The Dark Knight Rises: And Flops

I went into this movie expecting to find Catwoman painful, desperately hoping to adore the rest of the movie, and pleasantly fortified by an excerpt from a review that declared the film boring.  (Thank you, Noah, you spared me heartache).  As it turns out, Catwoman was not only the best part of the movie, but the only part they really got right at all.  Massive spoilerage to follow.

Nolan clearly understood what he wanted to do with this movie, and I think he even knew why The Dark Knight worked so well.  It was the combination of just enough explicit examination of heady themes against timely political issues, with lots of ass-kicking, that let American audiences have the popcorn movie they wanted but feel smart for liking it.  Look, they had a conversation about power and Caesar and the fall of Rome, and they flipped a tractor trailer!

While the action sequences in Rises were still gorgeous, the thematic bumbling was so blatant, awkward, and in several respects incoherent, that I wound up entertaining myself for huge swaths of the movie by picturing Matthew Weiner assaulting Nolan with a script.  There was no subtext in the entire movie.  By this I don’t mean that there was no discussion of theme or deeper issues.  I mean the characters walked across the screen declaiming what the subtext should have been the entire time.  Everybody wants Bruce Wayne to go ahead and get laid, because everybody wants Bruce Wayne to be happy, and if he finds a girl, then he’ll be happy.  And they say it.  Like that.  Several times.  The conversation might start, “Hey, that philanthropist chick seems nice,” but it immediately turns into, “And you should date her, because I have this fantasy where you have a wife and kids and you’re happy and I want that for you so I’m going to go on at length about how hi, I’m devoted to your family and need you to be happy or I will be unhappy and you’re making me unhappy by being unhappy.”

Alfred was, tragically, one of the biggest problems with this movie.  Instead of being the endearing fount of wisdom and droll observations, he was the Mouthpiece for Exploring the Problem of Batman.  You see, now that super villains have all disappeared from Gotham because Harvey Dent is dead and we’re not even going to talk about the Joker, Bruce should switch to philanthropy and give up his being Batman.  Which he’s already done.  And he totally shouldn’t go back now that there’s a new super villain in town.

We get a kind of lurching twitch toward thematic subtlety with Selena Kyle, aka Catwoman.  She’s a low class girl with expensive skills and tech who runs around subverting class roles and gender expectations.  No really, it’s on the label.  “Hi, I’m a cute maid, stealing your pearls.  Hi, I’m a weak woman, screaming to high hell so you don’t realize I started this brawl.”  I actually adored her, Ann Hathaway put in a fabulous performance as the only character in the entire film having any fun, at all.  It’s not her fault she was swimming in a pool of incoherent thematic flail.

I think Nolan wanted to make a film that talked about class disparity, upward mobility problems, and our societal obsession with prisons as a means of addressing crime.  Instead he had Kyle warning about a storm coming as a vague hint about a peasant revolt in the first of the Batman movies to show no slums, no grunge, and no poor people.  Eight years have passed, and we meet evil corporation head Dagget (get it? Somebody read Atlas Shrugged), and hear about callous disconnected rich people all the time.  But what we actually see are a Wayne foundation event put on despite a lack of profits from Wayne Enterprises, and charity ball where it’s made clear that all the proceeds actually go to charity.  So we have a class struggle, but no visible oppressed people and a pretty shabby establishment of oppressors.

But wait!  Prisons!  You see, Bane grew up in a prison.  He’s from the worst prison ever.  Prison made Bane.  How many times are we going to explicitly blurt out Bane’s back story?  All the times.  It will be the inverse of the Joker declaring a back story we don’t believe but which makes the scene he’s in extra creepy.  Because Prison Destroys Innocence.  And Bane is from Prison.  Prison prison prison prison prison prison.  Prison.

I’m not sure what happened to Arkham in this movie.  I did spend some of the time wondering about it while characters were busy declaiming theme.  Crane’s appearance during the inexplicable French Revolution sequence was a highlight, at least.

You remember how the microwave water vaporizing device in Batman Begins was absurd but well let it go because we were watching a comic book movie?  The fusion reactor that could save the world but gets converted into a bomb with a 5 month decay cycle is dumber, and given plot deciding that this was going to be some sort of anarchistic revolution something something except we don’t really see much of anything, like why the people of Gotham would want to get behind this, or that they do, or, I don’t know.  I could see all the points Nolan was trying to make, but the actual logic of how he was making them was utterly opaque.  Bane having utter devotion from his men because they’re all League of Shadows folk makes sense.  Bane wanting to show that Gotham will tear itself apart while under the threat of nuclear bomb could make sense if he were the Joker.  Bane and *shock* Miranda wanting to destroy Gotham because its time has come, but deciding they’re going to send Bruce Wayne to the place that made them strong, and give him five months to do a training montage level-up so he can beat them? I’d have been giggling at it if I weren’t bored.

Seriously, now.  If exposure to a certain kind of hell hardens you and makes you into a total bad ass, what should you maybe not do with your arch nemesis?  SEND THEM TO THAT SAME PLACE.  Also, how did Bane get all the way to generic Middle Eastern Savage Land to dump off Wayne and then back to Gotham so quickly?

I could go on.  I haven’t even started on the incoherency around the various disablings of Wayne and Batman, the low level irritation that was “I’m not Robin, because I’m a cop, so I’m not Robin,” John Blake, the utter fail that was the twist reveal about Miranda, the ham-fisted cops-in-tunnels plot etc. etc.

IMDB has this movie at 8/10.  I’d give it a 6.  For any of you worried, I am not heart broken and filled with woe.  I think they managed to skew their points of success and failure so far from what I’d expected as to spare me trauma.

They really did nail Catwoman.

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