Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Why Batman (the Dark Knight Rises) works...

I recently saw the latest Batman offering and it was the first time I clapped at the end of a film since I saw Inception. That got me wondering why, since I watch pretty much every SF or Fantasy film going on the big screen, and while they often amuse me (e.g. the Avengers) or end up half-exciting me with special effects and half-disappointing me by being too predictable (Prometheus), it is rare to find a film of this genre that seems to hit the right note. I came up with seven reasons.

1. It is dark...
This is not a comedy: people are killed, there is a lot of pain, and there is no naivety. For me it suits our world today, a modern 'film noir', where the goodies (particularly Batman) are almost as twisted as the baddies. Moreover there are echoes of 'Sodom and Gomorrah' in that Gotham City is a pretty corrupt and 'lost' city, and the baddies are in a perverse way trying to sanitize it, rather than being hell-bent on vague world domination or some such ambition. This makes it more credible to me. This was one aspect of Prometheus I did like, in that the aliens have their own agenda, never fully explained, but very dark and unsympathetic to ours (they are aliens, so why on Earth [LOL] should they care).

2. Emotions are reined in
Bruce Wayne is clearly broken on the inside by the loss of his lover n the previous 'episode', but he hardly ever voices it. His grief simmers, so much a part of him that he doesn't even realize how much it has affected him - the bad guys are the ones he finally listens to on this subject. The net effect of this inner emotional tension gives the viewer the real impression that Batman could actually fail this time (of course we know he won't, but this is as close as it gets), so the redemption at the end is more palpable. As with books, the same with films (and unlike Scifi TV series like Stargate Universe and Caprica where there was too much on-screen crying) - the less outward emotion on the screen, the more the viewer experiences it. This was something I also liked about the film Inception.

3. One seriously 'bloody good' class actor
While I like watching Christian Bale in Batman, or for example Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man, it was terrific to see Michael Caine get a chance to show how well he can act. In his case the emotions are definitely not reined in, but few actors could have carried it off the way he did, and his performance perfectly counterpoints Bale's locked down emotional catatonia.

4. Resisting the urge to explain, minimizing flashbacks...
I'm sure some other directors and/or screenwriters would have put in more flashbacks to explain what happened before. But they would have detracted from the action, taken the viewer out of the moment, and been seen as a cheap way to pad out the movie (though it was long enough already). And if you'd not seen the previous films, you'd still get it anyway (because viewers are more intelligent that often given credit for). It did make me wonder whether it was planned that way, or else the flashbacks ended up on the cutting room floor as the film was already 2hrs20 long, but whatever the reason, it worked.

5. A smart, bad kick-ass female
The character played by Anne Hathaway is also a good example of resisting the urge to explain, since what she did to get where she is, is never explained. She also tends to get the better of Batman throughout the film which is good for her and also made Bruce Wayne more sympathetic as a character.

6. This isn't Scifi, it isn't Fantasy ... it's Technothriller...
Hang on, I hear you say, surely Batman is fantasy? And what about all those futuristic gadgets? Doesn't that make it Scifi? Well, I put it to you that there's not much in the film that won't be within our grasp in the next decade or sooner (consider for example the Skycrane that just deposited the Rover on the surface of Mars). There are no magical powers or mystical aspects, and people bleed and get prolapsed discs and have to heal for a long time (this latter affliction incidentally is unfortunately close to my heart, or rather my spine, right now). This means that unlike watching the Avengers or Green Lantern or Captain America (all good fun in their own way), you can still be thinking about the film ten minutes after you've left the cinema. The 'suspension of disbelief' doesn't evaporate as soon as the closing credits appear.

7. It has a satisfying ending, and a hook to the next film...
I did see the final two end scenes coming - but it didn't matter, because they were right for the story. No spoilers here, but it was at that point that I wanted to clap and check to see that the next film was in progress. Bravo!

So, let's have a few more films like this one please, or else at least take Prometheus to the aliens' home planet and have less rampant killing and more inner conflict.

In the meantime, if you want a bit of tech/fantasy film noir (lots of killing in this one though) with Christian Bale and you've never seen Equilibrium, which got unjustifiably over-shadowed by Matrix, check it out.


  1. Saw Batman last night, avoided seeing it before reading your review to avoid any spoiling - needn’t have worried though as I enjoyed your review more than the film. One thing though - aren't you angry about them turning fusion (notoriously hard to start, hard to sustain) into a weapon? To paraphrase Burke; all that's necessary for the technophobes to triumph is that the well informed do nothing.

  2. Hmm... Well, I did think they took some editorial license with the fusion bomb... Glad you enjoyed the review more than the film, LOL. Bound to be a further episode (of both).


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