Dark Knight Rises is Amazing/Crap: No Room for Nuance in the Internet Age

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The Dark Knight Rises has been out for a while now, so this post might seem a little late, but people are still debating Christopher Nolan’s third installment of the Batman trilogy – and quite vigorously. Before I get to said vigorous debate, here’s my opinion on the film.

It was fine. It’s certainly better than most super hero films, but it also certainly doesn’t live up to The Dark Knight, the previous film in Nolan’s trilogy. DKR suffers from a clunky first act, a lack of character development (or too many characters to fully develop them properly), and a few plot holes. That being said, once Bane’s plan gets going, it’s quite the entertaining film.

Tom Hardy’s Bane, while no where near as entertaining as Heath Ledger’s Joker, is a capable, and at times, terrifying villain. To the movie’s credit, it’s the first time in any Batman film where Batman feels totally vulnerable. You get the sense that Bane could squash him at any moment. The one problem people seem to have with Bane is his voice – and it is a little bizarre. He talks in a muffled, upper class British voice that seems to be front and center no matter how far away he is from the camera. At first the voice is a little off putting, but I was able to get used to it. It actually kind of adds a creepy quality to Bane.

The problems really have to do with the script. The first act is far too long (it seemed like it was a good 40-45min) and it mostly consists of scenes either introducing characters or getting us up to speed on old characters. There doesn’t feel to be much of a narrative drive during the first act. It’s merely a collection of scenes. And, frankly, it’s a little boring. Nolan really could’ve cut out a character or two and streamlined the first act. Matthew Modine’s dickish police officer seems to be the most unnecessary character. He really doesn’t do much at all except to stand in opposition to Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon (which makes little sense given Gordon’s heroic status on the force).

If Modine’s character is the most unnecessary, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s is the second most unnecessary (I know a lot of JGL fanboys/girls won’t like to hear that). JGL’s Blake only seems to exist to (spoiler!) set up future Batman films. To be fair, he does get Batman to return from retirement – sorta. However, that scene is so improbable (he knows Bruce Wayne is Batman based on his fake smile? Really?) that it’s ridiculous. Blake’s subplot during Bane’s siege of Gotham might have been gripping (though a little clichéd – saving orphans?) had we been given more time with Blake to care about him. Despite the lengthy first act, not enough time is given to these many characters to really care about them. Does anyone really believe the romance between Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne? Does anyone even care about Marion Cotillard’s character? It’s not any of the actors’ faults. They all do fine. It’s the script. Nolan doesn’t give enough time to these new characters for them to feel like real, three-dimensional people. They are all reduced to cardboard characters who bluntly state their goals, back story, etc in awkward, expositional scenes.

However, these are common problems in most super hero movies and DKR is, after all, a super hero movie. It’s not supposed to be a dramatic art house film. Super hero movies are about the spectacle, and DKR does a pretty decent job with that. From the opening scene to the scenes involving multiple explosions crippling all of Gotham, DKR does offer up some breathtaking scenes. Bane’s take over of Gotham is particularly great. He brings the entire city to its knees and it’s pretty awesome, dark stuff. Nolan also does a pretty good job tying together the two previous films into this one.

So overall, not a bad film. It just simply doesn’t live up to TDK – an almost flawless film – and that’s where the problem comes in. TDK was so great that DKR couldn’t possibly live up to it, but it also created so many die hard fanboys that any criticism, no matter how small, would be met with vicious backlash normally reserved for blasphemers. And, like any fanatic, you just can’t talk any sense into a righteous Batman fan.

And here’s where we get to the crux of the issue. Everyone either seems to love or hate the movie, with very few opinions falling in the middle. It’s either the best movie ever or a piece of crap. Before the film was even released, before any of the public had seen it, some diehard Nolan fans were issuing death threats to critics who had the audacity to give an unfavourable review to DKR. No doubt those issuing the threats would never follow through on their actions (and no doubt the majority of them are either naive teenagers who really don’t know anything about film or 35 year old virgins living in their parents’ basement). It’s still worrying to see that type of angry rhetoric being used over a movie, though. Does it really matter that that DKR doesn’t have 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes? And aren’t people entitled to their own opinion? Try telling that to some of the fanboys, though, and they’ll go off – “how could you say that?” “you just don’t get it?”. That last line is a favourite for the same diehard defenders of Nolan’s previous film, Inception (it’s not that hard of a film to get, dude). The fanboys are incapable of allowing any sort of conversation regarding DKR other than whether it’s the greatest film of all time or the second greatest.

Then there’s the other side of the coin: the haters. This I put down to two things: sky high expectations and just wanting to go against the grain. TDK, as I said, was an almost flawless execution of a super hero movie, and people rightly loved it. It set the bar insanely high and people had expectations for the next one – absurd expectations. Of course DKR wasn’t going to be as good as TDK. How could it? Anyone who expected DKR to equal or surpass TDK was deluding themselves. Walk into a theatre with those kind of expectations and you’re going to be disappointed. I get that DKR was a little disappointing, I do, but ‘terrible’ and ‘worst movie ever’? Really? Ever see Transformers (or any Michael Bay film for that matter)? DKR is still a decent film. To gloss over what Nolan achieved with this film in favour of indignant rage is unfair to Nolan and the film itself. Take it for what it is: an above average super hero blockbuster. DKR could have been a whole lot worse. Why people expect so much from Nolan is also a bit of a mystery to me. The guy’s an excellent technician who makes semi-intelligent action films. He’s no Orson Welles or Igmar Bergman. He’s not trying to make a profound, artistic film. He’s more like a hip, modern day Spielberg. He’s just trying to entertain you. Some people may claim that they didn’t expect anything from Nolan and that he and his films just suck, but those people just relish playing contrarian to popular opinion. I suspect they really don’t believe what they’re saying.

No one in either of these two camps seem capable of discussing the film intelligently and with nuance. You’re either on one side or the other. This is a troubling trend that is not only limited to movies either. It’s present in almost anything that involves developing an opinion about – television, music, politics, etc. Maybe the term ‘developing’ is the wrong word to use here. The problem seems to be that no one actually develops their own opinion. They simply latch on to one side of the issue and stand firm. It’s far more simple to stick to one belief or ideal rather than critically think about the issue – it’s easier to think in black and white than shades of grey. Look no further than the current state of US (and even Canadian, to an extent) politics for a prime example of this. People are more fiercely divided than ever along party lines. Part of the reason for this extreme divide can be blamed, paradoxically, on the Internet.

For a tool that gives us all such a wealth of information and resources, it seems strange that opinions are becoming increasingly black and white. It may have to do with the sheer amount of information out there –  that people would rather simplify than process it all. The Internet seems to have spawned it’s own version of A.D.D. Rather than think about things, or read in-depth articles, people condense their opinions to blurbs or 140 character tweets. They quickly come to a conclusion – ‘sucks’ or ‘awesome’, ‘left’ or ‘right’ – and move on to the next bit of stimuli. What does it say about a civilization that thinks (or doesn’t think) like this? It can’t be good.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet. I think it’s an amazing and important tool for humanity. I just wish it didn’t breed such simplistic thinking. Is there a remedy for this problem? I don’t know. But what I do know is that dumbing down our critical thinking skills only serves to dumb down our society.

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2 thoughts on “Dark Knight Rises is Amazing/Crap: No Room for Nuance in the Internet Age

  1. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that The Dark Knight Rises was better then The Dark Knight.

    There is sound and logical reasoning behind this evaluation actually, and I don’t- how do you say?- “relish playing contrarian to popular opinion”.

    The Dark Knight was incredible. Yes, yes it was. But unlike you or I, the general public loved it because of Heath, not because it had amazing story flow and development and engaging characters and a ripe, unrelenting storyline; you know, all those things that make us film-lovers swoon. Take Heath out of it, and I don’t think it would’ve have been the commercial success that it was, despite it being the classic it was. Case and point: The Dark Knight Rises.

    You mentioned Welles and Bergman. Nolan belongs in this group. Just as Welles and Bergman set a precedent for film in their time, and all time, Christopher Nolan has done, and is doing the same. Just look at the films he’s made. He’s tried new things and pushed some limits and hasn’t given in to the “Hollywood blockbuster” that rules the day. He’s, as you say, simply entertaining. And by doing just that, he’s crafting amazing films because he loves it. Batman was no different, it just has a commercial label because it’s, well, Batman.

    Which is why I say that DKR was better then TDK. He didn’t try to make a “better film” whatever that means. He didn’t try to outdo, or overdo or do anything really. He told a story. He told the next story in these characters journeys, regardless of comparison to what happened before, or what may happen after. He didn’t go into it with expectation of getting more awards, or breaking box office records or whatever else. He just simply did what he does best, tell a story where you care about what happens to the characters.

    I’ve heard from many people, both who actually know film and can give a decent critique on it, and others who’s favourite movie is Twilight….Either way, both have said that they found it slow and dragging through the first act. Mmmm I disagree. It didn’t drag, it was dialogue driven (expositional, perhaps but not in a bad way). The reason why it seems so absurd and “draggy” to us as movie goers (insightful or not) is because we live in an age of 30 second TV commercials and 140 character thoughts. As a society we are so accustomed to instant replies and immediate opinions that we feel uncomfortable when the opposite occurs. We instantly feel like it’s wrong and bad and out-of-place. What Nolan did was set us up with dialogue-driven scenes; scenes that you had to pay attention to for longer the 30 seconds (oh no!); scenes that gave the characters depth and purpose and meaning; scenes that didn’t just focus on getting to the end, but gave meaning to how we got there.

    He gave us a taste of those films from the 30s and 40s (my favourites!) All About Eve (okay, technically 1950), It Happened One Night, The Life of Emile Zola etc. These were all about the characters and their journeys; they are movies that you actually have to watch and pay attention to to enjoy. In my opinion, that way movies should be and something that we’ve lost.

    That’s why DKR was better. Because Nolan didn’t give in to 30 seconds scenes. He didn’t try to make a sequel to The Dark Knight. He made the next installment in these characters lives, and it was brilliant.

    So my advice to any film goer, stop comparing the two, because you’re not comparing the two movies, you’re comparing The Joker to The Dark Knight Rises and that is not a fair comparison by any means.

    • I see what you’re saying with DKR, but don’t necessarily agree. However, I think we can both agree that they are separate films and deserve to be judged on their own merits and in a reasonable manner.

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