The Dark Knight Rises

Death by exile

Since this may be my last chance, I’d like to examine just a few of the logical missteps in Batman’s modus operandi, many of which were suggested to me by a friend during the car ride to see The Dark Knight Rises: Batman and other masked vigilantes cannot legally arrest anyone.  Without admissible evidence, any villain kidnapped by Batman and left on the stoop of the police department is free to get up and catch a cab home.  Adding the fact that vigilantism is largely illegal, “the Batman” (i.e. a nocturnal maniac in an elaborate costume who beats the tar out of people unprovoked) cannot present himself as a witness without revealing his identity.  The absolute only way Batman would be able to stop crime would be to murder every criminal he came across, curbing his “no killing” rule.  Even if Bruce Wayne were to come forth as witness to a crime or offer open help to the police, he has an endless assemblage of illegal tech in and below his house (including military-grade tanks).  If Christopher Nolan’s Gotham were a real place, rest assured, Batman would be spending plenty more time in his cave than anywhere else.

The final film in the Batman Begins series is an effective ending to the trilogy and the most character-centric film Nolan has done, albeit with more than a few failures.  On the upside, Batman himself appears for maybe ten minutes of total screen time, while his alter ego, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) deals with some personal trials after an eight year absence from crime-fighting.  The film focuses on these trials along with the exploits of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar who arranges to steal Wayne’s fingerprints in exchange for the elimination of her criminal record.  The film’s deuteragonist, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) climbs the ladder of the Gotham police force and takes on a role very similar to that of Robin, the sidekick of Batman, a non-coincidence that provides some good payoff in one of the film’s final scenes.  The other major players are Bane (Tom Hardy), a terrorist with a cult-like following bent on purifying Gotham through its destruction, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a determined businesswoman with lots of money and a nebulous agenda.

I’ve discussed Christopher Nolan’s writing problems in the past (see Inception), and although The Dark Knight Rises possesses a more emotional foothold than its predecessors, plenty of fundamental issues are still present, namely when it comes to female characters.  Women get a better deal here (which isn’t saying much, considering Maggie Gyllenhaal’s fate in The Dark Knight): Hathaway’s character gets plenty to do in the way of action, and more importantly, has some personal motivation for getting involved in Gotham’s criminal underbelly.  Cotillard’s character is an important business mogul with serious ideas for a billion-dollar company, but once the action starts, she becomes a damsel in distress, and later, when her true identity is revealed, she satisfies that Generation Nolan film convention in which women with goals must use sex to achieve them and/or be deceptive and snakelike (see also George Clooney’s The Ides of March).  Both women harbor romantic feelings for Wayne, and like Nolan’s two female characters in Inception, these two serve as disparate romance options for the male lead.  They revolve around the guy, and if he didn’t need them, they wouldn’t exist.  Additionally, while Hathaway tries to play against type and be a self-motivated character, these contrived feelings for Batman (not to mention the sexy catsuit and high heels she’s required to prance around in) subvert what is otherwise a valiant effort.  Selina gets a sidekick, Holly Robinson (Juno Temple), commonly known as one of the first openly gay characters in comic books, but Temple is criminally underused while time is wasted on individual male cops and criminals who have no real bearing on the story’s events, including Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, who has appeared in all three films), in a mock courtroom side-story that is never actually resolved.

There are also some interesting “buzz word” moments that I think are worth examining.  Bane’s takeover of Gotham is described by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) as an “occupation,” and Bane proceeds to dismantle the power structures of the city (which includes driving the entire police force into hiding) while claiming that he’s placing the power in the hands of the people; the word people is spoken very deliberately, like a taunt.  The city’s single court room is now run by a mob of cretins, and pyramids of books and papers are scattered and piled everywhere.  Every defendant is killed in a barbaric, Hun-like manner, regardless of guilt.  It seems that when the “people” obtain power and there are no billionaires or police to save us from ourselves, the system falls apart and the doors to the Dark Ages are reopened.  Nolan has already responded to this commentary, claiming that the film is “obviously not” a criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but if it was obvious, viewers would not be making these claims based upon evidence gathered from the film.  You cannot create a story with the intent of having it interpreted; no matter what “side” you’re on, Nolan’s film glorifies the police and reinforces the necessity of the wealthy while trodding on free will and treating ordinary people like commoners.  Wayne’s ascent from a gargantuan (and apparently unsupervised) prison tower among the burbling chants of other prisoners (who all happen to be trained baritones) evokes a sort of religious vibe, satisfying the Rises part of the title while making one wonder what Batman himself thinks of the people – he’s a wealthy man who unconditionally aids the police, but he’s adamant about ensuring that Gotham’s savior “could be anyone.”

Among the leaps in logic is Bane’s (and his boss’s) ultimate plan: destroy Gotham as per the wishes of Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), who was defeated in the first film.  Considering how petty their goals are (right up there with Hans Gruber), why are Bane’s thugs so devoted and ready to die for the cause?  The film’s opening brings on this question when a henchman happily goes down with a doomed aircraft simply because Bane asks him to (this scene also features Aiden Gillen as a cocky CIA agent with a pompadour haircut, illustrating the underuse of great TV actors in films).  How do the thugs plant bombs of incredible power beneath massive suspension bridges without anyone (particularly boaters) noticing?  What’s the point of isolating Gotham into a medieval city-state if you’re going to blow it up anyway?  How many movies are going to make use of the trigger-button MacGuffin before filmmakers realize it no longer provides any real tension or drama?

The film effectively book-ends the Batman saga despite the numerous hair-pulling moments, and the statuses of the film’s main characters (not to mention the Batcave) make for a surprisingly pleasing conclusion (with no cliffhangers or silly post-credits scenes).  For full enjoyment, however, please blacken your third eye.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012); written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan; directed by Christopher Nolan; starring Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, and Tom Hardy.

Inception

There’s still no spoon

I’m starting to realize something: when someone says a film was “hard to follow,” chances are that person does not read.  In our current world, rarely does a film come along in which you actually have to remember anything that happened in the previous scene.  There’s a lot of loud noise, flashing lights, quick cuts, unconvincing CG, violent pulses that pass for music, and distracting 3D nonsense.  This brings me to Inception, Christopher Nolan’s newest effort.  I’ve read/heard from a variety of sources that the film was “confusing” or “hard to follow.”  I’ve also heard the word “deep” used to describe it, though “deep” has such variation in meaning that it’s hard for me to tell whether someone thinks Inception was thoughtfully written or whether they’re going to base an entire religion on it.

Have these people ever read a novel?  I’m guessing not.  Inception is nearly three hours, and everything in the story is relatively spelled out for the audience.  Of the five or six main characters, only Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his past are truly highlighted, while everyone else has a specific role to play in relation to the plot action and Cobb himself (not so much their own lives and demons and what have you), therefore almost zero sideplots exist.  On one hand, you’ve got the mission: plant an idea in the head of a businessman (Cillian Murphy) by entering his dreams; on the other hand you have Cobb’s obsession with his dead wife Mallorie (Marion Cotillard) and how his memory of her affects the dreams he enters.  If that’s hard to follow, I can help you no further.  In fact, Nolan holds our hand through the entire film by having characters take turns saying things like “Wait, so whose subconscious are we in now?”

The film features a diverse ensemble cast including leading lady Ellen Page (who is really starting to make a name for herself now, and one can see why) as Ariadne, an architectural prodigy who is placed in charge of manipulating the scenery in the dream world; Tom Hardy as Eames, a “Forger,” a witty thief who impersonates others in dreams; a deep-voiced Joseph Gordon-Levitt (in one of his most mature roles to date) as Arthur, the team’s point man and DiCaprio’s fall guy; Dileep Rao as Yusuf, a creator of heavy sedatives and the team’s getaway driver; Ken Watanabe as Saito, a Japanese businessman with an intriguing proposition for Cobb; and even Tom Berenger in a nice supporting role as Browning, Cillian Murphy’s sidekick.  The immortal Michael Caine appears in a cameo role as Cobb’s mentor and Ariadne’s college professor.  Every performance is impeccably handled and every character is necessary to complete the plot puzzle.

One of the most impressive features of this film is one that might be easily overlooked once the story and the hype take your senses over: Inception is not an adaptation.  Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this monster from his own mind – as with every film ever, it takes influences and inspiration from elsewhere (i.e. every heist film from The Killing to The Hot Rock), but it’s not directly based upon anything.  It’s something new.

Nolan still has problems writing female characters, in that they continue to be little more than mismatched support beams for the macho male hero.  This film has a million men and two women.  Mallorie is an exotic beauty with a French accent – clearly an intentional retention, as Cillian Murphy stifles his heavy Irish accent throughout the film.  Where Mal came from (France, I assume) and how she became Cobb’s wife is never touched upon.  She ceases to be a person and becomes little more than a dark temptation for Cobb (and Nolan’s decision to make her dead only adds to the convenience of the situation).  Ariadne is said to be a genius, but she never gets to exercise that.  She acts disloyal and disobedient, to which we are supposed to respond with “Ugh; why’d she have to do that?” but she always has Cobb’s best interests in mind.  There is no mention of her personal life or desires.  See further examples of this problem in Nolan’s The Prestige and The Dark Knight.

Inception is a heist film disguised as a psychological thriller.  The ingredients are all there.  One might immediately draw comparisons to The Matrix, but this film is smarter and without all the popcorn sci-fi nonsense (and hopefully without broken, sloppily-done sequels).  This is not a film where you look up a plot summary beforehand and then go see it if you think it looks good (which is why I’m not providing one here).  It’s a film to go out and experience.  Possibly more than once.  Just don’t tell me it’s hard to follow.

Inception (2010); written and directed by Christopher Nolan; starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

  • Calendar

    • August 2019
      M T W T F S S
      « Mar    
       1234
      567891011
      12131415161718
      19202122232425
      262728293031  
  • Search