The Big Murk: A Conversation About Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises"

An exhaustive roundtable discussion of Christopher Nolan and the last entry in his "Dark Knight Trilogy".
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

The Dark Knight Rises: a big pop-cultural event, the epicenter of a tragedy that has (unfortunately, inadvertently) become 24-hour news cycle fodder, an illustration of what is (and isn't) meant by the word "ambitious" in today's Hollywood, a much-anticipated sequel to a film that's popularly seen as the superhero-flick-to-end-all-superhero-flicks, a major talking point in the ongoing discussion of what film criticism means to audiences at large. It's easy to forget that it is, first and foremost, a movie. And as a movie, it happens to be a mess—long, loud, and full of seemingly contradictory ideas and plot threads.  

In the following exchange, Adam Cook, Mike ArchibaldJosh Timmermann, and I try to make sense of the film, its politics, and its director.

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IGNATIY VISHNEVETSKY: Positives first. I liked the first half of the film the most. It has all of these different threads of intrigue going on: Jim Gordon hunting criminals down drainage pipes, Bane putting together his master plan, Bruce Wayne living as a doomed-romantic recluse in his mansion, Selina Kyle's burglaries, corporate skulduggery. I like the crazy-quilt way in which Nolan uses IMAX, switching aspect ratios shot to shot. I like the Revolutionary Tribunal-style courtroom scenes with Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow presiding as judge, even though the narrative context within which they appear leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I like the image—almost Monty Python material—of policemen living in sewers, huddling together, keeping their uniforms clean for the day when they can step out into the daylight again and arrest people. In other words, I like the silliest, cartooniest, most out-there things about the film. I like the detailing. The grand design is a totally different matter.

The three most common complaints about Christopher Nolan's movies that you're likely to hear are: (1) they have a shoddy grasp of space and time, despite always being centered around chronologies and intercut action; (2) they use political issues and reference-points and take contradictory stances on them (this point applies only to The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises); and (3) most of them use personal traumas (more often than not, Nolan's "dead wife" motif, which appears twice in The Dark Knight Rises) and public tragedies as plot points, but have no sense of the emotional. I think Nolan's best movies are the ones that turn points 1 & 3 into strengths; to me, the appeal of The Prestige, my personal favorite of his films, rests in its which-story-within-a-story-is-being-told? spatial slipperiness and its coldness. In The Dark Knight Rises, however, all three of these points are liabilities. 

Since it's specific to Nolan's Batman films, I'd like to start with point 2: the politics. I know that for some people, the ending of The Dark Knight was a big problem; it appears to celebrate surveillance and the necessity of lying to the general public for their good (through the Joker / Batman / Harvey Dent narrative thread) while at the same time preaching about the general goodness of people and the ability of a group to make the right decision (the "two boats, two detonators" dilemma). 

The Dark Knight Rises is even more self-contradictory. The images of this film are constantly cancelling each other out. There is Bane's attack on the stock exchange, while plays out as an Occupy-era revenge fantasy—and yet, of course, Bane is the bad guy. Group solidarity is celebrated (the marching policemen, for example) and many jabs are taken at wealth and business, yet the hero is a lone billionaire. Batman operates outside the law, yet law enforcement is fetishized. Scarecrow's revolutionary court is presented as a sort of nightmare—yet it rightly convicts a slimy villain. You have the suggestion (which I actually think is a smart move on Nolan's part) that The Dark Knight's "print the legend" ending was a bad idea—and yet when the Joseph Gordon Levitt character essentially repeats the same "lie to give them hope" move late in the film (to a busload of orphans, no less!), it's presented as the right thing to do. Every image seems charged for maximum political impact—with references to the images and words of the French Revolution, fascist Italy, the Bush administration, the War on Terror, the Occupy movement—but there is nothing like a coherent ideology. Nolan strikes me as either apathetic—using whatever ideology fits for any given scene—or politically schizophrenic. 

ADAM COOK: I’ll circle back to the politics, but to address some of your earlier points, I agree with you that The Prestige is his most successful film. It has the strongest sense of its characters out of all of his work (I understand someone may argue Memento, but to me it’s slimmer and too gimmicky at its core), and Nolan was able to track the arc of two contrastive leads and their driving obsessions in a way that felt attuned to the film’s tone and narrative structure. In short, it was a harmonious—albeit, minor—film. The Dark Knight Rises, as you point out in so many words, is his least harmonious, and to my mind his worst film.

Any presence of character, psychology, or of relationships, is only implied in dialogue—it's never actually present. The large cast of characters is handled so poorly, they end up like butter spread over too much bread. As for the inevitable discussion of political implications, readings are bound to be scattered in the face of such murkiness—a murkiness that is either the consequence of naive confusion or, even worse, cowardice from a filmmaker unwilling to pick a side when he can play both.

MIKE ARCHIBALD: I saw The Dark Knight Rises twice on the weekend. The first time was a nightmare of incomprehension; I couldn't properly understand the plot in its finer points, nor—since the film relies for its meaning on the interplay of dozens of small narrative elements—on a macro level. I walked out of the theater thinking, "Wow, that's the worst example of movie storytelling I've ever seen."

The second viewing was a marginal improvement. I walked out of the theater thinking, "Wow, that's the worst example of movie storytelling I've ever seen," but I was less confused. Most of that was down to simple inoculation. I had already taken the boom-box sound-mix beating, and I'd prepared myself to look past the viciously jagged visual style, as the first time had demonstrated that it was artistically negligible. And this time I took notes! Feeling nothing much about the film on an audiovisual level—how different is it from your average "intensified continuity" blockbuster assault?—I was left to try to come to grips with the storytelling. What I wound up with was a catalog of small logical absurdities or outright errors: over thirty in total, and those were just the ones I had time to write down. How does Wayne lose his lameness when he’s required to jump through a hospital window? How did Bane know to plant his HQ directly under the Wayne Corp. armory? I could go on and on; I’d certainly like to discuss the implications of this sloppiness with you guys.  

JOSH TIMMERMANN: So, I suppose I find myself in the slightly awkward devil's advocate position here, as I seem to have found more to like in The Dark Knight Rises than the three of you did. This is odd as I think Nolan has ranged, in his still-fairly young career, from borderline hack to mildly competent, and I care very little about Batman or superhero stories generally; in fact, there's a strong chance I wouldn't have ponied up $15 to see the new film in theaters if I hadn't agreed to this conversation.

To be sure, there is plenty to cringe about, or even recoil from, in The Dark Knight Rises—and that would have still been the case even if a disturbed doctoral student in Colorado hadn't committed mass murder in a movie theater. But, after all the advance word of how convoluted the film was, how dark and murky and (ahem) ambitious, I guess I was pleasantly surprised. All of Nolan's films are aggressively plotty, without any sort of breathing room for moments intended to do something other than the keep the engines going or take on later, retrospective relevance in a cheap “a-ha!” sense. The new film, however, isn't any guiltier in this regard than, say, The Prestige or Memento, and it's also less gimmicky and smugly clever than those movies. I agree, Mike, that it's rather slapdash in execution and Nolan remains a crummy storyteller, but I didn't have any difficulty putting together the pieces that seemed meant to "matter" (though, admittedly, I didn't dwell much on the finer details). 

Its politics, while certainly not entirely coherent or sophisticated, are also, to my mind, fairly unimpeachable. The way that Nolan uses the terror and viciousness that followed in the immediate wake of the French Revolution as a historical keyhole through which to examine the potential social end-point for the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric is rather potent as popcorn allegories go. If Nolan and the film ultimately decide that a corrupt, but not irredeemable, system of law and order (and the vigilante Batman, you know, just in case) is a necessarily evil to stave off anarchy and more devious manipulators than the likes of Jim Gordon, I think this a reasonably defensible position in an age where not just states but people and groups far less accountable to Cold War “mutual deterrence” can get a hold of chemical or nuclear weapons.

COOK: If where we diverge is on the allegorical side of things, lets hash that out. On the “unimpeachable” merit of its politics (which you admit are incoherent), obviously someone of a different political orientation would disagree, and I suppose that characterizes myself.

I actually grew uncomfortable at times with the portrayal of Bane’s minions wreaking havoc, a sort of working class terrorism that would merely affirm the middle / upper classes’ negative view of “Occupy-minded” people interested in change. At once, Nolan condemns the criminal bankers, but also those with an anti-capitalist agenda. He even goes as far as to have Batman investing in sustainable energy, and ultimately suggests that big-pocketed investors are who Americans need to trust to get the economy back on the rails—what I mean to point out is that at every turn Nolan undermines the individual with his symbols, and broad allegorical gestures. Also, as an aside, I can’t think of a detail more insulting than having Gotham’s construction workers mixing explosives into the cement. The simple impression I got was that Nolan saw the disgruntled “Occupy-minded” folks as greedily biting the hand that feeds, a self-destructive mob of drones.

TIMMERMANN: I think there is a difference between “not entirely coherent” political allegory and wholly incoherent; The Dark Knight Rises is, for me, the former, not the latter: some of it registers meaningfully, other stuff doesn't stick. The ostensible Catwoman character is the key to making sense of what Nolan's trying to say—or what he's trying to say most anyway—which is that between the reality of massive social upheaval and the utopian rhetoric of Down With The Rich And Powerful there lies a chilling chasm. The aftermath of the French Revolution is as good a reminder as any of this violent disconnect, and it's also where the story of “modernity” (arguably) begins, which makes it a useful point of historical reference for looking at the supposedly post-modern (post-nation state, global whatever) Now.

Hathaway's character, though far less psychologically fleshed-out, functions in a similarly poignant way to Maya Sansa's fictional Chiara in Marco Bellocchio's great Good Morning, Night: initially enthusiastic about the aims and prospects of a people's movement, she eventually recognizes the uglier implications of what's actually transpiring (in that case, of the notorious Aldo Moro incident). Selina Kyle's increasing uneasiness with Gotham's revolution is, likewise, a readily understandable way into the film's politics. Concluding that many Wall Street types or politicians are sleazebags and that working-class revolution is a practical black-hole is not to conveniently play both sides of the fence; it is to think (refreshingly) outside the politically binary box.

VISHNEVETSKY: What about the ending—or, really, the second-to-last of the movie's many, many endings—which has Bruce Wayne faking his death to chill in Florence with Catwoman? The Batman character is the locus of the political stuff in Nolan's movies; now he just gives up on Gotham and runs away to lead the playboy lifestyle he was born into. It's "you either die a hero, or live long enough to realize that you're rich enough to not have to deal with any of these problems, so why fight for some sad-ass city."

ARCHIBALD: Personally, I don't see much coherence in the film's politics. But then, I don't normally value—or expect—thematic coherence in narrative cinema as much as many other cinephiles do. What bugs me about this film's ideological muddle is how opportunistic it is in terms of topicality, and how ill-fitting all the political wool-gathering is in the context of a plot, heavy, franchise-mandated, bombastic "action" (what a cowardly euphemism!) film.

Nolan and company feel the need to play catch-up with the last installment, set up the next ones, craft an intricate web of conflicting motivations and actions, smite our eyes and box our ears with breathtaking aggression...and then they want to stuff in Robespierre, Occupy, and other signifiers. To what extent is our engagement with these politics a capitulation—both to the filmmakers' half-fulfilled pretensions and to the absurd cultural climate wherein superhero movies more or less own the mantle of serious mainstream filmmaking?

Anyway, to me the most significant aspect of the film's discourse, cheap opportunism aside, is the elitism. Nolan and company give us stadiums and buses and streets full of civilians, but there isn't one memorably embellished character among them that I can remember. The masses are shown as stupidly reactive: provoked to wanton destruction by a terrorizing megalomaniac (within the space of a few cuts!) and then yanked back to rectitude by Batman and the police. And, as in The Dark Knight, they have to be deceived for their own good. 

COOK: Exactly. While I somewhat agree with Josh’s distinction between “not entirely coherent political allegory" and "wholly incoherent," the film’s own shifting interests undermine its intentions, half-coherent as they are. Mike, what you’re saying about the portrayal of the masses is precisely what I was referring to. Whether as Josh states, and astutely compares to Good Morning, Night, that the notion of such an uprising is inherently flawed, or not, the fact of the matter is that Nolan’s adherence to institutions and his insistence to make the “people” look like automatons is insulting. But any effort to surmise something here will lead to a contradiction: in the end Levitt’s character tosses his police badge and chooses to become a vigilante. Trying to construe a single worldview here gives me a headache. 

To move on to the formal side of things, is there a less visceral filmmaker helming blockbusters in Hollywood? So many opportunities to create mood are left unfulfilled. Take for instance the introduction—or lack thereof—to Bruce Wayne’s isolation. The film is in such a rush to explain itself to us, we don’t get to settle into a universe. Imagine a series of wide shots of the mostly empty Wayne Manor, a limping Wayne stalking the halls (or think Plainview in the mansion at the end of There Will be Blood). Nolan doesn’t have such considerations and we never get a sense of Wayne’s loneliness, we’re just told about it by Michael Caine. Also, the chance to create an atmospheric, anarchic Gotham once Bane takes over is skipped over entirely—though Oldman’s Jim Gordon running through alleys is the one highlight—or rather a hint of what could have been. Where’s a John Carpenter or McTiernan when you need one?

TIMMERMANN: I agree, Adam, that the film feels weirdly short-circuited and side-steps any number of good opportunities to do something great. It's probably more fun to talk about or write about than it is to watch, which should probably not be the case for a movie like this. Certainly, it is spectacular in places and it flirts occasionally with the sublime, but never has the verve to seal the deal. The shot, for example, of Selina riding on one of Batman's motorcyclish contraptions through Gotham at sunrise could've been been fantastic if they'd followed her and held the fucking thing for longer than two seconds, but no. 

COOK: Nolan has no visual or dramatic intuition, he doesn’t know where to hold, where to cut, or where to place emphasis. I didn’t even realize Bane was killed off until it came up in conversation after the film. The shot in which he dies is all too brief, and is merely used as fodder for a cute punchline from Catwoman.

VISHNEVETSKY: Well, this is a great segue into talking about Bane. Tom Hardy's a fine actor, and I think he does the best he can do with what he's given, but Bane is, frankly, a terrible film villain. So is Ra's Al Ghul. They both work very well in a serial narrative: in a comic book, a television series, or even a film serial. To make them work in a film—even a nearly-three-hour one—requires some extra effort, and it’s an effort that Nolan doesn’t make. 

Batman and the Joker are both great images—they are images of a certain idea of good, and a certain idea of evil. Expanding on them gives the characters depth. That's not true of Bane—the image of Bane tells you nothing about Bane as a character, and one of the things that really undoes the film toward the end is that Nolan does this big reveal that shows that almost everything we, the audience, think we know about Bane's background isn't actually about him at all, but about a totally different character. So Bane, who is supposed to be a mercenary, also becomes a sort of narrative mercenary—he doesn't have any sort of well-developed reason for doing anything in the film. He's just a plot cog. And when you're doing this whole "good vs. evil" thing, it's usually a smart idea to make it clear what that evil is. 

ARCHIBALD: I'd like to talk about aesthetics, and how it relates to Bane's death scene. The filmmaking falls squarely within the dominant Hollwyood aesthetic as outlined by David Bordwell: short shots, each with limited complexity and choreography. Okay, so maybe the success lies in the relation between shots. Nope! TDKR is spatially incoherent in its montage. I noticed a moment of physical discontinuity in the scene where Blake first confronts Bruce Wayne: Blake speaks to Wayne, we get a very quick reaction shot, and then when we go back to Blake he's gone from sitting on a couch to standing. There's no possible way he could have made that full movement in the short time that the filmmakers show us has passed. And there are many such examples—often the engaged viewer can't tell the difference between deliberate ellipses and sloppy, rushed editing. 

This relates to Bane's death scene in terms of overall aesthetic and story conception. The film has so much to do, and so little sense of physical consequence and continuity, that Bane can glower and menace and spew pulp aphorisms for close to three hours only to vanish in an instant. What kind of director builds up a villain that way, only to dispose of him almost off-screen and then sideline this victory with a facetious dialogue zinger?

Nolan is obsessed both with grand overall conception and small, powerful moments, but he's missing the crucial middle. He's indifferent to the way those moments introduce, limit, direct and define each other, and to how this dynamic in turn supports the grand scheme. So in one of the most important of many oh-so-important plot turns, we have comic relief for the salvation of an entire city; the disappearance-more-than-actual-death of the main story inciter; and even, in Adam's case, an understandable confusion between sloppy disposal and ostensibly momentous death. This is bad filmmaking, pure and simple.  

VISHNEVETSKY: I have no problem with a spatially-disorienting style. I think Tony Scott's a great example of someone who does it very well. The problem in The Dark Knight Rises is that, in the climax, there's a disconnect between what's happening in terms of plot and what's happening in terms of form. A disconnect like this can be a good thing, but not here—for the most part, it sucks the gravity out of everything.

TIMMERMANN: Regarding Bane, I agree that he's not very interesting as villains go and is not worked all that well into the narrative, but I think that's sort of the point. Nolan seems for his Batman movies to be operating, albeit less successfully, from the same general strategy that Rob Zombie utilized brilliantly for his Halloween films. The characters in The Dark Knight Rises are not invested with nearly so much psychological complexity as Zombie's characters; if the Joker is an exception, it's due more to Heath Ledger's charisma than to a major gear-switch in Nolan's playbook. Nolan and Zombie both de-mythologize (The Batman, Selina Kyle never being explicitly called Catwoman, Bane being your run-of-the-mill single-minded terrorist, etc.) in a way that subverts expectations while, at the same time, constructing a new mythology that feels more fundamentally ordinary yet not oblivious to the cultural meaning(s) of Batman and Michael Myers.

I don't disagree, Mike, that Bane's death scene is clumsily executed, yet I think it serves to the highlight the ultimate ordinariness of this character. Right, "ordinary" is not, in theory, the way one would hope to characterize Batman's main nemesis in the final installment of a blockbuster trilogy. But as in reality, ordinariness does not preclude dangerousness, nor does it mitigate against it. For every enigmatic Joker (as played by Ledger) or Luka Magnotta, there are dozens of boring sociopaths with big guns or worse. And if we gather around computer screens or TV sets to see how Osama bin Laden was finally caught and killed, or to know the details of how Magnotta was tracked down by Interpol, there are plenty of other bad guys whose just desserts end up on the scrolling text at the bottom of the screen on CNN or as little-noticed blurbs in the middle of the newspaper.

COOK: I certainly see your point as to the potential authenticity in marginalizing the death of a figure like Bane, but I have trouble believing Nolan meant to have such an effect. To me it's another sign of his complete ineptitude—lets not forget that in his mind his movie is an epic revolutionary war film.

On that note, TDKR made me appreciate the basic visual and dramatic intelligence of a filmmaker like Roland Emmerich. The final confrontation between Bane and Batman recalled Mel Gibson's confrontation with his nemesis in a similar context in the film The Patriot. Two men meeting for a showdown amongst a battle. Now I'm not going to claim I like that film, but I can even picture the succession of images in that scene now (and I haven't seen it since I was a child). The two men locking eyes, doing away with other men on the battlefield, coming closer to each other in slow motion. Nolan doesn't frame or edit his similar setup with any of these obvious techniques, so I had no indication I was even watching a climactic action sequence. 

I'm glad you bring up Zombie's great Halloween films, if only to give me a chance to gush about them. One thing he's a master of is creating mini-characterizations—I'm thinking of Danny Trejo's tragic character in Halloween, whom I felt more for than anyone in TDKR. Nolan's minor characters are just talking heads, but the saddest thing is, so are his main characters (it's worth point out that TDKR suffers greatly from this for having no central character).

Actually, Michael Caine's Alfred, is more of a crying head than a talking one. Nearly every exchange between Alfred and Wayne ends with watery eyes. Also, I kept track and every single one of their exchanges ends with one of them dramatically walking away. I felt embarrassed for the performers in this movie.

VISHNEVETSKY: I think the conceit of not having Batman as the central character was a good idea—in theory, if not in execution—on Nolan's part. In The Dark Knight, the main character is Batman, and the movie is all about the image and idea of Batman. In The Dark Knight Rises, it's Bruce Wayne—and even then, he's not all that central. Frankly, The Dark Knight Rises is a terrible title for this movie: it's not about the image of Batman, and it's certainly not about him rising up—it's about him opting out. Nolan should've called the movie Gotham City or something.

Of course, there's the very literal final image: John Blake, the new Dark Knight, rising as he steps on to a hydraulic platform, which echoes the similarly (and, in many ways, hilariously) literal ending of the previous movie, where Jim Gordon saying "the dark knight" cuts to a title card that reads "The Dark Knight." But with the exception of the ending—which, in true Nolan fashion, contradicts everything that came before it—the movie isn't really about Batman: it's about John Blake, Selina Kyle, Bane, Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox (a character that I think it nicely expanded upon in this film), Alfred Pennyworth, Miranda Tate, whatever the name of the Matthew Modine character is, and, finally, Bruce Wayne. Nolan is going for a Dickens vibe (he's said as much in interviews, and Bruce Wayne's eulogy comes from A Tale of Two Cities) but the thing about Dickens is that he didn't just have a lot characters—he had a lot of memorable, well-developed characters. 

It speaks to a major flaw in Nolan's work that the two best-developed characters—John Blake and Selina Kyle—are both still total cyphers. In a nutshell, the movie is an hour-and-a-half of thinly-sketched characters engaging in all kinds of wild, disconnected intrigues, followed by an hour of them all engaged in more or less the same thing, fighting for control of Gotham—which somehow feels more ramshackle than the earlier parts, perhaps because in the earlier scenes, the style is of a piece with a plot.

TIMMERMANN: I'm reminded, tangentially, of the recurring jokes (except that they're not) about the "Dickensian aspect of homelessness" in season five of The Wire.

What Nolan might finally be after here is the "Dickensian aspect" of a people's revolution, updating A Tale of Two Cities to consider twenty-first century concerns and using Bruce Wayne as a kind of renegade Miss Havisham for good measure. In this sense, for me anyway, Nolan's fragmentary allegory of the Occupy Wall Street rallies register from a place of popular criticism, rather than from a more reactionary position. Again, The Dark Knight Rises is a fun, if murky, discursive object! As a movie, it's...okay? Not bad? Better than I anticipated? I agree that another title would've been more appropriate: my vote goes to Fifty Shades of Gotham.

ARCHIBALD: I can see the Dickensian aspects of TDKR, for sure. I can see the the French Revolution, Occupy Wall Street, A.Q. Khan and the post-Cold War nuclear weapons dynamic and more. I can see a film of monumental ambition, a Griffith-like endeavor to cross-cut the personal and the macrocosmic in the interest of generating discussion, creating enduring cinematic resonance and basically blowing the audience away. And what, ultimately, works? Blowing the audience away. The compositions are banal, and undercut by their abbreviation; their interaction is often nonsensical; what does emerge clearly from the garbled politics is the sense of elitism and unproductive fantasy that I'm beginning to think is essential to the superhero genre. With their Batman trilogy, Nolan and company have made what I think is a sincere attempt to bring maturity and complexity to a once-disreputable type of entertainment. I don't know whether I should look at their work with sympathetic disappointment or straightforward disdain. Well, okay, I do know. When the cynical George Lucas and the wonder-struck Steven Spielberg helped discover that the most lucrative audience for Hollywood films was twelve year old boys- or, rather, the twelve year old boy in all of us—I doubt they could have imagined a time when bombastic blockbusters would achieve such dominating cultural currency.

This trilogy has done a lot to cement that situation; I hope it's not too extra-textual for me to say that I find that deplorable. It's perhaps the biggest strike against the trilogy—bigger even than the pervasive incompetence. That incompetence is, I believe, a by-product of the filmmakers' overweening ambition and, in turn, the ambition serves as an alibi for the shoddiness. But not all artistic ambition is laudable; in this case it works hand in glove with one of the key agendas of contemporary Hollywood: to get our money by blowing us away, as loudly and as viciously and as opportunistically as possible.

COOK: Even after a lengthy discussion, we leave so many points unmade. Many problems I wanted to bring up have gone unmentioned: the offensive treatment of ethnicity and spirituality for instance, or Nolan’s failure to create a universe the viewer can live in—one of his central ambitions is to create a network of characters like Coppola in The Godfather films—or how Nolan’s cine-conservatism and ironic clinging to celluloid contrasts with the more noble position of a Martin Scorsese.

However, maybe it’s best to be done with all the bad and point out the one sequence I liked. Batman wants to confront Bane for the first time. He enlists Catwoman to help find him. They descend into the sewers. Only here, did I feel suspense. Like in the prior Batman films we see moments of the bad guys in fear, as Batman takes down minion after minion. In one great shot, we see Batman in a dark corridor, but he’s only visible when illuminated by the flashes of gunfire from the underling he’s rapidly approaching. It’s an exciting series of images in a moody, grungy setting. Then in the ensuing fight with Bane, we get Nolan’s best—in a relative sense, of course—action scene, as Batman is pummeled into submission. Eventually, as our hero lies incapacitated, we get a POV shot of what he sees, and it’s an imperfectly framed composition of his dark surroundings, with sewage water pouring down from some pipe on the right side of the frame. For a brief instance, I clearly felt Batman’s defenselessness, his vulnerability as a man. It’s an image usually too expressive and abstract for Nolan. It stands out amongst hundreds of other shots that come before and after it. An anomaly. I guess with a 165 minute running time, and 250 million dollars spent, even Christopher Nolan can create one image worth seeing.

VISHNEVETSKY: Here's where I admit that—despite all of these flaws—I enjoyed a good chunk of this film. Watching all of these choppy bits of narrative chug along, all of the behind-the-scenes Gotham business—it gave me pleasure.

And the hour or so of the film that I found frustrating or dull—well, I'd be lying if I said that I don't derive pleasure from trying to crack it and figure out what exactly makes it frustrating or dull. You gotta give credit where credit is due: even when Nolan makes a mediocre film—and I agree with Adam's assessment that this one is his weakest—it's at least fun to talk about. You can't say that about many filmmakers—but, then again, it would be even better if the movie was as fun to watch as it is to discuss.

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