Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nolan Again Impresses...

...with his ability to obfuscate.

I do realize that I'm going to be in the vast minority with my stance on The Dark Knight Rises, but I'm used to that, so I'm just going to go with it.

I have one thing to say for Christopher Nolan: he's a magician when it comes to making movies. I mean that in a very literal sense. He uses flashy action to distract us from the holes he leaves behind in the story. We can't see them, because we're too busy looking in the other direction.

Or maybe it's just that Marvel has set the bar so high with their string of excellent adaptions that I'm just no longer satisfied with interpretations. Maybe if it was more explicit that these are interpretations, I'd be happier. DC/Warner Brothers could just slap their Elseworlds label on  these things, and I might be more accepting of them. As it is, though, there are so many things that aren't Batman in these movies that I have a hard time dealing with it. Like in Burton's Batman when Alfred brings Vicki Vale down into the Batcave. What?

Unfortunately, Nolan has plenty of those moments himself. Like in Batman Begins when Wayne allows Lucius Fox to know that he's Batman. Whereas that was almost acceptable in that movie, those inconsistencies with the source material have continued to snowball to the point that by the time we get to Rises, I can't accept them. I mean, by the end of The Dark Knight Rises half of everyone knows that Wayne is Batman. And we're just supposed to believe that some random cop walks up to Wayne and just knows? Seriously. I get that Nolan needs that for his story, but, give me a break, he knew because he saw it in Wayne's face? At least Tim Drake did the research to figure out that Wayne is Batman. And I don't want to give spoilers, but having his actual name be Robin? It just makes me cringe.

However, the big issue for me, the thing that set the big disconnect for me, is that we're supposed to believe that this is 8 years later. That Bruce Wayne just quit being Batman and went into seclusion. I get that Nolan is trying to give us a sense of Miller's Dark Knight comics in which Batman had quit and was in seclusion, but that was because he got old. He even gives us a cane like Wayne uses in Batman Beyond, but, again, in those he got old; Nolan wants us to believe that Wayne just quit. I can't buy it. I absolutely can not buy it.

This is where I understand the difference between me, someone that grew up reading Batman comics and was heavily invested in Batman lore for...well, longer than I should have been, and the vast majority of people out there that don't have that same investment. These details aren't important to them. I get that. I also get that I am not really the target audience for the movie. I was the target audience for Batman Begins, because that one was more focused on the fans of the comic, but these last two, after hooking everyone in, have been focused on the general consumer.

Even so, the idea with Nolan's Batman is that he is set in the "real world," and, as such, I still can not accept this 8 year hiatus. He wants us to buy into too many unrealistic ideas:
1. After 8 years of no Batman, people are still talking about him. Give me a break. Culturally, we barely hold onto anything for 8 days, and Nolan expects us to believe that people are still saying, after 8 years, "is he coming back?" Not to mention the fact that he has kids, like 10-year-old kids, talking about Batman as if he's a reality to them. Or was a reality to them. Yes, all of this bothers me, because none of it's how the real world works.
If he'd made it a year after the events of Dark Knight, maybe even two, it would have been plausible.
2. There's a Harvey Dent Day and people care about it. See point 1. No one would care after 8 years. Well, they wouldn't care beyond the fact that it was a day off from work. And it's not clear that they, the common people, do get a day off from work.
3. After 8 years, Wayne just puts the suit back on, and it's like he never quit. There are so many problems with this:

  • There is an implication, a strong implication, that Wayne has been doing nothing to "stay in shape" during his seclusion (except, maybe, shooting some arrows). He's just been sulking about. Bodies deteriorate pretty quickly. After just a few months, he would have lost his edge and begun losing muscle mass. After a year, it would have taken considerable training to be able to get back into shape. After 8 years? 
  • Aside from the staying in shape aspect of it, Wayne has definitely not been sparring or doing any kind of combat training in those 8 years. As an example of what not sparring can do, you can look at the Foreman/Ali championship fight. Foreman was unable to spar for the entire month leading up to the bout due to an eye injury, and just that one month of not training threw his fighting off so much that he couldn't compete. (Ali won and refused to ever allow Foreman a re-match.)
  • On top of all the not staying in shape and not sparring, Wayne has suffered some sort of debilitating injury that has caused him to need a cane to walk. His body is in bad shape. No, it's in horrible shape. So... 8 years of lounging in seclusion and he can't even walk under his own power, but we're supposed to believe that a high tech knee brace returns him to fighting form? Are you kidding me?
While it is true that Alfred voiced concern over these issues, it was given in the sense that it would be a "bad idea" to get back into costume. In truth, it would have been an impossibility. Not to put the costume back on but certainly impossible to be Batman again just like that.

If Nolan wants us to believe that this is a Batman that could be in the real world, he needs to keep him in the real world. And don't get me started on the "fusion bomb," because all of that was just bad science. I'll buy into Wayne creating a fusion reactor, but not turning it into a "time bomb" in the way it was done in the movie. They're equating it to a meltdown in a nuclear reactor, and those things just don't happen on a schedule. Not to mention the last minute save after 5 months. It just doesn't get more cliche than that.

Nolan also uses sleight-of-hand to hide facts from us. I don't have an issue with this in a general sense, but it takes away from the enjoyment of watching it again. He did this very successfully in The Prestige, because, in that one, he gave us the clues to figure out what was going on so that when the reveal happened it was your own fault for not figuring it out. I like that kind of cleverness, and doing it that way does make for good repeat viewing, because you can go back and see where the clues were that you missed (like in The Sixth Sense). I dislike, though, when not only is the information hidden but the fact that there is information hidden is hidden. Of course, then, when you do see that coming because you have more lore than the average viewer, there's no surprise, so that twist didn't throw me at all, and that made the viewing experience... less than it could have been.

Having said all of that, don't take it that I'm saying that it's a bad movie. It's not. It's a good movie, and I'm glad I saw it in the theater. The acting is good (Oldman is still great as Gordon, Hathaway was good, Gordon-Levitt is quite good), and the action and fight sequences are spectacular. But the movie, if you look beyond those things, is not great.

Here's the way I look at it:
After I saw The Avengers, I wanted, immediately, to see it again. After seeing it the second time (opening weekend), I wanted to go back and see it again. I still want to see it again. I have no desire to see Rises again.
I had the same experience with The Dark Knight when it came out alongside Iron Man. I saw Iron Man three times in the first week and still would have gone back to see it. I could barely sit through my second viewing of The Dark Knight because I got bored even though I'd been on the edge of my seat during my first viewing. After 4 years, I barely want to re-watch Dark Knight and that desire is only related to the release of Rises (in fact, I have not seen Dark Knight again since I saw it last in the theater even though I own the movie). I've seen Iron Man numerous times in the intervening years and talking about it makes me want to go put that one in right now. That, to me, is what makes a movie great, the desire to watch it over and over again. I just don't get that from Nolan.

I've said that I'm not in favor of re-boots, and I'm not, but I would certainly be in favor of a Batman re-boot. As long it's more in line with the comics. I really don't want someone coming along and trying to continue on from the point where Nolan left things. Of course, that's part of why Nolan left things the way he did (by his own admission).

I'd say that maybe I'm just getting crotchety in my old age, but that's just not it. In truth, I've always been like this. Even in high school, my friends would be upset because I'd point out inconsistencies in movies. I'd enjoy them just fine anyway, but, then, I'd pop their bubbles of the movies by pointing out the flaws, and they would lose enjoyment of them. So... I like Rises. It was a good movie, certainly big enough to be worth seeing in the theater. It just wasn't great, and it wasn't great because it lacked in the story department. Anyway, I'm not trying to make anyone else not like the movie, but I would like to peel back the whitewash of "greatness" that has been slapped onto it so that people can see past the action smokescreen.

[And, remember! I have a contest going on! Check out yesterday's post for details.]


  1. All of your points are well taken, my friend. As someone who has been involved in film and has published novel, I feel your pain.

    There are movies that make me cringe (as well as TV shows) to the point I walk out, sleep if I am with my fiance, or just turn the channel.

    Twilight and The Hunger Games are two recent flicks that were poorly made and inconceivably lacking.

    I went and saw "The Dark Knight Rises" and going in not to become too invested in plot holes and unbelievable scenes and scenarios.

    From that aspect, I enjoyed it. However, I know what to look for in a film, even production, lighting and camera errors, so it is difficult at best for me not to whisper "bullshit" under my breath.

    In the end, I chalk it up to creative license and the Hollyweird money making machine.

    By the way, if you're up to it, I am hosting a Dog Days of Summer blog fest August 10-12 if you'd be interested.


  2. There are so many incarnations of Batman and the Dark Knight though. I did grow up reading the comics and have read some of the graphic novels and I didn't have a problem with those aspects in the movie. (And only a handful knew it was Wayne.) I enjoyed it. Little darker than I wanted, but it was a great way to wrap up the series. Bummed it won't continue with Robin.

  3. I tend not to get that hung up on bad science in movies. Even in gangster movies and such, I see such mind numbingly absurd displays of reality that it can be unwatchable - if I were to allow that sort of thing get to me.

    I read a review somewhere where someone was upset that in the beginning sequence, the CIA agent left Bane unmasked while he interrogated his partners. He went on about how unrealistic that sort of thing is. Me, I never know what will get in my craw and ruin my suspension of disbelief, and it seems like its something different from movie to movie, but in the end, I try not to think too hard while I'm watching much of anything.

    Funny though, I told someone the other day when talking about the Batman movies that I think they might be better films than most superhero movies, but that doesn't mean I would prefer to sit and watch the Nolan Batmans over the marvel movies. They tend to be more fun to watch.

  4. Your points make sense though I can't say yea or nay about them since I haven't yet seen the movie and probably won't for some time. I agree with Nolan's aptitude for obfuscation.

    I need to go back and watch the other Dark Knight films to get a clearer picture of the murk to better see this I think.

    Recently I did go back to Inception and felt a sense of disappointment that it wasn't as good as the hype. I felt a certain emptiness in that what I had hoped for wasn't delivered to me and I had been duped by spectacle of the thing in the first go around. Maybe I'll feel the same way about this newest Nolan film.

    Good analysis.

    Wrote By Rote

  5. I have to admit that I disagree with you on this one. I think there's a vast difference between an adaptation and an interpretation. I agree - if you're adapting something (like a comic book) into a film, you need to stay as close to the material as you can while maintaining artistic integrity. However, with the vast many Batman adaptations we've already seen, I think Nolan's interpretations (emphasis on interpretation) is a valid one. As another person who read the comics and is invested in the lore, it's my belief that he gets to the heart of the character without following the material exactly.

    And while yes, you make some valid points about the plot beginning eight years later - and the inconsistencies that might create - I think there's something to be said for suspension of disbelief. Obviously this varies from person to person, but I personally find it no more difficult to believe that people would still have Batman and Harvey Dent on their mind eight years later than a boy being bitten by a radioactive spider would be gifted with some of it's attributes.

    Again, it all comes down to personal taste, and I will be the first to admit that I'm prone to enjoying just about anything with a superhero, thus making me inclined to suspend my disbelief a bit further than others. But I definitely do not agree that Rises lacked in the story department. It differs from some of the lore, it changes elements and adds characters, etc. But I don't think it ever lacks for story.

  6. I liked it and have been reading the Batman and Detective Comics for decades. I guess I just don't see the problems you are pointing out.

  7. Jeremy: I'll take a look at the blogfest.

    Alex: I'm sure Batman will continue in some form or another.

    Rusty: I don't care about the bad science except in hyper-real worlds (like Nolan's Batverse) and when it's hokey (like in Nolan's Batverse).

    Batman Begins would probably make my top 10, but the other two would not.

    Lee: Inception was so disappointing. I was excited that it got the Oscar nom, but, after I saw it not only was I glad it didn't win, but I didn't think it even deserved the nomination. The whole thing was completely predictable.

    S.L.: I knew you'd disagree. :P But, then, I saw your review.

    My big issue with the 8 years thing is that Nolan purposefully set out to set his Batman solidly in the "real world." As such, he needs to follow the rules of the real world. One of the things that bothers me most in writing is when the writer establishes rules and then ignores them. Don't make those rules if you're just going to toss them out the window.

  8. Michael: Well, see my comment to S.L. I am surprised, though, that you don't have an issue with Wayne just quitting. That's the most unlike Batman thing I've ever heard of.

  9. Enjoyed reading your post even though I am not a big Batman fan. :/ Please wait until I click the exit to throw tomatoes at me. j/k :) The hubby will wait until it comes out on video to watch it! :)

  10. GG: Oh, we don't use tomatoes here.
    We use rocks. :P
    I think it's actually better if you're not a Batman fan to enjoy these movies. If you haven't seen Batman Begins, you should check it out.

  11. i agree with the entire review wholehearted with the exception of "begins." i hated it because i thought it mainly focused on the fighting of batman when batman is SO MUCH MORE. there was no detective work, there was no physical conditioning to the point of peak physical condition, there wasn't any real believable hint of bruce being highly intelligent or charming when he wears his "bruce" mask. but i still liked it enough to watch it once. i actually LOVED DK. but this one, i agree with every point. some friends are saying OMG THE NOD TO "ROBIN" IS SO AWESOME -- i smacked my head and said aloud,"really nolan?" i did love the film but so much wasn't REAL coming from a batman film based in REALITY.

    i also thought they needed to work on the "time table" within in the film. how does he get from south america to gotham in 6 hrs? with frozen assets? and with gotham under siege? i know i won't lose any friends over this film, but sometimes i think they and i are watching different movies.

    thanks for letting me know i wasn't the only one having thoughts like these.

  12. Anon: Actually, I have a huge issue with removing his smarts, as it were, but I figured that that was too big a topic to cover, so I just let it slide. In truth, Wayne wouldn't need Fox, and it bothers me that Nolan felt compelled to provide a "smart" person to do things Wayne couldn't.

    I also didn't want to touch the issue of how he got back to Gotham.

    I, too, am glad to have someone say these kinds of things because the attitude has been that I'm the bad guy for pointing out the flaws. heh