Friday, July 20, 2012
It begins with a nifty action sequence (the film's best, unfortunately), wherein arch-badguy Bane (Tom Hardy) kidnaps a Russian thermonuclear specialist from a plane in midair. The staging is great, and Bane immediately impresses one as a badguy to reckon with...he's big and bulky and most threatening, and he wears a mask that looks at though he's got a tarantula trying to force its way out of his mouth. So far so good.
We shift to Gotham city...Batman, having been blamed for Harvey Dent's death, has retired from the scene...Bruce Wayne (Christian Slater) has become a Howard Hughes-like recluse/gimp, all messed up by all his encounters with bad guys, as indeed, I expect he would be. But an evil cabal, having figured out that he's the Caped Crusader, sends in the Catwoman (luscious Anne Hathaway) to get his fingerprints, so that they can get accesss his stock portfolio, and make a lot of bad futures calls, thus destroying his empire, and defanging him in case he decides to put on his cowl again. Wayne tracks down the Catwoman, and some romantic sparks fly, but he's also getting kinda involved with Miranda, (Mila Kunis lookalike Marion Cotillard), who's invested heavily in an apparently failed fusion reactor that Bruce, with the aid of superscientist Fox (Morgan Freeman) was trying to develop. To cut a long story short, the heavies want this technology, because they'd like to make a nuclear device out of it and blow up Gotham City, for pretty vague reasons. In the meanwhile, Bane is doing sinister things underground with his legion of henchmen...as the atmosphere in Gotham gets funkier and funkier, Batman talks Catwoman into leading him to Bane, and gets into an epic fistfight with him. But Bane beats the crap out of him, then flies him to Jodhpur, India (don't ask me why) and imprisons him, then raises all kinds of explosive hell back in Gotham, collapsing tunnels and trapping a lot of cops underground, letting a thousand convicts loose, carrying on like a big left-wing lunatic, and planning to detonate the reactor after five months or so.
Now, if all that sounded extremely convoluted and nonsensical, it is...and I was leaving out all sorts of stuff involving butler Alfred (Michael Caine, of whom there's rather too much, and oddly, not enough), and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and a young cop who we spend way too much time on, but turns out to be important in the end. Still, I was going with the program for quite a while...there's a bunch of smart dialogue and characterization early on, the first few dust-ups are good, and Oldman, Freeman, Hathaway (who looks swell in her cat-suit) and Hardy work just fine...as a matter of fact, I found Hardy's big meaty Bane to be considerably scarier than Heath Ledger's Joker. Cristopher Nolan is a good director, and the film looks cool. But after all the blowings-up that cut Gotham City off from the mainland, (the special effects are wonderful, by the way), everything gets progressively more and more goofy....and boy is the grand finale unsatisfactory. Let me tell you, that poster from the move is considerably more apocalyptic and chilling than what winds up on the screen.
For one thing, once Bane takes over the city and launches his revolutionary reign of terror (with what seems to be a mere couple thousand guys), the story stretches out over five months or so, because that's how long it's going to take for the reactor core to "decay" and get explosive. In the meanwhile, we're asked to believe that all those cops would survive underground all that time, somehow receiving food and water, apparently from Bane. Huh? Why? What? As a matter of fact, all the details about this occupation of Gotham are completely ludicrous...the power stays on, even after all those blasts, which would destroy the grid, and the whole population is being fed, by relief trucks from somewhere, even though all the bridges but one have been cut. Bane is holding the federal government at bay by threatening to detonate the device. Well, why the hell doesn't he just do it, seeing as how his whole purpose is to...do just that? As a matter of fact, given the resources that his criminal organization seems to bring to posses, why didn't they just get themselves a nuclear weapon from somewhere and skip all this incoherent rigamarole about Bruce Wayne's thermonuclear reactor? The stuff about nuclear and thermonuclear technology is particularly ill-informed....the scriptwriters use the terms as though they're interchangeable, and it grates.
Aggravating matters is the fact that Batman just pretty much disappears for about a quarter of the movie, except for some strange biz in the prison (run by whom?) back in Jodhpur...he needs to have his back whacked by the resident chiropractor, and get back into shape, and climb out of a pit, but we'd much rather see him actually running around in cool vehicles, and ass-kicking. The structure of the film just kinda collapses...and the climactic hoo-ha is no good at all. For one thing, once the cops are freed from their subterranean prison, they advance in a column pointing pistols at a column of Bane's men holding assault rifles...to paraphrase Gian Maria Volonte in Fistful of Dollars, when a man with a pistol meets a man with an assault rifle, the man with the pistol is a dead man. But the cops don't get mown down, and nobody shoots much of anybody, and everybody gets into an interminable fistfight, Batman and Bane included. Now, I hate to have to point this out, but given how dark and brooding these movies are supposed to be, they'd be a whole lot better if the violence actually had some teeth...no such luck. There's a twist that's sorta surprising, but it diminishes Bane completely, and then he gets dispatched in a really uninteresting way....if you're longing to see him greased in properly spectacular fashion, you're going to be real disappointed. Ultimately, the movie degenerates into some villain-less suspense biz of a sort you've seen in a hundred films, starting with Goldfinger. The stuff after the climax is actually rather good, but by then, I was past caring.
I suppose I should admit that I'm not a very big fan of superhero movies. I did like The Incredibles, and I liked the first Iron Man...but I've had big problems with most of the other films. Thought the Cristopher Reeve Superman movies just didn't work, primarily because the special effects were so lackluster...as for Tim Burton's Batman, I thought it was the biggest miracle of hype that had ever come down the pike, unsurpassed until the advent of Obama. I almost enjoyed the second Burton Batman movie, principally because of Michelle Pfeiffer, but otherwise, forget it. As for Sam Raimi's Spiderman movies, once again, the FX weren't up the challenge, and the director of the Evil Dead movies is overqualified for such material. I should also say that I generally can't get past superhero costumes...they almost invariably look profoundly ridiculous on the live-action screen. Also, in the final analysis, comic books are just sort of...juvenile, and treating the subject matter as though it's Shakespeare, which is what you have in Cristopher Nolan's flicks, is just completely wrongheaded. There's just no way to rationalize the material. In The Avengers, the Norse God of Evil, Loki, engineers an invasion of aliens from another dimension, and everything devolves into a giant fist-fight, albeit on flying jet-ski things. Hell, we could invade the earth better than those aliens...
Actually, we could do it better than most movie aliens...