Yes, of course there are spoilers. Don't read this if you don't want to read spoilers.
[Thumbs down, accompanied by a farting noise.]
Twice in my life I’ve seen a movie in theaters that was so bad that it actually made me physically angry – and in both cases, the movie starred Christian Bale. The first time was in the spring of 2009, the movie was Terminator Salvation, and I walked through the parking lot shaking my fist and yelling at the sky, cursing McG for making such a shitty movie, and also cursing myself, in a way, for being duped into thinking that a competent science fiction movie could be directed by a person calling himself McG.
The second time was on Friday night, when, as the credits for The Dark Knight Rises began to roll and the audience in the IMAX theater began to clap, I slowly rose to my feet and extended both hands toward the screen, middle fingers aloft, as Christopher Nolan’s name appeared.
So yes – this is not false advertising. The Dark Knight Rises is truly, earnestly shitty, and the worst thing about it is that I got fooled. I went into it with high expectations; not for a movie that would top The Dark Knight necessarily, because that’s an impossible act to follow, but at least for a competent, enjoyable film that would put an end to the story that Christopher Nolan started.
What I got instead was the approximate equivalent of the stories I made up when I was playing with my Legos and action figures as a child. Seriously, I’m pretty sure the screenplay was just a transcript of his stream of consciousness as he ran around his house with a bunch of green army men and Batman toys from the late 90s:
”So then the cops are running at Bane’s guys and Bane’s guys are going to shoot them but then the Batmobile flies down because the Batmobile flies now and it does something and Bane’s evil Batmobiles can’t shoot the cops and then they fight and then they’re on motorcycles with bankers tied to them and then Batman shows up on his motorcycle and then EVERY COP IN GOTHAM CITY is chasing him and then he shoots a conveniently placed trailer and jumps it and then drives away and then they chase him but then he gets in the flying Batmobile! Who’s writing this down!?”
I guess that same argument could be made about any Batman movie, though – you need to suspend your disbelief to a point if you’re going to take a movie seriously where the badass hero wears a bat costume and talks like he’s doing the world’s worst Gob Bluth impression.
When I watched The Avengers, I gladly accepted that the US government had a top secret flying aircraft carrier captained by Jules Winnfield and Robin Scherbatsky, because all of it still made sense and hung together with a bare minimum of plot holes. What’s wrong with The Dark Knight Rises is that where most movies want us to suspend disbelief, it asks us to suspend our common sense.
Okay, here’s the situation:
The police are engaged in a pitched shootout with a bunch of criminals who they believe kidnapped a sitting Congressman. The kidnappers escape into the sewers and Commissioner Gordon jumps in after them to give chase, along with several other cops.
There’s a massive explosion, several cops die, and Gordon eventually washes out of a storm drain, wounded. He tells his subordinates that there’s an army of criminals building some terrible structure in the labyrinth of tunnels under the city, and their response is to… Dismiss what he’s saying as the ramblings of a madman.
Why the shit wouldn’t you listen to him, you stupid motherfuckers!? Sure, maybe what he’s saying sounds unbelievable, but if you don’t believe his story about an army of bad guys under the city, how do you explain the explosion, the dead cops, and the fact that he came out of a storm drain with a bullet in his leg?
I mean, is it really that far-fetched to assume that there’s a criminal enterprise beneath the city? These are the same cops who eight years ago were chasing a psychopath clown who robbed banks with school buses and dangled dead Batmans off skyscrapers, and the idea of evildoers in the sewers is just too crazy for them to get their heads around?
And even if it is too crazy, Gordon is their fucking boss! It doesn’t matter how crazy his orders sound – he’s in charge, so when he tells you that the sewers are full of bad guys and you need to go down there and catch them, you fucking do it! Why the hell does Gotham’s top cop have to lie in a hospital bed and repeatedly nag the people whose paychecks he signs to go and look for the people who kidnapped a Congressman and killed a bunch of cops!?
WTF GCPD 2
Okay, but eventually the police decide that, yeah, maybe it would be a good idea to take a look in the sewers and see if Gordon’s theory makes any sense – naturally, though, they only decide to do this once Bane’s plan in is in action.
So, to check the sewers, they send every cop in Gotham City marching into the dark and uncharted labyrinth of tunnels under the city with some Maglites to see what’s going on. No real semblance of strategy here, either – they literally form a parade block of cops and just send them into the abyss, the logic being that if they throw enough policemen at the problem it will eventually go away.
Does any part of that not seem like a stupid idea? Sending every fucking cop you have into the abyss in search of a criminal mastermind who’s had the lay of the land down there for God knows how long?
Nevermind the fact that you’re essentially providing zero law enforcement for the 12 million people above ground – ”Well I’m very sorry your toddler was kidnapped, ma’am, but you’ll just have to hold your horses until every cop in Gotham City is done spelunking in the sewers!” – but you’re also putting every last one of your eggs in one basket, which anybody who’s played as much as one game of Risk or Starcraft will tell you is profoundly fucking stupid.
Okay, but you know what? I’m being too hard on it. It’s a movie, after all. I’ll buy that circumstances were bad enough to pull every cop off the beat and send him down there, and I’ll buy that they wagered they were making a serious calculated risk.
What I won’t buy is that the Gotham City Police Department got tricked IN THIS EXACT SAME FUCKING WAY by agents of THE SAME DAMN ORGANIZATION less than ten years ago!
Batman Begins, act III. There’s serious riots in The Narrows, the mid-city island that’s home to Arkham Asylum, and in response the entire GCPD is mobilized and sent to the island. Then, the League of Shadows promptly destroys all the bridges into and out of The Narrows, trapping every cop in Gotham while the rest of the city completely goes to shit.
Fool Gotham City Police Department once, shame on you. Fool Gotham City Police Department twice, shame on Gotham City Police Department – and also Christopher Nolan, for writing a shitty fucking trash screenplay.
Look, first and foremost, Bane’s plan to isolate and then destroy Gotham was positively ludicrous and relied on countless strokes of inconceivable luck to succeed, and it’s just really tough to buy that when one of the major aims of the Nolan trilogy has been to try and stay pretty realistic.
Yeah, a lot of The Joker’s activities were similarly luck-based, but I bought it with him because, by his own admission, he doesn’t really make plans, and instead just kind of trolls everybody and treats the resulting chaos like it was the plan all along. Bane, on the other hand, has invested years of his life and untold millions into a plan that hinges on the barricades at the stock exchange rising to a 45 degree angle perfect for motorcycle jumping, the police only investigating the tunnels when he’s in the stadium to blow them up, the US Army not staging a lightning offensive to retake the nation’s largest city, Batman not immediately dying when he breaks his back, and so on and so forth.
But, you know what? Fuck it. I’d buy that – grudgingly – but even if I did, the film’s incredibly lazy screenwriters still rigged his plan with the end-all be-all of weaknesses: The fact that he not only imprisons the police beneath the city, but that he then proceeds to go to great lengths to provide them with food, water, and supplies to make sure the only well armed and organized resistance to his regime is in tip top condition when Batman shows up to break them out.
It was a massive screenwriting cop-out to send all the police down into the sewers in the first place, because it was not only an obviously stupid move but also an obviously stupid move that they’d made before. To then have Bane – the guy so psychotic and evil that he got kicked out of the League of Shadows – merely trap the cops under the city instead of killing them and then provide them with a better standard of care than most American prison inmates, all glossed over as part of his general ‘give people hope then blow them up’ plan, is the biggest screenwriting cop out I’ve ever seen this side of the shitty unproduced scripts I was reading at my internship.
I mean, Batman didn’t even have to come save the cops from the tunnels – they could’ve just crawled out through the gigantic PLOT HOLES! What’s up?
How would I have done it differently? Well, to start, I would’ve had Heath Ledger not die. Step one, right there.
What, I don’t get time traveling omnipotence? Okay. Well, how about this:
I’d have Bane isolate Gotham City within the first half hour of the movie – no pussyfooting around with the stock exchange and Wayne Enterprises or whatever. His plans have been in motion for years, the city was complacent, and Batman was too busy being emo over Rachel and Harvey Dent to notice.
The rest of the movie takes place during the occupation as Bruce Wayne grapples with the decision to become Batman again and fight back with significantly limited resources. The cops would be rounded up and killed in some other way, leaving the rest as a French Resistance style guerilla army led by Commissioner Gordon, but in the end it isn’t just the police who revolt against Bane – it’s ordinary people, civilians. The entire city rises to defeat him, and watching this, Batman sees that now the city truly no longer needs him, because they can do right on their own.
That’s the script I’d write, and I could probably shave half an hour off the runtime, too.
But in all truthfulness, Nolan probably just shouldn’t have made another Batman movie. The Dark Knight was the best superhero movie ever made, and Heath Ledger’s Joker was the best villain ever. That movie had levels and philosophy going on – it was about escalation, the War on Terrorism, the nature of insanity, lawful society versus anarchy, the inherent goodness of mankind, or the lack thereof.
This movie tried really hard to be about hope, and there were some competent scenes tying into that theme, but it got bogged down with flying Batmobiles, three Tumblers, the unnecessary presence of Catwoman and Robin*, and the Wayne’s World style surprise mega-happy ending where all semblance of heroic sacrifice is set on fire and kicked into a ravine.
*By the way, you guys know that you have to take a series of exams and meet several qualifications to become a police detective, right? You can’t just get promoted to detective on the spot because you’re a ‘hothead’. This movie was so stupid I wanted to throw it over my knee and spank it.
Several of my friends have told me that they were similarly disappointed after they watched the movie the first time, but insist that I should go see it again, because apparently a second viewing clears up a lot of the issues. To them, I say this:
Fuck off! If I’ve got three hours to kill and $15 burning a hole in my pocket, I’m sure as shit not going to go see a movie I hated for a second time! Repeat viewings won’t make up for a Swiss cheese plot and dialogue lifted straight from FanFiction.net, and I definitely don’t want to put more money in Christopher Nolan’s pocket for halfassing a movie.
So fuck Christopher Nolan, fuck his brother and co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, fuck Christian Bale for being in both this and Terminator Salvation, fuck Batman’s gravelly voice, and fuck this festering turd of a movie. Screw Flanders.
That being said, I give the movie high marks for Marion Cotillard in a tight sweater.
Truman Capps apologizes for saying ‘fuck’ so much.