Saturday, January 19, 2013

On Further Review: Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films: Am I the only one who has problems with them?

I’m one of the few people who don’t like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films. When I say Dark Knight films I refer to The Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises. To me Nolan's Batman Begins is one of the best superhero films ever made. On the other hand his Dark Knight films are a lesson in diminishing returns. Yes they have made a mint and then some. Yes they are well loved, but they are a mess. They are a corruption of the characters to the point that I kind of wish that they didn’t take the characters from the comics since they really don’t carry over. They are huge epics that just lose the narrative thrust in favor of Nolan’s desire to make a point.

At this point I need to make three statements.

First I am a huge Batman fan. I have been since I was a baby when I used to stand in front of the TV and watch the Adam West show. I get into moods when all I do is live and breathe Batman and his world.

Secondly I have to state up front that this piece started life as two monstrously long stand-alone posts. They were long and rambling pieces, however in the interest of clarity and so you wouldn’t have to go through this nonsense more than once I’ve cut them down and combined them.

Lastly what follows is really more some random comments about things that bother the piss out of me concerning the films than detailed deconstructions. Its been ages since I've seen Dark Knight so my memory is weak on many of the problems. As for Rises, I've only seen it once and there simply was too many problems to write them all down. I want to keep this under 900 pages.

Dark Knight

Suffering from a huge sense of bigger is better Dark Knight as a film suffers from being all action and little in the way of plotting. When you think of the film it’s not so much that you remember the plot, which has The Joker running all over Gotham causing havoc on a level never seen before. I have no idea what the Joker was doing or why. What was the point? I don't know.

I do know that  with Dark Knight I remember the tumbler chase, the ferry sequence, and Joker blowing up the hospital, but I remember little else. There was something about Harvey Dent becoming Two Face, and Joker making it impossible for Batman to save the one woman he loved… but in the end I don’t really understand what the point was other than to make him more of a hunted “criminal”. 

If you ask me there is no real characters only place holders that get moved around.

Regarding the Joker, he’s not that scary…certainly not in the way that the character in the comic book is. There is nothing wrong with Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance, rather the trouble comes in with what he does. The Joker as written by Nolan is way too logical. Certainly he’s homicidal, but at the same time he is clearly after something. Take for example the opening bank robbery, he robs the bank and kills his compatriots, which makes perfect sense if you want to keep all of the money and want no one to roll over on you.

His efforts to steer the injured Harvey Dent are for his own ends. The Joker is playing toward some apocalyptic end game that is much too well thought out in a logical and reasonable manner. Yes he blows up the hospital to cause fear and panic but is clearly after more than just showing the baseness of humanity that he seems claims in the speech to Batman. Whatever the ultimate goal of the Joker, what it is we are never told, there is a genuine rhyme and reason to it. To my eye at least Joker is playing everyone with a notion of mental illness rather than the real thing. (I think that’s the reason why the story of his face changes, it is what is going to scare the natives at that moment.)

In the comic’s best stories the Joker really is bat shit nuts. There is some sort of logic going on and while it will mimic rational thought, it frequently will go left for no reason. I just feel like shooting you. And when he does something evil, it will be so horrible that it will upset even the people he’s working for, for example the story line where Joker is sent to the UN as ambassador. Ledger’s Joker is never ever demonic enough...and therefore the film is a disappointment.

Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Despite my protests and tantrums that I would never do so, I did manage to see the Dark Knight Rises.

While I have all sorts of issues about what they did to the characters, I find that the least of my problems is the comic bastardization. Rather I have issues with the film being a complete mess dramatically. Granted it’s a “comic book” film, but at the same time comic books aren’t this careless with their story and plotting. Its mess and it ruins the film because a film that is so desperately trying to be realistic-Bruce sees a doctor who tells him how badly he’s broken up- and yet it has some of the most fantastical turns.

How is that people are raving about how great this film is? It boggles the mind.

Lets face it DKR is a mess.

Is it the comic? No.

While I said the least of the films worries are the comic characters I would like to use the differences in the characters to explain what’s wrong with the film.

Talia. Ras al Ghul’s daughter. In the comic, She has a hot and heavy romance with Bruce/Batman that produces a son who she hides away from everyone to protect him. When the two meet in the comics sparks fly. In the film Bruce is completely unaware of her existence until near the end of the film until she puts a knife in his back. Her plot to destroy Gotham makes no sense on any level. (and keep the plot in mind, I’ll get back to it). Why would someone trying to carry on Ghul's plan aim for vengeance- especially when you get no sense of Ghul's relationship with her other than he threw her in a pit?

Bane. Why did you uset him? Why? You could have had a gorilla. In the comic Bane is a super genius the equal to Bruce. He uses the mask- which originally connected him to a drug called Venom to pump up him physically. Yes Bane broke Bat man in the comic. However in the comic Bane knew he couldn’t beat Bruce on his own and so only confronts him after setting all of the super villains out after Batman first. Bruce/Batman had to beat everyone first. Bane only could take out a physically exhausted and broken Batman. In the comic Bane was rational and reasonable. He amped up everything toward his goal- breaking Batman, because that was the only way to stop the only one who could beat him, not get revenge for his master. Here he’s a big imposing guy in a mask with a silly voice living in a sewer (?) who does some incredibly stupid things.

Batman. When did he get so stupid and impulsive? The character is way too inconsistent doing smart things one minute, stupid the next. Actually the vast majority of what he does makes no sense, the simple act of becoming a recluse after the previous film makes no sense especially in the light of the DK ending with the implication that Batman would be come a true outlaw. In this film he disappeared after Harvey died. Really? In the previous he said he would fight on truly outside the law.

As for his dying, no. no no. Its based solely on a single shot of Batman in whats supposed to be the Bat. It seems to be a random shot. I would accept that Alfred seeing Bruce and Selina in Paris was a dream if it didn’t come at the instant he sat down. To me any notion of seeing Bruce would have come if he had been reflecting a moment or two not sitting down. For my money Bruce survived-he always does.

The plot of the film makes no sense. A weird carry over from the the first film, here its this weird plot to wreck Gotham and get revenge on Bruce. The plot, which never made sense in the first film, is carried over in this one. I still don't understand what the purpose of it is. A better world by taking out one city?

Worse are the twisted plot holes in the story beginning with those involving take over Gotham plot, such as why the hell the military doesn't step in once Bane's men take the city....

...which then spirals out all sorts of illogical plot lines like how long did they hold the city- weeks since Bruce is away that long, and the river freezes, This  raises questions that the film has no answers for like how did all the cops survive in the tunnels for so long? None of this bothered anyone? Even the length of time it takes for Bruce to heal would have been really long.

On the other hand logic and reason isn't something Nolan was going for since there is the infamous chase that goes from day to night in one cut. Nolan was going for effect, though I have yet to deduce what that might be...

There's more, a great deal more. I started watching the film and had to put my notebook away since I was essentially annotating the entire film with questions. You can only ask WHY? so many times before you have to throw up your hands.

Do me a favor. Now that DKR is out on DVD watch it again and don't look at the spectacle, watch the plot wait watch it after seeing DK and think about how the plot is progressing.... this makes zero sense even on its own terms.


  1. If there’s anybody in the world who could have made not one, not two, but three epic and great Batman films, it’s Christopher Nolan and it’s so sad to see him end it all. However, what a great trilogy he gave us and if anything, this movie should mainly be remembered and loved for that reason. Good review Steve.

  2. You should read my blog on the same subject: "Nolan's Batman Overrated?"