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Posted on 8/15/12 11:15 AM
The best comparison I could make between this film and another film or TV show is with the recap sequence at the start of an episode of Fox's "24" starring Keifer Sutherland (which in itself was basically just a blueprint for the style of the full episodes themselves). In other words, quite apart from various other problems such as over-reliance on prior knowledge of the characters, the pacing of the film is terrible and reduces any good elements in the story to fleeting thoughts in the relentless torrent of plotlines and showgrabbing headlines or soundbites. In this sense, it fails where perhaps Inception did not, in trying to pay some attention to the psychology of the main characters' motivations within dream like pauses of reflexion, 'breathers' you could say, such as Inception's long conversation between DiCaprio and Page within an imagined architecture. So immediately the question popped into my mind, who is this film for? For cinema lovers or fanatics of the Dark Knight graphic novels? Nolan claims it's for everyone, but I don't see it. He also claims he is treating the audience with more respect for their intelligence than many other directors of pop-corn films, but I find his cinematic voice in the Dark Knight films to be patronising and dishonest.
A viewer could excuse the rushing of a plot in a TV show given the constrictions that are forced onto TV producers, but Nolan has far more freedom than them, or indeed many film-makers, yet chooses a form of storytelling which completely jarrs with the advantages that cinema offers. I have heard Nolan giving an explanation of his thinking on this when he was interviewed recently by the BBC: His explanation is that, the true impression that an audience member gets of any film, only forms at the end of the film, or even some time after that. Very few film-goers analyse a film while watching it as this would probably take away much of the enjoyment, so events and dialogue fly by, we pick up on some of the meaning which enriches our exprience of the characters, then only towards the end do we start to piece together any abstract meaning of the whole thing. So Nolan's style in the Dark Knight films appears to be geared towards packing as much of a hit into that moment of realisation at the end as possible, cramming the audience's mind with as much heroic myth as possible so that by the end we are forced to bow in worship of the great saviour, a messiah disguised as a giant black rubber dildo. You could almost say that Nolan is not so much applying the techniques of cinema but the techniques of mass religion. Perhaps that's why so many of the most enthusiastic Dark Knight fans are fucking bonkers.
So I would go as far as to suggest that this is in fact not a film. I think Nolan has created a new medium which is somewhere between a TV show and a film but which has no real purpose other than to make lots and lots of money and make gullible people want to see more sequels. Nolan of course has no intention of producing those sequels judging by the interviews he has given recently, washing his hands of the endless stream of money-spinners which comic-book land is churning out and the creative dead-end which that is leading to. Perhaps this film may lead to something interesting in the future such as the screening of TV type episodes at cinemas, giving cinemas an extra string to their bow, like a partial return to the days of multiple show billings, but unfortunately this new concept of film making is rendered completely banal and void of any meaningful emotion in The Dark Knight Rises. I've never watched any of the Harry Potter films but people who do watch them tell me that some of the films work well as single films, such as the Alfonso Cuarón episode (Prisoner of Azkaban), whereas others are just functional films to get you to the next stage in the story. I tend to see all three Dark Knight films as dictated by specific, defined functions and this fits with Nolan's general approach. How often do you see nature in a Nolan film? A piece of grass, a tree, a river? His environments are man-made and his stories are industrially manufactured. Falling into a river in Inception represented the death of the dream. I suppose a film's functionality cannot be criticised in itself, but what is Nolan's purpose? Is it really to make the audience think, as he claims? It seems to me, he is using film as his psychiatry chair and trying to both question himself and justify himself and his attitudes e.g. the economic conflict between charitable philanthropy and sustainable self-help. Comparisons could be made between some of the details and side-comments made in conversations with Bruce Wayne and elements of Nolan's own background and family.
So it is virtually impossible to review T.D.K.R. as a single piece of work, from the visuals to the style of dialogue and choice of actors. This is a masterclass in sequel making - there is complete consistancy between the three films, not identical but certainly part of a singular aesthetic framework. Wally Pfister, Nolan's close friend and cinematographer, has developed a visual language with these three films and Inception which will undoubtedly become a big influence on science-fiction films of the future - just ashame he used an overblown comic-book story to develope it rather than real sci-fi. Indeed, it is heavily influenced by epic urban science fiction films of the 80's and 90's such as Paul Verhoeven's 'RoboCop', Ridley-Scott's 'Blade Runner' and Katheryn Bigalow/James Cameron's 'Strange Days'. There are few better examples of how to use digital special effects in action sequences - Pfister has achieved the necessary weight and entropy to make most of the effects very convincing. Ironically, the third installment starts using rooftop and industrial landscape sequences which are like modernised versions of scenes from the first Tim Burton Batman film, which Dark Knight fans tend to hate inspite of the debt which the new films owe to it. The most difficult effect seems to have been the incident in the football stadium and breaks with the visual style of the rest of the film by showing panoramic birds-eye views and some longer continuous shots, as opposed to the usual disorienting multiple viewing angles, panning along the limits of a space e.g. a street of skyscrapers, reflecting surfaces, strong shadow contrasts, sense of being dragged around by the action like a magnetic force, sense of movement through flying debris and an emphasis on breaking through mechanical or metallic urban sound/light environments. As a result, this scene didn't work quite as well as I hoped which was significant because it was one of the central metaphors for the politics of the film - the passive spectators watching an orderly derby game with teams representing different communities in the city, indulgence of feelings of national pride and community which do not necessarily reflect social reality (the flags, singing in time and children), then of course a powerful agent of chaos ripping the ground away beneath them and exposing the hollow nature of the rituals, leading to an inertia and paralysing doubt.
This scene raises a major problem in the story which Nolan's supposedly great mind struggles to explain away. If you set the story in a modern USA, even a fictional one, then why is the Whitehouse's entire response to a 4 month terrorist seige in major American city reduced to three guys from the secret service contacting the police commissioner and his star detective Robin, the boy wonder, in their office block hide-out? You can tell that this is an issue the writers don't want to get into by the fact that the three stooges are shot dead within twenty seconds by a gang of terrorists which apparently just happen to discover the resistance headquarters at that very moment, even though the 'police-rebels' have been tracking a neutron bomb on a lorry for several months (and the terrorrists didn't think to follow them back). The idea of the isolated island city, helpless and weak in the face of a surprise attack, taken over by terrorists lead by a mad cleric of a secret order, is fairly obviously a reference to arab terrorists in Iraq and other warzones. Yet there is absolutely no attempt to explain how that city fits into a bigger pattern or system and how it has become isolated (as some have in Iraq and Afghanistan), other than the blowing up of a few suspension bridges. The idea of being cut-off in a technologically connected society is actually really interesting, but the film completely fails to explain how that could happen, rendering all of Bane's supposedly dark philosophy of totalitarian anarchism, meaningless rhetoric, further devalued when the ending appears to imply 'it was all for a woman'! (...like Hitler started a war to distract him from the fact he wanted to screw his neice: Is the Dark Knight Rises a comedy?). For a destructive agent of chaos, Bane seems very much like Gotham Stock Market's own Nick Leeson, as if Nolan is saying that lone rogue elements in the current economy are destroying society and not the corrupt values of the system itself, an argument that;s as well thought through as one of George W Bush's. The comics are clearly influenced by Plato's Republic and other ideas coming out of ancient greek city states - Batman plays into that theme because he's similar to a greek myth. Gotham is a city state in this film. Modern American cities are not, although they may contain some of the characteristics, especially if there was some sort of national crisis that prevented the federal governement from intervening with a heavy hand, as they did in the real world e.g. in New Orleans, to much criticism. If this America is nothing like the America we know and more like The Republic in Star Wars, then do the film makers not have some responsibility to explain or point towards that, rather than draping the film in the stars and stripes? Nolan has no concern for America though, or New York, the places which sporned this story - he avoids casting American actors as much as possible to play Americans. America is used as a set of visual ingredients in a completely superficial way - Nolan's Gotham is nowhere, nationless, like the city in The Matrix, another indication that the film is his imaginative play thing, perhaps the audience along with it.
Everyone's idea and character has to have their little slot of air-time in this film, like several episodes of a complicated TV cop show like 'Southland', spliced into one episode. Due to Nolan's attention to detail, this has the effect of making it seem like a high-tech reinterpretation of a Jane Austin costume drama, trying to cram every important piece of dialogue from a book into a strictly limited piece of time, reducing the dialogue to a series of soundbite battles. It also kills most of the acting performances, particularly Michael Caine, a great actor who has been all too willing to play silly or sentimental roles in the latter half of his career, falling way short of great films he has been at the heart of recenlty such as 'The Statement'. Christian Bale, at one point a real favourite of mine with minimalist type films like 'The Machinist', appears to be heavily medicated these days. With his lone tour around Colorado's hospitals he appears to believe he actually is batman and this po-faced attitude of emphasising how seriously he takes the heavy responsibility of becoming the rubber messiah-phallus is one of the prominent features of the Dark Knight films. The seriousness with which most of the actors take the film makes certain elements all the more laughable. I keep hearing Woody Harrleson's character from DEFENDOR (2009), "I'M NOT KIDDIN AROUND!".
The only actor who appears to have a sense of humour is Tom Hardy, playing Bane. Well I'm assuming that the voice was meant to be a hammed up joke - I would have struggled to keep a straight face on set. Perhaps the performance is a response to the fact that Heath Ledger's joker seemed to be void of humour. Tom Hardy appears to have been directed to resurrect his character from the Nicolas Winding Refn film 'Bronson, a man who really did have no face, on account of the fact that his whole persona was an act designed to wind-up the morally infuriated. His facial expressions are replaced by muscular body poses and posturing. It seems to be much more difficult to portray that type of nuance with part of Darth Vader's apparatus strapped to your face, but then if you intend to be religiously faithful to the books then you can't really remove the laboured metaphor of Bane's 'secret pain'. I was half expecting him to pull a scrap of Marion Cotillard's panties out from the mask because he seemed to be deeply sniffing in there every time another piece of his plan came to pass. Perhaps they should have had a robotic jock-strap releasing effluent every time he got too excited. The only thing that might have improved the character would have been chosing an actor with more emotive eyes, like Henry Rollins, if the eyes are going to do all the acting. The voice sounded dubbed, perhaps deliberately. It could have been Stephen Fry or anyone. With Bane's tight straps and Wayne's reiforced leg brace calipers, I kept on thinking of the disabled blonde lady from David Cronenberg's Sci-Fitish classic 'Crash'. Tim Burton's efforts certainly seemed to have picked up on a bondage/fetish fascination that may come from the books and this has continued on into the Dark Knight films. Batman never appears to be a convincing heterosexual either - it often seemed more likely he was going to get it on with Bane than Anne Hathaway's unconvincing Catwoman - I think Michelle Pfeifer retains here crown easily, although I suppose Hathaway was at least trying to play the real Catwoman as opposed to just playing herself hammed up, like Halle Berry. In my opinion, Catwoman plays too small a role in T.D.K.R. given the conflict within her is the central conflict of the audience - i.e. we like rebellion and questioning of authority, we feel that those in control of society do not deserve their wealth or position, yet do we have a better idea of how to run society or do we believe we are free from the same characteristics which lead to corruption? No doubt, defendors of the film will make the excuse that she is bound to feature in the next series of sequels, perhaps based on a conflict between her and the vigilante cop 'Robin'. A crucial element of catwoman is of course her sex appeal, which should be pretty overpowering. This is not just to satisfy the audience, but it is her tool of deception just as fear is Batman's tool of deception. Anne Hathaway does not have the charisma or mystery to portray that type of dangerous fly-trap. Her scenes of violence are also completely unconvincing and poorly choreographed. Someone like Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, Charlize Theron or Mila Kunis would have had the big-name and the style of acting that would have delivered, but then Anne Hathaway probably reminds Christopher Nolan of his mother, after all, it is his psychiatry couch. The other characters in the film are barely worth commenting on due to the pacing, but Gary Oldham is on auto-pilot and falls short of the impact he seems to have made on the audience in The Dark Knight, Justin Gordon Levitt is the stereotypical plucky Robin, Marion Cottilard is trying to do some sort of smokey Bond-girl/villain thing with a fraction of the screen time (an older, more dangerous/eccentric actress like Isabelle Adjani would have been better), Morgan Freeman sounds like he's in an insurance advert, Matthew Modine is like some sort of comic-book character with no-depth (so spot on then in other words) and Cillian Murphy is once again the best actor of the film in a minor role, as the High-Judge of the revolution court which itself seemed very Terry Gilliam, like something from 'Brazil' (for all of the ten seconds that we saw it).
The Tim Burton Batman films did self-deprication and were about something that was going on in society, or perhaps sub-cultures: His imaginative leaps referred to the history of horror cinema and said much more that just a direct interpretation of the comic-books. For this, he seems to have become a villain for comic-book lovers, who seem to have forgotten why comic books are called COMIC. The Nolan Batman films, especially this final installment, do not do self-deprication and contain very little humour. That is probably why fans like them, as an antidote to the past filmic and televisual interpretations of comics which rarely capture the spirit of the books, nor do they intend to. This lack of awareness of the rediculousness or surreality of the stories is also what I hate about this new breed of film and it makes me sick that cinema goers are going to be subjected to many more banal demonstrations of hollywood cod-philosphy wrapped up in violence, as a result of this film's success. It says a lot about Hollywood that they pick up a popular comic book and say, "Oh, that looks like the perfect story-board for a film...Let's make it, literally, and get the most reputable director to give it credibility!" - probably a complete misunderstanding of where graphic art comes from and what the key differences are between that and film-making/script-writing. The most accurate representation of dark, hard-boiled graphic art is still "Sin-City" - there is nothing manipulative or dishonest about that film, whether you like it or not. I will continue to be open minded about future films by Nolan and hope he goes on to do something great, but unfortunately I think he has made a terrible contribution to cinema with this effort, unlike Inception or Memento which have a much more open-minded approach to the audience, while also containing a few of the same visual elements. I wouldn't mind so much if it wasn't accompanied by one of the biggest marketing campaigns ever, hysterical people and record-breaking box-office figures. Pretty depressing. [40%]