the trading algorithms when the crisis began and that no one later questioned the massive trade that rendered one of the wealthiest men in the world destitute despite the fact that the incredibly suspicious transaction was performed in the middle of a raid that resulted in a destructive, high speed chase – featuring military grade vehicles – across Gotham that would’ve been news all across the world. Got it.
2. Batman and Bruce Wayne are the least interesting characters to the filmmakers here. Batman’s time on screen is minimal and incidental and his actions are boring. It is a Batman film with no interest in Batman at all.
3. Everyone knows Bruce Wayne is Batman. Every single character in this entire movie with more than a page of dialogue knows this. One character knows he’s Batman because when he was a small boy he met Bruce Wayne and there was “the pain of loss” in Mr. Wayne’s eyes. So he’s basically known since he was twelve. One hell of a perceptive twelve year-old.
4. The “Harvey Dent tough-on-crime” bill has ended crime. Okay, a question. In your lifetime, have you seen a city ever go from total social meltdown to a utopian peace so extensive that the police have nothing to do? And if you have, was it because of a single bill that was passed eight years prior? For all of Nolan’s stated desire to make a ”real world” superhero film, he needs to brush up on how the real world works.
6. “Your spinal vertebrae is sticking out of your back, here let me just punch it in! GHA! There, much better. Now hang there while we tell you the same story multiple times using only gender neutral language so we can setup yet another lame reveal at the end of the film.”
7. I once saw an episode of Vice Travel where some journalist tracked down a dirty bomb for sale in Chechnya. Yeah. But Bane doesn’t like doing things the easy way. So, even though he’s vaguely of some Eastern Bloc ethnicity, he doesn’t hunt down some fat, wealthy ex-soviet arms dealer to buy a nuclear weapon from. Or just raid the old Soviet stock piles. His plan for getting his hands on a nuclear weapon is to elaborately fake the death of a scientist (via a blood transfusion by the way. Because that’s how they identify bodies that have fallen from three-thousand feet, by blood type). Then Bane has his accomplice invest billions in Waynetech to build a fusion generator beneath Gotham so Bane can use the scientist to steal its core and turn it into a – not especially large – atomic bomb with which he will then hold ALL OF GOTHAM hostage. And you know what? I have just incredibly simplified the plot for you, because it’s all way more complex than that. I saw someone elsewhere online count out 16 steps to Bain’s “master” plan.
8. It takes three months for the US to send a single special-ops unit into Gotham during the largest terrorist hostage situation in history. And because all of the police are underground for five months (don’t worry, they emerge with clean uniforms on. A dry-cleaner was part of the provisions sent down in a care package I guess) the people of Gotham can’t fight Bane’s army on their own, an army which seems to be no more than about 200 people strong. Let’s explore this a little more. Let’s say Gotham is New York City, which it actually is in this ponderous piece of relentless crap. Now let’s say a terrorist and his private army is holding New York City hostage… for FIVE MONTHS! You’re telling me that the citizens of New York, the military of the United States and all the nuclear scientists of the world… are going to let that happen? That the people won’t rise up immediately, that the military won’t have drones flying around constantly looking for radiation signatures or that every special-op, navy seal and CIA incursion spy in the nation wouldn’t have infiltrated the island, or that the scientists wouldn’t have figure out a way to drop EMP pulse grenades across the island to shut down the mechanical device that triggers the fission explosion in the bomb? Nope, none of that happens! According the brilliant plotting in this movie, the authorities would instead spend five months shooting civilians who try to cross any of the borough bridges.
9. An atomic bomb detonates off the coast of Gotham and everything’s totally cool! No worries! Radiation fallout? Na. Poisoned ocean, forget about it. It’s no big deal, really!
10. Not a single emotional moment is played out through acting or action in this movie. It’s all dialogue. This thing is wall-to-wall dialogue. No one ever shuts up and just feels anything. No one emotes, unless they’re talking. They all tell you what they’re feeling. The film breaks the important cinema adage of show-don’t-tell more than any other movie I can possibly think of
11. And the worst crime of all. The co-opting of the OCCUPY RHETORIC. Maybe Nolan is intentionally trying to disenfranchise the movement. At least that would mean he has some balls as a creator, like Frank Miller. Miller is crap now as a creative person, but he has balls the size of Buicks. But sadly, no. I fear this movie is too toothless and contradicting to have a real stance. Instead we get barraged with half-assed political cliches of the moment whenever Nolan thinks it’ll make a scene edgier. Occupy Wall St. slogans are readily and repeatedly spoken by a monstrous, mad, deceiving, mass-murdering terrorist, as well as from a jewel thief. It’s important to note that I’m not mad because I disagree with Nolan’s (non-)politics here. Trust me, if I heard Tea Party rhetoric coming out of Bane’s mouth, I’d be just as pissed.
I’ll stop there. That’s not all of my complaints, but you get the idea. I am challenged to think of a single scene that doesn’t strain every attempt at suspension of disbelief on my part.
And here’s the real thing, as a moviegoer I was bored. As a human being I was annoyed… but as a writer, as someone who struggles with my craft to just barely make rent month after month, I am absolutely appalled. It is a given aspect of the craft that writers should always struggle to keep our intentions and themes clear and our narratives finely weaved. It is a given that we should leave room in our work for moments and characters and emotions and, yes, even spectacle, to breath. This movie seems to intentionally subvert every basic lesson beginning writers learn. It’s like a deliberate master-class on how to write absolute convoluted tedious shit.
And now it’s one of the top 20 highest grossing films of all time…
Emphasis on the word gross.