Batman: The Dark Knight Rises part 5

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The next step on Bruce Wayne’s road to recovery is stopping in to see Lucius Fox, the inventor to whom Bruce entrusted the running of his company back in Begins.  Lucius finally brings Bruce’s monetary woes into focus — he spent his entire research-and-development budget on this mysterious “save-the-world” project, then cancelled it, leaving Wayne Enterprises ripe for takeover by industrial predator Daggett.  (If Harvey Dent was Daytime Batman, John Daggett is Overground Bane, taking over Bruce’s legitimate business while Bane prepares to go after his darker identity.)  Note that the screenplay still doesn’t tell us what the project is, exactly.  Because what the project is is the maguffin of the piece, and if we know what it is too soon, it tips the narrative’s hand in undesired ways.  Suffice to say that the comely Miranda Tate was instrumental in developing said project, and that Lucius strongly supports Bruce settling down with her.  And, when Lucius is played by no less a personage than Morgan Freeman, the viewer takes it on faith that if Lucius wants you to settle down with a particular woman, you should probably do that.


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Batman: The Dark Knight Rises part 4

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With Jim Gordon hospitalized, John Blake emerges as a significant secondary protagonist in The Dark Knight Rises a kind of “young Gordon.”  What does Blake want?  Blake wants Bruce Wayne to stop sitting around feeling sorry for himself and become Batman again.

Now then.  Some have expressed discomfort with the idea that John Blake, Rookie Cop, knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman while neither Jim Gordon nor any other citizen of Gotham City has apparently even given the matter a moment’s thought.  This, for me, goes hand in hand with other narrative contrivances that occasionally poke through the cloth of Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  The presentation and production design of these movies is so grounded, so realistic, it’s easy to forget Batman’s pulp roots, nay his operatic roots, and moments like “Blake knows Bruce Wayne is Batman,” in my experience, are endemic to the genre.  I’ll say it again, the moment you decide to make a movie about a man who dresses up like a bat to fight crime, you enter the realm of the fantastic.  The reader may remember my analysis of Batman and Robin, where I discovered that the psychedelic outrages of that screenplay all stem from the choice of making the flamboyantly fantastical character Mr. Freeze the chief antagonist of the piece — once that decision was made, everything else had to be made that much more crazy to fit that character.  A similar thing happens here: as much as director Nolan wants to ground his Batman movies, the fact remains that they are about a man who dresses up as a bat to fight crime.  Thousands of creative and narrative choices flow from that single plot point.  Since that single plot point is flat-out absurd, it greatly affects everything that flows from it.  In this case, wait, why hasn’t anyone, anywhere, even tried to figure out who Batman is?  If a movie tried to address that question in any realistic way we’d be here all day, and the narrative would quickly spiral out of control as the thousands of questions raised by a man dressing up as a bat to fight crime would echo down and down and down until the very thing we get out of a Batman story — that is, the metaphor — would be lost.  That’s why narratives like The Dark Knight Rises needs occasional contrivances like “Rookie Cop Figures Out Bruce Wayne is Batman” (or “SEC Approves Trades Made By Terrorists at Stock Exchange”).  Anyone whose disbelief crashes down at this juncture would fall down dead if the same everyday logic was pressed onto any other aspect of the narrative.


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Batman: The Dark Knight Rises part 3

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The time has come to ask: What does Bruce Wayne want?

We’ve seen that he’s eradicated organized crime in Gotham City, so theoretically he’s overcome the sense of helplessness he felt about his parents’ deaths — there will be no more Joe Chills running around making orphans out of billionaires’ sons.  Now, it would seem, he’s looking for a way out, a way to move on, to finally emerge from his cave, bury his parents and his girlfriend (and her boyfriend Harvey Dent) and become a fully-integrated man.  The Dark Knight Rises is, at its heart, a dramatization of how a world-class control freak finds a way to let go.

But “to let go,” that’s not what he wants, that’s what he needs.  What he wants is the opposite: to close the world off, to brood, to pout, essentially, to consider his losses and to hell with the world.


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Batman: The Dark Knight Rises part 2

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We’re still at the Dent-related function at Wayne Manor, and there are still characters scurrying around to meet.  John Daggett is some level of businessman, disliked by Alfred and apparently by Miranda Tate as well, a dissolute lout who opines that Bruce Wayne pounced off with his investors’ money with his “save the world” project, and offers to get Miranda her money back in his own way.  Miranda, it seems, shares Bruce’s ideals and snubs Daggett.  In keeping with the theme of deception, Daggett thinks Bruce has deceived his investors and Miranda thinks Daggett is deceiving her.  Later, we will find that Miranda was deceiving everybody.


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Batman: The Dark Knight Rises part 1

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The “titles” of Batman Begins showed the symbol of a bat formed in a swarm of bats, the titles of The Dark Knight showed it in fire, now The Dark Knight Rises shows it in ice.  The bats in Begins were a symbol of fear, the titles a metaphor for an identity forming out of shadows.  The fire of The Dark Knight was like a wall of fire for that bat, that symbol, pushing through the chaos inflicted by the Joker.  Now, the bat is, literally, the cracks in the ice formed by the isolation of Gotham City at the hands of Bane.  “I knew Harvey Dent,” Jim Gordon lies, as the title image gives way to a scene of Gordon addressing a memorial service for the late District Attorney, “I believed in Harvey Dent.”  Gordon is not speaking of Dent at all but of Batman, the man who (the reader will recall) took responsibility for Dent’s bizarre chance-induced crimes, became Gotham’s Dark Knight  so that Dent could remain its White Knight, its Daytime Batman as it were.  Thus caught up, the viewer is plunged into a new story.


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The Dark Knight part 1


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berkeley314567 asks:

"I wonder if you’re more interested in the structure than the actual content of the script?"

In a screenplay, there is no difference between structure and content, "actual" or otherwise. A screenplay is a collection of scenes devised in a certain way placed in a certain order to achieve a desired dramatic effect. In the same way that "character" is nothing but habitual action, the "actual content" of a screenplay is nothing but the scenes that fill its pages and the order in which they’re placed. To say "I like the screenplay’s structure but I don’t like its content" is to say "I like that guy but I don’t like the things he does."

David Mamet once said that the only question in an audience’s head during a movie should be "What happens next?" The screenwriter’s job is to keep the audience interested in the story. When the screenwriter does his job well, the audience gets sucked into the story and experiences the thrill of drama. When he does his job very well, the thrill of the experience is so powerful that the audience comes back again and again, even though they know how the story turns out. Spectacle may amaze and movie stars may charm, but if the screenwriter has not done his job well, the movie will still turn out bad and the audience will stay home. The Dark Knight engages the audience on a level unseen in movies lately, and does so while employing a number of bold innovations, which I will discuss as we move forward.

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Further thoughts on The Dark Knight

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Well, as good as it is, it’s better on a second viewing. I went on a double-date with a screenwriter pal and our wives. Screenwriter joked, “I liked the first three movies, but the last two I thought were a little too much.” By which he meant, there is enough plot in The Dark Knight to fuel five summer blockbusters.  No one could possibly walk out of this movie and complain they hadn’t gotten their money’s worth. It seems like every fifteen minutes or so there is one blockbuster sequence or other that would have been the climax to any other movie, but The Dark Knight just keeps going and going and going, more surprises up its sleeve, more betrayals and double-crosses, more reveals and reversals. It makes The Departed look somnolent, it makes Heat look like a comic book and it makes Tim Burton’s Batman look like Leslie Martinson’s Batman.

For me, I’m still a little stunned, and intimidated, by The Dark Knight‘s screenplay. Plot is one of the hardest things to manufacture, and as I say, this movie has more plot than any five given movies. It’s a relentless, non-stop plot machine, and it handles all of it while still delivering the stunts, action and spectacle expected from the genre. Sometimes it does both at the same time. I’m comfortably accustomed to sitting down in a movie and knowing my way around a narrative, and the idea that a so-called “superhero movie” would have one so complex, compact and intense, challenging and troubling that I give up keeping track, even on a second viewing, is, frankly, kind of blisteringly fantastic.

My wife is something of a plot-nazi. Often, we go see some well-turned-out spectacle or other and I sit through the whole thing with a big goofy grin on my face, wondering at all the color and texture, and afterward I’ll turn to my wife and say “Well, what did you think?” and regardless of whatever pleasures the movie has to offer, she’ll zero in on one fault in the plot that ruins the entire narrative and the movie’s pleasures will immediately evaporate. For The Dark Knight, she had exactly one question on the way back to the parking garage. That question answered (it regarded how the Joker was financing his operation), she declared that the plot was air-tight. So you can take that as a strong recommendation: Todd Alcott’s wife finds the plot of The Dark Knight air-tight.

Heath Ledger’s performance on a first viewing I foolishly just kind of accepted as a given, but on a second viewing I’m fully confident that this is a bad-guy performance to stand alongside Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Javier Bardem in No Country, and Robert DeNiro (or Mitchum) in Cape Fear. Ledger’s Joker is grand and simple, bigger-than-life and frighteningly real, full of bold choices and yet detailed and human. I think it’s safe to say that it’ll be hard to watch Caeser Romero in the part for a while. Ledger’s Joker is both so mesmerizing that you can’t look away, and yet so horrifying that you feel you have to, for fear of catching his eye. Whatever is wrong with him, you know you don’t want to catch it.

A full analysis will have to wait for the DVD release probably, but one of the things that struck me on a second viewing was the sheer number of echoes, parallels and mirror-scenes, one character doing something that is then answered or repeated by another character in a different context. For instance, I was admiring the way Bruce Wayne was able to dismantle a shotgun while not looking at it, and then remembered that Harvey Dent does the same thing with a handgun earlier on. There are dozens of little moments like this but I prefer to keep this spoiler-free for now.

Some have responded to the complexity of The Dark Knight‘s plot by saying it is an ensemble drama. I myself felt pretty strongly that it had three protagonists. On a second viewing, let me just say: make no mistake, The Dark Knight has one protagonist and it is Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne, through his decision to end crime in Gotham City, creates a situation where, as Alfred puts it, the worried gangsters of Gotham turn to a man they don’t fully understand. That is, if Bruce Wayne did not create the Joker, hecreated the situation where the Joker could flourish. He set the plot of The Dark Knight in motion. His actions inspired the Joker to his mayhem, and inspired Harvey Dent to be Super DA, to be the man who would do, legally, what Batman can only do illegally. Everything that happens in the movie leads back to Bruce Wayne’s actions, his attempts to make Gotham City a better place to live. The Joker is his chief antagonist and Harvey Dent is his friend, the man who symbolizes the Gotham he wants the city to be — everything the Joker wants to happen to Gotham, happens to Harvey.

A note on Harvey: Two-Face is my favorite Batman villain, and without giving anything away, let me just say that the treatment of his character in The Dark Knight is the most full-bodied, complex, sympathetic, heartbreaking and horrifying we are likely to see in a generation. My only real sadness about The Dark Knight is that I would like to see a whole movie just about Harvey Dent. My wife, who is familiar with Two-Face through Tommy Lee Jones’s screaming, cackling camp-fest in Batman Forever and Bruce Timm’s thoroughly horrifying interpretation on the Batman Animated show, had forgotten that Harvey Dent is Two-Face, and, during The Dark Knight found herself thinking “I like this Harvey Dent character, he’s interesting and new, I wonder where this is going.” And then, upon realizing who he was, and what modern movie-making technology is capable of, spent a good portion of the movie in a state of sickened dread.

some thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy

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When the previews for Guardians of the Galaxy started showing up in theaters, I was struck by the ways they used Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.” That song was a nutty novelty hit when I was a wee lad in 1974, and I wondered if anyone else in the theater even remembered the recording, much less felt the sense of nostalgia I did when I heard it. Would people think that “Hooked on a Feeling” was some kind of message from another planet? What could its inclusion in the trailers for a Marvel movie possibly mean, except that, obviously, Guardians of the Galaxy was not a movie to be taken entirely seriously? And yet, that song, and the aesthetic choice that led to its inclusion in the movie, is a key part of understanding the appeal of not just Guardians but of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe project.

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James Bond: Skyfall part 7

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Skyfall, up to this point, has been eerily linked to The Dark Knight Rises in many ways, but now suddenly it links itself to The Avengers, or, rather, to Silence of the Lambs, with Silva brought to justice mid-movie and placed in what can only be an escape-proof glass cage.  (How odd that MI6, just recently relocated, nevertheless had the foresight to build an escape-proof glass cage in their offices.)  The glass cage, because of its cinematic echoes, dramatically ramps up our fear of Silva — up ’til now his threat has always been cyber-specific, but suddenly he’s being treated like a dangerous animal, as though he might bite.  (Ironic that his Bond-villain deformity is a damaged jaw.)

“You’re smaller than I remember!” beams Silva as M comes to visit him, exactly what a son returned home from a long absence says to his mother.  Silva wants to press the mommy button, but M counters brilliantly with “Whereas I don’t remember you at all.”  Silva, he reports, was left for dead with some enemy spies who tortured him for months (shades of Die Another Day) and his only recourse was his cyanide tooth, which — damn British manufacturing! — was defective and only disfigured him.  Silva’s egotism is directly related to his hatred of M, in the way of growing boys everywhere: he seeks, in his own way, to cut the apron strings, to wipe his mother off the earth so that he can finally be his own man.

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The Avengers part 14

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The gloves are off, the war is on.  Stark Tower is ground zero.  For the first time in The Avengers’s narrative, there are civilians involved.  Civilians had to pay attention in Stuttgart, but now they are collateral damage.

Why New York, again?  Hasn’t New York suffered enough cinematic attacks since 9/11?  From the Green Goblin’s assault on the Roosevelt Island tram to Cloverfield‘s giant angry whatsit, to Bane’s perversion of the Occupy movement, why must New York keep suffering?  Part of the answer, of course, is that New York must suffer fantastic re-creations of 9/11 in order for us to understand and heal from that event as a culture.  Another part of the answer is that New York is simply Marvel’s home and always has been — there are fewer cinematic real-estate shifts more jarring than the one that removed The Punisher from the gritty streets of New York and moved him to — what the ever-loving fuck — Tampa?  But finally, the answer to the question “Why New York?” is that it is America’s City, the melting pot, the place where America, like it or not, was born, and is continually born, the place where all the world comes to be American.  Millions of people, all from somewhere else, all living atop one another, all clashing against each other, all chasing the dream, all hating one another, all knowing that that very clashing makes the city stronger.  Just like, you know, not to put too fine a point on it, The Avengers.

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