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August 21, 2014

So How Good is The Dark Knight Trilogy, Really?



Oh, WOW.  This is going to make me a popular guy.  Or a Cool Guy.  Whichever comes first.


All right, let me make a few things clear.  First of all, I’m not making this post to hate on Batman, Christopher Nolan (and pals), the trilogy, and all of the particulars -- gritty reboots well among them.  I’m making it because I’ve been thinking about some of the more popular fare in this day and age.  The Hunger Games was one of them, if you saw that post.  But I want to keep doing more of them, and check how other people feel about them.  You know, get some fresh opinions, gain some perspective, et cetera.  So right now, we’ll chat a little about the trilogy, and sometime in the future I’ll do a thing for Harry Potter. 

Okay, so…Batman.  Let’s talk about Batman.

I should probably use this space to say that, like a lot of people, I like The Dark Knight.  Setting aside the fact that it was a movie that tried to lend “legitimacy” to a comic book character/movie -- more on that later -- it really brought a lot to the table.  Batman left a mark on me, Commissioner Gordon was THE BEST CHARACTER (as it should be), and that was the first time I ever considered the Joker to be a legitimate threat…if not outright terrifying.  As for Batman Begins?  Admittedly, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it on TV -- and at that time, I was seriously exhausted.  But for the parts I was actually conscious for, I enjoyed them.  Watching the movie in full is on my to-do list, to be sure. 

And then there’s The Dark Knight Rises.  I…don’t think I’m going to say anything about that.


If we’re talking about averages, I’d say the trilogy is in the green with me, even if I don’t care for the third installment.  It brought Batman to the forefront of people’s minds, repaired the damage done by Batman and Robin, and offered a possible alternative to making a superhero besides the trappings of the original Spider-Man trilogy.  The Nolan films had a style all their own -- and while I wouldn’t say that style or anything involving the movies is perfect, it does have its merit.  There’s a reason why it exists, there’s a reason why the fans love it, and there’s a reason why it’s seen the success that it has.

The problems, I think, have more to do with the legacy of the trilogy instead of the movies itself.  I’ve hinted at how I feel plenty of times, but I didn’t want to do any mud-slinging until it was absolutely necessary.  It…still isn’t, technically, but whatever.  The important thing is that, whether you take my grudges opinions seriously or not, the Nolan trilogy is a trendsetter.  Sometimes that’s a good thing.  Other times?  Not so much. 


(To be fair, Nolan alone wasn't responsible; Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer had a hand in it, IIRC.  But Nolan's attachment didn't exactly help matters 100%, so it still counts.  Sort of.)

Thinking back to The Dark Knight, it did its best to fulfill its purpose -- the concept of “dark done right”.  Rather than superficially add in all these gritty elements just to get some appeal and prove that the story is so totally super serious, you guys, it felt natural.  Because it WAS natural.  That was the style that suited the movie, and allowed it to explore some ideas while also keeping the plot -- the battle to beat the Joker -- in full swing.  (It’s worth noting, of course, that there was actually some humor and charisma in the trilogy -- again, proof that the style was owned by the Nolan cadre.)  That’s what set it apart, even before the imitators started popping up.

And there are imitators.  That’s not just me reaching here.

Damon Lindelof of Lost, Prometheus, and Star Trek fame mentioned Nolan and his impact in an interview about a year ago when asked about the “Hollywood process”.  And not to vindicate myself here, but he mentions the term “Nolanization” -- making properties more grounded, more real, more…grittified.  It is an approach that can work, but even years after The Dark Knight made ALL THE MONEY, people are still Nolanizing properties in the hopes of finding legitimacy.  And you don’t need to be dark or gritty to be legitimate.  Nolan earned his success by making good-ass movies.  Trying to make a property better just by aping his conventions strikes me as something like covering a house with polka dots just because the clown next door did the same.


Movies, video games, TV, the works.  It feels like too many of them are trying to be something that they aren’t.  (My guess is that the Marvel movies are going to start reversing the trend, though that could just open up a whole new set of problems.)  While it’s true that going gritty isn’t automatically a death sentence, I can’t help but think about the message that it’s sending, and ultimately doing a disservice to Nolan instead of honoring his efforts.  Nolanizing isn’t the only way to find success, let alone tell a story.  We NEED multiple styles, multiple tones, and multiple voices, just as we need multiple stories.  The Dark Knight Trilogy did its job, and that’s worth appreciating.  But we don’t need EVERYONE to do the same.

But like I said, it’s doing a disservice to Nolan.  Twenty years from now, how are people going to remember The Dark Knight?  Are they going to give it a fair, critical analysis, the sort of treatment it deserves?  Or is it going to become too sacrosanct to even be touched -- a movie that everyone just assumes was “good because it was dark”?  What kind of lesson is that to take away from a piece of fiction?  And beyond that, what does it mean for Nolan in the short-term?  Are people just going to call on him on the assumption that he’ll sap the fun and color out of a movie?  Are they going to box in a man with real talent?  Are we going to oversimplify him to a fault? 
    
  
Tough questions, to be sure.  But I’m going to step back and leave the big question to you readers:  how good is the Dark Knight Trilogy, really?  Is it worth the praise and hype?  Is it going to be a glowing part of the cinematic canon, or washed away in the tides of time?  Has it affected the current climate of fiction THAT much?  Is it a good thing?  Am I going to get gored for even suggesting that the trilogy isn’t the greatest thing ever? 

Tighten those utility belts, people.  You know what time it is.  Ready?  Set…comment!


And that’s all you’ll be getting out of me.  I’ve got some…interesting things I’ve been pecking away at in the background.  So maybe you’ll be seeing them soon enough -- that is to say, a shocking development.  It may very well be something that can get you hyped.  Or it could just make your eyes bug out and --

Whoops, someone threw a brick through my window.  Looks like that’ll teach me not to insinuate that Batman’s not the best.

…Now why is there a pike lodged in my ear?


9 comments:

  1. Batman Begins is awesome. You need to check it out.

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  2. Only saw The Dark Knight. Did not see Batman Begins, and I have no desire to given my very lukewarm-to-cynical impression of Nolan and his filmography.


    My opinions of The Dark Knight have been expressed at least once in the past among certain people. But I can say it again. It was the most boring piece of cinematic torture I ever experienced. Ignoring my beyond-pissed-off bladder at the time in the theater, the only solace in my misery was the Joker. Heath Ledger was phenomenal, period. Everything else was so convoluted and dull, I perma-deleted so much of the plot, I forgot that Gary Oldman's character actually faked his own death.


    I understand the appeal of dark and gritty - sometimes. But what sets me off is when people take a piece of fiction with pretentious dialogue and obvious superficial themes and analyze it like it's Shakespeare. So many people at the time praised it for being a look into America and terrorism post-9/11 that they didn't seem to see the movie for what it was: a movie. Everyone seemed (again, seemed from where I lived) to forget how to judge movies based on their quality of writing, accessibility, plot, characters, etc. I can't tell you anything about any of the characters because they felt so one-note and flat. Christian Bale's attempt at giving Batman depth with that stupid voice trick was an automatic, un-hilarious fail (one of the rare common complaints many share). I didn't understand what was happening and why I should care. No one was relatable and their plights were incomprehensible. It was like I was watching a film with Swahili subtitles while the actors wore blank masks. Again, minus the Joker, the only character with a pulse whose motive and existence was simple: chaos for the sake of fun. And only that was endlessly fun to watch.


    The more I think of it, I think it's the constant heavy, verbose dialogue that leaves me baffled. For some reason, Nolan films have the need to sound smart and philosophical for the sake of looking smart and making you feel smart. It's a kind of superficial spectacle that seemed dishonest with itself and came across as fake to me. Something fundamental about Nolan's dark and gritty formula seriously clashes with what I like in films despite my not having too much of an issue with "dark", "realistic", and "serious fiction. Perhaps at the end of the day, I want a story that's reasonably easy to follow and slowly adds on the pretension and academic "smartness" so it means more when certain patterns and themes emerge in the narrative. Nolan takes his films way too seriously way too early for me to get invested and care about what's happening. It's like he hates the idea of "slow build-up" or something. Maybe he hates "everyman exposition" too. Maybe he just hates explaining things simply so people don't get confused and turn their brains off.


    Maybe it's been years since I last saw the Dark Knight and hated it so much, I keep making new excuses to explain why I despised it so much. I sure feel like a madwoman for being the only person on this planet who hates The Dark Knight with every fiber of my being.


    Funny you mention Damon Lindelof. I think he hasn't messed up the Star Trek reboot anywhere near as bad as he messed up Prometheus, but he suffers a similar issue of being a tad full of himself with his work. I may however chalk it up to the directors adding in their few cents and making the quality rise or fall dramatically. He has the issue where he has great ideas, decent but irrelevant "smart" analysis, and abysmal conclusions and executions. It should be worse than Nolan's masterpieces, but at least I can list more highlights in Lindelof's serious formula while Nolan's is bitter gruel from beginning to end.


    I think I should stop now. I can smell the hate mail coming... O_o

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  3. Fate seems to be pushing me towards watching it, in all honesty. It's been on TV a couple of times fairly recently, but I always ended up spotting it when it had LONG since started. I really do want to watch it one of these days, so maybe I'll try to keep an eye on its scheduling and such.


    Conventional knowledge suggests that seeing where Batman...uh, begins...is kind of important. But I could be wrong.

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  4. Better to get hate mail than a pike in your ear. *crams brains back into skull*


    In all honesty, though? It's been a while since I've seen The Dark Knight, as well -- and now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I've only seen it in its entirety once. (A friend of mine is a major fan of Batman, so he saw to it that we watched a midnight screening.) The thing that stuck out the most is exactly what you said: Joker. The rest? I can still recall it, but the details and nuances are fuzzy. So it's good that the villain left such a strong impression, but all the rest? Ehhhhhh...it probably could've been stronger. Not sure how, just speaking from memory, but I don't think it's impossible.


    Whatever the case, I get what you're saying here about Nolan. I was trying not to mention it in the post, but I can't help but think back to Inception. Again, I enjoyed the movie, but it feels like it's been put on a pedestal of sorts. There's some good stuff in there, sure, but I have a hard time believing that it's some sort of masterpiece or exemplar of thought/themes; I stopped caring about the whole totem bit and the "is he still dreaming or not?" open ending five minutes after I left the theater, because it really didn't strike me as something worth getting worked up about. (Also, I just love how these characters do plenty of fighting in a dream world, but they -- in-universe and out of it -- don't do much else besides "make the room spin while punching" or "summon bigger guns". Trains aside.)


    .RE: Lindelof, I can't say I bear the guy any ill will. His name's attached to some...troublesome things, but if Star Trek: Into Darkness is any indication -- as it may very well be with the upcoming Power Rangers movie -- the problem lies with Robert Kurtzman and Bob Orci. That's not to pardon him from work past (what the hell happened, Prometheus?), but I can still give even Hollywood's worst the benefit of the doubt. Not even Michael Bay made Transformers all by himself, after all.


    I guess that's just the risk you take when it comes to stamping your name on a movie. Whether you do good or bad, you're still gonna be the scapegoat of choice.


    Also, this isn't related to anything in particular, but...in case you haven't heard, Tales of Xillia 2 is out. I haven't seen much of it, but what I have seen is -- well, it's interesting, I'll give it that. Give it a look on YouTube or something if you get the chance.


    Fair warning, though: if you haven't finished Xillia 1, don't even try to get close to Xillia 2. It's just going to make you feel sad and tired. Potentially.

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  5. I personally love Begins and The Dark Knight. I was very hyped for The Dark Knight Rises, when I saw it on the theaters I nearly walked out midway through. As for Man Of Steel, I view it as an elseworlds story, it's a decent movie if viewed under that perspective imo.

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  6. Cripes. I didn't even know that The Dark Knight Rises could cause such a strong reaction...but I can't say I blame you. Rises just came off as a mess, and had all the subtlety of a brick to the face. That scene in the football stadium...Nolan pls.


    RE: Man of Steel? That's an interesting way to look at it -- to an extent. It is more than possible to consider it as a separate entity, but the problem with that is that it's getting a sequel. It's spinning off into its own canon -- and given that there's no other movie canon out there right now, it's painful to think that THIS is what we have to deal with.


    Also, Elseworlds story or not, I can't exactly pardon the movie. Rises might have had the stadium scene, but the tornado scene? Now THAT made me want to walk out.

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  7. Inception's been oversold as science fiction, methinks, when it comes from a tradition of heist movies. Heist movies carry inherent excitement as an "escape from the authorities" thing, with the problem being that they run like clockwork and are just as emotionally engaging. Inception succeeded at changing the "heist" object from a bank vault to a mind vault, with a revelatory and emotional sequence as the takeaway rather than vast riches which lose their value the moment the movie ends.

    I think your issue comes from comparing it to Synechdoche N.Y. when its aims aren't even in the same neighborhood. It's still an action movie -- just one that realizes that action should be backed up by some more engaging ideas.

    As for The Dark Knight and Nolan's filmography in general, I'll stick up for it even though he's far from a favorite of mine (more like Whedon-class, which means I'll watch his work without complaint but don't feel initiated into the cult). Nolan's biggest problem is that he often disguises the genre of his films. Dark Knight is basically film noir meets an old fashioned cop movie, and both of those genres are, incidentally, Batman's origins. The loquaciousness of its characters, their innie-outie monologuing, is par for the course . . . and extremely annoying if you can't move past it. It can be a deal breaker. Their motivations are actually deeper (not The Great Beauty deep, mind you) than most comic book movies, but the delivery through soliloquy can frustrate. Remember what I said in my Bioshock comments: this is a big part of why theater is dying.

    (The voice strangulation Bale exhibited is actually required for the role ever since Kevin Conroy did such an outstanding job in B: TaS. Bale didn't just invent it, though I wish they'd ignored it.)

    That isn't to mean that these films don't have outstanding flaws. Vestigial scenes being one, and the monologues are sometimes unnaturally introduced and introduced in odd scenes. Some dialogue is cringe-worthy. The plot, whilst not as fuzzy as both of you think, is no L.A. Confidential. The action is a little shoddily shot and the female lead is horribly acted and written. However, it's actually pretty spot-on for the film traditions it harkens to. They just so happen to be film traditions you are a) unprepared for (because Nolan likes fooling people) and b) not particularly fond of. No offense, Volt, but I don't think you're the type of fellow who gravitates to Raymond Chandler, Goodfellas, or The Italian Job.

    P.S. They don't do a lot of dream manipulation in Inception because they're trying to mimic reality with some deviations (think of it as some sort of "city awareness meter") on a diagetic level and because things tend to become meaningless and overwrought when you can just do anything (see: eXistenZ) on an extra-diagetic level. Most of Inception's sins come from overlong action scenes, not lack of exposition or worldbuilding (which, if anything, is overmuch).

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  8. Film noir + an old-fashioned cop story, etc.

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  9. Hmmm. Yeah, I can buy your take on Inception, no problem. Then again, the last heist movie I saw was...pretty much nonexistent. Either I just can't think of any heist movies I've seen, or -- more than likely -- I just haven't seen any besides Inception. Soooooooo, no frame of reference, I suppose?


    Jeez. I knew I had gaps in my film knowledge, but I never knew they were this big. I only suspected it every other week.


    So yeah, you're right to say I don't gravitate towards your examples. At best, I've got a box set of The Godfather trilogy, but I can't say I've gone out of my way to broaden my movie horizons. I'd like to think I wouldn't shove away something like The Italian Job, but a lot of conventions are lost on me. So I guess I just looked at the Dark Knight movies the only way I knew how: as superhero movies, deviations aside.


    I should probably try to -- oh, what's the phrase I'm looking for? Oh, right. Work on my flaws and shortcomings so I can become a better, open-minded, well-rounded person. It makes perfect sense.


    That was a really long and largely-cumbersome phrase, though. It's almost as if I made it up right just then, and it's very obvious that I did so.


    ...Nah. That's just crazy-talk.

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