The Dark Knight With a Vengeance
When I first saw Batman Begins in 2005, I absolutely loved it. The sites I read liked it, and it seemed to click with whatever mindset I had at 16 years old. I watched it anew this week in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises, and while Begins is not a bad movie by any means, it certainly falls flat of my teenaged aspirations for any sort of lasting status as a classic.
Contrast: I didn’t care much for The Dark Knight in particular when I first saw it, trying both to defend my already waning love for Begins, as well as being firmly in the camp that claimed undeserved martyrdom around Ledger’s performance. I can today claim that I was crazy, and Ledger is certainly fantastic in role and holds up what is otherwise a pretty messy movie which was maybe a little better than it’s predecessor.
Both Begins and Knight are wrought with enough exposition to make it obvious that this was The Peoples’ dark and gritty reboot as well as an overabundance of throwaway one-liners which damage said pseudo-seriousness. Nolan’s a good director from my standpoint of: “I’ve seen all of his films and don’t really know much about the technical details of directing and also Memento was really cool—why don’t more directors play with narrative structure?” Aside from owning a certain tone and some pretty great action set pieces, I think this Batman trilogy is still short of any kind of high praise.
Yes, Nolan’s Batman is probably still the best comic book series we’ll see for awhile, but too much of it is spent setting up perfect coincidences—the kind you don’t notice when you’re ridiculously entertained by the big ticket scenes—in between the MEGA-CHAOS that we’ve spent billions of dollars to go see in theaters. Here is a somewhat-take-down of the hallmark chase sequence in Knight, and while I couldn’t have come up with this myself, it’s a good expert take on the chaotic sequence that Nolan has thrived on.
With Rises specifically, I didn’t really go in with very high expectations. Bane’s voice was as ridiculous as advertised and his eventual fate made him seem like a waste of so much marketing focus and screen time. There were a certain number of plot holes—most of which were again covered up by Nolan’s seeming gift of polishing up all the huge pieces he keeps in motion. Sure, the ironic dialog was a bit toned down, but the exposition is worse than ever, with full footage from Begins and Knight repeatedly spliced in as unnecessarily stark reminders of events past. I spent a good part of the 165 minutes thinking about how Die Hard With a Vengeance was really the ultimate relative-of-vanquished-villain-returns flick.
Considering that I also didn’t much care for The Avengers (or any of it’s preceding character films for that matter) or The Amazing Spider-Man, I remain interested (but maybe not so optimistic) in Man of Steel. I’m actually all for constant series reboots with new directors, but my caveat is that the new franchise has to try to innovate on the material. There were a ton of problems with Amazing Spider-Man, but the biggest one to me was that it followed Raimi’s so closely at times that it made it hardly seem worth the effort of rebooting the whole thing. New actors are great, and it’s become clear that the villains end up driving the individual films—one reason why Avengers fell flat for me. But I hope that studios can dig through the canon and find some unique stories or at least write something fresh. If you’re not going to iterate on the origin, just leave it alone and get to the good stuff. And that’s from somebody who loves origin stories.
The superhero genre is here to stay. It has a huge fanbase in the right demographics and can sustain large franchises. I was never much into comics, but as an Internet denizen and someone who sees a lot of movies anyway, I’m probably going to keep seeing them as long as they remain culturally relevant and aren’t completely panned by critics. Nolan had the right idea, but the “realism” that his series is touted for ended up being a bit hyper-realistic in retrospect. One thing I will give Webb’s Spider-Man is that a number of its scenes captured what I imagine would be a truer reality of what a teenager with superpowers might look and act like. I hope that future superhero films can try to zero in on this aspect and spend a little time with the alter-ego and the hero’s toll on it.
Obviously, the status quo doesn’t seem like it will be a box office loser any time soon. My preference notwithstanding, I just hope the studios don’t completely cave to the safest possible denominator of Iron Man very dryly defeating irredeemable aliens.