My disdain for Christopher Nolan as a director has been well-documented here*. Going into The Dark Knight Rises, I tried my best to keep my expectations low. Fat chance of that working when Batman is involved. Would Nolan disappoint again?
Not exactly. I was actually quite pleased with The Dark Knight Rises, so much so that I would name it the best film of the Nolan trilogy**.
How could the same director who made Inception have also made The Prestige? How could the same guy who can’t manage to satisfactorily conclude one movie have so aptly tied up all three Batman films? I don’t know, but as a tribute, here are three great things about Christopher Nolan, along with one fatal flaw***
Acting. He works with great actors and he brings out the best in them. Heath Ledger? Performance of his career. Hugh Jackman? Performance of his career (Though he’s fucking awesome as Wolverine). Anne Hathaway? Probably the best Catwoman ever (And Kevin Smith agrees with me). I could go on, but do I need to? Everyone knows that Nolan films have superior actors turning in superior performances. The fact that you absolutely adore Michael Caine is a tribute to that very fact.
Tone. He is sincere. The Batman films work so well because Nolan wanted to make great movies. Not great superhero movies. Not Comic Book movies. Not genre movies. Just great movies. There is no fucking doubt that Nolan is serious about Batman. There’s not a hint of camp. Sure, there’s humor, and they are steeped in the mythology of the DC comics, but I get the impression with The Dark Knight that Nolan was gunning for Oscars, not Box Office. And because of that sincerity, he always gets the tone note perfect. The Joker isn’t campy, he’s fucking terrifying. Catwoman isn’t cheesy, she’s damaged and dark and intelligent and always looking out for herself. There isn’t one of his movies that doesn’t have exactly the right tone, and that’s why people love him and so readily overlook his flaws.
Story Development. He may suck at climax resolution most of the time, but he definitely knows how to build to those climaxes. Maybe the fact that they are set up so beautifully is partially why there is a feeling of letdown when we get to the end. In watching the ridiculous race to save Gotham City from the poisoned water in Batman Begins, and the stupid cellphone technology and at the end of The Dark Knight, I read the influence of big money Hollywood, which expects blockbuster endings to its blockbuster movies. My one major gripe about The Dark Knight Rises is the poorly choreographed battle between the police and Bane’s followers. Every one is carrying a gun, and they are firing those guns, yet it somehow turns into hand-to-hand combat after five seconds of engagement. Huh? I think Nolan himself would like to have low key climaxes, built around internal conflict and conflict between characters, but most of the time, that won’t fly with his bosses. But, to his credit, I won’t deny he does a tremendous job of creating tension and conflict. Yes, the Joker is horrifying, but you also have Rachel forced to choose between Bruce and Harvey, and Commissioner Gordon trying to fight corruption both without and within, and Alfred fighting back tears every time he speaks. The Dark Knight is so heavy with gravitas I’m surprised I can lift the DVD and put it into my machine.
Action. Nolan is just so bad with most of his action scenes. The gunfight in the snow in dream level three. The aforementioned assault on Joker’s men and the hostages, where it’s impossible to know who is who. The seriousness with which Nolan approaches his subjects begs for a Jason Bourne level of reality in the action scenes, but Nolan is unable to manage it. Even the weightless fighting in Inception, considered one of the movie’s high points, is nothing special. I mean Lionel Ritchie pulled off pretty much the same special effects in the eighties. I will admit that Nolan did a nice job with the opening scene of the Dark Knight Rises. We get wide angle views of Bane’s men lowering themselves from one plane to the other, and then totally dismantling the CIA plane before dropping it to the ground. That’s what I want to see more of. Not cheesy battles between hundreds of men or MTV-edited chases scenes where you can barely see what’s going on.
And in conclusion, Inception sucked. All of you who liked it a year ago, you’re probably blowing your load over the Avengers now and can barely remember what you liked so much about it at the time. The movie was bad, but it built up the tension and suspense so well over the first two acts that when it unravelled in act three, you refused to see the truth of what a letdown it was. The ‘ambiguity’ of it all covered up all of the plot holes and lack of character motivation. Nolan fooled you into thinking you’d just seen something profound, when it was nothing more than another big summer spectacle, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.
*With a ginormous exception made for The Prestige, my favorite movie of the century
**Let me be clear: Heath Ledger is the best thing about the Nolan Batman movies. His rendition of the Joker may go down as the greatest movie villain of all time, right next to Darth Vader and Mr. Rooney. But the third act of the movie is lame and I will fight anyone who says differently.
***I was going to include three, but all you really need is one fatal flaw…because you know, they’re fatal.
Check out Decater's new mash-up novel, available exclusively at Amazon. And don't forget about his collection of microfiction, Picasso Painted Dinosaurs, available in online bookstores everywhere.