Are You Jackin’ With Me?

Eli and Book

The one thing I know about The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s the most boring action movie I’ve seen in years, and yes, I saw The Expendables.

But it might not be an action movie. So apart from the surety there, my thoughts remain roundaboutly, which is just, considering the movie itself.

And the Nolan Brothers are undeniably talented craftsmen, so there must be something there and going on. I mean something intentional, though the value would still be up for discussion.

What that something is, however, nobody seems to agree on.

The guy on the left hated it.

The guy on the right loved it.

And two reviewers for Educated Middle America, Roger Ebert and the Atlantic Monthly, split evenly down the middle. They both say it’s basically a good movie. Ebert thought the beginning was a mess, with an awesome conclusion; The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr thought the beginning was great but the second half unrealized.

I agree with both, in that I think both halves flawed to the point of Huh?

In fact, if I’d been seeing it alone, I’d have walked out within 30 minutes.

Acknowledging I might be missing something even by staying for the whole thing, is needful here. Because I did walk out of the second movie when I saw the Nolans intended to drag the thing out to three endings — at least one too many for a single film. But I came to enjoy that middle kid more after talking it over with some friends who know comic books, and seeing it a couple times on video. So for the record, this one may yet grow in my estimation.

But not yet.

For now, the smarter-than-thou vibe I get from these guys — the Brothers Nolan again — is too much to bear. Like Batman, I want to run off and get languid in an Italian café with a dark-haired fascinating-baffling-maddening woman, though in my case we’re married.

Because the movie is so dull, and because the Nolans are better than that, I conclude they are yanking our collective chain.

They are jackin’ with me.

Specifically, they are having us on, milking every comic canard, to no effect. The movie is a nearly three hour joke at our expense.

When I say no effect, I mean that literally. The movie ends in exactly the same place it began, with people believing lies and Batman gone. Between those two points, when stories are supposed to be told, we’re instead treated to tediously amazing characters, a flying car out of Blade Runner, and the villain in a Mad Max mask. At least one line I can recall just now is straight from the first Indiana Jones.

[I’ve heard Bane’s dental work compared to Hannibal Lecter, and Vader sans mask, but this is after all a movie about apocalypse soon.]

Apocalypse not just yet, with the old faithful nuclear-weapon-about-to-explode trick as the climactic event. A friend of mine noticed the atom bomb device, no pun intended, implying it was hoary. I think it was on purpose, and part of the joke. Along with characters who should be dead showing a remarkable resilience, bad guys living or dying in shoot-outs depending on the needs of the plot, the hero faking his own death (again), loooonnnggg discursive speeches by several characters on 1) “who I am” or 2) “what this means” or 3) both, and cartoon fist fights that could have been solved in a second with a sharpshooter (yes, I know Batman eschews guns; but he’s always fighting Bane in BIG crowds of many people who don’t).

Meanwhile the “true villain revealed” moment is not so much a mystery as an unlawful surprise — though in the later revelation of Robin, I buff my own fingernails on my lapels confessing I figured out who the kid was before the movie announced it … Ta-da!

The Princess Bride and Shrek both ape fairy tales, but you can tell the former actually likes animals, at least a little, while the latter transgresses and redacts on its merry revisionista way. Princess is respectful, confirming the genre by conforming to it in ways that can’t be legitimately (artistically) avoided. Shrek is a sarcastic git, one long Letterman riff on how stupid and goofy it all is, and ain’t we somethin’ for seeing through it.

And so TDKR seems more Shrek than Princess — more beast than beauty.

And it’s not even the Bane-Bain connection, or the OWS bidness, or even the stupid one-liners from Catwoman.

[Anne Hathaway is not funny She is willowy. She can do funny stuff and have people be mean to her, but she has developed too prim and proper a repertoire, and reputation in her characters, to be convincingly biting or nasty or even wry. Charlize Theron on the other hand can menace, scare, and horrify — even when still hot under that particular collar — but this girl does not mean what you think she means — she is not that woman.]

It’s the apparent contempt in which we’re (I think) being held.

Why did the kid toss away his badge? Because he needs to be Robin to complete the joke. Ta-da! Why do we have character speeches of insomnia-curing length and passive-voice-biz-speak import, worthy of Ayn Rand at her worst? Because the message of this film is there is no message. Read the Hibbs review for links to Nolan comments purporting to be led by great literature, to be about big and good things.

And don’t believe it. One or three allusions or references to A Tale of Two Cities does not mean one is being led by the great Dickens. The Wachowski Brothers proved that in a li’l movie trilogy called The Matrix — you don’t actually have to care about literature to mention it.


So Catwoman at one point says Batman knows nothing about her. The next sentence she says any 12-year-old with a cell phone knows everything about anyone. That’s nearer the beginning of the movie. Later, near the end, she says the people have been oppressed, and they should rise up to control Gotham and wreak revenge. Then she tells Batman that he doesn’t owe them anything. But wait, wasn’t he the one she said was a HUGE problem for those people, insofar as he had done sod-all with his money to help them?

And we further note that life has been pretty good for the people of Gotham these last eight years, what with no crime and all. Cities with zero crime do not, unfortunately for this script, have a populace ready to explode in a moment. That is not how it works.


So the whole nuclear device thing, which at one point, in the dark of night, has only 45 minutes until it explodes. The next scene is mid-day, and it has not yet done so. And when it’s about to, after they had to push the truck to a particular destination, Batman decides to hook it with a cable, all the better to fly it out over the ocean. Hum. Could done that from the start, though, right? Disable the truck instead of trying to divert it, and take the damn bomb with plenty of time to spare. Oh, and good thing it’s not, you know … unstable. Or else bouncing around the alleys of Gotham and dodging massive firepower from a flying car might have been, you know … dangerous.

And where are the complainers when a nuclear weapon explodes over an ocean full of life they’d say is just as important as Gotham’s? Or the noise pollution of the relentless “think this way” … “now think this way” musical score. Or that Bane, who cherubed up to a behemoth size in squalor and crime and no public education, somehow became a super-genius with an Oxford don’s vocabulary.

The script, that is, the movie — that is, the Nolans — are clearly taking liberties here.

Except if it is intentional.

I’m going to suggest (at least until I talk to my comic book friends and watch the movie again on video) that they meant it. And that they are rather influenced by great literature. Or might be.

Because in the last third of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain goes inexplicably insane on us, unless he’s not insane. The last third of possibly the most awesome piece of American literature ever — and according to Hemingway it’s at least first if not best — becomes incredibly inane and dumb, and it is all on purpose. And it’s no longer the book we thought we were reading.

Because Twain realized that he had created a hero, and thus, because of both our flowering and our flaws, an idol. Read his “Notice” at the front of the book and take it seriously. Believe he meant it. And then understand that he saw how incredible a man he’d made in the person of Huck Finn. So Twain believed he had to find a way to keep us from worshiping his creation. If we’re looking to Huck to keep going and keep getting it right, the last third is crap … on purpose.

And if you think of Huckleberry Finn as a trilogy, that last third would be analogous to The Dark Knight Rises.

Mark Twain did it because he was a rotten cynic. But it might be a good idea anyway.

Because the Nolans might be saying (remember Mad Max?) we don’t need another hero.

Above I said my thoughts were unsettled. Like Twain’s “Warning” take that seriously. Because maybe the Nolans want us to stop believing in experts and rulers and superheroes. Maybe that’s why this movie, where all the hero stuff is so silly. Not sure they’d want us believing in ourselves either but we certainly need to believe in something.

I dunno. Have we met the hero and he is us?

But heroes have feet of clay, even when Lucius Fox builds the suit. And Alfred told Bruce Wayne that Gotham didn’t need Batman, but a good man.

Not another hero mind you: just a good man.

Not a bad idea, that.

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