Other than The Dark Knight Rises, I can’t think of a film’s opening night marred by a shooting. Everyone’s talking about what could possibly have been going through the mind of James Holmes. It’s silly to implicate the film to any extent in the madness. There was violence in the real world long before there was violence in media entertainment. At most, a film or a movie can influence the style of your crazy, but trigger it exclusively? No. If it seems a rude dismissal to leave this real tragedy behind and review the film itself, forgive me. We’ll leave Colorado to the psychologists and sociologists and venture into Gotham, where trouble is brewing again.
Lugubrious, loud, and long, the new Batman movie is ridiculously expensive junk. Amid the Wagnerian tubas, the explosions, the extremely serious speeches which even the butler gets to make, it’s hard to find a whisper of life in the thing. I guess that’s why they call this stuff “dark.” Without the ever-present score pummeling my nerves, I’d call it “dull.” I swear the battering ram music stops for only three tiny scenes. A few bits of dour dialogue get to occur in silence. The first is between Alfred (Michael Caine), who usually gets to be a bright spark in these films as a sassy butler—this time out: sass-less—and Bruce Wayne (ChristianBale) who looks haggard, even after his supposed rejuvenation at the half-way mark (which felt like 17 hours in.)
Later, the music stops for a meeting of Batman and the new villain, Bane (an unrecognizable Tom Hardy), who appears to be wearing his underwear on his head and adopting a Mike Myers-ish Dutch accent. Both costumed creatures meet the criteria for major depressive disorder, as does everyone in the film. When Gotham is threatened with nuclear annihilation as the mundane plot congeals, it’d be a mercy if that bomb were to go off. Seriously. Put these sour folks out of their misery.
The surprising exception to this morose-fest is Anne Hathaway, who’s managed to smuggle some zest onto the set, probably against the director’s orders. She’s done some serious exercising for this Cat Woman role. She’s skinny and lightning fast, a pair of nun chucks in tights. She looks like Audrey Hepburn but stings like Lucia Rijker. Better still, she’s enjoying herself. She doesn’t let the fact that the writers haven’t given her any zinging lines stop her. She zings anyway. She finds a funny shrug, eye-roll, vocal inflection, or head tilt to punctuate every beat. She reminded me of Alan Rickman of all people, of how he brings J.K. Rowling’s Snape to life without any help from the dialogue.
The plot of the film is textbook, although bloated to twice the length it needs to be. Except for the fact that it’s no good, it could be an example for Robert McKee’s screenplay course: hero with an internal problem grapples with an external reflection of that problem in the shape of the villain, gets beaten down, heals on the inside, rises up, and wins on the outside. Yes, it’s the same plot as Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Only without the psychological subtlety.
These comic book movies are increasingly bombastic and earnest. The thinner they get, substance-wise, the more pseudo-profound they get, style-wise. We’ve sunk a long way from the crime cinema heights of The Godfather or Bonnie and Clyde. Frankly, for a decade now if you like crime drama you’re better off watching TV. Nuance, subtlety, surprise and delight have holed up on the small screen. A season of The Sopranos, The Wire, or Breaking Bad has so much more creativity and intelligence and heart than movies like this bellowing Batman franchise and its ilk. If The Dark Knight Rises is what passes for art or even entertainment these days, mainstream cinema is dead.
I’m obviously out of sync with the crowd on this; the theatre was packed opening night, extra shows added were sold out, and the audience ate it up, all three hours of it—the longest ever concerto for tubas, timpani, dysthymia, and explosions—and cheered at the end. My date thought it was “amazing!” Really? If the impression a bum leaves in a sofa cushion is an actual bum, then this is an actual “amazing movie.” It’s the exact shape and size of one! Only, look closely, there isn’t anything there.