A little note : Thanks to my experience of saying bad things about Nolan movies at PassionforCinema: any insults/trolling will be returned in equal measure and comments engaging with what is written will be answered in a civil tone and to the best of my abilities.
I’m not a fan of Christopher Nolan; I think the best description anyone has given of him is Jim Emerson saying ” I don’t think Nolan is a bad or thoroughly incompetent director, just a successfully pedestrian one.” I found Memento and The Prestige completely pedestrian and in fact a bit worse because they act like they have psychological depth. I thought Inception was fun but utterly disposable and I was not for a moment flabbergasted by its complexity. And I think his batman trilogy, while actually ambitious in a good way, is very messy, unsubtle and inelegant (here is a comparative review of The Dark Knight and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke); in terms of quality, both how good it is and in what ways it is that good, I would put it alongside critically reviled films like Superman Returns, The Last Airbender, Gamer etc. The best Batman movie I have watched is 1993’s The Mask of the Phantasm.
But The Dark Knight Rises (I will assiduously not refer to it as ‘TDKR,’ that being the name of one of the great Batman comics) surprised me some: it was, in terms of writing and directing (for example, the fact that the bat-plane was shaped like a wasp, while as inelegant as most of his other metaphors, actually not mentioned in the dialogue; but Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Robin-like behaviour is finally called out – baby steps), Nolan’s best movie yet, but it completely failed to deliver on his most consistent thematic storyline, that of Batman saving USA.
Anyway, this is not a real review; it’s just a little wodge on the film’s worst and best aspect, thematically. I don’t mention the quality of the direction (the Bane-Batman fight in the middle was the only one I found remarkable visually, very nicely dark and not at all dreary) and writing (I wanted to bang my head into my palm much less than during the first two) and acting (concisely, first time Bale and Caine did any work that’s not unremarkable, rather enjoyed Hathaway despite many of her ‘sassiest’ lines being false beats, and found everyone else – even the usually awesome JGL – too underdeveloped to really enjoy). Also, SPOILERS follow.
Look at Batman Begins; it sets up Gotham as a synechdoche for the USA (too literally, in fact: Ra’s at one point speaks of Gotham as the ruler of the modern world), then Batman saves it from prongs of danger 1 and 2, 1 being the greedy corporate guy (with a magical negro, though I guess this is a symbol for overcoming racism, also alluded to in the casual racism of the opening scenes) and 2 being the terrorists who believe the US of G is a decadent civilisation and want to destroy it.
The Dark Knight turned its attention to the insides of every man. Joker wanted to get out the hateful tendency of every person and how it’s in constant friction with what we call a ‘good’ civilisation. Yes, Hobbes etc. Again, TDK declares hope (as long as Batman’s around as a guiding hand, you know), despite showing Dent’s storyline as its utter negation. The lie in the end was potentially a nice irony for this reason, though the film refused to really dig its teeth into the meat here.
So, it was obvious that the third movie would involve societal inequity.
Weird part is, while the first two movies delivered a coherent plot in this thematic storyline, all it delivered in the other two thematic storylines (Bruce’s character arc and the nature of heroism) was – “Batman doesn’t kill” and “Batman’s not wearing hockey pads” excluded – vacuous bullshit (seriously, what good thing has Gotham done to “deserve” Batman anyway?” and why is it that for the sake of semantic mirroring, Gordon makes it sound like Dent is too good a hero for Gotham?).
The Dark Knight Rises turns the tables. It delivers a relatively strong plot for Bruce’s growth (one of the major reasons I was surprised with the whole Talia revelation was that the love triangle earlier was such a convincing way to make him choose between Batman and sensible ways to help society and the movie really impressed me on how it delivered on the conflict despite yanking the rug out from the triangle) and as for heroism, there’s a damn-near transcendent moment in the prison when all three themes come together to create something of an epiphany for Bruce about perseverance and in what way exactly Gotham needs him (I’ll watch it again just to be able to elaborate on when it happens and what exactly Bruce realises), when I really thought “wow, the Nolans really do understand what a superhero is,” so that the whole ‘broken spirit’ Bane encounter just felt like the final repercussion of a really strong, wrapped-up arc.
Okay, now for what was wrong here. So, it has been shoved into me since 2001 that Muslim terrorism is basically an extreme reaction against Western imperialism (I’m not yet sure how deeply to believe this, but it’s a good place to start any discussion), so I was really kicked at the inclusion of Catwoman – so Frank Miller-ish (he kind of imagined her as a black, poor woman with many of the same driving motivations as Batman) that many of the shots of her house are borrowed from Batman: Year One (dreadful choice, casting her white*, especially considering the “leaving roots and attendant preconceptions/prejudices behind” storyline that the Nolans gave her) – and JGL’s cop and his orphanage – terrorism rises from Gotham’s gutters because the battening down of organised crime via Dent Act is a type of rich-people imperialism that really doesn’t leave them with any job options, actually impoverishing them further (the real picture of the effect of organised crime is a lot more nuanced than this but this effect is one I’ve never really seen so explicitly in a movie before – and I think having just a touch of this particular effect was well-suited to what I thought the movie would be). I was even more kicked when he just started taking moments out of the real TDKR (Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Returns) after Batman comes back, assuming that he was racing ahead to a conclusion that I couldn’t predict, but would involve some heavy reversals of TDKR (in the comic, Batman gets himself an army of gibbering retards to fight a blacked-out city gone mad and there’s a panel where he’s on a rearing horse in front of the army – so effectively reversed in the shot of him on the motorcycle in front of the police army).
And then… nothing happened; it devolved into some ridiculously Holvudine shite about father issues and bombs (worst part is, I think that that Talia speech was supposed to somehow reflect on Bruce’s character arc, but I have no idea how). I mean, the whole economic issue is not even obliquely referred to after that army moment I just described – the status quo is returned and happy ending montage overclosing what has already been resolved (JGL was such an effective anti-Robin – in that his fight against crime is more sustainable while still with the same motivations – before that montage).
*The white-washing was all over. Over and above the near-lack of non-white American characters (there’s Fox and some army dude whom Bane talks to about what to do with the unblown bridge), there’s a whole host of white characters from the middle east and just imagine how powerful JGL’s storyline could have been if he was Latino, given something to do that jumped off from that line about how the orphans don’t really have any options apart from Bane and had a face-palm moment when Bruce’s will read out that wholly ridiculous ‘Wayne manor as orphanage’ bit.