Great movie. As I get older, I have a harder and harder time appreciating four-color rock-em-sock-em fests like The Avengers (which I liked, before you yell at me) and for me the Nolan Batman run has been one where the superhero story has been upgraded to feel like it’s by adults, for adults. It doesn’t ignore the reality of what Batman is — it keeps the creepy bits where “rich dude dresses up like vigilante to defend city from psychopathic terrorists and criminals” fairly well intact. It doesn’t look away from that discomfort.
As every story is a lesson to other storytellers, let’s peel away the Bat Nipples and look deeper into what I think worked about the film, and a little bit into what maybe didn’t work so well.
Some very mild general spoilers below. (Can’t promise the comments are a safe zone, though.)
Getting The Bat Right
Batman’s a hard dude to get right.
You gotta balance the vigilante with the billionaire. You have to keep his past in the front windshield while still not focusing so heavily on it that it becomes mawkish and obvious. You have to acknowledge his heroism while also acknowledging (at least a wee bit) his derangement. You have to see how he walks a line between psycho-conservative and radical liberal. You need to find the human in the suit.
This film does all that. Somehow juggling it all in a film where, surprisingly, Batman is not getting the majority of screen-time. This isn’t a movie about Batman, not really. It’s a movie about Gotham.
Be advised: I now really want to write Batman. So, somebody make that happen.
Batman Not About Batman
Most Batman stories give you too much Batman. And any time they spend time on other characters, hey, you just want to get back to Bats. Not here. TDKR goes long periods without ever visiting Mister Wayne, and this is a feature, not a bug. The film is populated with an incredibly strong supporting cast — not just in terms of acting but in writing (and more on that in a moment). By focusing on the characters orbiting Batman and by taking a long hard look at a city under siege, you start to get Batman. Batman is made stronger by those who carry him up — both narratively in the plot and metaphorically as a character.
Further, it ensures that when you do see Wayne/Batman, you’re so geeked out you’re doing the equivalent of the pee-pee dance inside your head. By limiting Batman, the strength of the character shines through.
He’s more potent that way.
And never overwhelms.
Good characters have alarming moments of weakness. Bad characters have troubling moments of nobility. Some characters vacillate so you don’t really know where to pin them — good, bad, selfish, assholes, not assholes, and so forth. It’s a wonderful tango — the script doesn’t give us four-color comic book characters. The script lets each character possess a million colors apiece — and just as many shades of gray.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is this film’s winner, by the way. He is its throughline.
Start The Story Late
The story doesn’t spend a lot of time getting you up to speed. A lot has changed since we last visited Gotham and the story isn’t interested in playing catch-up: in fact, it leaps forward with some things being big question marks in the hopes and trust (correctly placed) that the audience will play detective and stay invested. It works. As such, what could be a very boggy beginning is as lean as it could possibly be.
I don’t want to trust my storytellers. I want a storyteller to show me that I can’t trust him. You can’t trust Nolan and that’s fucking phenomenal. I want him to do things to the character and the storyworld — and, by proxy, to me the poor little quivering audience member gnawing his fingernails down to the bloody quick — that aren’t right. I basically want all my storytellers to be Verbal Kint from The Usual Suspects.
Every Hit Hurts
In this kind of movie, characters need to feel pain. Not merely physical, but the pain of unkept emotions, of betrayals, of lost love and all of that. Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman only works if that pain is palpable — and we feel it in every twist of the film and every bone-shattering Bane punch.
Twists That Work
The film gets a bit twisty now and again. And every twist works. Why? Because Nolan isn’t just trolling us — he sets up each twist with a good two or three beats before hand so when it comes, you think, “Oh, see, he’s been showing me this the whole time, and I either didn’t get why, or he did some other misdirecting voodoo and I stopped thinking about it.” This is the man that made The Prestige, after all.
Some folks wanted The Riddler in this film.
Nolan is the Riddler in this film.
Overtold, On The Nose
If I had to be honest, while the front of the film is as lean as it probably could be, it still suffers from a characters overtelling the story — not so much to catch us up but to tell us their feelings on plot events.
It feels on-the-nose at times, like they’re mouthpieces for certain beliefs or otherwise want to be oh so very earnest, and it feels stilted and stunted. That goes away over time, but the front of the film is heavy with it.
The Sound Mix
Holy shitty sound mix, Batman.
I saw it in IMAX — which is to say, “IMAX” in quotations because it’s kinda half-a-dick IMAX — and the sound was a deep bass crotch-punch. Impactful! But muddy. And it meant Bane often sounded like this:
“VAAASH WASH SHA SHATMAN ECKONING WAH SHA VASHHHH”
He talks like he has poop in his mouth.
I probably missed about 25% of what that dude said.
I lost dialogue from other characters, too — any character speaking at a low, deep register was in danger of saying words that became naught but a thunder rumble to my ears.
These are top-shelf theaters and I still get better sound at home. And not for a ton of money, either.
I liked it.
Really great movie.
I have a very strong visceral (meaning positive) reaction to the second film, and wasn’t a huge fan of the first one, but this one ties all three together into a single storyline. And while I maybe enjoyed the second one more, this one might actually be the better story. Not sure yet. More ruminating needed.
OH! And I would totally watch a Nolan-made Catwoman movie with Hathaway in the role.
Hathaway, as a sidenote, is my ideal Miriam Black, for those who have read Blackbirds.
(Though Lizzy Caplan is sometimes Miriam now, too.)
(This is really apropos of nothing so I’ll shut up.)