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