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

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.

Responses

85 responses to this post.  Join the discussion

  • Bobby Wise

    Bravo. More roundtable discussions in Notebook, please! But who are Cook, Archibald, and Timmermann? Very short bios would be good. Maybe links to Twitter handles as well, because apparently only one has a blog.

  • rado

    Funny how 1900 or The Human Condition don’t have one ugly frame or edit, while this apparently has one good shot.

  • Bobby Wise

    Like Orson Welles said, you only need one!

  • Gevolgen van Roken

    I haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, but next week i made some free time to go to the theater.
    If someone would rate between 1-10 (10 = excellent) . What would you rate as compared to the 2 movies before.?

  • johnsonisjohnson

    As always, MUBI brings the goods.

  • rorydean

    Indeed, another grand exploration in the Mubi. I too haven’t seen the last installment so I can only go so far in reading this, but obviously plan a second visit and third.

    Hey Bobby, check out http://mubi.com/notebook/about

    I think after the real world violence associated with the trilogy finally fades there can be more concentration and exploration of films individually as well as collectively. Personally I have some big issues with Nolan’s sense of grandness and extravagance, often at the expense of clarity and composition. In some ways his films are like a symphony with the tonal distinction as theme and concept – such as Inception being about dream thieves – and the four movements of a traditional symphony are the acts as represented in the narrative structure of films. These movements/acts are the plot – what happens to move the story forward. The trouble is that Nolan fills each act with so much stuff that they spill all over the place, muddying one another and ultimately the entire film, leaving us lost in the soup looking for the peas and carrots of Nolan’s films. If only he were able to concentrate his acts, refine them, shorten them and then work on making each one clear and effectively connected. In the Dark Knight for instance, there are two bad guys – Joker and 2 Face – do we need two? Also, the Joker dominates a film called Dark Knight, making it out of balance, off kilter and inconsistent. If your argument or support of the mud is that it is there because it was in the comic book then you are missing a fundamental concept in film adaptations – books are books, comics are comics, theme park rides, etc, etc., and movies are movies.

    Nolan needs an editor the way Malick needs a writer the way Tarantino needs someone to remind him he used to create characters instead of caricatures and truth be told, the way Marty needs an adviser who might have got us from Casino to The Aviator, The Departed to Hugo and skipped everything in between. I digress.

    I’m working my way through the trilogy in anticipation for the final chapter, for the last of Nolan’s take on our iconic anti-hero; I’ve covered Nolan before at my blog, both Inception and an article on Nolan himself as “master and commander of cinema” with The Dark Knight cemented right there in the middle. Working on number 1. Enjoyed the stop over, see you soon.

  • Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

    Bobby,

    There’s are links in the intro. And Adam is one of Notebook’s regular contributors (along with other things, he writes The Noteworthy) and one of MUBI’s editors.

  • Adam Cook

    Hey Bobby, for Josh & Mike I figured I’d let their writing (in the links) do the talking. Both are here in Vancouver, though Josh is from Chicago and used to be a regular film & music critic but is now focusing on a degree in medieval history (!) but still blogs on cinema and remains one of my favourite cine-thinkers. Mike is an aspiring filmmaker who has written on film for years, and works for the Vancouver International Film Festival.

    Myself, I’m a MUBI editor, run The Noteworthy here and write articles when I find the time. Check my blog for more info: Cinémezzo

  • Adam Cook

    …Ignatiy beat me to it, but I’ll leave the above comment.

  • Bobby Wise

    Thanks for the extra info. I would have liked to hear more of IV’s thoughts, being that it seemed he was the only one in favor of the movie. Notebook is usually in support of mainstream Hollywood action movies (and directors), so it was interesting for me to see Nolan get something of a beating here. Perhaps he has too much ambition, as some seemed to insinuate. How do we situate this film in relation to other current comic book adaptations (not made by Nolan)? No one spoke about The Avengers or Spiderman, for example.

  • Adam Cook

    I think the Hollywood (action) filmmakers that the Notebook tends to favour are ultimately formalists (Tony Scott, Paul W.S. Anderson, John Hyams, etc.)—which Nolan is kind of the opposite of: talky, conceptual, plot-oriented. Aesthetically, Nolan is dwarfed by the aforementioned giants.

  • Adam Cook

    I thought The Avengers was really, really good and joins Raimi’s Spidermans and Shyamalan’s Unbreakable in the sparsely populated superhero canon.

  • Jacob

    Why does it seem like the only thoughtful competent film writer who actually loves Nolan’s movies is Manohla Dargis?

    It seems like when I watch Nolan movies, I enjoy them quite a bit. But, then I read some well thought out criticism and I realize how sloppy the whole thing actually was. Sometimes I think grandiosity is self justifying. The latest New York Review of Books has an article about Prometheus as an example of the Romantic Sublime, and I think that idea is instructive here. Just the fact that Nolan took a comic book hero that has a fascinating psychology, and made an epic blockbuster chocked full of ideas and politics and characters and plot-lines is admirable.

    I enjoy Nolan’s movies on a purely visceral level. I think the climax of tkdr is very Griffith-esque. I got goosebumps during Gorden’s monologue at the end of tdk. Last time I checked, I don’t think I’m a Nolan fanboy who wrote death threats on Rotten Tomatoes. Then again, maybe I am if I’m willing to set aside this level of ineptitude and still enjoy the fuck out of the movie.

    At the end of the day, I think Nolan bit off far more than he could chew and did his best with it. I think his movies are entertaining and thoughtful, and yet I see the narrative and visual incompetence.

    I can garner one truth from Nolan: no director makes me feel more conflicted about his movies. It reminds of Andrew Sarris writing about how the intellectuals went and enjoyed Hitchcock but would then pick him apart after the film. Maybe 50 years from now when The Dark Knight Rises gets released on Criterion Hologram Disc, we can have this conversation again at the nursing home.

  • Ellis Potter

    Bravo you guys! You hit the nail on the head with the things that worked and the MULTITUDE of things that did not.

    Now I must go back and re-read Knightfall and No Man’s Land, two of the best Batman story lines immortalized in ink and written by around a dozen different creators but they still come off less clunky and make Bane more of a tragic character than Nolan ever could.

  • rado

    Someone mentioned Monty Python and it’s so close to the #1 problem with this director: no sense of humour whatsoever. Is this film any difference?

  • Bobby Wise

    I had to look up Hyams. My God, he doesn’t even have a clickable link on Wikipedia! So in your opinion, I should spend my ticket money on Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning rather than The Dark Knight Rises?

    I love you Notebook guys. There is no maker of direct-to-video prequels and sequels who is too obscure for the label of aesthetic giant. Yet Tarantino and Rodriguez get no respect here. Let’s stage a roundtable on that subject.

  • Bandy Greensacks

    Jacob, since you compared Nolan to Hitchcock: find me one sequence in Nolan’s entire oeuvre that compares to the shower scene in Psycho or the opening scene of Rear Window, which tells you more about its main character in less than a minute than Nolan does in three Batman films. And these are just two examples of many.

  • Adam Cook

    I think I speak for more than just myself when I say Day of Reckoning is something to be excited about.

  • Jacob

    Bandy, I may have been unclear in my comment. Obviously Nolan doesn’t even begin to hold a candle to Hitchcock. Nolan doesn’t compare in any meaningful way at all to Hitchcock.

    I was simply thinking about my own response to Nolan’s films and how they compare to Sarris’ account of the previous generations relationship with Hitchcock. When I watch Nolan’s movies, I feel love them, but when I read well thought out criticism of his work, I reconsider because his movies are frequently a mess. But then I watch them again, and absolutely love them. It just reminded me about Sarris’ account of intellectuals and Hitchcock.

    Relax, I’m not comparing Nolan to Hitchcock. If anything Nolan is more easily compared to an extremely sloppy Fritz Lang.

  • Mac

    You guys forgot to ask this question of yourselves, and maybe it’s above your pay grade, but it needs to be asked: If these movies are incoherent on almost every level (and I think they are), then why does the moviegoing public love them so much, indeed identify with them in such a way that it makes some people defensive to the point of making me think that their indentity is somehow tied up with these movies? Might they not reflect something about the mass psyche? I don’t mean to be all Reichian about this, but I think these movies lack of any identifiable center and the championing of such a lack is indicative of something going on right now. I don’t have the answer, but maybe someone does. And again, to anyone who says, Hey, these are just movies, don’t think about them so much, my reply would be, Not anymore they’re not.

  • John Lehtonen

    The best piece on the film there is. Excellent.

  • Zachary Phillip Brailsford

    Something else; Ignatiy says that The Dark Knight is all about Batman, and, while that IS more or less true, I find that the emotional core of that film does not rely with him, but rather with Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon, both of whom have emotional climaxes that just about knock any care for Batman out of the film (not to say, of course, that one cannot identify with Batman in the film, but rather that I personally felt a much tighter pull of those heartstrings considering the loss of Rachel with regards to Harvey than I did to Bruce; in essence, I didn’t really care about Batman, but rather about the more interesting side characters). With The Dark Knight Rises, though, I found no character to care about – yes, because so little was given for each to do (even with the length of the running time), but also because there seemed to hardly be a narrative guiding force; and then when the film tried to create this force again in Batman (the character), I don’t think it worked. The film is too slaph-dash, but in a way that completely pulls away any building sense of momentum (and thus an empathetic feeling within the audience for any particular character, especially concerning the total lack of coherency with the different “worlds” that Nolan seems to be attempting to suture into one). I, then, have to disagree with Adam about his choice of the lead-in to the fight with Bane as being pretty OK (maybe a bit more), because I felt that it moved all too fast for any tension and fear within the henchmen to be felt. The better scene was the one right before it, with the push-in on Catwoman in the middle of the railway because, while it was, indeed, exposition, at least it was able to relax itself and give a sense that there WAS something going down (one of the few times that Nolan actually seems to use a tracking shot with any flair, and correctly). Really, the film just doesn’t…move, and the scenes that Nolan chose to highlight as big “action” scenes (clearly shown by his choice of IMAX over standard 35mm)? Give me a break. A few of those were some of the least enthralling moments in a rather dull-as-it-is picture…

  • Lucas Davies

    Every single thing said in the third and fourth paragraphs about things being contradictory is wrong. How is the boat situation even remotely comparable to lying about Harvey Dent’s death? Sometimes people aren’t willing to kill thousands of people. Sometimes people need to lie. Wow. That is not a contradiction.

    “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”

    Maybe this could be seen as a reference to the occupy movement. How does Bane being the bad guy make this contradictory? What?

    “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.”

    Sometimes people use wealth for good. Sometimes they use it for evil. It’s not saying that wealth is good or bad.

    “Scarecrow’s revolutionary court is presented as a sort of nightmare—yet it rightly convicts a slimy villain.”

    ? It’s a place ran by a crazy guy. Do you think he’s going to be like “Oh, you’re a villain? You’re free to go then”?

    I stopped reading shortly after this. This is just absurd criticism.

  • John Lehtonen

    ^ Dude, like, what are you saying?

  • Christoph Hochhäusler

    I think Nolan derserves recognition for how he (and the people at Warner’s) handle the anticipation game. The trailers are so suggestive, it’s easy to imagine a perfectly realized film after seeing them - in many way, it seems to be true what has been written about a lot of mainstream directors these days – that he designs his films around the trailer, the set-up. In this respect, he is his own worst enemy, because of course he never can deliver along the lines of his tease.

  • maccy

    Well articulated arguments. I wouldn’t disagree on many (or any) of the flaws, but yet the film to me was still extraordinarily vivid and engaging Hollywood cinema. It left me with a sense of joy where all the other summer blockbusters of recent years have left me extremely cold.

    I agree with Adam that the back-breaking sequence is the film’s visceral highlight. But I’d disagree the rest of the film is a series of comparative lowlights. To me, Nolan’s intention isn’t to craft a political statement or social agenda, but instead make a film of this scale that directly references and incorporates the basic iconography of current events. This, we cannot forget, is an insanely expensive film: any one-sided ideologies are automatically neutered by the very nature of the production. Yet Nolan cleverly keeps the symbolism to craft what this series always has been – spectacle. Shallow spectacle, perhaps, but still a hell of a lot better than anything Marvel, for example, have produced. The stock exchange sequence, the battle on the steps (as good as the back-breaking, IMO, due to its intense, visceral role reversal), the sequences of vengeance being unleashed on the corporations – this is a film that observes such current events, like a news reporter, rather than lecturing us about side it falls us. After all, we’re here for the superhero stuff.

    And that’s actually where the film is actually its most successful. Batman isn’t onscreen a hell of a lot, but this film is about him even when he’s absent. To me, Gordon Levitt’s character was the beating thematic and narrative heart of this film, and through him Nolan expands upon the themes of the two previous films – critiquing nature and enduring appeal of one of pop culture’s most enduring heroes. That, to me, was thrillingly realised.

    I’d write more, but I must run. I think looking for stark political commentary or Bela Tarr levels of visual poetry are unwise. That’s not what the Dark Knight Rises is – it’s a superhero film, and expensive mass entertainment. From this humble perspective, TDKR is superior entertainment.

    Also, the bit where Batman shows up in the tunnel is kick ass.

  • All the Best People

    I don’t understand where this insistence that films should privilege answers over questions comes from. I saw this all over the place in regards to Prometheus, where people seemed angry that a summer tentpole horror action film did not, in fact, reveal to us the origin and fate of our species. And here we see Ignatiy asserting that a film portraying some wealthy people as virtuous and others as villainous, or a villainous character claiming to lead a revolution of the oppressed, leads to thematic murkiness. The fact is that some wealthy people are virtuous and others are villainous; having a film present us examples of both is far less silly than any sort of hamfisted attempt to paste the wealthy into one camp or the other would be. The movie is “murky” because life is.

    Nolan’s entire Batman trilogy, particularly the latter two installments, are about that murkiness, about trying to draw lines between right and wrong and finding that the lines are difficult to spot and frequently in flux.

    The Nolan movies ask if it’s worth it to have a vigilante fighting crime. The answer seems to be, “Only when truly necessary, which hopefully isn’t very often” — which in definite terms isn’t much of an answer. The Gotham of Batman Begins is hopelessly corrupt, and good and noble policemen (such as Gordon) are handcuffed in what they can do. Someone operating outside the law is the only one who can set anything right. Wayne takes this on somewhat reluctantly, which is why he’s so excited (or as excited as Christian Bale can express, which is not very) in The Dark Knight when it looks like Harvey Dent can fix everything from the inside. When things go wrong, Batman has to step outside the law to set them right; things didn’t get fixed, and he has to take extraordinary steps to fix them (or do what he and Gordon thinks will do the fixing).

    The thematic drive of The Joker and of Talia/Bane is to prove to Wayne that the people of Gotham are corrupt and irredeemable, that his theatrics are toothless, that his work as Batman was all in vain. Wayne and the League of Shadows agree on the dire straits Gotham is in, but where Wayne wants to help save it, the League thinks the only salvation comes through destruction. As much as anything, the conflicts between Nolan’s Batman and his adversaries is a struggle for the soul of Gotham; the villains want to install chaos and destruction, Wayne wants to provide hope and restoration. The likes of Bane will speak the language of the oppressed so as to gain their support, but the words themselves are empty and corrupt coming out of his mask. That’s not a thematic contradiction; it’s a dramatization of a demagogue abusing rhetoric to further his own ends with no consideration of the true issues at stake. Wayne/Batman knows that actions matter more than words and believes that images matter more than words.

    I think these are thematically interesting ideas, and I think it’s actually The Dark Knight that explores them most interestingly, in that it asks directly how “evil” (or outside the law) Wayne/Batman and Dent should allow themselves to go to fight a greater evil. What’s interesting about the questions is that the answers aren’t clear. I don’t think it’s Christopher Nolan’s job to answer them for us; I think he’s within his obligation to dramatize the conflicts for us and spur our contemplation of them.

    The various aesthetic concerns can certainly be debated; Nolan has never excelled at mounting action, and his visual style is certainly more functional than transcendent. But what others might see as thematic laziness or opportunism is what I actually see as his trilogy’s strength, and what truly separates his take on Batman from Tim Burton, who saw all the conflicts as being between personalities (likely all existing within Wayne/Batman’s psyche) — a choice that informed everything from production design to performance style — whereas Nolan poses the conflicts between Batman/Wayne and his antagonists (not just the villains) as entirely ideological. Nolan’s characters speak in declaration and exposition, because they have no personalities beyond the ideas they are designed to express. Strength or weakness, Nolan’s approach is rather unique in the tentpole genre.

  • House 0f Leaves

    You guys are too good for this film, but you did a great job with the article and I appreciated the back and forth. Nolan is just lucky enough that his audience doesn’t care about the issues you raise, which are many of the problems I had with the film. Nolan doesn’t get Batman, and has made the least interesting take on the character I can think of.

  • ReadyRock

    @Archibald

    “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.”

    Surely you don’t actually mean that. If you did then that would be sufficient to have you labelled as legally incompetant, a danger to yourself and others, barely intelligent enough to feed yourself much less write a review. I refuse to believe you are mentally defective and instead just assume that you are are reliant on venomous hyperbole to cover up the fact that you have nothing of substance to add.

    Am I close?

  • Lucas Davies

    “^ Dude, like, what are you saying?”

    What kind of a response do you expect from this? I clearly stated what I’m saying.

  • AxelUmog

    Agree with almost all your points, though I wouldn’t be as “damning” of Nolan as a general filmmaker. DKR was certainly a mess, but he is taking quite a few risks, which is more than most can say. He throws a lot of pebbles at the jar, and of course a couple hit, and those moments are pretty sublime. If he could clean his act up a bit (ok a lot) and really commit to something, give something it’s space to breath and evoke, I think he could potentially do something really powerful.

    And I do like Memento and The Prestige quite a bit, I think Jonathan Nolan is a much better writer and keeps Chris “honest” (baseless speculation). I hope he steps away from the superhero scene maybe even big budget hollywood, does some soul searching, and comes back with something sweet!

  • House 0f Leaves

    Hey, look—some good pub your round-table has produced:

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2012/07/good_bad_or_mediocre_theres_st.html

  • ELGZ

    @ All the Best People. Your comments made more sense then the entire “roundtable” discussion. Two critics even praised and commented “Zombie’s great Halloween films”, way too funny, that killed their relevance.

  • Mark

    Nice piece, and I agree with a lot of the comments. However, bringing up Rob Zombie and Paul W S Anderson does tend to negate the quality of the arguments you are trying to make. Better examples of masters of classical big-budget action adventure form would be Spielberg and Cameron. Cameron in particular has been the master of the action sequence since 1984, one look at the last 20 minutes of Avatar shows a remarkable handling of geography, shot-flow and visual information, beautifully cut together. It stands alongside the reactor room rescue from Aliens, practically all of The Abyss, the canal chase from Terminator 2 and the shattered bridge/skyscraper interface of True Lies as one of the all-time great action sequences.

  • Mike A

    @ReadyRock

    1) “Please be courteous”

    2) I said that I couldn’t properly understand the story. Yes, I got that Batman had hung up his cape, only to change his mind; that Bane was a megalomaniac supervillain who wanted to hoodwink the people of Gotham before killing them; that Kyle was a super-thief with a slowly emerging conscience, etc. etc. But that’s a skeletal understanding, not a proper one. A proper understanding, even on a macro level, would involve some degree of comfort with questions like: why Bane wanted to hoodwink the citizens before killing them; why Blake could figure out Batman’s identity from a brief childhood encounter with his alter ego while Kyle couldn’t guess it from her various meetings with Wayne/Batman and the mentions of each’s “friend”; how Bane was lucky or informed enough to have planted his HQ directly under Wayne and Fox’s armory; who exactly Dagget and his buddy were and what exactly their strategy involved; whether or not the data-erasing device that was those guys dangled in front of Kyle, and that Batman finally gave her, was real or a hoax perpetrated by both parties; why Bane bothered to feed the imprisoned cops; and much more. Answers to some of these questions became clearer on a second viewing, but only some. I think that’s bad storytelling.

    To branch out a bit, the “questions are more important than answers” line of thinking, or even the puzzle-film categorization used to justify the confusions of a film like Inception, don’t seem that appropriate to this film. Or maybe I should say that there are just too many damn questions. TDKR is an action thriller. I don’t see why I should have to be so confused about basic story elements in a film like that; the confusion gets in the way of suspense and emotional engagement. Movies as different as Vertigo, Taste Of Cherry, Point Blank and Chinatown manage to balance deep mystery with narrative focus; the result is compelling cinema. TDKR produces confusion, for me and many, many others, on so many levels, and in such a disordered way, that it doesn’t work on the level of basic communication. Mystery in narrative art needs a foundation of clarity to be thrown into relief and made successful. I didn’t at all see that happening in this film.

  • rado

    Yes, I also wondered what Nolan fans think of Kiarostami’s mind-benders that have profundity, beauty, heart-felt humanism, stunning cultural and social insight. “Close-up” is a cinematic revelation on multiple levels and makes Nolan look childish and trite.

  • All the Best People

    The “‘questions are more important’” line of thinking" is meant to only describe the themes and the frequent political ambivalence, not the narrative itself. The Dark Knight Rises is by no means a puzzle film on a narrative level.

    I must confess to being a bit surprised by David A.‘s list of plot events and character motivations he did not grasp on a first viewing. For me, one of the drawbacks of Nolan’s approach in this trilogy is that events and motivations are bluntly and often laboriously explained. It strikes me that many (the majority?) of the conversations comprise characters telling other characters what they’re doing, what they expect the effect to be, and the underlying philosophy that leads them to desire such results.

  • Zach

    You can listen to my thoughts here:

    http://filmjive.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/film-jive-episode-29-the-dark-knight-rises/

  • T.J. Royal

    I enjoyed reading this over, even though (as a big fan of the film) I think each of you were not on the same “wavelength” I was while while viewing this. I can’t do it today, but I will strive sometime soon to refute some of the points you all have made about TDKR, particularly as far as what its “politics” are stating (or not) and whether or not Nolan (as director and along with his brother Jonathon as his screen-writing partner) are copping out from making a stand on topical issues and just in general leaving a muddled mess that robs the paying audience member of $10.

    Suffice it for me to say for now that, I feel you all have interpretations of this film’s events (and the implications of those events) and that of Nolan’s previous two Batman movies that I not only don’t share, but from which I did not at all draw the above-stated conclusions while watching TDKR.

  • ralch

    This was great. Bravo!

  • Pete

    “You guys are too good for this film” — House of Leaves

    Dude you forgot to add “no homo” to your sentence

  • Pete

    “…the confusion gets in the way of suspense and emotional engagement…” — Mike A.

    It is actually quite the opposite, by the numbers it seems most of the people did get emotionally engaged, maybe not intellectually which I don’t think is the purpose of a popcorn flick anyway but most of the people certainly enjoyed the movie just by absorbing the basic stuff: there are good guys, bad guys, they confront each other, somebody wins, somebody loses, etc., no big deal.

    For sure not all of that same majority got why the hell was a blood transfusion happening in the opening scene but it was probably damn obvious to them that Bane was kidnapping a dude and destroying a plane, which is just a small example of the basic stuff a normal person (lets plz not call them dumb) needed to carry on and enjoy the movie. The rest is there for nitpickers like us who love to over analyze stuff, sometimes to the extend of ruining the movie experience for ourselves.

  • Pete

    Can the authors plz post a similar analysis on “The Avengers”? or if they already did, paste the link here?

    Thx

  • Pierre

    Bane’s whole agenda almost made me think of the juvenile ideas of rebooting the system explored in Fight Club, not that I thought the politics were much clearer in that one either. Even if you want to have a film that promotes a power to the people agenda, you’re still dealing with a billionaire scion as your starting point for the action.

    I enjoyed it enough, but felt the flab of too many characters being crammed into the story for little payoff. Cameron may be better at pacing, but his stories and dialogue feel like Joseph Campbell’s used kleenex.

  • NiteFlight9

    I enjoyed it. It’s a superhero movie.

  • Neil Bahadur

    Richard Donners Superman for the best superhero movie!!!!

  • Archento

    Great article and even as a fan of the film, I agree with most of the points, especially regarding the editing. Longer shots were definitely needed, atmosphere was sorely lacking.

    I think the politics, however, are easy enough. You’re not wrong that they’re incoherent – I took their incoherency as precisely the point. Bane, we must remember, is the villain. He’s using every important movement against the people who could be a part of that movement, baiting them, playing to all sides (except the rich, of course) but really against everyone in the end. It’s sort of a have your cake and eat it too kind of thing on Nolan’s part, but if you’d stop looking for that “ONE” thing this is all about, it works like a whirlwind. Bane’s nothing more than a megaphone.

  • Archento

    Also, The Dark Knight Rises is a perfect title. Whether or not Nolan properly accomplished this, he’s always said his trilogy was about Bruce Wayne, not Batman. Bruce Wayne is the dark knight, a man who needs to give this up, give up vengeance, find peace. In Nolan’s world, it’s been clearly stated from day one that Batman was a few year plan, that Bruce wanted to find someone to take over, that Batman was just a symbol; on the other hand, even if he doesn’t realize it, he needs to rise from the darkness that consumes him like just like any man. While this may not seem very BATMAN to many, and while you can argue that this story was told inadequately, this was the story that was always being told, and it makes the title perfect.

  • tuyabid

    After a week release of The Dark Knight Rises, many critical reviews of this film spanned more controversy rather than an acclaim that The Dark Knight got during the summer of 2008. Seeing again a few bits of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, it made me realize how these two films together combine the true essence and courage to create this extravagant film, TDKR. Once again, Christopher Nolan created a masterful and yet a dark and brutal superhero film that nobody had ever attempted to create.
    When many fanboys watched The Avengers last May this year, they all loved it and even said it’s an epic. I watched the movie with my friends, and they were also smiling and applauding the way through, and so does the crowd. Who would possibly top The Avengers by it’s cool outcome to the public. Seeing TDKR afterwards, I’m sure the fans of * The Avengers* will be disappointed in few things: they will find TDKR more dramatic than actioner, it will not have a lot of energy than that movie. I’m really shock that people in the theater on the screening of TDKR are really quiet and speechless after the ending, I don’t know if they’re happy or not?

  • Branko Burcksen

    I thought this over and over again without fail each time I read a story or an article digging into TDKR. A twelve episode anime series, little heard of outside the fan community, known as “Madoka Magica” figures into my very analysis of Nolan’s fractured final installment to his Batman trilogy, and the ambition of what superhero movies have tried to achieve. I think “Madoka Magica” may be the best incarnation of the ‘superhero’ story I’ve ever seen. I say superhero ironically because it is technically from the Magical Girl sub-genre in which “Sailor Moon” and her countless sister shows partake. However, superheroes and magical girls share some key tropes in common not least of which include wearing strange outfits, living a double life, and protecting the innocent from evil foes. Of course, instead of full grown, mostly white men, you have teenage girls.

    “With great power comes great responsibility,” and “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” strike at the heart of the duel dilemmas in the story of the superhero: to be granted great power and protect what is good and just while giving up the things personally most important to you at the same time dancing on the edge of losing face and succumbing to despair from the boundless cruelty and hatred in the world. “Madoka Magica” brings these two themes to life in its characters and story by stripping away the surface layers of their conceits within the tropes of superhero mythology, as best exemplified by “Spider Man 2” and TDK, and tying them into the very question of whether living to protect others is detrimental to self preservation. It doesn’t stop their though. It raises the stakes to where the cold survival of the universe and the value of simple human feelings like love and hope collide. That the characters themselves embody and play out these opposing views and escalate it to such a degree shows the care and attention the writers took to develop this narrative.

    I enjoyed TDKR a lot, but I knew as I kept watching, it didn’t twinge my emotions the way TDK and other superhero movies did. It was well plotted and the action was great, but that’s all I can really compliment about it. What ideas it had didn’t come together, and the characters didn’t engage or follow through with anything other than bringing the trilogy to a close.

    It surprises me how certain scenes in “Madoka Magica” pull on my heartstrings. At the same time, I know it won’t hit everyone the same way. Especially those unfamiliar with anime and in particular the tropes and aesthetics of magical girl shows. The most difficult hurdle to overcome when appreciating “Madoka Magica” involves the series use of a type of Japanese cuteness called “moe”, think “My Little Pony”, that would prevent many viewers from taking it seriously despite its dark tone, serious nature and fleshed out characters. My personal view though has been anyone capable of enjoying both an “Avengers” and a “Tree of Life” retains the capacity to appreciate what “Magoka Magica” aims to achieve.

    In all honesty, Zac Berschy of Anime News Network (the best resource for anything related to anime) does a much better job of reviewing the show than I do. He sums it up best with, “If ‘Madoka Magica’ is saying anything, it’s saying that life will absolutely crush you and entropy is inevitable, but there’s reason to hope. That wishing for your loved ones to be safe and fighting for the things you believe in is the most important thing a human being can hope to do, even in the face of all that. If that isn’t a happy ending, then I don’t know what is.”

    He ends his final review by saying, “It is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in what anime can accomplish as an art form.” So during a glut of superhero movies and an endless discussion over the pros and cons of TDKR, I offer the challenge to cinephiles to see “Madoka Magica” and decide for yourself whether it takes the superhero story to its ultimate conclusion.

    I personally found the official promotional material, opening song and closing song for the series very misleading to the actual tone it sets. (The closing song for episode 3 and on gets it right.) This AMV (Anime Music Video) provides a more accurate taste for what the series is like:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ8JRfsurt4

    “Madoka Magica” available on Hulu and Crunchyroll.

    Zac Bertschy’s full reviews can be read here:

    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/review/puella-magi-madoka-magica
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/review/puella-magi-madoka-magica/limited-edition-blu-ray-vol-2
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/review/puella-magi-madoka-magica/vol-3

  • Barry Egan

    sheer masturbation on the part of these critics

  • BRAND UPON THE BRAIN!

    I completely agree with All the Best People’s post.

    I find the assertions that Nolan’s films are trying to make clear black vs. white political stances in his films is a bit out of touch. In each of the films Batman battles moral dilemmas and both sides of the coin are shown to incite conflict. Sure Batman himself has his own stances politically as he appears to be against death as a penalty for criminals and in favor of intrusive surveillance, but he doubts and internally debates himself at the same time. We also see different characters taking opposing stances and questioning Bruce Wayne’s decisions and I don’t think it is fair to say Bruce Wayne’s politics are precisely the same as Nolan’s. Complaining about Nolan contradicting himself is absurd as well as these political talking points aren’t necessarily his politics to begin with and as someone has already mentioned I think these contradictions and murkiness are precisely the point.

    I also find a lot of the plot holes people have taken such issue with to be fairly silly as well. I’m not saying I didn’t notice some things that I questioned, but I don’t think it makes the film incomprehensible…I think it’s pretty straight forward to be honest. Does it really matter how Bane knew Batman’s identity or where his weapon compound was or how Bruce Wayne got back to Gotham? I don’t think extended scenes giving the answers to these questions would have enhanced the film in any way. I think most of the plot holes can be logically explained away if you use your imagination a little bit as opposed to Prometheus where character’s actions where just moronic and difficult to explain away. I honestly had more of a problem as to why Batman puts on his tough guy voice when he is talking to himself and why thousands of cops charge a crowd of gun wielding henchman only to result in a hand to hand combat, but really the details of the plot doesn’t matter that much to me. The film is an operatic and at times poetic spectacle with ambitious themes and aesthetics that exceeds anything I have seen from a “popcorn film” besides maybe The Matrix and Speed Racer.

  • Kenrick Block

    fantastic discussion. thanks for sharing it with us guys. you’re all way too fuckin’ smart.

  • Shaz

    I found this film totally empty and even offensive. There is not a single subversive bone in it’s bloated body. Batman – necessarily an outlaw- has been appropriated by the US of A for it’s own us-and-them policy. The villain comes illegally to Gotham and literally works in underground operation for it’s fall. Is he an illegal immigrant? Why am I thinking like this? Because it is the film which is bringing up these subjects!

    Batman, here, is not outside the system but a part of it. There is not even a single line against the authorities/government. Modine’s character comes close when he tells Goedon that the government is with the villains but Gordon cuts him short by telling him that they can’t help it as ‘Bane has their balls in a vice". There is so much of confusion, even in the maker’s minds that they don’t know where they stand. Not only thematically but also what kind of film they are actually making. What I was not expecting, at all was the amount of casual jingoism in the film. For me this as Military Industry Complex as Transformers (if a tad more sophisticated). In The Dark Knight, the balance was just right as ‘Americanism’ was kept at a safe distance. This one seems to rub your face in the fact that Gotham is, in fact, America. There are torn flags, stadiums, National Anthems etc. You can’t cram your film with (half-baked) political allegories and pretend that this is just a ‘superhero’ film. It is epic and entertaining on one level but very disturbing, for all the wrong reasons, on another.

  • iiichy

    Enjoyable blockbuster, but Bane is so far from memorable performance compared to the Joker’s Heath Ledger.

  • Alvin

    DKR is more comparable to Batman Begins than to TDK.

  • adrian

    Really excellent discussion. Would love to see more of these, although I think everyone realized by the end that TDKR offers a unique amount of material to process.

    I understand the decision to avoid the extra-filmic issues, re: Aurora. But the main thing missing from this discussion, just barely broached in the musings on history of the blockbuster industry, seems to be the question of TDKR’s popularity, and the whole ascendance of the trilogy. Alongside Avatar and the Avengers’ popularity why exactly has such a powerful fanbase—perhaps the biggest since the Matrix—emerged out of this trilogy.This is especially notable in light of all the issues brought up here—conflicting ideologies, murky ethics, and cluttered allegories. What is the appeal of ‘the Batman,’ and how is he read as a popular hero? Elite as he is, he still lacks the true Ayn Randian-heroism of Tony Stark. If we cannot make sense of the movie-in-itself, it would be prudent to consider its pop-culture canonization.

  • Pedro Verdugo

    Glad to see other opinions on the bad film making and storytelling this movie had, i first started to notice this issues with TDK, but based on the reviews it had i thought i was just not in the mood so i re-watched it, and it was still bad, then i watched Inception and most of the same flaws persisted, now with TDKR it seems to be the worst of his recent movies, now i’m afraid of seeing his older movies again because i remember loving Memento, The Prestige and Batman Begins :S.

  • thomarama

    I find the contradictory politics throughout the series to be a poor patchwork of corporate salesmanship. It’s the studio execs with their business degrees selling the movie-going public a piece of safe entertainment that won’t threaten their preconceived notions or ideas, and in some cases the confounded and muddled messages can even be easily misconstrued to fit a person’s ideological bent. Come on up, folks! Gather ‘round! Don’t like the Occupy Wall Street crowd? Look at how we present them one moment as degenerates! But wait, what’s that you say? You like the Occupy Wall Street crowd? Well, hold on there partner! Because the very next moment we’ll have them Occupiers showed as decent peoples! By golly! You’ll love every minute of it! (All 164 of them…) After all, this is a Blockbuster we’re talking about here. This is not a film that is out to send a message. Hollywood can’t be that subtle. This is a movie that is out to make money money money money money. How do you do that? By presenting the audience with prepackaged, easily digestible talking points that allow people of all political stripes to walk out of the theatre, saying to themselves, “Yeah! Batman knows what I’m talking about!”

  • zvelf

    I suspect the people saying that the contradictions and muddle are the point are just rationalizing why they should still continue to like the film instead of actually grappling with it. For example, you can’t get around Nolan’s “people are sheep who need to be coddled” depiction or that all the sociopolitical ambivalence is tossed in without any depth or exploration.
    Nolan is simply not a great action director. The reason he does so much crosscutting is to distract you from this. By having so much content going on, it’s harder to concentrate on the form. In terms of structure and editing, Nolan just doesn’t have a good sense of pacing, timing, buildup, and cathartic execution. For example, in TDKR’s climatic action, he keeps cutting back to Blake and those damn orphans! This is unimportant to the central action and insofar as it’s a reminder of what’s at stake, it’s maudlin. The most unforgivable cut is when Bruce is making his climatic leap. Nolan cuts or allowed his editor to cut to the onlookers below in mid-leap, breaking the intensity as a personal moment for Wayne and ruining the moment as a catharsis for the audience. It mires the meaning of the jump from Bruce embracing life (because now he’s found fear of death) to mere spectacle for the prisoners below.

    I disagree with Maccy and think that THE AVENGERS, as a sleek well-told action adventure story juggling even more characters, beats the pants off of TDKR. If TDKR didn’t want the sociopolitical baggage, it should have left it out. It brought this on itself.

    You should take everything I said above in the context that I think BATMAN BEGINS is the best live-action American superhero movie yet made even though Nolan can’t do fight scenes.

  • BRAND UPON THE BRAIN!

    The Avengers is for eleventeen year olds and devoid of any substance. It pummels the audience with the shallowest forms of excruciatingly obnoxious humor and banal CGI sequences without any sort of soul, but I guess it was a success in terms of getting a bunch of man babies into theaters and to buy more toys and Marvel merch.

  • Checkpoint Charlie

    Well, what to say after obviously a lot of discussion on this? I saw the film and more or less have mixed feelings about the execution and mainly the “third act”. Rather than going through an expository on my view, I’ll just say I think Nolan – whose films from “Following” to “Inception” I have greatly admired – was a tad inflated on this one. Coming from a literary mindset to start whilst trying to operate from a burgeoning cinematic viewpoint (an article leading up to the film’s release had him expressing excitement about it being his “closet to making a Fritz Lang film” and taking a lot of inspiration from the silent era – partly demonstrated on Anne Hathaway taking cues from Hedy Lamarr, for one), I think he would have done best if it were still in vogue to have four to five hour long epics divided into respective parts in which these compacted ideas could’ve been able to breathe better and been seen for their greater potential, or if he managed to make a smoother and less hasty editing job on the piece, maybe alternate scenes to give the story a much less bewildering flow.

  • Checkpoint Charlie

    On top of that, as much as I’ve loved what Nolan’s been able to do with larger budgets and studio backing, I would definitely love to see him work with a more independent sensibility again (hell, having made basically three blockbusters in a row, I’m sure he has a good deal of money lying around). I’d like to see something from him that at this point would appropriately be digging deeper into his abilities as a filmmaker, as this latest film demonstrated what an breakneck mission making a grand-scaled piece was.

  • Matthew Rooks

    A lot of pretentious banter from critics who think they’re hot stuff because they can negatively deconstruct a summer blockbuster Batman movie. Yawn. The conversation was utterly insufferable.

  • Peter

    Re: the politics and the reference to working-class terrorism . I assume Nolan, a Brit, was referencing last summer’s London riots in which that exact kind of rampaging, looting behaviour took place (not the revolutionary courts but we know that has always happened in left-wing/working class rebellions). And those who have posted on this discussion to say it’s JUST a summer blockbuster – films aren’t just anything.

  • Anthony

    Yes, it is just a summer blockbuster and the critical discussion is akin to killing gnats with cannons. Too bad we are so distracted by the false lights of pop culture.

  • Joe Allen

    As others have pointed out, this resembles collegiate-style pretension. Most of the complaints are contrived with statements that aren’t particularly true. The perspectives aren’t penetrating or insightful because they center around confusion rather than design.

    I can imagine this group playing James Lipton and Charlie Rose as they discuss the Matrix trilogy.

  • Lizqk

    Finally! a more honest discussion of the muddled politics of the Dark Knight Rises. Though some of the critics here unite with most of the critics of this film in having trouble separating their political bias from their analysis, overall this article is refreshing. As an Independent it’s nice to see there is a place where honest analysis in not sacrificed to political views. I agree, this film is discussing (even though it’s done in a “murky” way) the French Revolutionesque lack of forethought on the part of the Occupier-like group, while on the other hand pointing out that there is a real class mobility issue all over the world (business and government aristocracy vs. masses).

    It’s surprising not that people would disagree with the film, or see the politics of the film as incoherent, but rather that so many would deny the basic (obvious and direct – this isn’t really even metaphor) framework of the film. I think people were disappointed that it didn’t prop up their case they way they had hoped and well, denial sets in to make up for failed expectations. Thanks for the great article!

  • dustin lynn

    Worth a $5 matinee if you’re trying to beat the heat I guess. I felt more entertained by the photography and color tones than any of the acting or story and at times feels like a student film which had a $250 million dollar budget i.e Marion’s death “flop” in the semi truck towards the end.

  • Murali Namburi

    I thought the film worked well – it wasn’t perfect – but makes for a good conclusion to the trilogy. I agree that some things were contradictory but that’s because the film was trying to be balanced, and not just presenting a good vs. evil story that every other summer blockbuster does.

    Not sure why some plot points are so confusing to some even after they are clearly spelled out.

    “why Bane wanted to hoodwink the citizens before killing them” – the hoodwinking was to get people on his side, and then to use those same people in aid of his master-plan.

    “why Blake could figure out Batman’s identity from a brief childhood encounter with his alter ego while Kyle couldn’t guess it from her various meetings with Wayne/Batman and the mentions of each’s “friend”” – Blake recognized himself in Wayne, getting past the playboy persona Wayne projects, and really once you get past the persona everything falls into place – I mean who else in Gotham could foot the bill for all those wonderful toys?

    “how Bane was lucky or informed enough to have planted his HQ directly under Wayne and Fox’s armory” – Bane was in the League which knew Batman’s identity from the very beginning. Industrial espionage is easy for Ninjas. ;)

    “who exactly Dagget and his buddy were and what exactly their strategy involved” – They were the ‘old-school’ mob and were used by Bane. Their strategy was to temporarily bankrupt Wayne’s company so they could take it over.

    “whether or not the data-erasing device that was those guys dangled in front of Kyle, and that Batman finally gave her, was real or a hoax perpetrated by both parties” – this is a classic macguffin, ’nuff said.

    “why Bane bothered to feed the imprisoned cops” because they were hostages and could be used as bargaining chips for the resources the city needs from the army/outside world.

  • Winston Cely

    A lot of the flaws were pretty evident to me on the first viewing, but some of the issues in the above conversation, in particular the seemingly scatterbrained politics, made total sense to me. That’s exactly how life is, we are all hypocrites to some degree, and I love how all the characters in this film are made out to be just like all of us; hypocrites. The only character who finally realizes, and does something about it is Alfred. Granted, his action is only to turn his back on his former life (run away from it), but at least he’s self-aware. Whereas all the other characters have to delude themselves with lies, because the truth is too depressing to cope with.

    On the surface, it’s been set up from the beginning that Bruce is not going to be the Batman for ever, that he would either die, or turn his back on the Bat; the idea is more than the man. So, I don’t know what the big deal is about him leaving Gotham at the end is. That makes total sense.

    It’s the anti-comicbook hero movie, and in many ways, that lies at the heart of the Batman mythos; he is an anti-hero. He professes one thing, and does another. He says the people have the power to change things, but then his actions are the opposite. In most ways, he is closer to TwoFace than anyone else, and in that sense, I think that’s the biggest failure of the series; making more of a connection between Bruce/Harvey, Batman/TwoFace. Nolan has done such a wonderful job of having people say one thing, and do another (and visa versa) that the connection should have been stronger with TwoFace. Oh, well. Maybe the reboot will get that right.

    This sorta makes me weary though of Nolan’s involvement in Superman. If there’s one comic book hero that should be as true to the source, an actual hero as opposed to an anti-hero, it’s Superman. But that’s for another thread….

  • Jeff

    The Dark Knight Rises is an awful mess, unworthy of this much discussion. All three Nolan Batman movies are formulaic (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Shane… doesn’t everyone know this one by now?), but he first two were carried by top notch performances and tight scripting. This one? Here are just a few of its faults, in no particular order:

    Bane is the least developed, least expressive, least interesting movie villain ever. Could anyone really understand what he said behind that mask?

    The “Batman goes to prison”, “here’s Christian Bale being a serious actor” thing was excruciatingly bad, like something out of a TV miniseries. Did anyone seriously think he wouldn’t get out? Thanks for wasting an extra hour of my time.

    Endless closeups of Michael Cane blubbering. WTF?

    The best character, Batgirl, disappears for half the movie. When she reappears, she goes through a major transformation with no real explanation. It’s hard not to think something important was left on the cutting room floor.

    The big surprise at the end of the movie is just the old “I can’t operate on this patient, he’s my son!” joke.

    Finally, I’m incredulous that there’s any debate at all about Nolan’s politics here. The Occupy reference is in the mob justice, and that’s typical of the formula. There’s no escaping the fact that Nolan’s message is painfully simple minded right wing nonsense.

    They can keep my money, but I’d really like my time back.

  • Jeff

    And I meant to say Catwoman, not Batgirl. Whatever. It’s still an offensive mess of a movie.

  • benhs1898

    This roundtable is an excellent example of over-thinking in all the wrong ways.

    Yes, one should ask questions but some of these are so asinine and irrelevant that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

    I think most of the “haters” just don’t get the rich themes that are sewn throughout the series. Themes of motivation, the complicated nature of justice and how they relate to this decades old character. With all of the flaws, this has been the most complex depiction of the character to date in any media.

    P.S. Jeff, your critique (I use this term loosely) comes off superficial and banal.

  • Gregory Milla

    Ambitious,no storytelling:a failure.This movie is empty.

  • Mike

    Amen.

    Well, except for the conclusion. No, it isn’t “fun” to argue about mediocre movies. It’s fun to watch great movies. It’s fun to see great movies inspire great movie-making. We live in times, now, when “fun” has come to be redefined as “mindless.”

    At least, I’m finally finding some common-grounders. The ridiculous praise for Nolan’s seven year destruction of my childhood hero has always irritated!

    By the way, I’m kind of tired of everybody applying the sloppy politics of this film to the Occupy movement. The thing had to have been conceived before Nolan (if not Hans Zimmer) heard about the first drum circle. The better allusion is to The Tea Party. A group of half-wit malcontents out to tear down everything for the simple reason they’re scared of brown people.

    If only Nolan had gone with The Mad Hatter, instead of Bane, he might have had something. Nothing good – dude’s a hack – but, yeah, that might’ve been “fun”-ish.

  • Bill Scheggia

    benhs1898 has it right. This article is self-indulgent. Nolan’s movies have “no sense of the emotional”? I think the authors of this piece have no sense of the emotional. How else could they come away from a Nolan film unsatisfied? Sure, Nolan’s films are cerebral; but it’s matched by an emotional heft. Think of Dom Cobb finally letting go of the memory of his dead wife; Angier and Borden’s friendship turning into hate; Alfred confessing tearfully that he’s failed Bruce; and what about Bruce’s own story arc in TDKR, a crippled man dealing with loss who finally finds his passion reignited by a new fight and a new love.

    This film is a mess? You must be trolling.

  • bolhoofd

    Hi,
    don’t know if someone mentioned this already but did anybody read the Frank Miller comic ‘Batman -the dark night’?

    I thought that the movie was mostly based on this particular comic but I missed it in the credits.
    The reason I could cope with the idea of ‘oh, this is just another pompous overly heavy mindless blockbuster’ was because I was referring to the feel, atmosphere and intention of the characters of the comic constantly while watching.
    But I missed the basic idea of character development of the comic.
    And finally the setup is very similar but it ends in the usual bombardment of plot twists and usual blockbuster cacophony of a hundred wars being fought at the same time.

    Then again, there are some very good actors in this film. Think when it would have been not so.. What a disaster.
    Also, Hans Zimmer killed my ears but also created a soundtrack which manages to keep the movie more together then the direction, editing and general plot.
    He is a real master in that sense. What a glue.

    Anyways, pretty ok movie. Very nice design, great actors, good intentions, Frank Miller, Hans Zimmer, but in my opinion let down by the usual blockbuster solutions and pitfalls.
    Wonder if we could do without?

  • Taliesin

    First off, let’s acknowledge what this little “discussion” really amounts to; four cinephile snobs, sitting around in a circle jerk, espousing conclusions about a film that were formed well before the theater’s lights had even dimmed.

    Second, an obvious problem, which any of you four could’ve rectified by hopping onto the internet for a mere matter of seconds. Filming of The Dark Knight Rises began in May 2011 and concluded on November 14, 2011. Occupy Wall Street officially commenced on September 17, 2011. Any comments the film makes that are supposedly about OWS are purely coincidental. The film is obviously influenced by the Great Recession/Economic Collapse but it’s not making any explicit commentary about a movement that didn’t exist during the majority of its production.

    From Vishnevetsky: “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.” I shouldn’t even address this point because whoever made it clearly was paying no attention to the movie whatsoever. A) Gotham’s relatively stable because of the events shown in the second film and the major threat posed in the third film has been neutralized. B) Bruce’s body, despite all the pushups in the hell hole, isn’t up for a continuous string of endless vigilantism. C) One of the major themes of the film, as explicitly stated by Alfred for those to dense to pick up on it, is that Batman is a means of self-destruction for the Bruce Wayne character. It was either destroy Batman or destroy himself and in the film he chooses the former.

    Archibald: “Wow, that’s the worst example of movie storytelling I’ve ever seen.” This is hyperbolic, you know it, and it just gives the game away. This is a hit job on Nolan for whatever supposed sins he’s committed against cinema. It’s simply absurd to claim that this movie is the “worst example of movie storytelling.”

    A minor point, Bruce doesn’t “jump through a hospital window,” he simply straps himself to a cord and makes a descent. You don’t need cartilage in your knees for that. I hope the “catalog of small logical absurdities or outright errors: over thirty in total, and those were just the ones I had time to write down” are better than that.

    Also: “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.” You might not have noticed that every criminal was released from the city’s prison or that Bane already had a retinue with him. Maybe your mass uprising is actually just criminal activity performed by released criminals.

    Archibald: “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” At least now we finally get to the meat of the issue. This, at least, is a clearly expressed position without the pretense of objective critical analysis. You want to complain about the trend of big, loud movies infantilizing audiences? Great. Then state your position about those kind of films and have a round-table discussion about that. Don’t act as if you’re actually assessing the merits of an individual film. Beyond that, it’s absurd to act as if Nolan’s trilogy has “cemented” this trend when said trend has been firmly in play for the past 30 years. That’s right, it all just would’ve faded into the ether if hacky ol’ Nolan hadn’t come and ruined the day!

    From Cook: “lets not forget that in his mind his movie is an epic revolutionary war film.” If Nolan’s presentation is so murky then how can you claim to know what the film is “in his mind?”

    “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).” Of course, how could you admit to liking a mainstream film, even a mainstream film which apparently resonated with you enough that you can remember one sequence shot-by-shot despite having not seen it since childhood? The Patriot is indeed a bad movie but the only reason you dismiss it is to save face among your cineaste pals.

    Your whining about mainstream films is counter-productive. It doesn’t forward the agenda of getting lesser-known films seen. IT IS A DEAD END. There’s nothing amazing or insightful about a blockbuster film getting trashed on Mubi. You resent Nolan for his recognition and monetary success. You trash non-marginalized films without actually thinking about them so drop the pretense of performing actual thought.

    But congratulations, you’ve managed to sit around and pat each other on the back for refusing to swallow the movie gruel fed to the hoi polloi. A proud, time-honored tradition. Phenomenal.

    If you want to be treated courteously then be courteous in your own work, not needlessly snide.

  • S&E

    @Taliesin: Well said, mate! I am so glad you took the time to write that post because as I read the discussion I was thinking “Oh god this is so wrongheaded, I just have to respond”, and I really don’t have time to…

    It’s a comic book movie, guys! It will never replace true political discourse and THANK GOD no movie will. It’s designed to provoke discourse. And to do that you need characters with differing opinions, and some characters who CHANGE. Remember that, when characters actually had a story arc? Yes, Nolan’s keeping that tradition alive and (horror of horrors) in a super hero film. Another way of saying it: the opinions of the film are described by its characters and the way they interact. they aren’t empirical, nor is Nolan stupid enough to tie the answer up with a bow for us. It is too big an issue. So, yes the film is ambitious, and I think that it’s a strength of the film that it isn’t all wrapped up neatly in the end, telling us what to think.

    You think the depiction of the masses as non-thinking drones is insulting? You are, ironically, proving that depiction correct.

    Perhaps you guys should make a film of your own, and try to have some fun while you’re at it. Stop being so Les Miserables.

  • Benson Stein

    I’m glad at least a few critics have stepped up to the plate, and had the boldness to admit that “The Emperor has no clothes.” This film series is total tripe and whilst I don’t mind that per se, as much of Hollywood produces these days is as bad or worse, what disturbs me is the artistic pretensions of it all. What’s particularly disturbing to me, is the legions of fan-boys who have somehow staked their life and entire existence on worshiping and defending this film. I really would love to explore the psychology of the hard core fan-boys of this film. They have so much personally invested in the film that they make death threats against critics who give it poor reviews, or even dare to critique it and deny its pure genius. I don’t find it strange at all that one of its deranged fans has shot up a movie theater full of people. This film series, for all its incompetent film-making, has tapped into the subconscious or Id of legion of disturbed, lonely, alienated young men, and has filled some void, some empty gap in their pathetic Generation Y lives. The youths raised on violent video games now have their nihilistic, artistic masterpiece of carnage and destruction. It’s given a fatalistic, unifying vision to their anger, aggression, alienation, loneliness, pent up violence, self-absorption, etc…
    This film is like a magnet for psychologically disturbed individuals. It’s way beyond cinema, this movie is the religion, moral teaching, and philosophy for millions upon millions of “the lost generation.” They defend this film as Islamic fanatics defend the Holy Koran. Even the slightest negative comment regarding it, is met with the threat of violence and/or death. I suppose Nolan is to be congratulated for tapping into the zeitgeist and psyche of these legions of alienated, deranged, and violent people.

  • duffers

    @Benson

    Grandad? When did you get a PC? Though I’m afraid the tabloids and sensationalist news ‘reporters’ have done the video game killer generation angle to death (ho ho), despite no scientific research to back up their spurious claims.

    The comments on this are hilarious. “By the way, I’m kind of tired of everybody applying the sloppy politics of this film to the Occupy movement. The thing had to have been conceived before Nolan (if not Hans Zimmer) heard about the first drum circle. The better allusion is to The Tea Party. A group of half-wit malcontents out to tear down everything for the simple reason they’re scared of brown people.” Isn’t that the police?

  • S&E

    @Benson: Crikey mate, take a Bex and have a lie down. I think you’re giving Nolan too much “credit”. People have been doing hideous things to other people looooong before Batman was around.

  • medialark

    @Barry Egan

    Agreed.

  • Taliesin

    If only The Onion had written this three months ago:

    Area Man On Personal Mission To Explain Why Universally Enjoyed Things Are Bad

    “According to Lerner, rather than acknowledging that a film like The Dark Knight Rises is entertaining, the way a normal person might, he has a special duty to argue that it is, in fact, completely horrible. Describing the movie as ‘an overhyped snooze,’ Lerner noted that director Christopher Nolan is a ponderous and only marginally talented filmmaker, and that no serious person could possibly enjoy the performance of Christian Bale, an actor Lerner described as ’not nearly as good as people think he is.”

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/area-man-on-personal-mission-to-explain-why-univer,29922/

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