Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012)

(I know, I know, but Nolan's last word on this comic book character and possibly one of the year's biggest movie events is too irresistible a target. Watch out: story discussed in close detail)

Art of darkness

I'd already said pretty much everything I needed to say about Nolan's take on Batman. Does he redeem himself with this version? Some, not enough.

Nolan's better at shooting action--no more shaky-cam (much), and he has learned to keep the camera trained on the fight sequences till they're over. That said, he still hasn't learned to keep his camera trained on the money shot--in The Prestige he cut away when a crucial trick was performed (invalidating the magic of the trick); here someone leaps across space to an impossibly far ledge, and he has to insert a reaction shot from everyone below. He's improved, but still lacks confidence as a filmmaker. 

He's doing better as a writer--somewhat. Borrowing entire pages of detail from Frank Miller's seminal The Dark Knight Returns (with Wayne's retirement shortened to an eight-year absence, and the villain Bane (Tom Hardy) standing in for the mutant leader) he knows how to weave complex plots, how to twist and turn the strands, startling the audience at the right moment, how to build and maintain intensity. Probably his biggest problem is that he wants it to be all intensity, which at two hours and forty plus minutes gets wearying (not to mention repetitive), this imminent sense that something terrible is about to happen, about to happen, about to happen. Nolan like Peter Jackson wears his geekiness proudly on his sleeve when what was probably needed was an artist's skepticism, an ability to stand back and ruthlessly assess the material--what should go, what should stay, what should radically change. 

(And for all his geeky knowingness, his immersion in matters both Bat and scientific, Nolan doesn't seem to understand the forces that act on a suspension bridge, making it stand--that if you sever the two main cables the entire center span will fall or, arguably, the whole thing collapse (I was staring at the bridges in the background, with their span cut. What was holding it up--wishful thinking?)).

He can toll the bells of rhetoric well enough (too well; you get the sense that he loves the sound of his own voice coming out of other peoples' mouths--witness the endless speeches Commissioner Gordon delivers at the conclusion to the last two movies). He loves to pontificate on profound themes, banging the gong when there's a moment to spare (perhaps this is his idea of 'giving an audience a rest') and even when there isn't a moment to spare (when the true nature of one crucial character is fully revealed, said character just has to stop the entire picture and explain the full significance and consequences of said revelation while Batman lay bleeding. "Slow knife" someone at one point says. Slow knife my ass--I thought they were trying to talk him to death). 

Nolan tries for relevance and unfortunately achieves it--every moment someone pulls out an assault rifle, every detonation of a planted explosive whether he intended it or not leaves a sour taste in the mouth. More, Bane's plan, of upending the 1% and leaving the 99% in charge sounds like a parody of the Occupy Wall Street movement--so Bane is the illusory leader of liberal idealism and Batman the conservative reality? Not sure I like the sound of that.

And for all Nolan's eloquence, he still hasn't learned to be funny. Hathaway as Selina Kyle has a few sparkling lines, but you don't get the laugh-out-loud demented dialogue of a Daniel Waters ("Just the pussy I've been looking for!"). And while we're on the subject of Selina, no, sorry, Hathaway doesn't come within striking distance of Michelle Pfeiffer's glorious incarnation. Hathaway is far too healthy and wholesome; Pfeiffer was a knife's edge away from psychologically shattering. Hathaway looks smooth and svelte in her catsuit, Pfeiffer looked stitched-together and fragile, barely able to cohere. Hathaway provides a dose of lighthearted I-don't-give-a-fuck (her gradual changeover to commitment and care actually seems like a betrayal of the character); Pfeiffer was the film's emotional core--loses it early on, is barely able to keep it together, and still manages to be laugh-out-loud funny ("Life's a bitch; now so am I"). Hathaway gives her career a nice little boost; Pfeiffer gave the performance of her life. 

I'd add this much more, on the difference between Nolan and someone like Tim Burton. Nolan writes fairly straightforward Syd Field-style scripts, where even the twists and turns of time travel (Memento) or dreams (Inception) are intricately laid out yet meticulously kept coherent, the genres efficiently exploited for whatever narrative hooks they can provide; Burton is a filmmaker who uses the script as an excuse to leap into the thin air, depending on the beauty and texture of his imagery (and the fascinating whiff of melancholy they give off) to keep him afloat. Nolan gives the impression of being a clever, careful writer who to retain control of his material has turned director; Burton is a trapeze artist, a high-wire act.

Give me something better; at least give me something else. Give me Escape From New York (1981), yet another science-fiction adventure set in the near future where yet another maverick hero infiltrates an isolated Manhattan to save the city and perhaps the world--at least Carpenter's nightmare vision has wit and genuine edge to it, not to mention images that earned it a definite 'R' rating (as compared to Dark Knight Rises' wimpy 'PG-13'). Come to think of it Dark Knight Rises does seem to borrow elements from Carpenter's classic--just not enough to make a real difference.

Give me the ostensibly lighter-hearted but emotionally more complex The Avengers. I wouldn't call Joss Whedon as talented an imagemaker as Burton, but (comparing Nolan's latest to more recent efforts) his latest picture is for me the more impressive achievement, the dialogue far more entertaining (more audible too--half the cast in The Dark Knight Rises seem to mumble, and when you try listen more closely Nolan punishes your attentiveness with a very loud drum in your ear, banging for about a hundred and sixty minutes). Whedon, smartly, focuses less on complicated narrative and more on character interaction (which was what the original Marvel Comics stories were about, anyway), and leavens the occasional drama with bouts of humor, even silliness (the shawarma scene that caps the credits). 

(Humor is an underrated virtue, especially nowadays in this age of superserious superhero pictures (witness the trailer for Man of Steel, where the late Christopher Reeve's charmingly low-key Kryptonian has been reduced to roaring across the sky like supersonic aircraft). Humor can serve as contrast to sharpen the horror in films, can serve as distracting patter while real drama is sneaking up behind, can be (and both Burton and Whedon know this) combined with horror and drama to create an emotionally potent mix. Humor is one of the most powerful weapons in a storyteller's emotional arsenal, of which he is advised to use every item; Nolan seems to be using at most half of his available inventory--or possibly that's all he's got, which would be an even sadder scenario).

If Dark Knight Rises feels more intense than The Avengers that, arguably, comes from focusing on a single character's plight instead of seven. Whedon is no slouch at telling stories about single protagonists, either--his Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog delivers more drama and pathos and poignancy in forty minutes and for about $200,000 (set to music, at that) than Nolan ever does with his hundred and sixty-four minute, $250 million epic white elephant. Want a movie full of darkness and doom (not to mention imagination, wit, hummable tunes)? Don't waste your time with Dark Knight, or for that matter The Avengers--download Dr. Horrible instead. Be careful; break your heart, that will.

Revised 8.8.12

As a suggestion for further reading, a friend was kind enough to provide me with a link to an in-depth discussion of the movie, found here. Enjoy! 

And David Bordwell has as usual a thorough and thoroughly considered appreciation of Nolan's career as a filmmaker (a lot more balanced and sober than mine--but y'know me). Towards the end of the article is an interesting link to Jim Emerson's rather ruthless takedown of Nolan's superhero flick--check it out. 

8.26.12

32 comments:

aarlene said...

Nice review!!! I liked the movie very much........

Noel Vera said...

Uh...yeah...

Anonymous said...

are you drunk..... Compare nolan with whedon.... Kill yourself... my cat understand more about cinema than you..... The objective and impact in the dark knight rises go beyond that comercial cinema of the avengers...... Learn about making critics in bases of real facts about the world of cinema....... And for the record you don´t really know anything about the bd of batman to compare pfeiffer with hathaway.......

Noel Vera said...

Civilized and rational discourse from a Nolan fan.

Anonymous said...

i'm a bigger fan of batman that nolan so i don't really like people who criticize and comment certain things without know the bases of batman bd.... Nolan it was the only one who took the most history and real facts of batman bd..... so yes i have my reasons to not accept certain comments....... But i respect your opinion but do not criticize things you don´t know about...... that is lame very lame.....

Noel Vera said...

Huh, so your snotty remarks are what you call 'respect?' Some people don't just don't know how to raise their kids right.

Noel Vera said...

Or teach their kids how to use a dictionary, look up the word 'respect...'

Or learn about the art and pitfalls of adaptation...

Anonymous said...

i don't go arguing with people with inferior knowledge and common sense..... But for future record be more pragmatic in future reviews.... And DO NOT insult things you don´t Know about.... That just prove your lack of education and reasonable sense..... Goodbye person who needs so much to learn.....

Noel Vera said...

Telling a blogger in his own blog what he should do. Assuming superior knowledge on a subject (without providing a single piece of evidence to back claim up or addressing any of the points in the piece). Assuming a piece of criticism is just insult.

Respectful, rational and informed, oh yeah...

Melinda said...

Great review... I really liked... Nolan fan????

Noel Vera said...

No, not Nolan fan.

Noel Vera said...

Nolan lump. Mistakes big for good, long for deep. Needs glasses.

radiohead said...

at least anynomous understood you didn't like it.

just watched Dr. Horrible, yeah made me cry...

Noel Vera said...

Anonymous seems to have an inkling.

Did it? Dark Knight Rises made me yawn.

Noel Vera said...

hi rh, accidentally deleted your comment . sorry. can you post it again ?

Diana said...

i really like Dr. Horrible... NPH big fan.... But you can´t compare Dr. horrible with the dark knight rises...... is two completely different shows..... is like compare star wars with The Shawshank Redemption two differents impacts.... the batman trilogy one of the best trilogy ever......

radiohead said...

oh sure..but i forgot..

i was saying, i think capt hammer's character was underwritten, as compared to Dr. Horrible (who has 3 layers, good, bad, inner good - as I see it). Capt Hammer's was like, ok let's make him a jerk.done.

altho, he had the best line in the film. and i particularly cried on the "I'm not the hammer" part.

Noel Vera said...

"is like compare star wars with The Shawshank Redemption two differents impacts"

I don't like either of them.

I think it's more like comparing The Hurt Locker with Avatar. One is an overblown overproduced overhyped production, the other is a pretty good movie.

"the batman trilogy one of the best trilogy ever......"

There are so many: Inagaki's Samurai comes to mind; Kobayashi's The Human Condition. Heck, I prefer the Back to the Future movies to Nolan's trilogy.

"i think capt hammer's character was underwritten"

At forty minutes they had to keep something at a minimum.

Plus I like the idea of a shallow, unexamined, narcissistic hero. Self righteousness can do that to a man.

Diana said...

Don´t like star wars or The Shawshank Redemption...oki doki.... I´m done here.....

Jason Friedlander said...


a) I have nothing to say because I am not a director, and have no knowledge to criticize his confidence.
b) In many ways, The Dark Knight Rises is meant to be the final act of his Dark Knight trilogy, which is why the whole movie built to its epic climax. It had to be intense.
c) I don't recall this particular scene so I have nothing to say about it.
d) How else would we have found out what happened? I think it was necessary to explain how Bane wasn't the child who climbed up the hole, but the protector and guardian of the child, adding more layers to his character.
e) Really? Joking that Nolan intended the violence to remind audiences of the Colorado massacre? Isn't that a little insensitive?
f) If the movie had dialogue like that, it would have definitely been out of place in terms of the film's tone and mood. It may difficult to keep in mind, but there is no point of comparing Burton's Batman with Nolan's because they are radically different films.
g) Same as above. If Anne Hathaway adhered to your preferred version of Catwoman, you would have undoubtedly bashed her for imitating Michelle Pfeiffer and being unoriginal. It is very evident that you walked into the movie with the preconceived notion that Anne Hathaway would fail in comparison to Michelle Pfeiffer, when they shouldn't have been compared in the first place.
h) First of all, Memento did not have time travel. Not at all. Although I trust that you have seen it since you commented on the movie. Personally, I don't understand your statement at all. In simpler words, you said "...are laid out very detailed, yet logical by showing great attention to detail" Please enlighten me on what that means.
i) Somehow you compared Nolan's screenwriting to Burton's directing, which I don't see makes sense. You talk about Nolan's scriptwriting, but of course, can't compare it to Burton's because he didn't write any of the Batman scripts. Then you comment on Burton's directing without saying anything about Nolan's. Eventually, declaring Burton the winner.
j) Wimpy PG-13? I don't understand why you would say that.
k) Please enlighten me on how The Avengers are more emotionally complex than The Dark Knight Rises.
l) I agree that The Dark Knight Rises lacked in humor compared to The Avengers, although did you really expect it to be humorous? The Dark Knight Rises, based on trailers and posters, was definitely not marketed to be a humorous movie. Maybe more humor would have been better, but if it didn't promise it, I'd advise not to look for it.
ps. This paragraph is very difficult to read with all your parentheses. You have 3 open parentheses and 4 closed ones, which unfortunately confused me while reading it. Parenthesis within parenthesis.
m) I haven't seen this either, so I have no comment about it.

The purpose of a review is to give both positive and negative sides to a movie. It is evident that you walked into The Dark Knight Rises with the preconceived notion of hating it, and you certainly achieved your goal. Although I think it is unfair for you to leave out everything positive in your so-called review. It's impossible not to have anything positive about his movie, but from the opening paragraph of your review, it is clear that you only wrote this to bash the movie. Then again, you call yourself a critic, which makes this a criticism instead of a review. Making the need for both positive and negative aspects of the film be portrayed even more important.

Before you tell me that I'm a Nolan fanboy and such, remember that I'm a reader of your blog and this is all a matter of opinion. It has nothing to do with my preference of directors.

Thank you for your time.

Jason Friedlander said...

Here's a short summary of all the reasons why you don't like The Dark Knight Rises:
a) When someone leaps across space to a far ledge, there is a reaction shot of the people below, hence showing that Christopher Nolan lacks confidence as a director.
b) It was too intense.
c) A suspension bridge didn't collapse when it should have.
d) When the villain was revealed at the end, there was a monologue explaining her true intentions.
e) Whether he intended to or notthe violence leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
f) The movie doesn't have laugh-out-loud demented dialogue like "Just the pussy I've been looking for!"
g) Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle was too healthy and wholesome as compared to Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman.
h) "Nolan writes fairly straightforward Syd Field-style scripts, where even the twists and turns of time travel (Memento) or dreams (Inception) are intricately laid out yet meticulously kept coherent,"
i) Tim Burton is better than Christopher Nolan.
j) Escape from New York was rated R, while The Dark Knight Rises had a "wimpy PG-13"
k) The "light-hearted but emotionally more complex" The Avengers was more impressive because it was more audible, had a simpler narrative and has humor to leaven the occasional drama.
l) The Dark Knight Rises didn't have humor as contrast its horror and drama.
m) Josh Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog delivers more drama and pathos than The Dark Knight Rises.

Yes, every single paragraph of this review, negatively criticized the movie. I have some comments and clarifications though.

Noel Vera said...

b) Intense is fine. One-note intense is boring.

c) Watch it again.

d) Anything but a long speech?

e) I'm perfectly serious. The resemblance, intentional or not, left a sour taste in the mouth.

f) If the movie had more tonally varied dialogue, I wouldn't complain.

g) If they want a Catwoman they could have tried for a Catwoman that wipes Pfieffer from memory. Did not happen.

h) Memento told the story backwards and forwards. It played with the time sequence.

"...are laid out very detailed, yet logical by showing great attention to detail"

Didn't write this.

i) Simply comparing Nolan and Burton as storytellers.

j) I don't understand why I shouldn't say that.

k) There's more emotions on the palette, and shades to the emotions.

l) Why should I care what the advertising says?

"The purpose of a review is to give both positive and negative sides to a movie."

Why?

"It is evident that you walked into The Dark Knight Rises with the preconceived notion of hating it"

How would you know that, short of telepathy?

"Making the need for both positive and negative aspects of the film be portrayed even more important."

Why?

Noel Vera said...

Oh, corrected that extra parenthesis. Thanks.

Dodo Dayao said...

I think a lot of fans (geeks/nerds) are having trouble wrapping their head around the idea that other people might NOT LIKE Christopher Nolan Batman movies. I swear, the Dark Knight trilogy is the most overprotected franchise in the history of Hollywood.

Nolan fundamentalists/extremists should find this discussion either sobering, enlightening or blasphemous.

http://mubi.com/notebook/posts/the-big-murk-a-conversation-about-christopher-nolans-the-dark-knight-rises

Jason Friedlander said...

I respect your opinion, I simply wanted clarification on some of your criticisms. I would comment on each bullet, but it would most likely get us nowhere.

"(I know, I know, but Nolan's last word on this comic book character and possibly one of the year's biggest movie events is too irresistible a target. Watch out: story discussed in close detail)"

By definition, target means "a person, object or place selected as the aim of attack". This is why I had the notion that you walked into the movie wanting to "attack" it. Isn't criticism defined as giving "analysis and judgement of merits and faults"? Does this movie have none?


I'm actually just here because I was really curious on why you were chosen to be a Sight & Sound voter. The only critic from the Philippines at that. I googled your name and arrived at your blog. This is the first review I read. Hopefully you weren't as one-sided to this movie as you were to others.

I'd end by saying you are very biased, but of course that is true, we all are.

Noel Vera said...

No, criticism does not necessarily imply a balanced view of the faults and flaws of a work of 'art.' From where I stand Nolan's work and the man himself has been praised to high heavens; I'm providing alternative programming.

And yes, I'm one-sided here; it's my call, what I think the movie deserves. Am I more ambivalent elsewhere? Depends on the movie.

"you are very biased"

Welcome to film criticism.

Dodo, thanks for the link; will get into that soon as I have time...

Jason Friedlander said...

Thank you for your time.

radiohead said...

"he wants it to be all intensity"

..same thing he did with The Dark Knight and Inception...

How about tension and release, like a good sex should be?

btw, karel is so hot!!! (was this comment not enough to prove i'm not a robot that i have to type the captcha?)

Noel Vera said...

"how about tension and release like good sex"

I'd call Nolan's films bad sex. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am. Guy walks away, girl thinks "was that all I'm going to get? Five second sex, no build up, no anticipation, no foreplay--no play whatsever? Why so frigging serious?"

Brett Wade said...

Why do you hate Nolan and his work so much? I don't get it.

Brett Wade said...

Also, Pfeiffer's Catwoman... was not to my taste. "Icky" is the word that comes to mind. Hathaway's Catwoman was better and closer to what the character is supposed to be and has been in the comics and the awesome 90s animated series. I'm not sure why you rank Batman Returns so high. Structurally it was kind of a mess. I enjoyed it when I was younger, despite the overblown creepiness, but looking back on it now, the film has problems. It starts and drops more plot threads than The Amazing Spider-Man. You criticize Nolan for having too much coherence (a perspective I don't really understand, but whatever), but going too far the other way is a huge turn off. At least for me.

Noel Vera said...

Nolan? Action filmmaking basics. As in total lack of.

Batman Returns has wit--compared to Nolan's Dark Knight movies, near-total lack of humor.

And Pfeiffer against Hathaway? Fughedaboudit. I suppose Hathaway is closer to the comics--faithfulness to source isn't a priority for me, especially when I feel that the change is an improvement.

But I talk about all this in detail in one of the links, to Batman Returns. Check that out.

"At least for me"

De gustibus non est disputandum

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