Missed Opportunities

by wjw on August 21, 2012

So I finally saw The Dark Knight Rises— two or three weeks later than most of you, I’m sure— and I was inspired, both by this movie and Spider-Man 3,  to create the following rule:

“Directors, if you’re helming the third installment of a superhero franchise, for God’s sake don’t let your brother write the screenplay!

The plot barely existed, there were just ideas that got thrown up on the screen, and some of them sort of stuck, and some of them didn’t.  (Bruce Wayne is so paranoid that he bugs his mother’s jewelry, just on the off chance that someone steals it.  I mean, wha?  There aren’t other things he might want to put GPS on first, like f’rinstance a whole parking garage full of heavily armored vehicles?)

Bane, it has to be said, just wasn’t an interesting villain.  The Bane of the comics and video games is more of an antihero: he’s a horribly abused victim who was raised in a prison and subjected to medical experiments, and even when he’s running amok you kind of feel sorry for the guy.  (In that, he’s very like the Hulk.)  This guy was just a thug.  And he was a prosy thug: he just talked on and on in a distorted voice, so that you couldn’t understand what he was actually saying.  (I deeply wanted the movie to have subtitles.)

Note to the director: if you’re going to have a character rattle on in a character-revealing way, don’t put a facemask on him that obscures both his voice and his facial expressions.  If you don’t do these things, the audience might just recognize the character’s humanity.  Might just.

And if you insist on the mask, at least get an actor who can act with his eyes.

The revolt of the People against the Evil One Percent seemed ill-conceived and ill-motivated.  The problem was, you never saw the evil billionaires oppress the poor.  The only billionaire you actually got to know is the one who bankrupted himself trying to bring free energy to the world.

You never saw Simon Legree stealing the rent money from widows and orphans.  In fact Gotham was vastly improved from the previous movies, with crime way down, and what seemed to be a prosperous economy.  So such eagerness to establish the People’s Republic of Gotham seemed sort of arbitrary.  Where’s all that class resentment come from?

(Please understand, I have loads of class resentment.  I’ve been screwed over by whole legions of privileged people who did it just because they could.  And if I were as evil as they, I would have killed them.  But we don’t see that in the movie.  What we see is one billionaire being benign, and another trying to screw him over, and though that isn’t nice, from a class perspective it doesn’t much matter.)

In a big plot twist, one of the characters turns out to be Talia, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul.  Which is fine, except that the character would have been a lot more interesting if she’d been Talia all along.  Talia, with her twin ambitions of sleeping with Batman and eliminating four-fifths of the world’s population in order to save the planet, is a much more interesting character.  She’s another great antihero.  Instead, in the film, she and the League of Assassins Shadows want to wipe out Gotham because, I dunno, it’s evil or something.

The film stayed true to its comic-book origins in having lots of illogical fights.  Only haymaker punches were used, along with a few front kicks.  (And when the police counterattacked, they made a human wave assault against cannon and machine guns.  Which has been out of fashion since, at least, 1917.)

At no point did I have any idea that anyone in this film knew how to fight.  At no point did Batman try to use tactical intelligence against Bane.  Bane beat him down in the first fight because Batman was stupid.  Batman beat Bane down in their second confrontation not because he got smarter, but because, well, he just did.

And really, Bruce Wayne’s been a hermit too long.  He gets all stupid when women are in the room.  He’s betrayed by Selina, and then he’s betrayed by Talia, and you’d think someone paranoid enough to bug his mom’s jewelry would be at least a little suspicious of both of them.

And speaking of Selina, Catwoman’s portrayal is yet another flat portrait of what could have been a terrific antihero role.   I liked Anne Hathaway in the part, but really, none of her motivation made any sense.  She lives in the criminal underworld, but she doesn’t know how to get false ID?  The only thing that will work for her is to somehow sanitize the ID she was born with?  I mean, WTF?  I’m not a criminal, and I know how to get false ID.

The best role in the movie is played by Michael Caine, but even his character makes no sense— he gets a hissy fit halfway through the film and disappears.  Yeah thanks, loyal servant.

And then there’s an unearned happy ending.  Bruce Wayne is rewarded for being a stupid tool for two and a half hours.  The new Robin finds the Batcave, but how’s he going to support the vigilante lifestyle without the billions that go with it?

So really, if the film had followed up on any of the potentially interesting characters, it could have been awesome.

As it is, it’s sort of a cold pizza with way too many ingredients.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Bishop August 21, 2012 at 9:13 am

Every fantastical film I’ve ever seen has been completely logic free (unless, like ‘Lord of the Rings’, it’s fairly closely based on a book – and that’s no guarantee). Presumably the Industry ‘thinks’: “it’s only SF/Fantasy – it doesn’t have to make sense!”

grs1961 August 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm

“… a human wave assault against cannon and machine guns. Which has been out of fashion since, at least, 1917.”
The US Marines were still doing it in the 1980’s, according to those who were refereeing various “Kangaroo Exercises.”

Paul (@princejvstin) August 21, 2012 at 12:26 pm

A cold pizza with way too many ingredients

That’s a great metaphor for the movie. I can’t figure out why so many people liked it as much as they did.

The point about Batman is that he is supposed to use tactical intelligence and be crazy prepared. That’s his superpower. That’s how he should have beaten Bane.

Brian Renninger August 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm

The whole movie was one big WTF?

Your point about fake IDs in this day and age is right on point. Don’t you just order them online from China? Where’s the mystery?

And, the human wave assault even the actors lacked conviction. A lot of the extras seem to have the look of “really?” on their face as they snapped the blanks in their pistols at the dug in assault rifle wielding baddies.

And, even the most committed police force is just not going to send the entire force into the sewers. The first two films had their flaws but they generally made some sense. This one it is like everyone just wanted to be done with it.

–Brian R.

Robert August 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Dark Knight Rises was a incomprehensible mess of film. I loved Batman since my teens, but this was a real letdown and lousy way to end a decent film trilogy.

The Abbot of Unreason August 21, 2012 at 5:12 pm

“The revolt of the People against the Evil One Percent seemed ill-conceived and ill-motivated. The problem was, you never saw the evil billionaires oppress the poor.”

I came away believing this movie was pro-1%, anti-99%. The point seemed to be that the masses are stupid sheep that will follow anyone and turn on anyone. The only good people are already rich or in the service of protecting the stuff of the rich.

Not Todd August 22, 2012 at 2:44 am

It was my assumption that the program in question also wiped databases of such things as DNA and fingerprints. Otherwise, yeah, a new false ID would have made a lot more sense.

It made no sense to me for the villians to leave all those cops trapped underground, either. Would not have been difficult to wipe them out.

I’d heard a lot before the premier that Bane was hard to understand, but there was only one line where his dialogue wasn’t clear to me. FWIW, I also think Bane was a poor choice of villian for this film.

While we’re on the subject, I have to say I did like the approach Nolan took to the characters over the course of the trilogy. He kept the basic ideas, but dropped a lot of the cartoonish stuff. Bane isn’t inhumanly strong, Catwoman (never actually called that) doesn’t have the power to command pussies (yeah, I’ll play along), Joker didn’t have some crazy gas that caused people to laugh themselves to death, Ras isn’t immortal (although I laughed at the in-joke in the third movie).

Ralf The Dog. August 22, 2012 at 4:34 am

I thought Ayn Rand wrote the script. Are you sure, this was not Atlas Shrugged repackaged?

DensityDuck August 27, 2012 at 3:45 am

Not really seeing the “pro-1%” message. Unless you’re of the mind that any time a rich person does something, that thing is inherently bad.

**********

Batman sees that his new girlfriend has a scar on her back. Where the League of Shadows brands people. With a tool that would produce a scar like that. Batman is supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, and the ENTIRE AUDIENCE RIGHT AWAY FIGURED OUT THAT SHE WAS EVIL, but he apparently did not. (It’s okay, though. He has Magic Anti-Stabby Kidneys that can instantly recover from getting stabbed.)

**********

Bane is Batman’s nemesis for the entire movie. He is an unstoppable elemental force. And if you blink you’ll miss the bit where he dies.

*********

I was never really on board with the “new” Batmobile, but I got over it. And I like the idea of Evil Batmobiles, although they’re apparently made by the same factory that makes all of Cobra’s tanks, because they go out like total chumps.

That said, that “The Bat” thing looks STUPID. Ironically, it looks more military than most movie stuff, because it’s big and clunky and ungainly and all flat rectangular boxes, extremely functional, but there’s a reason you don’t put stuff like that in your sci-fi superhero movie. IT LOOKS UGLY. (although they did do one movie-vehicle thing, and make the cockpits big enough for three people each.)

wjw August 27, 2012 at 8:43 pm

I kinda have to agree that there doesn’t seem to be an actual political message to the film, for all there are political IDEAS thrown up on the screen and then discarded.

If the movie had a message, it was too incoherent for me to understand what it was.

Guy September 14, 2012 at 10:23 pm

“At no point did Batman try to use tactical intelligence against Bane. Bane beat him down in the first fight because Batman was stupid. Batman beat Bane down in their second confrontation not because he got smarter, but because, well, he just did.”

————-

Is this really that hard? It seems like you’re being intentionally obtuse in this review.

Part of the point of Bane’s character was the fact that Batman didn’t have the overwhelming tactical and strategic advantage over Bane that he had over most of his enemies. Or didn’t you notice the whole “powerful tools for the uninitiated” line? Maybe you were too busy getting righteously indignant about how “difficult” it was to understand Bane (which is funny because I thought he was understandable for 99% of his lines).

He beat him in the first fight because Batman underestimated Bane as being just like every other criminal he had ever faced. He figured a couple of fancy smoke bombs, a little instilling of fear and viola, badguy defeated! THAT WAS THE WHOLE POINT OF THAT SCENE.

He beat him the second time because instead of trying to outsmart the guy who had shown that he was just as smart, he overpowered him with sheer rage and will to save his beloved Gotham.

On a separate note: I don’t think you could be more off-base on your whole analysis of the “class resentment” component of the movie. Perhaps, the reason the whole resentment theme didn’t make sense is because THAT WASN’T AN INTENDED MESSAGE. I’m not sure what class resentment you’re even talking about. Bane and his crew were members of the League of Shadows, attempting to follow through on the mission of Ra’s al Ghul from the first two movies–to bring down Gotham because it had become too corrupt and they needed to raze it to the ground and start over. It wasn’t about “class”. It was about a group of terrorists who believed the only way to fix Gotham was to destroy it.

It’s too bad people mistake ranting and raving for thoughtful movie reviews these days. Half of the “problems” you point out in yours smack of someone who didn’t really make the attempt to digest the movie presented, instead working yourself into a frenzy over a handful of misinterpretations.

wjw September 14, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Say, Guy, y0u did notice that I’m a professional writer? Who’s worked in Hollywood, and in games? I know from writing, okay? So I think I’m allowed to make informed judgments about the writing on a piece of pop art.

And I’m not ranting and raving, I’m just =disagreeing with you.= Which people are allowed to do.

You truly didn’t notice the class war in Gotham? You know, where the People’s Court were sentencing the rich and privileged to walk out on the ice?

And I would have said that we were to understand that Batman won his fight with Bane because of his spiritual renewal following his time in the Pit. But in fact he won it because Catwoman blew Bane to bits with a rocket, which undercuts the spiritual message, such as it was.

And please understand that, as a black belt in Kenpo, I am fully qualified to state that the fights were stupid, and that anyone who knew more about fighting than throwing haymaker punches could have beat either one of them in a walk.

Guy September 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm

So you’re really going to pull the “I’m a professional writer” card?

That’s great and all, but please spare me the argument from authority. I will certainly agree that you are more than qualified to make informed judgements about pop art, but let’s not pretend that there is an expert consensus on the symbolism–and how successfully it was expressed–in The Dark Knight Rises. You are more than welcome to disagree with me, and I don’t believe I said anything to the contrary, but that is obviously a two-way street.

Or maybe not, since I’m just some dude expressing his opinion and not a professional writer.

As far as the class resentment goes, I didn’t mean to imply that I didn’t see *any* instances of class warfare within the movie. I just don’t think that was a central theme of Nolan’s, which is why it might have seemed “ill-conceived”, as you put it. After all, it’s not like the “People’s Court” was comprised of a bunch of middle-class average joes taking out their rage against the 1%. It was all of the criminals and inmates that Bane’s men had released, and the sentencing was being issued by a single villain. To me, it didn’t really establish the notion of lashing out against the rich and privileged as much as it underscored the idea of criminals as being disenfranchised victims, rather than criminals. Really, how is this take much different than a comment/response of yours (which I failed to notice before my initial post) that there doesn’t seem to be an actual political message in the film, just some fleeting political ideas?

Regarding the second fight between Batman/Bane… yes, I suppose ultimately, the fight was finished when Catwoman blasted Bane with a rocket, but I thought it was clear we were talking about the contrast between the physical confrontations of the two. The fight wasn’t won for Batman by Catwoman’s rocket any more than it was won for Bane by Talia stabbing Batman in the gut.

I’m not sure why you mention the black belt, because I wasn’t disagreeing with your general assertion that the fighting was stupid throughout the movie. The ‘haymaker’ style of fighting seems to have been a fairly constant staple of comic book movies, Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and hell, Hollywood in general, so I took your comment to mean that Batman specifically, had been stupid in his approach (an assertion that I sort of agreed with, by suggesting that he underestimated Bane in their first confrontation). As you yourself point out, anyone with any modicum of fighting technique could have blown up both Bane and Batman, so criticizing the atrocious fighting technique within the movie and criticizing Batman for being stupid in his first fight with Bane seem to be slightly different critiques. The point being that I wasn’t questioning your expertise on fighting techniques.

All that being said, I did know you were a writer. I have not read any of the works for which you are most renowned, but I have read one of your books (about 10 years ago), and I thought it was fantastic, for what it’s worth.

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