The Dark Knight Rises Review PART I
Hello Batfans! Its about time I got up on my high horse and put my two cents in on The Dark Knight Rises. I tend to review films way late... To be honest, my process is slow. I have to see a film about ten times to really get it. And nothing takes place of seeing a film in the Theaters. I'm dumb like that. I think many reviewers might want to be 'dumb like that.' I've read some really dumb reviews...
This dumb smart review is Part I of of my five part "The Dark Knight Rises review." (TDKR)
TDKR PASSES THE BECHDEL TEST... sort of
The Bechdel Test is simple and crucial. Its a test of human realism in film. In real life, girls and women speak to each other by name about many things. However it would appear from watching movies women are nameless and rarely speak to each other. When they speak its only about men. In a film review, success on the Bechdel test means named women/girls speak with one another about an issue other than a man. In the Dark Knight Rises, there were two friends, familiar from comic books. Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and her sidekick Jen, (Holly in the comics) who speak about several things in the course of the film. Still it could be radically improved upon as scores of men speak with each other about all manner of things.
BATMAN's GROWL AND BANE'S VOICE
One thing I can't stand about our modern film tastes: are we still capable of even remote suspension of disbelief? Is there no lasting creativity in us, are our crippled, muddled, rote literalist minds so bland that our main gripes about a film are these insignificant issues?
I feel like I owe it to me to take a proper roll o'my eyes... there, thats better. Are we really going to nit pick about how someone growls! Why exactly is it a bad growl? Tell me, quantitatively the constitution of an empirically sound growl. This must be stuff we all learned in school. Well, in seventh grade I was too busy looking up Ms Mana's dress to learn that there is no basement in the alamo, that Maria Jimenez wanted to go on a date with me, and that seventeen vocal fold abductory gestures comprise a proper Bat Growl.
Clearly DC Comics film villan vocalists should strive to the level of the Emperor's Voice in Star Wars, whose profoundly skilled Glottal Stops should be the benchmark of all freaking bad guy comic book villans. Ah Hell. Here we are like its the Kama Sutra, profusely discussing ways to kiss, by naming each insignificant strata: The moon penny whistle slide, the sidward slope, the dingbat crest, the burberry coat, the barbary coast, the dingelhopper, the dingelberry...
Bane's voice came under attack too. Some said the voice he chose wasn't hip. Others said they couldn't understand a word. I was in the theater 10 times, and I always heard every single word spoken by every cast member, Bane included. I saw it again, and again, and I never had even a remote problem understanding what he said. This just became a popular stupid thing to whine about. People are just infantile babies, raised up on the choco hooter boob. Freakin sugar high'ed out and can't think straight. We don't like how Batman growls? I mean, I love Batman's growl. Its a growl, its awesome. Thats what growls sound like folks, when you don't want people to know who you are and you want to scare them to pants wet fright! Its central to the comics that Bats and Wayne speak differently. People clearly did not see the Dark Knight Rises at the IMAX because in those speakers I could hear every word. Although...when I went to the regular theaters, I ALSO heard every word.
Our consumer culture has us way too spoiled about films. Our minds are too fattened by burgers, cheese and sugar sludges; the amount of ketchup on every fry is precisely collated and quantified, we know exactly how fat it makes us. We expect our myths to similarly grease the bottom out on our whiny pangs of protest. I find our lack of faith disturbing.
So keep this in mind as you read my understanding of the pros and cons of DKR. You may agree with me on my own terms but you may have different terms. If you want to get all worked up about growls and about easily explainable "inconsistancies, "...fair enough.
THE FIGHT SCENES
Many people feel the fighting scenes were poorly choreographed in comparison to the first two. Repeat instances of guns blocked without being discharged, or held pointed for minutes waiting to be blocked... The Selina Kyle fight scene in the Bar has a good amount of this. Her other scene when the gun is pointed at her head from behind as she interrogated John Dagget, is far more convincing. The key to Nolan's genius in treating the Batman is when mystery is employed. Do you remember the scene in Batman Returns where Comissioner "Pat Hingle" Gordon is walking with Michael Keaton Batman and we see Bats walk up a side street, all "unbeknownst" and such? Its so freaking corny. Nolan knows that we don't need to know how he does his ninja in the shadows, how each gun is blocked. Thats the thing with Batman, he's not an action hero. He's something more. At times Nolan may forget this, though, the degree its intentional, we'll find out in the final tally.
I think this could be an avenue even more explored in a reboot. In "Begins" The Batman fights eleven thugs at the docks in his first full public Batmoment, and we barely see a bit of it. And it works on screen. When the Cat takes the kick to the knee of Phillip Striver, we don't see her take the gun out of his hand, but when she pulls it back to Dagget, it flows in the moment. YET, in a film's third installment, with audiences desire for...agressive expansion, its rather crucial to show more actual fighting out of the shadows. In fact, the whole idea of Batman fighting in the day is central to the whole concept of TDKR.
Another difficulty with the Fight Scenes is adversaries fight Batman one at a time Bruce Lee style. There was a great moment in Batman Begins, where he drops his Grappling Gun, and a crowd of toxin-high Narrows residents grab at him and pull him down. His escape is visceral and convincing. Generally in the style of Batman Begins we simply do not see the fighting take place. This, in my mind, is a far, far better thing to do, than what was later done, in BOTH Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises. Dark Knight had plenty of moments of terribly unconvincing gunfight scenes. At the Hong Kong highrise, Lao and his men had guns pointed at bats and just stuck them out, waiting. The ploy is too often that the criminals are afraid to shoot their own men.
In TDKR, when John (G Levitt) Blake attempts to rescue his partner, the League of Shadows member with the shaved head shoots him, blows up the entrance for the other cops, accosts him, says "who are you?" then kicks him down a hill. Yes, it is a bit strange that he does wait with that pointed gun so long. But damn the momentum is fine. It plays really well on screen. The dramatic relationship is really established between two actors, as they interact in a crazy life situation which for neither of them had ever occurred despite their respective trainings. It just works, its dramatic and human. This for me is more important, than the whims of a terrible blog on fight scene realism.
This represents the essence of how I feel about the fight scenes. Don't think World Wrestling Federation. Think Bhuto Dance, the dramatised/Clown fighting style from the Japanese theatrical tradition. TDKR's fighting realness is often... suspect. But the dramatic effect on film gets me every time. The first fight scene between Bane and Wayne is a strong character play. Its not really about a fast fight scene. Bane is playing with Batman, showing him that he is nothing, by letting him tank him repeatedly, to no real effect. Batman won't cripple people right off the first strike. He goes surgical, for pain points, and takes people out this way. Its the only way a non-executioner can successfully interrogate an accomplice. What tool can he use against a henchman, when the guy he works for will kill him. He uses pain and fear to get his answers. This didn't work on the Joker because he doesn't fear, and he enjoys pain. This didn't work on Maroney because Batman just broke his legs, what more could he do? And from what it seems, breaking legs is already crossing boundaries for this version of Batman. I definitely think it makes sense to tell more of a story of personalities inside a fight, than just to have a great battle scene.
The 'scary' persona of Batman, using fear and pain, is mocked by Bane. Bane is on a type of inhalant chemical cocktail which keeps his pain response absolutely nill. This allows him to become monstrously strong, as it is highly likely the cocktail includes some manner of training enhancement, as in the comic book version. The guy who wrote the 11 mistakes of TDKR listed #3 as "everything in the film is spelled out." But its actually not. He just doesn't seem to notice the things that aren't. Big guy in a blog of armor. Take that away and what've you got. Bane is mocking Bats by letting him pound him. Then he hits him once, and he knows where and how to hit. Bam, each hit tears into bats. The first one knocks him off the side of a ledge. It takes Batman too long trying pain points, darkness, distraction, fear... And he never seriously defends. Most of those hits would have crippled regular league members. He assumes one will eventually work. By the halfway point of the fight he is just flailing, desperate.
IDIOTIC TDKR REVIEWS
I read one today called "11 things that didn't work in The Dark Knight Rises." The problems he cites are trivial, and the continuity issues easily explained. He is no rare case. I have half a mind to start a short blog called In Defense of TDKR. Most people who are apparantly film journalist bloggers out there can be petty, which motivated me to finally write my take on TDKR. I have seen the film now in the Imax about 10 times. I love it and stand by it. The music pulls the entire sweeping plot together. Some songs on an album you hear once, eh. Others you love immediately. Sometimes the song I was 'eh' about becomes the song I can hear for years and love more and more. This is sort of what happened with me and TDKR, so far at least. I'm not one dimensional either. Its got some problems, especially this vague pro occupy/anti occupy, pro police/anti police political maneuvering. Still I am a believer in the Batman. In our consumer culture we become so spoiled. This perverse freaking attitude exists in film critiques, especially of fantasy films where folks posture,"I've seen it once, look at me mom, I'm cynical!
I tend not to be a cynic but I do enjoy a zinger here and there. I just rarely review any miserable piece of doodoo, why bother? I'm interested in looking just a bit more archetypically at films. I mostly have praise for TDKR. I love it, honestly. Still, I'll first respond to some common critiques. This first post of a five post review focuses on the critiques I find to be of lesser importance, but which carry some weight. As the chapters unfold, I'll involve myself more with the mythic content of the film, and compare it to the mythic content of the Avengers*. Today I'll speak mostly about fight scenes and people's critiques there. Firstly, however
COMING UP NEXT!!! TDKR review Part II:
A MOMENT BY MOMENT ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST FIGHT BATMAN VS BANE
*I loved the Avengers. Still, by and large it was a feel good movie. Great writing, great wit, and there were some central messages I thought were handled really well. Essential critiques of society and religion. However, instead of writing a whole journal on the most popular film of the year, I'll include it inside the comparison of the Dark Knight Rises thematically. Mostly it was a feel good movie.