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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, August 6, 2012

DARK KNIGHT DESPISES: QUICK THOUGHTS

 (SPOILER warning for DARK KNIGHT RISES)

Having seen the current release THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, I've decided that I'll hold off on a full review until I can review it in context with the other two Christopher Nolan films.  But I'll toss out a few out-of-context ideas:

Now I didn't "despise" TDKR as my title suggests: as far as I can tell, it's the authors of the "Dark Knight trilogy," including but not limited to Christopher Nolan, who may evince a certain rancor toward the Batman mythology.  This would be entirely proper had Nolan and his colleagues been putting together a satire of Batman, but it seems a touch gutless to accept the job of executing a "straight" version of Batman while taking little shots at the mythology in a covert manner.

In BATMAN BEGINS, Nolan effectively deconstructed a key element of the Batman mythology in that the orphaned Bruce Wayne does not become Batman to pursue the killer of his parents (which element, admittedly, was not in the very earliest Batman origin-tale).  Instead, young Bruce sees the killer brought to the justice of the courts.  This does not satisfy Bruce's dark anomie, so he goes on a pointless jaunt through Europe and Asia.  This is Nolan's take on a later interpretation of Batman's history, possibly first articulated by Denny O'Neil: that once Bruce Wayne had made the momentous decision to become a costumed crimefighter, he went in search of martial masters to train him.  Instead, Nolan's hero simply stumbles into the hands of the assassins' guild the League of Shadows, who are more responsible for his becoming the Batman than he is.


To my knowledge, not too many reviewers found this alteration of the mythology disturbing, possibly because it was executed in the Sacred Name of Greater Realism.  However, though BEGINS was only a fair success, it led to THE DARK KNIGHT, which contained an even more glaring example of Nolan's snobbish disdain not just for the Batman mythology, but for the consistency of the Bruce Wayne character, as I noted in MY SO-CALLED DARK KNIGHT REVIEW:

Almost as soon as Nolan's Batman begins being Batman in the first film, he seems eager to quit the whole racket, and he seems even more so in TDK. Along comes the Joker, who starts a spree of systematic killings and claims that he'll keep it up until Batman reveals his identity and surrenders himself to police-- presumably to be killed one way or another once Bruce Wayne is out in the open.

Batman's initial response makes all the sense in the world: "There's no proof that the Joker will stop killing," or words to that effect. And yet, perhaps 30-40 minutes later in the picture, Bruce Wayne suddenly becomes willing to make the Great Sacrifice to supposedly stop all the killing.

Now, this development is an example of Aristotle's "possible yet incredible" device. It's certainly within the bounds of POSSIBILITY that Bruce Wayne could lose his mind and submit to the Joker's whims, even having stated that he doesn't believe his surrender will stop the Joker. But it's certainly thoroughly IMPROBABLE, especially coming from someone who's supposed to be smart enough to maintain his Bat-secret from the criminal hordes, etc.

To his credit, Nolan manages to shuffle his cards fast enough that many viewers don't get a chance to see Wayne go through with this incredible dopiness, because Wayne's crimefighting colleague Harvey Dent stands up and claims that he is Spartacus (or something like that).

Now, the basic plot of the villain who threatens innocents to subdue the hero is not itself at fault. It is conceivable that one could engineer a situation in which Batman faced a villain whose grudge against the hero was so specific that, yes, Batman could believe that that villain would stop killing innocents once Batman himself was out of the picture.

But Nolan doesn't come close to attempting even this level of probability, and given the many other sloppy, overblown scenes throughout TDK, I'm reasonably sure that probability was far from his thoughts. Like many, he may have thought that the existence of an impossibility in a film granted a writer to banish the probable as well.
I never expanded on this partial review, never even touching on the DARK KNIGHT scene that most ruined the film for me: the scene in which a motorycycle-riding Batman charges the Joker as if planning to ride him down.  Suddenly the hero changes his mind and crashes his cycle, apparently averse to taking human life.  The resulting crash leaves Batman at the Joker's mercy, but for the sake of the script, Commissioner Gordon intervenes and saves the crimefighter's life-- though Gordon could do nothing to prevent Nolan's Batman from looking like a complete fool.

One reviewer of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES commented that this time Batman seemed a fair deal smarter than in previous films, and I probably enjoyed RISES more than the other two films simply because Batman wasn't a moron this time.  However, it seems Nolan couldn't be satisfied without deconstructing some Bat-character.  In this case it's Catwoman who starts out as a daring, gutsy cat-burglar, who willfully dares the wrath of Bane's men in order to collect on a debt owed her.  Yet halfway through the picture, Catwoman betrays Batman, luring him into a trap set by Bane, which leads to Bane breaking Batman's back and imprisoning him.  Catwoman does this to protect her own ass, a bit of cowardice at odds with her previous daredevil persona.  I might have even bought her actions if Nolan's script had set things up differently.  Say that Bane had captured Catwoman's young female friend Jen (who serves next to no purpose in the story as completed) and held her safety over Catwoman's head.  Catwoman's perfidy would still have been out of character with respect to the comic-book version of the character, but not out of character with what Nolan himself had shown of the Catwoman's character traits.  Later, when Nolan's script calls for it, Catwoman gets brave all over again in facing Bane and his forces, so what made the difference?  Nothing except Nolan's need to manipulate the hero's ups and downs.

Of course it's possible that Nolan's sloppiness extends not just to comic-book characters, but to characters in general.  I haven't reviewed INCEPTION as yet, but though its central character was more consistent than Nolan's Bruce Wayne, some of that film's secondary characters were less so.  Given that the writer-director apparently doesn't believe that too many characters can ever "spoil the broth," so to speak, it may be that he's less motivated by contempt than by an attitude of narrative sloppiness.  To an accusation that DKR was a criticism of the "Occupy movement," Nolan significantly said:

We throw a lot of things against the wall to see if it sticks.
He said this in an effort to de-politicize the film's reception, and I believe him, at least in part.  But it may be that Nolan is just the sort of guy who doesn't value consistency, whether for comic-book icons or any other types.

2 comments:

topitmunkeydog! said...

All dem plotholes were head-bangingly annoying and all, not that I saw the other two batman movies.
I thought that the plot was weak, and the movie was waaay too serious. If the excuse for that is "gothic," that is the silliest sort of gothic film I've ever seen. If they want a real gothic film see edward scissorhands or the weird polish Alice in Wonderland. The film was long and drawn out and although there was action almost every minute the film was rather boring.

It was a very good film, just not for me. In my eyes Mr. Christopher Emo Bale will never be as great of a batman as adam west.

Or Bat thumb. (GUANO!!)

Gene Phillips said...

Thanks for your comment. I wouldn't be surprised if someone's called Nolan's BATMAN films "Gothic," but their appeal's exactly opposite. Nolan's all about hard-hitting crime and espionage. Supposedly the snow-fortress in INCEPTION was his attempt to do his own mini-James Bond flick.

If you want a Gothic Batman, you can't go wrong with Tim Burton's two Bat-films. They've got a zillion plot holes too, but they're much prettier to look at.