In the wake of the Rotten Tomatoes fan-boy community tongue-lashing given to negative reviews posted about The Dark Knight Rises, the site’s Editor-in-Chief Matt Atchity made the bold decision to disable comment posting altogether for the film and alluded to discontinuing anonymity on the website, disallowing comments before a movie opens and moderating all dialogue on the site, essentially abolishing all the things that make the site fun. The backlash started when the first negative review posted by Marshall Fine panned the film with statements like “somewhere within the mashed-potato mounds of Nolan’s 2:40 behemoth exists a lean, compelling and distinctly dramatic tale of redemption and sacrifice.”
The fan boy retaliation was understandable in some respects. Writer/Director Christopher Nolan is a visionary filmmaker with a stellar track record that includes solid indie fare like Memento and The Prestige along with massive crowd-pleasing juggernauts like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Inception. Nolan’s resurrection of the Batman franchise as a dark, moody exploration of Bruce Wayne’s inner demons and ninja training in the Far East will forever endear him to Internet trolls worldwide. Nolan set the standard for all superhero films by introducing elements of stark realism to a fantasy-based genre that often features grown men and women performing astonishing feats of bravery in their underpants.
In light of his significant accomplishments, it doesn’t seem altogether unreasonable to peek behind the curtain at some of the more unwieldy elements of Nolan’s latest production.
Where in the previous two Batman films Nolan apparently took great pains to introduce a realistically sinister and crime-ridden Gotham City, clinically insane super villains, modified bat vehicles based on military-grade prototypes and, dare I say, a science to the origins and techniques of a masked vigilante, in this third installment Nolan lets the reigns slip ever so slightly. Clearly none of us is shouldering the sheer weight of responsibility for writing and directing a multi-million dollar Hollywood spectacle, shooting majestic cityscapes and action sequences in expensive IMAX or calling the shots on thousand-plus cast member days in Manhattan, so we’ll turn our suspension of disbelief meters up to a firm 9.5 for Nolan when he overreaches. Most of us will never know what kind of decision-making went into designing a batcave with a supercomputer located in the middle of several waterfalls lacking proper drainage, or why the Batman didn’t take greater care in hiding his bat plane. Or why a movie surreptitiously about income inequality featured such pristine streets void of poor people. And a third-world prison where severe spinal trauma is rectified by punching the injured vertebrae. As much as we enjoyed the movie we’re calling a Grade C for Clunky.
Filmmakers operating at Nolan’s level are often required to tell stories in broad strokes with shiny metal objects in order to make sense to lowest common denominator international audiences. A more subtle plot device might have confused people, and nobody wants people to be confused at the box office. Still, a cold fusion device transformed into a fusion bomb located in an underground tunnel rigged to flood is a bit heavy-handed. And the countless scenes of the fusion bomb transport truck and its decoys traversing empty streets and alleyways in Gotham City followed by X amount of armed guards with the only other people in sight being supposedly clandestine plain clothes cops and detectives felt contrived at best. Grade C for Contrived.
The Bane Characterization
Nolan gets major points for pulling one of the newer, less well-known villains from the Batman universe and establishing him as a force to be reckoned with in the film’s first five minutes. By casting him as a CIA Most Wanted terrorist, Nolan gave the mask-wearing misanthrope Bane a foothold in our reality. Kudos to the costume dept. for transforming Bane’s signature comic book leotard into clothes real people might actually wear. Tweaks to Bane’s storyline brought the character into Nolan’s universe and set up a nice piece of narrative jiu-jitsu toward the end of the film. In true comic book villain fashion, Bane speechifies at length about his master plans and the toe-to-toe fight scenes often portrayed over several panels of newsprint finally take brutal center stage on the big screen where Bane and Batman awkwardly pummel each other into submission. Grade A for Great Adaptation.