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Well, this brings back memories. Those of you who have followed me for a while may remember that 2008’s The Dark Knight was the first movie I ever reviewed. For those that don’t, please don’t bother bother looking it up, it’s not very good. I was very green at the time, and though I still am, I’ve changed considerably. I’ve grown out of my blind loyalty to the works of Christopher Nolan, & while he’s still one of my favorite filmmakers, I’ve developed a frustrating love/hate relationship with his Batman films. If you’ve seen my video “In Defense of Joel Schumacher” you know that while I consider both films to be very good, I also have serious problems with his approach. Let’s be very clear here: Nolan is not now, nor has he ever been, a good fit for this franchise. It simply does not mesh well with his sensibilities. Despite people’s assertion to the contrary, Batman is not a realistic character, and therefore he cannot comfortably inhabit the kind of pseudorealistic world Nolan has placed him in. Bale’s infamous voice, the horrible overdesigned costume and the resulting awkward fight scenes caused by Batman’s immobility, these are all symptoms of Nolan’s complete inability to accept the franchise on its own terms. His bizarre definition of what is & isn’t realistic still baffles me. Every film has at least one sci-fi macguffin: the magic water evaporator, the cell phone sonar nonsense, etc, and in films of his own creation he’s asked us to accept steampunk matter duplicators and mind-reading technology with little to no explanation, but apparently Batman is so outlandish that he needs to spend half a movie explaining his damn gadgets one by one. HOW DOES YOUR MIND WORK, NOLAN YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD?!
But despite all those flaws, no one can deny that Christopher Nolan's incredible skills as writer & director have delivered two incredible films, even if they're Batman movies only by the loosest possible definition. The kind of legitimacy that The Dark Knight alone brought to the superhero genre cannot be overstated. So, how's the closing installment of this world-changing trilogy? Eh, no worse than the first one I suppose. It serves its purpose, that is, supplies a satisfactory ending to the trilogy by following up on all the themes and ideas laid down previously, but only just. It suffices, but never excels. It's a entertaining experience that does it's job of feeling climactic, but it's not going to change anyone's life the way The Dark Knight did.
The most obvious problem lies in the character of Bane, our new villain. Well, actually his character is just fine, nothing particularly interesting but he serves his purpose on a story front. It's the presentation that's the issue. Tom Hardy is now the second genuinely good actor in the series to have his performance drowned out by a restricting, poorly designed costume and an unintentionally hilarious voice. I don't know how this keeps happening, Nolan is too careful and meticulous a director to have not noticed that his Big Bad sounds like Commander McBragg as played by an asthmatic bulldog. I understand that at this point Christian Bale is kind've stuck with his infamous voice, but letting this kind've thing happen twice is inexcusable. When these two characters meet and interact, the movie turns into some kind've bizarre unintentional comedy. Visually, it's two over muscled slabs of meat awkwardly moving around in costumes that provide far too little movement, and every time they speak they sound that two angry dogs fighting over the last bone.
Fortunately, unlike The Dark Knight, the villain is not the be-all-end-all of the film. For arguably the first time in his career, Nolan has made a movie in which the characters & story are of secondary importance to the action. A city under siege, armies clashing in the streets, threat of total destruction, the stakes are higher than they've ever been. The series is determined to go out with a bang, and you can't really deny that it does so. Sure, the first movie also had the total destruction of Gotham City at stake, but here the magnitude of that fact is far more palpable.
The indisputable highlight is Anne Hathaway, who at times seems like she came from a completely different movie. Sure, she never actually gets to call herself "Catwoman" and her cat ears fold down into sunglasses just to justify them, but otherwise she's probably the least "Nolan-esque" thing ever to be in a Nolan movie. She can actually move in her shockingly Julie Newmar-inspired costume, which comes complete with razor-sharp high-heels of all things, and best of all, she's not a mere obstruction or distraction from the hero's mission like most other female characters in Nolan's movies. She actually gets to fight side-by-side with Batman and in the end is seen as a boon to the cause rather than a bane (if you'll forgive the pun). Plus, Hathaway's usual energy and likability continue to serve her well. She totally nails the femme fatale routine & proves for the first time since Get Smart why she really needs to be given more action roles.
So overall it seems Lucas's Law of Trilogies still holds true: One good one, one great one, and one decent one. It's been quite a ride, and while I'm grateful for the experience, I think it'd be best if Nolan stayed the fuck away from superheroes properties from now on. This whole "realism" thing was an interesting experiment, but I think it's safe at this point to call it a failed one, and ask that other filmmakers stop imitating it so blindly. To quote the guy who ironically invented grim 'n gritty Batman "(Superheroes) work best as the flamboyant fantasies they are." That's a philosophy I honestly believe will be the way of the future, and the success of The Avengers this year is the proof. People are tired of grounding their heroes in reality, they're ready to let them be the escapist dreams they were meant to be. Hopefully now Nolan can get back to making more brilliant, transcendent films like Inception and leave the comic books to people who actually care...or not.
P.S. I predict there will be much discussion on whether or not the ending was a cop out. I've mixed feelings myself, but overall I think it works just fine.