Thursday, 9 August 2012


The Dark Knight Rises: directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

Disclaimer: This started out as a two paragraph short-note and turned into.... this. It’s generally spoiler-free, but it’s not especially coherent. So…enjoy.

When I was recapping the best of 2010 in film I made the point (referring to his Inception) that even as I’ve never managed to feel a potent love for any of his films, I’m inclined to give Christopher Nolan credit for the scope for of his vision. (Even though it results in a situation where I ultimately lament that his reach exceeds his grasp.) It was this general state which made me enter The Dark Knight Rises with significantly muted expectations – so muted they could very well be called non-expectations. Eight years after the events of the last film Gotham City seems to be on the mend whilst Bruce Wayne – no longer the caped crusader – lives in seclusion at home….until the appearance of masked evil-doer Bane threatens the previous calm of the City. That line represents but one of the many plot point at work in The Dark Knight. For the film is relentless in its desire to provide the audience with large blocs of information as dispensed by a number of characters all of them with agendas, most of them hidden.

It’s admirable to see the way that Nolan makes vivid attempts to eschew the traditional tropes of the genre (not the comic book genre, specifically, but that of any heroic “tragedy”). Still, remember that thing about reaches exceeding grasps? The inherent problem which comes with films built upon concepts (which The Dark Knight Rises definitively is – each character operates on some level as a metaphorical “point”) is the problem which oftentimes comes with coalescing different, unequal parts of what should be a whole into something organic. There is a joy to be found in some films which operate on a deliberately messy palette but The Dark Knight Rises is as guilty of being messy as it is of being scattered which becomes twice the trouble.

With the mass of issues at work in Gotham and all the stories Nolan wants to tell, a messy film would seem likely. And, messy is not an inherent negative, since the spontaneity of a messy film canvas often makes for especially layered cinema, but with the already messy narrative it’s the fuzzy thematic element and plot building which befuddle me. It’s a curious thing when a film with so much going in still feels plodding and it puts added pressure on the ultimate deus ex machine to be not just good but excellent and the big reveal of the film (regarding the “true” villain) seems to subvert its own themes. When Bane as an antagonist is hostile without a truly visceral reason for his inclinations it calls the thrust of the arc into question for if the reasons for destruction rest on such a wisp of an inclination then it seems a case of building a giant house on sand. And with the already murky social metaphors at work the narratives ends up seeming as if it’s chasing itself.

Go below the jump for the performance which I find most culpable, my thoughts on the oddly fantasy-like closing and my mini-quandary on finding the right grade....

Call me curmudgeon, but I constantly wish Nolan would employ another writer for his films especially in something which hopes to accomplish as much as this. The narrative necessitates a smaller canvas to work with, or a defter hand at parsing through the essentials from the non-essentials. For, visually, it’s much less of an issue. The film looks good, and even as I’ll – yet again – play killjoy (for, sometimes – oftentimes – the film seems more in love with its cinematic acrobatics as far as looking good more than for making sense) it is sleekly presented. The actors are left to their own devices and although only Hathaway (and to a lesser extent Levitt) seem intent on specifically attacking the material with gusto, or at least giving it more than you’d expect, all of the performers are on the right side of competent. All, but for, Marion Cotillard turning in a terribly weird performance that’s baffling within the context of the film as well as within the context of her career. Using the last five years as a case study no performer in the film has had as good a string of good performances as she. And, yet, every step of the way her performance here seems ill-judged and poorly executed and then a significant development at the end forces into a terribly awkward monologue which makes for an unwieldy case of when awkward writing and awkward emoting makes for awkward scenes.

Ultimately, The Dark Knight Rises works best in context as a dark fantasy which I’m surprised to say made me feel slightly disappointed in the whole. I’m not averse to fantasy, but considering how much time Nolan takes to immerse us in the very real and volatile social and personal issues at hand the closing segments come off feeling curiously like something from a dreamscape. If I were one for conspiracy theories I’d have fun writing a dissertation on how everything after a particular vehicle blows up is a dream – but I don’t have that much time on my hands. And, it returns me to a worry I had going in. My inability to hail Nolan as a critical wunderkind has almost always left me feeling like a badly behaved child standing on the cusp while everyone enjoys the party. It’s that appreciation of Nolan which has allowed for so many cinephiles to find a personal plane to connect to the film on (curiously, what I’ve indicted Nolan for most is his inability to craft true elements of feeling, save for The Prestige, and maybe Memento) and in that perspective the ending makes sense. The film provides us with a decisive close to a beloved series. Alas, it is not quite for me as a whole*

All’s Fair / C+

Yes, I’ve got more to say: hey, we can all agree that grading is tough, right? And considering how lukewarm this review is, I expected to give it one grade lower considering all fair is a grade which goes to films I like. But, I do like this in bits and pieces. For one, when at its least murky, it legitimately grasped my attention with its thrill rides. So, even though its whole is not quite for me * it proves me with significant bits of enjoyment and perhaps – think of the grade as something of a promise. Of course, my manifesto says grade the outcome not the intent but I feel the effort of the production deserves cheers just for that reason. Sometimes a valiant effort is worthy of praise, regardless.

Addendum: Saw it again with a friend under semi-duress and had to admit I liked it less. The good parts get better but the bad (for me) get's worse. A B- in come places with a C- in some which makes for an overall new rating....

What Can You Lose / C (hardly something to lambaste, but not coherent enough as a whole for me to truly appreciation)


ruth said...

Great post Andrew, very eloquently-written to boot. Yeah, I ended up giving it a B myself, which is perhaps more of a C+ on the story but I was being generous because darn, it was still pretty entertaining and the superhero-geek that I am naturally loves movies like this. Yet I could not for the life of me, defend it with all my might like a lot of people did. I just... couldn't. A lot of your issues you pointed out here, which I don't think you're being a curmudgeon at all btw, are those I shared as well. I think it's a bold statement to say that he should hire another writer but hey, you know what, I think you've got a point there, perhaps even he could not do 'em all.

Marion disappointed me like she once did in Public Enemies. She just did not seem to be all 'there' for a lack of a better word, and that last scene in the truck I thought was badly-written and badly-acted, I mean everyone was sort of gathering around to see her dying, it felt so silly now that I think about it.

I think one of my biggest beef was that Nolan seems to want to have his cake and eat it too in regards to having a fantasy flick but grounded in reality. Which is why the part of Bruce suddenly appearing in Gotham from that God-knows-where prison with practically nothing but the clothes on his body whilst Gotham was guarded by Bane's army on all side is just too much to just take in. Most fans just chug it out as him being 'effin' Batman' even though he WAS NOT Batman nor did he have any of the privileges of being his alter ego.

That said, I do agree that "valiant effort is worthy of praise" and I do think he had a vision, and he's one of the best filmmakers working today. I just expected more.

Sorry for the long comment, just felt like talking about it for some reason :)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ruth YAY for long comments. i sometimes leave them elsewhere and worry about being too talk-y but i love getting them, especially when they're this thought-out. incidentally, i found marion to be my favourite thing in public enemies. but that final scene of hers just comes off so awkward.

it's difficult to merge fantasy and reality, and the rough edges show in this one a bit too much. but, as i said, at its best moments i'm invested in the action.

(i'm chuckling at your "hat God-knows-where prison with practically nothing but the clothes on his body" quibble.)

Runs Like A Gay said...

Good to see someone with similar feelings to my own, although I'm a much bigger fan of Nolan's previous work than you.

Great review, Andrew.

Dan said...

I possibly let this wash over me in my eagerness to enjoy the spectacle (I was watching on an Imax screen so please forgive me). That said, if I did have one role/performance I wasn't too keen on, it was Cotillard. Some of the dialogue was too clunky for the standards Nolan has set himself and that finale with Cotillard was painful to watch as she was clearly struggling to deliver the words with any authenticity. That said, her performance was balanced by a surprisingly good Anne Hathaway. Overall, I loved every minute of the film. Any plot deficiencies rarely detracted from my enjoyment and I thought Bane was a perfectly good bad guy (although not has memorable as Heath Ledger's Joker).

Good piece though Andrew. Glad your short review turned into something more substantial.