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The Drunk Monkeys Debate: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is a huge hit, both with fans and critics, with a whopping $289 million in ten days of release and garnering a respectable 87% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But the film does have its detractors, among them, Matthew Guerruckey, Drunk Monkeys’ Editor-in-Chief. Here Guerruckey debates Drunk Monkeys Film Editor Ryan Roach, who considers the film one of the best he’s seen so far in 2012. Be aware: this discussion contains detailed plot spoilers. 

Bane challenges Batman in The Dark Knight Rises (Image © Warner Bros.)

Bane challenges Batman in The Dark Knight Rises (Image © Warner Bros.)

Matthew Guerruckey: So once again I find myself on the wrong side of public opinion regarding one of these big “event” movies. The last time I felt this out of whack with the general consensus was, appropriately enough, Inception, the last Christopher Nolan blockbuster. I think much of what I disliked about Inception can apply to The Dark Knight Rises. In that film, as with this one, I felt a distance between what I felt for the characters and the plot and what the bleak visuals and insistent soundtrack were demanding that I feel for them. There’s a definite air of “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?“, and when I sense that kind of desperation I tend to switch off.

Because this movie is basically “Robin Begins” we spend a lot of time with people who are not Batman — a troubling thing for a Batman movie, as far as I’m concerned. As a result, I felt very removed from Bruce Wayne’s character, to the point that when he makes his supposed sacrifice at the end of the movie I didn’t care one way or the other if that was a fake-out. When it was revealed that it was a fake-out, and that the end was going to play out exactly like Alfred’s little Good Will Hunting speech I was underwhelmed. But even before that, when Bruce is in the hell-pit prison or doing his whole Howard Hughes bit I never resonated with anything he was going through. Bale’s icy nature has suited the story in the past — here I felt nothing from him, and absolutely no connection between him and Anne Hathaway (who was busy prancing around in her own little spy movie).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake (Image © Warner Bros.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake (Image © Warner Bros.)

I liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but I don’t think John “Robin” Blake was a strong enough character to carry the final chapter of a trilogy about Bruce Wayne. And, also — why does absolutely everybody in Gotham City know who Batman is? A lot of this story relied on coincidence and flashes of genius deduction, much like Nolan’s The Prestige, which I know you hated.

But I did spend much of the movie trying to find something I liked. So, help me out here — what resonated with you?

Ryan Roach: Oh, pretty much everything. From the opening sequence on the plane, I was hooked, worrying about what would happen to poor Carcetti once Bane got free. The strongest emotional moments for me were the conversations between Alfred and Bruce, where Michael Caine really sold the hell out of his monologues, first entreating Bruce to get out into the world and then later begging him to not don the mask again. Then there were incredible action set-pieces, one after another, the stock market scene, the football stadium blowing up. Each action scene was more exhilarating than the last. And then there was the first fight between Bane and Batman in the sewers that left me literally yelling out loud “Oh my God!” when Bane lifted Batman over his shoulders. And did I maybe sorta almost get choked up when Batman made the jump without the rope?  Yes, yes I did.

As for Batman taking a back seat in his own movie, well I disagree again. I think he got a solid story here. Having him start out physically weak and needing to rebuild his whole life was the exact right way to go. This is a series that is while not strictly-speaking “realistic”, is certainly almost plausible, or at least as plausible as a superhero movie could possibly get, and it makes sense to me that Bruce would be worn down and weak after the events in the first two movies. And speaking of, Heath Ledger and The Joker completely overshadowed Batman in the last movie; I think he was featured a lot more prominently in this one. I don’t agree that Joseph Gordon Levitt “carried” or was supposed to carry this movie. It was definitely more of an ensemble, but Bruce was still the lead, and he did admirably.

As to why “everyone” knew he was Batman? Well, Bane was obviously told by Ra’s Al Ghul, and while I wish John Blake had a better reason than “I just knew”, I kind of get it. He’s meant to be the next Batman, and Batman is supposed to be smart and observant and all that. But the story didn’t rely on Blake knowing. Nolan could’ve created a fake flashback where Blake stumbles upon Wayne taking off his mask eight years ago or something, but he chose not to, so one has to assume there was a good reason for that, since it didn’t really matter how Blake found out, ultimately.

In the interest of fairness, I will admit to not loving the very ending. I wish Bruce’s survival had been more ambiguous. Perhaps if we hadn’t seen who Alfred was staring at, that would’ve been enough. Nolan also lied in the editing, showing Batman’s face and then showing a timer that said two seconds, which doesn’t fly, but whatever. In my mind, Bruce died. I think that’s the better way to go with it.

So in that same interest of fairness, was there anything you liked? Ann Hathway’s performance?  Tom Hardy’s? Cillian’s awesome surprise cameo?

MG: Well, I actually like a lot of the story points. I think that building up Robin in the way that they did is a canny move, and the plot cribs from two very awesome comic stories, including “No Man’s Land”,which is one of my favorite Batman stories ever (nerd alert). And I can’t say I was down with Hathaway’s performance, but I’m certainly not going to gripe about her in black leather. I feel like Catwoman is the one aspect of the movie that we can directly compare to The Avengers, because she’s supposed to be fun and bad-ass.Well (and I never, ever thought I’d type this), Scarlett did it better (Jesus,did I just say that?).

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (Image © Warner Bros.)

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (Image © Warner Bros.)

Not only did I dislike Hardy’s Bane, I thought he was downright silly — not scary. After Scarecrow and Joker, Bane just doesn’t measure up. I agree that Ledger towers over the rest of The Dark Knight, but that’s necessary to provide a true, unpredictable threat for Batman to counter. It sets up a moral conflict for Bruce as a character, but I didn’t get that from Bane. He’s a tough guy, but that’s all. Bane didn’t elicit any emotion in me whatsoever – least of all fear. The voice was silly, his backstory sillier, and I have to say I had the opposite reaction to his fight with Batman in the sewers — I thought it was the most boring part of the movie.

Now, to be fair, a lot of my reaction to this may be due to my own knowledge about who Bane is and what he’s known for in the comics, which is breaking Batman’s back. So I was waiting for that to happen, if only to inject a little life into what (for me) was a dull movie. But when the scene arrives, I didn’t find the action at all compelling or well-directed. Throughout the series Nolan’s avoided straight fisticuffs with his Batman — now I see why. He’s a creature of the shadows, and there is far too much of him in the light in this movie, and I feel that stripped away the intrigue.

As for that rope thing, all I can picture now is scores of prisoners climbing out of the pit saying,”Hey, jerks, just don’t use the rope! We would have been out of here years ago!” That entire sequence felt like it was only there because Nolan and Goyer felt it necessary to give Bruce a “Belly of the Beast” moment. It felt tacked on, so I couldn’t get invested, sorry. And what was up with that stupid ghost moment with Liam Neeson? That is an expository hallucination that exists only to misdirect the audience. At first I thought it was just silly, but in retrospect it’s infuriating.

I will definitely agree with you that Bruce should have died. I don’t understand why super-symbolic Nolan would have backed away from the ultimate sacrifice, except to leave the door open for Bale to cameo in the Joseph Gordon-Levitt trilogy (which you know Warner Brothers will push).

In the end, I just didn’t feel any urgency here. But you obviously felt very different, and even emotionally connected to Bruce, which I definitely did not do. I guess, in summation, can you say what the movie made you feel? You’re calling it the best movie you’ve seen this year. What is it about this that makes it stand out so much — aside from it being a pretty shit year for movies?

RR: I’d say mainly the movie made me feel exhilarated and excited and dare I say it even hopeful, in a way a superhero movie hasn’t done since probably Superman or Superman II, when I was a kid. To be clear; I don’t expect this to be my favorite movie overall this year. If it is, I’ll be somewhat disappointed. This is the year of The Master, after all. And the other thing; this is a pretty conservative movie. There are some feints towards condemning the Dent (Patriot) Act, but for the most part, the movie comes down hard on class warfare and resentment, and Occupy Wall Street, and even the stock brokers (an easy villain in most movies) come off as sympathetic.

Tom Hardy as Bane (Image © Warner Bros.)

Tom Hardy as Bane (Image © Warner Bros.)

As a liberal, I found it to be somewhat fascinating to be presenting with a world view so different from my own, something that conservatives no doubt have to deal with all the time with liberal Hollywood. So I liked that. And really, it makes sense that the only place where a conservative world-view would be proven right is in a fictional world with flying men in bat costumes.

MG: Well, The Master will certainly be presenting a worldview as myopic and bizarre as the fear-based neo-conservative war drums that The Dark Knight Rises presents is to my progressive eyes. If Phillip Seymour Hoffman puts on a bat costume I will immediately place that movie atop Citizen Kane as the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.

I certainly noticed the class commentary, but it was so muddled as to not leave an impact with me. Catwoman gives her whole spiel to Bruce at the fancy party, but I felt like all of the people who joined up with Bane were the criminals let out of Arkham, as opposed to the regular citizens of Gotham (Nolan adding a warning against closing Guantanamo? Sure, why not?). The movie uses Occupy Wall Street imagery to make it feel current, but is more obviously cribbing A Tale of Two Cities and the bloody realities of the aftermath of The French Revolution. How do I know that? Because Jim Gordon reads a fucking passage from the book at Bruce Wayne’s “funeral”. By that point I was far removed from anything going on, but it’s just another example of how unsubtle this thing was.

Ultimately, it’s probably my own fault for expecting subtlety from a movie about a sociopath who dresses as a bat. I find the effusive praise for this movie baffling — but I do appreciate your input here. It hasn’t changed my mind, though.

So now let’s get into how Magnolia is a piece of garbage.

RR: And that is a bridge too far, sir.