Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dark Knight Rises – 30 Criticisms

What follows is a fairly harsh criticism of the movie The Dark Knight Rises. If you liked it, of course, that's great, and I wouldn't seek to take away any person's enjoyment. However, I personally not been so utterly and shockingly dismayed, disappointed, and even offended by a movie since The Phantom Menace (which compelled me to write quite similar thoughts about it 13 years ago). The plot is stupendously nonsensical, while simultaneously mangling mythology to an enormous degree. I was bored, my girlfriend was bored (almost walked out, which we never do), people adjacent to us in the theater were bored. 

I'll start with a compliment – Anne Hathway's derriere is awesome. Now, on to the rest of the review; 30 criticisms follow. Major spoilers about everything are below.
  1. WHAT. ARE. YOU. SAYING?! Like the other Nolan films, we have the Batman gravelly voice problem; and now also Bane digitally distorted, non-understandable (plus no visible mouth to lip-read); plus Alfred constantly sobbing; plus Jim Gordon in the hospital not understandable, etc., etc. We were routinely just giving up on following dialog. Never been in a theater with such aggressive “shushing” from all over, people trying desperately to hear.
  2. Nuclear bombs don't remotely work like that (never seen it so completely mishandled). They don't go “unstable” over a 4-month period, but predictable to a certain minute or second countdown-timer. A “neutron bomb” can't be flown a few miles out of a city and be detonated without terrible effects on the people of said city.
  3. Why was Jim Gordon still carrying his speech in his pocket days later (to be stolen by Bane)? And it seemed to make very little difference in the end (why would people even believe Bane's reading of it)?
  4. So bored with the Robin development. Yes, it's pretty clear this young guy will be Robin – yet there's zero payoff in the film itself. I've gone to a Batman movie, and I'm watching more scenes with this ambitious, fairly vanilla police detective than I am Batman.
  5. The “Clean Slate” device makes zero sense. How can you possibly delete all your information from all databases in the world? What about off-site backups? Even a single company can't verifiably delete their own data nowadays because of all the cycling backups they keep.
  6. Alfred constantly sobbing. Alfred is supposed to be cool, calm, collected – perhaps more so than Batman himself. Always by his side, and always ready with the needed assistance. Alfred sobbing uncontrollably throughout the film and leaving Bruce is not the right story.
  7. Batman quitting. Batman taking a 7-year hiatus, coming back for one fight, and then running off with the Catwoman anonymously is not any variety of the Batman character I know. Batman is: persistence and dedication personified, never giving up, always the last of the DC heroes to go down (see: DC animated universe, Kingdom Come, Miller's Dark Knight Returns, etc.) Having him quit on a regular basis is just not right.
  8. Didn't you see the assassin's symbol on Talia's back (in the fireplace post-love scene)? It's right there! I honestly thought Bruce would calmly walk out of that scene and cleverly turn the tables on her. No dice.
  9. Frankly, I'm very sensitive to issues of cop corruption, militarization, and abuse. This is common to a lot of mass-market superhero movies, but: honestly, cops would not act like that (with empty hands, charging an army with automatic weapons firing at them). For some reason, comic books can get away with unflattering depictions like the Hulkbusters, or the MRD in X-Men; but the popular movies cannot. In Dark Knight Rises you get this NYPD-analog sacrificing their lives in mass battle. In reality you get: New Orleans post-Katrina.
  10. How could you possibly catch all the police in your underground trap? How, and why, would you bother feeding them afterward? How could they survive exposed for months through the cold winter?
  11. What was the football-arena scene for? Why spend time on cheap patriotism of a child singing the anthem? Why was the playing field detonated like that? What purpose did the whole scene serve (it was set up like people would be hostages, or arena detonated with them in it – a complete tease)? Was the runner just barely avoiding the detonation supposed to be tragic or funny? Simply nonsense.
  12. Copycat theme/plot elements – the cutoff of the island and taking the city hostage en masse seems identical to what happened in the last movie. Here, it seemed very much been-there-done-that.
  13. Why would suicidal terrorists wait to blow up the nuclear device? Supposedly they both have a trigger and the unstable bomb will go off automatically anyway. Why wait? Granted you've waited, why then bother pushing the trigger 10 minutes before it will go off anyway? Why keep driving your truck with it and grouse about being directed to where it can be defused? Why not just hit the brakes on the truck, die as you're planning to anyway, and make sure the bomb goes off? Why wait until the last second to flood the underground chamber?
  14. How could Batman heal a broken back in 3 months and get back in shape to fight Bane? How could he be knifed to apparent death through the ribs and then just run off and ignore it in the conclusion? Plus, we deserve some kind of tactical explanation for why he loses the first fight with Bane but wins the second (even after crippling months-long injury); we don't get any such thing.
  15. The Pit concept is just so awful. In the comics: Ra's al Ghul is an immortal villain because of a magic chemical bath called the Lazarus Pit; he has an assassin daughter he personally raised named Talia; and Bane grew up in a corrupt South American prison. For some reason, this was all scrambled up so that Nolan made “the Pit” this nonsensical prison someplace where both Talia and Bane were born (I had to look up the latter online, it was so unclear). It doesn't make sense that people can't escape; that people are being fed; that there's a doctor; that Bruce can't understand the doctor at first, but within a month he does; or that a female child survived. The most egregious thing is Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson) appearing in a vision to Bruce and saying “there are many ways of becoming immortal” before vanishing. Nolan – if you don't want to touch the immortality theme, then just don't mention it; lampshading the fact that you wimped out on it is the worst thing that you could do.
  16. Why do superhero movies routinely represent the case that the hero only fought their arch-villain one single time before they died? (See: Batman, Spiderman movies, etc.) Why not allude to a longer career? According to this trilogy, apparently Batman really only had 3 major battles in his entire career before retiring. In fact, the one villain who doesn't die on-screen (Joker in the prior movie) has his grand declaration sabotaged: “I think you and I are destined to do this forever” turns out not to be the case, because with Batman's 7-year exile and then retirement, he never fights the Joker, nor anyone else, ever again.
  17. Why does Jim Gordon (old and post-hospital) personally have to be fighting to plant the marker and jammer on the nuclear device/truck (and not anyone younger or more fit)? Why is there no explanation for the detector/marker not working? Why does the jammer have to be directly in contact with the bomb (but not 5 feet away)? How is it that old Jim Gordon survives the several-story truck crash, in the container unrestrained with a giant nuclear bomb clanging around inside?
  18. That damned Bat-cycle with the flip-around-sideways wheels so you can make a particular corner or whatever. Physically so absurd and ridiculous. Completely wrecked my suspension of disbelief when that happened.
  19. There's an early fight in a bar between Catwoman and a gangster over a deal gone wrong. People start shooting, people run out, a legion of cops are suddenly on the scene, there's someone on a fire escape with a long rifle – and at this point I completely cannot follow who's on what side, or who's shooting at whom, or what the hell is going on. Kind of set the tone for the whole film.
  20. The opening-scene attack on the plane is pretty ridiculously overdone. Why would Bane risk himself in that situation? Just have someone else do it, or something. It really seems like all the explosive damage to the plane would make it look like not an accidental wreck.
  21. What about Batman's robot leg-brace? Early in the movie, Bruce straps on a brace to his lame knee and kicks a big chunk out of a brick wall as practice; this seems to set up use of that kick in some way (to defeat Bane, or make the jump from the Pit, or something). But no; it's just another abandoned plot thread.
  22. It's just so long and boring. One example: As soon as Bruce missed one jump from the pit, I knew we'd have to see a set of exactly 3 jumps. So predictable; get on with it, already. Not to mention that the prior implication seemed to be that you died on the rope if you failed the jump; super-unclear. Why wouldn't people be trying every day, or sinking pitons, if that was a possibility?
  23. Why storm the stock exchange? If the point was just to make some fraudulent trades, can't that be done electronically from long-distance these days?
  24. If “exile” across the ice is sudden death (such that Jim Gordon literally chooses “death” instead when given the choice), why doesn't anyone turn around and attack the gunmen behind them in a last-gasp resistance?
  25. Detonating a bridge does not make a neat 2-foot wide slice slide out of it, leaving the person immediately on the other side of the slice uninjured. Structurally that's not how bridges work.
  26. Why Batman makes such a complicated fake-suicide at the end is utterly beyond me. (Nor do I think guns on his copter like that can completely level a skyscraper within a second as happens here.)
  27. Really not sure how the board of Wayne Enterprises can be keeping a secret resistance, in their own board headquarters (I guess), when they were so central to the villain's plot in the first place.
  28. The subplot with Matthew Modine's (scared/incompetent lieutenant) character was really poorly done and unconvincing, I thought. I suspect that the director is not truly committed to showing a cowardly cop. (See other cop point.)
  29. The hand-to-hand fight scenes were really pretty drab and uninteresting by the standards of most Batman movies. Maybe this is partly due to Batman and Bane being portrayed as similar strength and fighting styles, such that they were mostly doing the same thing and having no effect on each other.
  30. Using actual, real-life New York City for the long establishing shots was completely distracting and off-putting. We're too accustomed to seeing Gotham as a fictional location with its own geography and architecture; now I'm confused why the government agencies are labeled “Gotham” instead of “NY”.

5 comments:

  1. Heh. Expecting a movie to get information technology anywhere close to correct is just setting yourself up for disappointment. Yes, the stock exchange raid is absurd, but how else do you dramatize such a thing?

    I actually enjoyed the movie despite agreeing with some of your criticisms. Particularly, the twist at the end made Bane much less creepy (otherwise, I was pretty happy with his portrayal, despite the lack of explanation for the cool mask).

    The first fight with Bane I thought was supposed to represent Batman's hubris.

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  2. I didn't like the movie because it was basically a therapy session for people still not over 9/11, like a lot of recent superhero movies. NYC, nuclear terrorism, blatantly Afghani-style bad guys, idolizing the police,truck-based WMDs like the Iraq 2 myths, the imagery of the hangings matching the bridge in Fallujah. It also threw in 99% v. 1% elements with Bane's public speeches, the kangaroo court, catwoman's "storm is coming" speech, the throwing-out of the rich.

    I'll add a few specific criticisms.


    31: Why did Batman not shoot down the stolen Batmobiles? Instead he hovered over them, letting them fire his own weapons at him. Then he flew AHEAD of them, entering a better field of fire for the missiles. Catwoman used the Batcycle to blow up a couple Batmobiles. What the heck?


    32: Batplane has no flares or chaff to deflect the missiles?


    33: The trucks carrying the nuclear bomb seem impervious to the Batplane's shots, even when the Batplane later blows a hole in a skyscraper to get through. It effectively survives a 2-storey fall. Yet these aren't Bat-trucks, they're just shitty trucks from the docks or something.


    34: Bane is going to die. I understand Batman is all about nonlethal capture, but honestly, just shoot the guy or use the razors on the outside of the bat-glove or something.


    35: Bane fights Batman nonlethally the same way Batman would fight him. Why? He's a villain. Just shoot Batman. It's not like the suit is any protection.


    36: Little girl with her strawberry shortknife stabs Batman through his suit and incapacitates him. What the heck? It could have been nice to include a scene where she sneaks away from their Wayne Manor love-nest and discovers or creates a weak point in the Bat-Suit, but as-is the scene is just stupid.


    37: Batman has his bionic leg attachment to make it stronger. Why not integrate this in the Bat-Suit? Make everything stronger/faster. It's just short-sighted. Similarly, in the prison pit, how does he walk if he doesn't have his bionic leg?


    38: Prison chiropractic vertebra thing plus hanging from a rope. It's on the level of making an Iron Man suit out of scrap metal in a cave.


    39: Walking across the ice. Has nobody ever heard of lying down and sort of swimming across on the ice? Fewer pounds per square inch than walking on your feet.

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  3. 40: The secret elevator that leads to the nuclear project. It's "under the river so it can flood" but the elevator goes down about 20 feet. That's IN the river, folks. Also, just how is that supposed to stop a nuclear reaction or prevent people from getting in? We have gear to breathe underwater now, guys.


    41: Not only how did Batman heal in 3 months, but how did he, with no resources, no passport, get home in a few days?


    42: Speaking of resources, bankruptcy doesn't work that fast. If all of Wayne's investments dropped to zero value and he went into extreme debt, he wouldn't get a letter demanding payment for like a month after. His utilities wouldn't shut off until his bills went unpaid for a while. Doesn't he have people telling him to diversify his portfolio? Doesn't he have a few million dollars in currency and precious metals somewhere in the Batcave? Doesn't he have a couple other safehouses under other names with self-sufficient bank accounts scattered around the city? Bruce Wayne is bad at being a wealthy socialite.


    43: Why did Catwoman have to get his prints off his safe? He lives in that wing, his prints are everywhere. Dust the remote for his TV or something.


    44: Alfred hires a woman who, with a criminal background check aided by facial recognition software, shows up as a huge jewel thief. Alfred doesn't run background checks on people who could easily poison his beloved billionaire's food.


    45: Not just why did Bane keep the police alive: how is it that NONE of them can escape? And if a few can, there's a route, and they could all escape over time. Bane's men can't watch every thing.


    46: What was the point of the whole nuclear plot? Bane and friends were all going to die with New Yor-I mean, Gotham. No escape plan? Not working for anybody? Just stupid and crazy?


    47: Running from the police, Batman enters a random alley and exchanges Batcycle for Batplane. It was just chilling out there? What, was parking cheap in that lot?


    48: Some guys find the SECRET R&D lab for Wayne Enterprises. They break through various barriers to get under it without tripping any sensors. They blow up the floor and climb up. There's no security, no alarms, no automated defenses. And of course, the keys and all the manuals for the stuff are sitting around. The goons pick up the books and figure out how to drive these things and operate the weapon systems pretty much automatically. And they don't get any Bat-Tech besides the Batmobiles even though this lab was used for everything.


    49: A home-made jammer can prevent radio communication within a few hundred feet. You don't need to stick it on someone's cell phone to stop it from working. Planting the jammer on the outside of the truck should have been enough.


    50: Manhattan, and I presume Gotham, contain military armories. The police have armories. The police have weapons in their cars, in their SWAT vans, and they were carrying weapons when they went into the sewers. Why, when they emerge later, are they unarmed? And like you said, really ALL of the police went down? What about the ones guarding prisoners at the station, the ones in dispatch, the ones aboveground coordinating the sewer assault, etc.?

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  4. 1d30, GREAT additions, thank you for those! In particular, the cheap Occupy/99%-as-villain theme was something that hugely offended my girlfriend. That was one of the items I cut out of my list to make a round 30. Excellent observations.

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  5. I totally agree with you 1d30 re "a therapy session for people not over 9/11"! The scene in the football stadium really bugged me: it was a blatant excuse to have a small child (how precious!) sing the national anthem (USA! USA!). Ugh.

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