Christopher Nolan has always had a problem with his inner thoughts drowning out his ability to make compelling cinema, and the companionship of David S. Goyer in the writer’s chair has never been rectifying. Case in point: The Dark Knight Rises is a belabored mass of hang-ups, side-treks, false starts, hasty endings, and ignoble intentions. On the latter, the film’s villain Bane (Tom Hardy) – who turns Gotham’s poor against its wealthy so that he can profit in the end – is a troubling figure of social dejection and husky sooth-saying radicalism, and he is, without a doubt, a symbol for the false intentions of working class leaders, or Nolan supposes. If the superhero genre is a card-carrying caretaker for traditionalist individualism, libertarian democracy, and the American Way, The Dark Knight Rises is the flag-waving stalwart with a mouth for the status quo. It makes no bones about its fear that the working class is a raving groupthink machine defined only by its inability to restrain itself, lying around in wait for an opportunity to search and destroy and just hurting for an anarchist fight. Continue reading
Edited May 2016
Seven years after the rubble has cleared, The Dark Knight feels like a fundamentally different, more elemental film than it did when it arrived in theaters as a sacrosanct mass of loose ends about the fate of the superhero genre and the death of a man who would go on to win an Oscar. Christopher Nolan has released three films in the ensuing years, his cryptic, somewhat belabored style has imposed itself a little more unambiguously onto the viewing public, and The Dark Knight feels like a legitimate product instead of simply a nebulous idea of how to save the comic book adaptation. It also feels, mercifully, like a work that exists on a human plane, and not some sort of holier-than-thou untouchable object, as it has frequently been touted to be by the fan-people of the world.
Admittedly, a sharp, incisive, pointed product when all is said and done, and if The Dark Knight doesn’t conclude the very idea of cinema, its veritable craft is pushed right up to the surface and wholly ready for the tasting. And it’s not all Heath Ledger for that matter, although his maelstrom-of-chaos performance as the evil Ferris wheel of social dislocation named the Joker approaches us more as “villainy” than a specific villain. His performance is also, importantly, a marker for the true essence of The Dark Knight, and the crux of its move away from pure naturalism. We have thankfully moved from the idea that a film being more “realistic” is necessarily a compliment, rather than simply a fact of existence or a feature, and The Dark Knight is at its best when it exists as a parable of the modern age, or a fable, rather than a work of realism. Little about Ledger seems frightening in a naturalist way, because the film doesn’t aim for naturalism; it has much more frightening ideas about the thickets of human nature that can’t be captured in an ascetic commitment to pure realism. Continue reading
`The comic book movie in 2005 was entrapped in its own split-decision bifurcation. On one hand, the likes of Elektra and Fantastic Four were omnipresent holdovers from the 1990s and markers of a genre strangling itself into childish submission. On the other, Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City sought to experiment with the comic book form as an avenue for pure cinema, and David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence was caught taking the medium of cinema to task with the violence of the human condition. Both were attempts to push the comic book medium to new depths, but both also tacitly exposed the limits of the superhero genre by eschewing the likes of Spider-Man or Superman for stories that, at their structural elements, had very little to do with the tradition of the comic book. Just as the comic book had grown up and left some of its inner core back in the minds of teenagers, so too was comic book cinema moving away from the fluff and the puff and toward something a little more brutalized and tragic. Continue reading
First things first, Christopher Nolan is not a particularly good writer. Generally working with brother Jonathan Nolan in their most archly self-important holier-than-thou register, their scripts reek of arbitrary complication and self-important puzzle-box trickery designed to bowl you over with highfalutin airs. He doesn’t have an acerbic bone in his body, and his films mask their non-personal nature by confusing better story with more story. Interstellar may be his messiest screenplay yet, shifting course every half-hour, developing certain ideas only to drop them almost completely because it saw something shiny in the distance. And then it has the gall to return to them later like they are the capper to a fully nourished, satisfying through-line when in reality they are simply shots in the dark. On paper, Interstellar is pretty terrible. Continue reading
Inception, as of 2014 still one of the most advertised and anticipated before release movies of the 2010s thus far, wants to be a lot of things: a dramatic thriller, a cautionary tale, something that pokes and prods around without knowing what it’s looking for, an action movie, a head-trip, and, of course, a dark science fiction film. If that all seems like more of a daring work of danger than the film actually is, you’re excused. Inception is somewhat self-consciously confusing, but more to the point, it’s actually not nearly as complicated as it wants to be. Maybe that’s for the best. What we’re left with is a relatively straightforward (good)action movie with science fiction trappings that mostly uses its hook as a way to mess around with the audience and to convey that puzzle-box intellect-before-emotion mood today’s audiences lap up, especially when the box comes with a little warranty sticker on the back that tells you to ship it back to Christopher Nolan Inc. if you think it’s broken.
Inception is a nice time at the movies, but one gets the sense Nolan bit off more than he could chew. It is simultaneously less and more than it needed to be, trying too many things and not doing any of them truly well enough to catapault it into that special rung of science fiction filmmaking that causes us to look back onto ourselves and question why. Rather than going for a fun, intense dynamite pure adrenaline-fix, or an intellectual dissection of its preferred topic of choice, dreams, or an emotionally-driven character-based drama in a science fiction setting, it tries to do all three. In doing so it ends up being only decent at any one of them. One gets the sense that the post-movie discussion is more interesting (and more honest) than the film itself.