Director Christopher Nolan is the latest incarnation of an all too familiar figure in cinema, the maladroit filmmaker who, perversely, is celebrated as particularly skillful and polished. This phenomenon extends at least as far back as Stanley Kubrick, is never supported by a scintilla of evidence, and is regarded as beyond argument by its fierce, unseeing proponents.
The latest Nolan effort praised for its accomplishments – whether the merely technical or the overarching – is The Dark Knight Rises, about as big of a mess of a film as one can imagine. The whole Nolan series of Batman movies is permeated with an adolescent self-pity so crippling that it’s a wonder that it’s not a series of still pictures of Christian Bale standing still with a pout on his puss. But that’s a handicap of Nolan’s own manufacture, so hardly an excuse. Let’s run through three of the biggest failures.
First, there are the computer, optical and special effects. These are supposed to be the virtues beyond question, the safety valve for viewers who respond for the film yet, somehow, deep down, know that it’s horrible. But the effects are clumsy. Front and center, there is Batman’s main monstrous opponent, a giant lizard (a scientist under the power of the proverbial secret formula). The monster is not the same size from scene to scene, or, at times, shot to shot. In one of its early appearances, it attacks traffic on a bridge, where it is clearly three car lengths long when its shown in wide shot. It’s a little smaller when seen closer up which, maybe, one could overlook. But later on, it has shrunk to half that size. The film offers no explanation for the loss of mass.
Secondly, the story is a mish mash of hiccups and false starts. Again and again, the action stops so that one or another character can say the equivalent of, “Wait, did I finish telling you about that guy? No? Well, here goes again…” There’s no easier way to induce tedium than to restate the same plot points over and over. Worse than that, Nolan turns out to be using this clomping around like this because he wants to lie to the audience over a crucial plot point. Well, not so crucial since the movie doesn’t amount to anything, but he lies nevertheless.
Finally, there’s Nolan’s utter incomprehension of American political and social life. In furtherance of their nefarious (oh, if only) plans to bring down Batman, the villains of the piece rouse the Gotham citizenry to, well, maybe tear down the, um, power structure, kinda. But the rabble rousers alternate between such disparate political points, and the origins of the rabble are so murky, that the scenes play more like the activities at a child’s birthday party, with a clown rousing the children to raise their hands and shout. Granted, the birthday party is a more coherent and better organized undertaking.
That should do it until the next Nolan picture comes along.