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The Dark Knight Sinks

August 13, 2012


Finally saw the Dark Knight Rises and though it had some good highlights, overall it was disappointing on several levels.  I’m not a fan of brutality or dark-dark movies (and you’re wondering why I went to see it then, right?  Me too) and I haven’t seen a five act movie in a long time.  It changes the rules of storytelling and casts us back to Greek tragedies (or in this case a Greek comedy; the Greek designation deals with how a story ends, not the laughs or screams in the middle).  From a filmmaker’s perspective, it allows what is clearly a severely cut-down movie to work despite the gaping holes.  And DKS does “work” on a surface level if you don’t mind brutality and pitch-black storytelling.

On too many other levels, though, it doesn’t work.  Batman retired after the second movie for eight years, a broken down recluse?  Ridiculous.  Maybe if he’d been part of the Dent-inspired take down of organized crime first…  (and since when do District Attorneys pass laws?  And even if the legislature passed a Dent Act, if it was putting away bad guys, why would Blake care that it was greased on Dent’s false image, or Gordon feel a need to set things straight, or “the people of Gotham” cheering the mobster’s release?  The Occupy Wall Street parody was hard to take.)

Nor did I care for Catwoman.  Almost there, and far better than Pfiefer’s, she still wasn’t playful enough.  In the comics, the editorial team realized that Batman was becoming too dark and used Catwoman as a way to bring catty humor into it; she was a woman who vastly enjoyed stealing from the rich (score here) and twisting men around her finger (attempted but failed, maybe if she had more screen time).

The whole terrorist thing, shutting off Gotham, and Batman recovering from a broken back, bad knees and elbows and fractured spirit in the underfed bowels of a pit prison (and why didn’t he use  the rope to climb the wall?) was silly.

Batman is supposed to be a physical marvel, but it’s his brain that has always been formidable.  Bain’s front end attack lacked subtly (give me the emotional and mental challenge of Hugo Strange, breaking down Bruce and Batman without him ever realizing he was being broken, propelled on emotional highs and lows from Catwoman, the revelation of Rachel’s “betrayal” and Talia’s amoral devotion and THEN maybe I’d believe he’d cast out Alfred).  Bruce has always been crippled by the death of his parents, but this eight-year mourning of Rachel who he never really had a relationship with was out of character.

Christian Bale said this was his last Batman; fair enough, he looked geriatric in this one, so understood and appreciated.

Things I did like: The cop triangle of Gordon, Blake and O’Hara (okay, I know it wasn’t O’Hara, but that’s how I thought of him… Oh, how Matthew Modine has fallen).  And combining the first three Robin origins into one was a great idea—does this mean a Nightwing spin-off movie? Some of Catwoman was fun—I wanted more.  I didn’t “like” Bain, but the actor did a fine job bringing a despicable character to life.  The Greek storytelling technique—if I allow myself to view it from that angle it was much easier to overlook Bruce getting from South America to Gotham, finding Catwoman when he does; the police officers being fed and staying strong in a cut-off sewer tunnel and able to fight when they get out; so few bad guys being able to control the city, Bruce’s miraculous healing of back and cartilage-less joints.  The Greeks understood you just had to identify set pieces without justifying them (like the cops), allow for divine coincidence and set up dues ex machina (Batman doesn’t bring gadgets to his final fight with Bain despite being pummeled by him before; nice to let Gotham hang on his pride—a classic set up for tragedy, but Curses! Foiled again!).

I applaud Nolan’s instinct to only use human characters (no super powers), to reinvent the villains and give it some solid psychological underpinnings.  I’m sure he wanted to avoid any stink left from the abysmal prior movies.   I just think he relied too much on making it dark and not enough on the twisted psychological aspects that are Batman’s hallmark.

Batman will be rebooted, no doubt.  It will have to find the middle ground of the two incarnations (pre-Nolan and Nolan).  The question becomes, can we look at another reinvention of Catwoman?  Maybe.  Joker?  No way.  Not after Heath’s performance.

My suggestions?  More of the college-age Bruce and mental preparation to be Batman.  Relax the moratorium on powered individuals but stay away from the gimmick villains and sidekicks.  That leaves Hugo Strange, Killer Croc, Black Mask, Man-Bat, a new Catwoman (you have to), maybe a better Scarecrow for villains… across three movies again.  I could see the first movie being a Batman who fails as often as succeeds with Strange pulling the strings across all three movies to make Bruce a better Batman worthy of the challenge of Hugo Strange before their big showdown

Ah well, I can dream.


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