Thursday, July 26, 2012
Culture Shock 07.26.12: Christopher Nolan's Batman ends
The credits have rolled on the final act of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, and at least one thing seems clear: Nolan doesn't really get Batman.
But neither is a particularly good Batman film.
That brings us to the grand finale, "The Dark Knight Rises," which is uneven, with slightly more faults than virtues, and a mess as a Batman movie, despite cribbing most of its plot straight from three Batman comic books: "Knightfall," "No Man's Land" and "The Dark Knight Returns." Two of those, "Knightfall" and "No Man's Land," weren't especially good to begin with, and none of them really goes with the others.
Throw in superfluous references to Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" — to "elevate the material," as they say, above a "mere" superhero story — and you have an overly ambitious closing chapter that takes forever to get going and, when it does, glosses over characters and events that could use more development. But the problems here are more fundamental than poor pacing and plot holes.
The problems start with Batman. Nolan sees him as a reluctant hero, looking to escape having to be Batman. We see signs of that in "The Dark Knight," with Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) looking to Harvey Dent to take over the war on Gotham's underworld. That fails, but Batman takes the blame for Dent's crimes in order to preserve his legacy.
"The Dark Knight Rises" opens eight years later. Organized crime in Gotham has been defeated by a tough-on-crime law called the Dent Act — talk about having to suspend your disbelief when it comes to superhero movies! — and Batman is in seclusion. But not only is Batman retired, so is Wayne. He has even lost track of the charities his foundation supports. And why? Mostly because he has spent eight years mourning the death of Maggie Gyllenhaal. (Or was it Katie Holmes?) It's as if Superman left Earth unprotected for five years and then finally returned only to become a deadbeat dad. Wait, I've seen that movie. It was terrible.
Nolan's Batman doesn't have the obsessive drive it would actually take to become Batman. You don't become Batman unless you're sure that's who you are in the first place. It isn't like getting bitten by a radioactive spider. So, by attempting to humanize Batman and make him more "realistic," Nolan has come up with an emotionally conflicted Batman who is less believable. That is not "elevating the material."
Nolan makes things worse by using Bane, one of Batman's least-inspired adversaries, as the main heavy. Poor Tom Hardy, try as he might, can't make Bane seem to be anything more than an absurdly pretentious masked wrestler. But at least Bane's most over-the-top line, "Your punishment must be more severe," will probably become an Internet meme.
Also wasted is Michael Caine as Bruce's loyal butler, Alfred. He gives the movie's best performance, but he gets far too little screen time.
The one saving grace of "The Dark Knight Rises" is Anne Hathaway, who dominates her every scene. She seems like the only actor having fun, and her Selina Kyle is the only character who has a believable, consistent agenda. It's no wonder there is talk about giving Selina — who is never actually called Catwoman — her own movie.
Unlike the French Revolution it re-enacts in the streets of Gotham, "The Dark Knight Rises" is neither the best nor worst of times. It's just a middling conclusion to a trilogy and a character that needed and deserved better.