Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Dark Knight sinks

This movie was better than "The Dark Knight Rises."

It is impossible to “spoil” something that is already rotten. However, the following post contains specific plot information about the film “The Dark Knight Rises,” so if you haven’t yet seen the film (don’t!) and you don’t want to know what happens in the film (trust me, you don’t!), then read no further.

There is a great deal of irony in the title “The Dark Knight Rises.” The character of Batman cannot rise above this material, and so the character sinks. The film is completely nonsensical and ludicrous, so the film itself sinks, hard. The acclaim afforded the film shows a decline in critical thinking, in particular among fanboys and geeks; fandom sinks. And each of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films has declined in quality.

 “The Dark Knight Rises” is the worst Batman film of all time. It is worse than Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin." It is worse than “Batman XXX: A Porn Parody.” It is worse than Leslie Martinson's “Batman” film from 1966.  It’s worse than “The Dark Knight Raises.”

Not only that, it’s actually worse than “Catwoman.”

It is spectacularly, mind-bendingly awful. It’s so awful, there were times while I was watching it that I thought it might be a put-on. Here is a major filmmaker saying, “You people will pay to see anything – not only that, you’ll turn anything into an event, and you’ll even make excuses for it, and fight on the message boards to protect it.”

There are so many problems with the film that it’s difficult to know exactly where to begin. Its flaws are fundamental to its very structure. Story—there is none. Just a series of set-pieces. Characters – there are none. Just a bunch of robots pretending to be human. Logic, consistency, intelligence – none of these things are present in this film.

The problems are present from the start: What was the point of the opening set piece, with the skyjacking? Other than, “It looks cool,” I mean. Bane wanted to find out what the doctor knew? Really? So he allowed the CIA to capture him and had his buddies attack the plane in mid-flight? And then after this spectacular getaway is effected, Bane just sort of… drifts into the Gotham City sewers, with no follow up from the CIA, whose operatives have all been killed in a bizarre plane crash (the wings are over here, the tail is over there, the fuselage is over there). No other planes are scrambled to intercept Bane. Nothing.

And while in Gotham’s sewers (and no one is checking what’s going on down there), Bane is putting explosives in the cement being used to build the city’s infrastructure, with the goal of at some point in the future – during the big football game! – hitting a  detonator button that will cause that cement to explode? Is that really how explosives work?

And about that football game – the football field collapses under the players’ feet, yet the stands remain untouched. This also makes no sense – they apparently only used the explosive cement on the ground under the field – except that it affords Bane the opportunity to strut out onto the field with a couple of guys and deliver a soliloquy (everyone gets a soliloquy in this movie) about how he has a nuclear device and someone in Gotham has the detonator and don’t anyone come after me or I’ll blow it up.

The federal government, the military, the CIA, the drone bombs, the governments of every other country just decide, “You know what? They’ve got a nuclear weapon with what someone claims is a six-mile wide detonation radius. Let’s just leave them alone and hope the thing doesn’t go off. That’s our plan. That’s right. Seriously. That is our plan. And we’re sticking to that plan for at least 100 days.”

Meanwhile, the Gotham City Police Department is trapped underground. For over 100 days. Remember when those miners in Chile were trapped underground for 69 days? They are still dealing with the emotional stress of that. Yet in all the shots of the Gotham PD, they’re seen lounging around, hanging out, waiting for their food baskets to drop down from above so that they can eat. It's like they're on vacation down there!

Yes, for some reason, Bane et al, who plan to destroy Gotham City anyway, not only let the Gotham Police Department live, they actually send food down to them. So they can keep their strength up, so that when they get out they can use the guns that they've still got to come out fighting!

And, every so often, John Blake’s partner gets a note from him. Blake drops these notes down through a sewer grate.

What the hell happens to the cops when it rains? It’s winter – how do they keep warm? 

Speaking of John Blake – how in the hell does he figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman? Bruce Wayne visited the orphanage one day, and a young Blake takes one look at him, and he just sorta, you know, reaches into the zeitgeist and he just knows?

And the villains. It doesn’t occur to Batman, during his initial, brutal fistfight with Bane to punch Bane in the weird contraption that he wears on his face? He has to wait until the big citywide fight orgy at the end of the film to use his skills as the world’s greatest detective to deduce that maybe the weird thing on the villain’s face might be something he should knock out?

And, oh, Bane. Did you really give Batman a variation on that old supervillain chestnut “Killing you would be too easy, you must suffer as I have suffered”? Yes, you did. And only halfway through the movie, too. So, Bane then (by magic!) takes Batman to a mysterious prison that is at the bottom of a giant well. A giant well with a rope that’s tied to something near the top. Many have tried to climb its sheer walls, yet no one apparently has thought to JUST CLIMB UP THE DAMNED ROPE THAT’S RIGHT THERE AND TIED AROUND YOUR WAIST, and then shimmy up the rest of the way.

And wasn’t it awfully convenient of Bane et al to give Bruce Wayne that time to recuperate? Right there in a cell with a caretaker, and right next to the prison’s doctor, who has a grudge against Bane. And I guess Bruce Wayne’s injuries weren’t all that bad after all, since all it took to start him on the road to recovery was to tie a rope under his armpits and then hit him in the vertebra that was sticking out of his back. (But then, I’m not a doctor, so I’m not sure just how vertebrae work. Maybe all it does take is one punch to get everything back in alignment. I guess maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt on that one.)

These are the same people who feed the police, in their underground vacation spot. They are the most accommodating and least threatening villains of all time.

And for crying out loud, do we really need villains who stop to explain their amazing master plan before finally executing their master their plan? Once they discover that Batman’s back (how’d he get back? how’d he find Catwoman excuse me Selina? he just sort of shows up when he needs to – but then, there’s a lot of that in this movie, too), why don’t they just DETONATE THE FREAKING NUCLEAR BOMB RIGHT THEN; if it’s so important that they fulfill Ra’s Al Ghul’s master plan and destroy Gotham City, then just do it already and END THE MOVIE.

Of course, they haven’t done it already. Because they want Gotham City to suffer. As I have suffered. Because they’re supervillains and supervillains don’t just do stuff, they want to stretch it out to make the heroes suffer.

They also pause just before achieving final victory, so that they can soliloquize their explanations. How long does Talia/Miranda keep her thumb poised above the detonator while she LITERALLY GOES BACK TO HER CHILDHOOD to explain her motives and her INCREDIBLY SURPRISING BACKSTORY that she is actually the one who ignored the rope and made that stupid jump from one ledge to another and escaped from the giant well, and she was the one who was the child of Ra’s Al Ghul, and she is the one who will fulfill her father’s master plan of destroying Gotham City once and for all, just as soon as she’s finished telling you all her origin because she never went to a psychiatrist.

Then she does it again after the truck she's been driving crashes, and she's dying from internal injuries.

And how did the world’s greatest detective not do any research on Miranda Tate/Talia Al Ghul? He’s making her his CEO and what, he googled her name and just accepted everything he found? She’s not a vice presidential running mate for crying out loud DID YOU NOT VET THIS WOMAN?

And Alfred and Bruce had an irreconcilable falling out over Rachel’s letter? Really, Bruce, you’ve trusted Alfred with everything, he’s raised you since you were an orphan but NO THIS IS JUST TOO MUCH I CAN’T TAKE ANY OF THIS ANYMORE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD THIS IS A BAD MOVIE.

There’s been much written about the politics of the film. The thriller writer Andrew Klavan called it
[A] bold apologia for free-market capitalism; a graphic depiction of the tyranny and violence inherent in every radical leftist movement from the French Revolution to Occupy Wall Street; and a tribute to those who find redemption in the harsh circumstances of their lives rather than allow those circumstances to mire them in resentment.
This commentary ignores the fact that the film is so slapdash that trying to figure out if Bane is a member of #OWS is totally pointless. It’s hard for me to believe, given all the mistakes and illogic of the film, that the creators gave much thought to putting it together. Beyond “They’ll buy anything,” I mean. And if they didn’t think about it too much, why the hell should I? The film’s politics are slightly less profound than Sham 69’s “If the Kids are United.”

Nothing about this film makes any sense. To quote Homer Simpson, It’s just a bunch of that happened.

But that stuff is designed specifically to stimulate fanboys, and in that sense the film is an unqualified success. On July 6th, it was screened for a select few “critics” and fanboys with little in the way of critical thinking skills. It received a standing ovation, and some embarrassing twitter praise:
"The Dark Knight Rises has just finished screening for the press and critics, receiving a STANDING OVATION!!!," film reviewer Lauren Hiestand wrote, as highlighted by Comic Book Movie. Another critic, Marco Gennuso, gushed, "If this does not break the mold and win Best Picture, no comic book movie ever will #TDKR." 
Tom McAuliffe, meanwhile, tweeted, "Just finished the screening of Dark Knight much awesome...can't wait to see it again. And again." 

"The trilogy is greater than the sum of its parts, and for me the 3rd was the very best part of the whole story. Dark knight is a classic in its own right - it stands alone, but in this trilogy, and as a closer, this film exceeds. It's an ending that presents opportunity for thought for sure. Risky/tough story well told, brilliantly acted, great cinematography, awesome score." 
Additionally, The Dark Knight Rises Hype group on Facebook wrote, "As far as audience reaction, there were only 40-50 ppl in attendance (mostly critics), but there was applause and I leaned over and shook Michael Uslan's hand and congratulated him when his name appeared in the credits. I, myself, cried twice...once out of sadness and once out of pure geeky uncontrollable happiness."
It’s difficult to imagine the mindset of a person who would be moved to tears by such a film, let alone want to sit through its nearly three-hour running time “again. And again.”

There is no emotion in the film. The characters do not bear any resemblance to actual people, nor do the situations in the film bear any resemblance to reality. So how could these people be so moved by it?

An answer, of sorts, can be found in this Nerdbastards post, “The 10 Best Things About ‘The Dark Knight Rises’” (how did he limit himself to just ten????):
One of the overriding memories I have of my press screening of this film is centered on Bane and Batman’s brawl in Gotham’s sewers. I was sitting next to a couple of fellow comic book geeks, and when Bane lifted Batman over his head we all held our breath. When he dropped him over his knee we all winced, and one of my fellow viewers whispered “Oh my God, he did it.” This was the oft-rumored iconic Batman comic book movie playing out on the screen, with brutal effectiveness.
The film brings to life images from the comic books that we comic book fans grew up on. We hold our breaths. We wonder if the film with the $250 million budget will show the image that was drawn into a comic book. When it does, we show our reverence in hushed tones. We cry. We give it a STANDING OVATION!!!

Those standing ovations, incidentally, began even before many of us had seen the film. (That's how sincere they were!) When the first negative reviews of the film started to come in to Rotten Tomatoes, the Rotten Tomatobots took to the message boards to use vituperations and death threats to try to convince those critics that, well, they were just so damned wrong about what we all knew in our hearts to be an amazing film.
The aggregating Web site suspended user comments on movie reviews of "The Dark Knight Rises" after commenters reacted harshly to negative reviews of the film and made profane and threatening remarks about the critics who wrote them. 
Matt Atchity, the site's editor-in-chief, said Tuesday it was the first time has suspended user comments, adding postings about "Dark Knight" reviews would likely be restored by the end of the week. The final film in director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy opens Friday. 
"The job of policing the comments became more than my staff could handle for that film, so we stopped the comments altogether," said Atchity. "It just got to be too much hate based on reactions to reviews of movies that people hadn't even seen."
As anyone who has spent any time on the Rotten Tomatoes message boards will tell you, this was very fishy. The Rotten Tomatobots have been using vicious, hateful, and threatening language against critics who dare to criticize their favored intellectual property for years.

So what was really going on? Well, dig this: is owned by social movie site, a Warner Bros. company.
And Warner Bros. is the studio that released “The Dark Knight Rises.”

So, the week the film is to open, a website that has for years tolerated the vicious comments of passionate fanboys suddenly announces that they just can’t take it anymore and they’re shutting it down, because people are getting TOO WORKED UP OVER A MOVIE THAT IS TO BE RELEASED BY THE COMPANY THAT OWNS THE WEBSITE.

The “Toy Story” films perfectly outlined the ways in which intellectual property owners co-opt fandom to promote their products. The Rotten Tomatoes stunt was a new wrinkle, but it was just more of the same.

Opening this Friday! The film that got the fanboys so worked up they actually made death threats against film critics who didn’t like it. Or, who claimed not to like it, since there’s no way anyone can dislike this film – they’re obviously trolls.

And yet, despite all this, the geeks understand intuitively that something’s not quite right. In this video, two geeks discuss the film, and are forced to admit, under duress, that it’s a merely “great film,” not an “exceptional” one.

And on’s hastily-revised update of the “10 best comic book films of all time,” “The Dark Knight Rises” only made it to number 3:
In spite of a flawed third act, The Dark Knight Rises functions beautifully as a third act all its own, following up Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to give a movie that’s so ambitious in scale and meticulously mapped-out in the big picture that some of the niggling details may not be 100%, but they don’t really impede your enjoyment of an absolutely inspired piece of filmmaking.
Oh sure, it’s just the “niggling details” that aren’t 100% (whatever the hell that means). Too bad those “niggling details” add up over the course of the film, to the point that nothing in the entire film makes even the slightest bit of sense.

But that’s just a niggling detail. We know what really matters – the fact that BANE BROKE THE BAT, JUST LIKE IN THE COMICS!

STANDING OVATION!!! also had to acknowledge that there were “five things that Nolan should have done.” Note that none of the five things mentioned includes using logic to tell a coherent story, or to try to fill in plot holes, or to not fall back on tired old superhero/villain clichés. My own favorite of the five offers more insight into the mind of the geek:
Clarify John Blake’s arc for those who don’t get it 
This is the one we feel the least passionate about, since Blake’s arc seemed pretty clear to us–but since his final fate has become the source for so much online discussion and debate, it may have been worthwhile to keep that final shot going for just another ten seconds or so, to see what ended up in his hands when he arrived at his destination. 
Was that the best way to say that without spoiling the ending? We want to avoid spoilers on this one. In any event, some people argue that it’s unclear what John Blake will do next after The Dark Knight Rises. We wholeheartedly disagree, but another ten seconds of filming and the director could have made it unequivocally clear to anyone with a pulse, so there’s an argument to be made that he might have been better off doing so.
Some people just don’t get it. Oh, we get it. This is a great film. One of the top-three all-time best comic book movies. But some people don’t get it. Those people need help. We’re not saying they’re stupid, not in so many words, but we’re saying they needed help. So, just a few more seconds tacked on to a movie that was already pushing three hours and had dozens of nonsensical scenes would cleared up everything about JOHN FREAKING BLAKE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

Never mind why every single character in the film always happens to be in exactly the right spot at the right time. Never mind that nobody could figure out that Bruce Wayne was Batman despite the fact that his armory was discovered inside Wayne Enterprises. Never mind that nobody apparently did anything to examine the background of Miranda Tate. Never mind that the police just lounged around doing nothing underground for three months. Never mind that everyone in the entire world outside of Gotham City just went on about their lives, occasionally asking each other, “Hey, you know whatever happened to that nuclear bomb in Gotham City?  Yeah, I haven’t heard, either. You gonna eat that?” Never mind that Bruce Wayne had the most miraculous recovery from a broken back in the history of comic book movies. Never mind that no one in the well prison has ever thought to just shimmy up that damn rope and get out of there. Never mind any of those “niggling details”—there are some people who don’t know whether or not John Blake decides to start running around in Bruce Wayne’s Batsuit, so those dummies need to have everything SPELLED THE HELL OUT FOR THEM.

I think that a lot of geeks are looking at “The Dark Knight Rises” as a test of their loyalty. Can they overlook all those “niggling details” and appreciate the true artistry and entertainment that must lie at its core? If you can do that – if you can love this film as much as you know you should, if you can understand it as the well-mapped out third act of the greatest comic book based trilogy in history, then you, my friend, are a true fan.

And now it’s time for true fans to move on to speculation about the inevitable Batman movie reboot. It’s what we do. It’s part of the process.

Thinking, on the other hand, is not.


Thrill Fiction said...

The choice was wait until The Dark Knight Rises in my hole-in-the-wall of an apartment or read what the Child Robot has to say.

Of course the title is pompous and self reverent. Sort of like the Olympics. A global competition of 'amateur' athletes which will be won by the richest and one of the most populous counties - and if America doesn't win they'll have the winners banned. Fanboys have the mentality of children who turn hysterical when told Santa Claus is a gimmick. The Nolan trilogy never had the intention of Frank Miller (Catwoman as an African American prostitute) or Tim Burton (Catwoman as a dominatrix). Nolan's trilogy is not subversive. It is corporate: celebrate the geek and he will come. This is 21st century Stockholm Syndrome. The exploited belove their abusers.

(I'm impressed you quoted Andrew Klavan. I dig that dude.)

Alas without having seen the film I find it bogus of me to try to enter the discussion. I will state my position if it wasn't hitherto clear: If I pay a prostitute for sex and she coos underneath me I know its a special effect that's part of the payment. An egotist thinks she's enjoying her work. A fanboy thinks she's wants him to earn enough money to save her.

They'll all turn up with their money for the next trilogy. There's no saving them.

Ricky Sprague said...

The movie really is stunningly bad. Most of the time I was watching it, I was just thinking about how bad it was. I kind of wish I hadn't sat through it.

Watching fandom decay in this manner is sad. There's a sort of enforced groupthink at work, in which comments sections and message boards are used to try to intimidate people into towing the acceptable line on any given movie. Nolan's Batman films are amazing works of art, the greatest comics-based trilogy of all time so the story goes, and if you don't believe that, you're at best a troll.

That these people don't seem to have the self-awareness to see how they're being used by entertainment corporations to push their product is even worse. You can see it happening now, with "Iron Man 3." Comics and movie websites are getting set photos straight from Marvel/Disney, who then post them to keep the geeks chatting. Clips will be released. Concept art will "leak." All of this is examined in minute detail, for months and months, and the fans have already decided long before they go into the film that they love it because it's going to show IRON PATRIOT!

These fans then act as the studio's emissaries, hitting message boards, blogs, websites, reddit and etc, spreading the word. And if you don't accept that this is a great film, or that it's going to be a great film, then you're not a real fan.

They believe that being a fan means being true to the intellectual property. No matter what is being done with it.

I've read a couple of Klavan's books-- he's a talented writer. I do disagree with his assessments of the politics behind both this film and "The Dark Knight," though.

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