The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

The Dark Knight Rises – Is anyone else kinda wishing he’d stayed down?

with 4 comments

Dear Kathryn,

While I actually saw TDKR on Tuesday night, I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write to you about it. I just did not enjoy it, and am puzzled by the overwhelmingly positive response it is getting from reviewers I generally respect and agree with. Am I missing something here? Help me understand! Over at the AV Club, Scott Tobias calls the movie a Rorschach Test, and I think that begins to capture my frustration. While debates pass back and forth over whether this is right wing propaganda or right wing propaganda undoing itself from within in some form of postmodern play, I’m left wondering if Nolan even knows the real answer. Not that authorial intent needs to drive our sense of meaning here, but my sense is that TDKR isn’t playing with political themes because it’s interested in the ambiguous dimensions of cultural zeitgeist; rather, it’s playing back and forth with these themes because these themes sell. I don’t want the film to pick a side (and my hunch is that with some distance, just as with the second, the side will end up looking much more like right-wing, uber-capitalist wet dreams than the inevitably failing moments of ambiguity currently allow it to do). Sure, Occupy appears here as both “unifying force” and “order-upending menace,” as Tobias notes. But the intrigue of a Rorschach Test lies in the fact that one’s response is immediate – I see what I see immediately. With TDKR, it’s 5 days later, and I still don’t know what the hell I saw besides a lot of explosions, a ridiculously moping millionaire, and a lot of Catwoman’s ass on a motorcycle.

The thing is, I think these political themes are being played with far too close to their occurrence. In the real world we’re still grappling to figure out what Occupy was and meant and will be for our future. Barack Obama’s first term isn’t even finished yet (um, and am I the only one who considered walking out of the theatre when the light-skinned black man, sent by the government to clean things up, talking diplomacy AND extreme forms of military intervention was lynched – and yes, I’m using that word intentionally – from an airplane??). Perhaps one day TDKR will be studied in film classes because of the ways it contributed to a popular understanding of significant political movements and moments in our time. But if that’s the case, I’m kind of freaked out by the possibility of a machine driven by the amount of money it seeks to make, not by the cultural analysis it wants to offer. I wish I could trust that what’s going on here is a massive performance of our shared political confusion – that would be interesting. But instead I lean toward thinking TDKR is filled with political ambiguity because it wants everyone in a politically divided country to shell out the $10 to see it.

[THERE’S A SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH] Political ranting aside, however – the reason I didn’t like TDKR all that much wasn’t because of my morals or ideals. The reason I didn’t like it was because it was stinking boring! What is it, 2 hours and 44 minutes?! If only they had cut the 97 minutes they spent trying to make Christian Bale leap out of a (painful metaphor of a) hole in the ground that we all knew he was going to get out of anyway, I could have sat through it without getting quite so antsy. But good grief, if I had to watch one more scene of a whiny, spoiled millionaire wandering around his mansion like a wounded puppy just because the love of his life (seriously, gimme a break – the love of his life!) had left him with some hope in his stupid heart, I think I would lose it. Most of the time I spent marveling over why Fox and Alfred even like that douche. And if Bruce Wayne weren’t annoying enough, Batman’s self-important, ridiculously serious but stupid sounding voice (which I’m convinced sounds that way because that mask is so tight, poor Bale’s cheeks are squished beyond speech-capacity) became more of a laughing stock that a rallying cry in the row of the theatre I watched it in. Intersperse all that with awkwardly long, over-wrought, treatises of exposition that would make Aaron Sorkin blush (I actually felt bad for Gary Oldman trying to defend himself to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that terrible speech after the truth came out), and I was looking for escape. Finally, (MASSIVE SPOILER, SUPPOSEDLY) from the moment Marion Cotillard took over Wayne Enterprises it’s unfathomable to me that at least 50% of the audience wouldn’t realize she’s the real villain. I could see no reason why Bane would help the other board member (money isn’t a motivating factor for him, really, and there was no serious alliance between those two, so whoever actually came to power had to be the one actually pulling Bane’s strings). This is a movie hailed for its twists and turns, but I’m generally crap at predicting plot surprises, and this one seemed underwhelmingly obvious to me.

I think Tom Chiarella over at Esquire has it right: superhero movies need to make us laugh…and not because we’re laughing at them. That’s why The Avengers was freaking fantastic! But Batman is just too spoiled and serious for me to bother liking him…in the end he strikes me as any other rich kid who – wah wah- has so many privileges that he can’t figure out what to do with them. If only every time I faced vocational crisis I had someone to open my doors, do my laundry, fix my meals and keep my world moving. I’d probably check out for 7 years too!

I’m no Anne Hathaway fan, but she was the one redeeming quality of it all as far as I was concerned. At least she looked like she was having fun! But even that got spoiled by the fact that she seemed to fall immediately in love with Bruce for no good reason and, it seems, ended up marrying him?!? The one beacon of hope that someone from the wrong side of the tracks could bring about positive social change (and that we don’t leave it all in the hands of millionaire vigilantes and philanthropists) ended up marrying the rich dude and retiring early to the Riviera? Ugh.

In the end I think the problem is with thirds in trilogies – I almost never enjoy them. And I think the problem is that directors/writers/producers feel an overwhelming burden to tie up all the themes, plots, relational loose ends, etc., in the concluding film, rather than just giving us the two hours of entertainment that we want. Scott Tobias praises this, but think Anthony Lane over at The New Yorker has it right: trying to pull this off leaves newcomers feeling unwelcome. But I would add, even those of us who have seen the first two installments multiple times can feel alienated by this tactic because what we loved about the other two was not their desire to tidy things up; it was – particularly with the Joker – the fantasy of mayhem they let us enjoy, really enjoy, in the dark of a cinema where anything feels possible.

I waited 5 days to write this because I wanted to avoid ranting – I’m not sure I achieved it, so sorry if this seems over the top in its annoyance. I’m eager to hear what you thought, and hoping you’ll show me why I’m wrong. I’d watch it again if I thought it could be redeemed. But for now, I’m mostly enjoying tossing around Batman’s corny one-liners with the friends I saw it with as we giggle at how silly a superhero that Caped Crusader has become (which is saying A LOT given previous incarnations all tending, intentionally, toward the silly!).

Nevertheless, I’ll shell out the cash to see Robin whenever that happens,
Natalie

4 Responses

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  1. I’m sure I won’t put half the thought into this that you clearly did in writing your review, but I LOVED the movie.  Now to be fair, I subscribed to Batman comics as a pre-teen, and I will watch just about any comic book movie – so this is clearly biased.  All the more so because Keaton’s Batman was great, but Kilmer and Clooney were awful, so I craved redemption!  I’ll have spoilers here too, so fair warning not to read on (if anyone bothers with this).

    I’ll start with something we have in common: the voice is goofy.  I think it’s just an error carried over from the first film: Bruce Wayne needed to disguise his voice, and they chose poorly, but committed too many Hollywood $$$s to film before realizing they should have changed it!  And I know he is very glum (to put it lightly), but that’s pretty true to the character’s origins… he’s never had a sense of humour like a Spiderman (despite what the campy tv show/post-Burton movies subjected us to).

    As for the storyline, I don’t think Nolan is sharing his commentary on our times.  SPOILER: capitalizing on the success of the League of Shadow’s storyline from Batman Begins, he needed a vehicle to again attack Batman’s true love: Gotham. As a moviemaker, how do you try to kill a city again without causing eye-rolling and here-we-go-again… …ing?  Fear didn’t work in the first installment, so how about Hope?  Hence the French Revolution themes.  I’m sure he thought that the idea was great because of the parallels with Occupy, but I really think it was just a means to an end rather than a chance for him to opine.  And Tale of Two Cities was a convenient muse – right down to providing Wayne’s eulogy.

    I for one didn’t see right through the plot twist with Cotillard’s character, and I feel the need to help you fathom why.  Call me gullible, but I did see the renewable energy storyline as a viable reason to believe in her as a “good guy”.  In retrospect, the fact that he cast a french actress should have tipped me off (with respect to the French Revolution theme)!  But even if I saw through it, the plot twist that made it interesting was why she was behind it.  Nolan toyed with the Batman mythos enough to keep fans/researchers guessing – weaving together the al Ghul clan and Bane’s origins was dirty pool, and I was definitely tricked.

    You also asked why Alfred and Fox care about the brooding Wayne.  Don’t forget that Alfred raised Bruce after his parents were murdered, and was his father figure long before he became Batman.  I think that love was pretty well portrayed in the films, and would survive any age/heartbreak/privelege-induced douchery.  And as for Fox: going back to the first film, he cares about the cause and respects Bruce immensely.  Plus he wants (and is in a unique position) to be a part of the solution – what R&D nerd doesn’t dream of being Bond’s Q?  And while I’m sure there are better messages to send via the Selina Kyle character, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for a criminal (not exactly a paragon of morality, or a likely role-model) who lives caper to caper to fall for a billionaire who is clearly into her!

    And lastly – I just have to say that I think these Batman movies were all great action films!  They looked amazing: great gadgets (vehicles especially), fights, and fascinating villains – what more could I ask, for after the campy portrayals that led into this trilogy?

    Chris Sandford

    July 29, 2012 at 8:13 pm

  2. Ahhhhhhh I am so, so upset you hated this movie that much…
    The tying of loose ends is a frustrating fact in any trilogy. We are all no stranger to the painful moment when all the characters have to make monologue speeches they never made in the first two movies, but all the sudden just have to now… I suppose though if you think about the average movie goer, somebody who does not read the graphic novels or has any knowledge of plot or storylines involved in the series, they need a lot of… let’s put it nicely “explaining and hand holding”. They don’t understand what is happening unless something is thrown in front of them and so blatant that it slaps them across the face. I admit I was disappointed at the end when Alfred is sitting having his drink and it showed him smiling in recognition (which should have been enough) and then nodding, then smiling again, then showing Bruce Wayne, then showing Selena Kyle, then showing them laughing over wedding photos, then looking at their marriage certificate, and housing plans at the local villa, etc etc… okay that didn’t happen, but it may as well have… I will admit some of it is cheesy, but for the average movie goer this is necessary
    I disagree with Bruce Wayne being a spoiled rich kid sulking, I more so saw him as a defeated man who gave everything to a city that he loves because it is the only thing that keeps him close to his parents. I think the obvious… that being Batman gave him a sense of pride and protection, and made him feel like he could have ties to his parents by protecting the city his father loved, and protecting its people from the tragedy that befell his family. He had to give that up, he had to give up part of himself to save Gotham, and even though doing it was his whole purpose, it has to be difficult giving up something that has occupied your life for so long. He clung to Rachel because she made him feel human. And yes the “you can’t truly have hope without despair” theme was totally reoccurring, I really enjoyed it.
    Batman needs to disguise his voice!!! Even though apparently every character and their dog knew he was Bruce Wayne in this movie, more annoying for me was bane’s voice, it kind of sounded like my husband impersonating a posh English accent
    I thought Anne Hathaway was not all bad either. The one liners though… it seemed reminiscent of George Clooney Batman, or what I like to call the dark years.
    Shamefully, as a reader of comic books and watcher of batman cartoons, I knew Ra’s al ghul had a daughter, and Bane was not his son, and I STILL did not catch on… I figured they had changed it for movie purposes, I should have known better… to me, it was not obvious. So perhaps I am the average movie goer.
    The fact of the matter is, I adored this movie. I cried, I felt despair, I rooted for Batman and Bruce Wayne. Dark Knight was obviously amazing, but it was amazing because Heath Ledger’s performance was untouchable, he was the movie, he was the stand out, people didn’t comment on how great Aaron Eckhart was, people didn’t say “oh Maggie Gyllenhaal really made Rachel better” it was purely Heath Ledger. This movie had no clear standout, so you got to fully see the range of every actor and appreciate their performances. These movies are brilliant because each one put you in an even more hopeless, miserable situation, worse than the last. I LOVED that. I love the buildup and anticipation, the point where you think it will be better and it punches you in the stomach again and again, we all know Gotham isn’t going to burn down, get poison water, and have everyone turn on each other… but I enjoy that the general message behind this isn’t just good vs evil, it is all about hope and love and pain and suffering. Even though we all knew Bruce Wayne was going to make it out of the prison, when he did I got the chills, it made my inner self cheer with delight. Nothing about this movie bored me; to me it was exhilarating. Now… let’s go see it again with each other

    Danielle

    July 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm

  3. I take issue with The Avengers being a better film. It was a Transformers movie with bigger stars and more quips from Joss Whedon; otherwise, it was overstuffed with characters – most of whom demanded that the viewer already know from the previous Marvel movies.

    DKR was far more streamlined, and although I desperately needed a refresher on the first two films, I could at least follow the story. I saw both films at the drive-in, so they get an equal handicap.

    I saw the Marion Cotillard twist coming, but I couldn’t have explained it. I wish the evil Talia character had gotten more screen time and maybe a little more exposition on why she wanted to conduct a social experiment on Gotham and then destroy it.

    The kangaroo courts and unpredictable shifting allegiances/power reminded me of China in the Cultural Revolution. You were an ally one day (the doc from Torchwood) and the next a candidate for execution. Is this the nightmare? Leftist power run amok? I didn’t get that. It was more about anarchy and the need for a system to fill the void. The only power available/allowable was held by Bane and Talia, though they allowed it to appear that the city ran itself. But they aren’t leftists like Cesar Chávez, who I think some Venezuelans might connect them to. They are nihilists only interested in playing at power and then bringing the shell of it down around the people cowed by it.

    I got the impression from the trailers that Catwoman would be more of a 99%-er, which would have made her character more interesting and created better dialogue with Bruce Wayne, but I still mostly enjoyed Anne Hathaway and how the script made her more cunning than past Catwomen.

    I am not sure this was so soft on libertarian/hard-line right vs. government control. We were supposed to be rooting for the cops in the tunnels and for Gary Oldman, whose expository scenes didn’t bother me. Like someone above said, they are tying up a trilogy.

    Agreed on too much time spent with Batman looking up at the hole – and not nearly enough time explaining how he got out of what I imagine to be the Gobi Desert and back into Gotham. It did give some extra screen time to the fall of Gotham, which I thought was worthy of a full season on cable. We got telegraphed shots when I wanted a slower devolution into a new repressive state.

    Raúl Zingle

    August 7, 2012 at 3:16 am

  4. Natalie – totally agree with you about this. I would only add that, more than anything, this movie is hard to characterize because, in a sense, it is *apolitical* because the political standards it is committed to are those of a time long past: aristocracy. Foremost, Bruce is an aristocrat (and hence why your response to his whining is perfectly right and justified). The arch-capitalist is the guy aiming to take over Wayne Enterprises (who is quickly killed), and Bane is just a haphazard account of some sort of revolutionary movement (the problem is that apart from the aristocrat and Catwoman, the rest of the characters are flat and one dimensional).

    I found this movie irredeemably bad and it has forever tarnished my opinion of Nolan. (Travis, if you’re reading this, this means that Aronofsky is now hands down *the* director of our generation. 🙂

    -Martin

    Martin

    October 30, 2012 at 8:37 am


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