We continue with all things batty, new readers may wish to review part one of my two-part retrospective of The Dark Knight which can be viewed here. I didn’t think I’d get the time to complete this before the opening of The Dark Knight Rises but I don’t have any other reviews outstanding at the moment, and all the smart distributors have pretty much cleared their release schedule as none of them are brave enough to programme any of their offerings against what is certain to be this years second box-office behemoth, so there won’t much else going on review wise for at least a month. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t link to this, it’s 13 minutes of behind the scenes material for the new film, I am not going to watch it or anything else until the 20th as I’m not risking any more spoilers, your self-control threshold may be weaker. Anyway, enough of this procrastination, let’s pick up events where we left them, after the climactic confrontation between our hero and his lunatic nemesis, I’m not sure why but I simply love this moment, it’s a rare shard of reflection when the films engine isn’t accelerating along at a breakneck pace, and in many ways encapsulates the film in one brief moment, of those yapping ‘dogs chasing cars’;
There is a glaring editing failure in the preceding sequence where the Joker taunts his captor in an unusually cruel dialogue exchange, a shivering piece of writing which demonstrates again just what a nasty and wily piece of work he is. Suddenly through the frantic cross cutting of Bruce racing to Rachel’s / Harvey’s side and the revelation of the internalized IED’s implanted in the Joker’s goons - another War On Terror® reference of course – at the police station we suddenly see Detective Stephens (Keith Szarabajka) as hostage, the Joker with a knife to his throat, presumably the same blade that he has concealed in his shoe from the earlier champagne reception crash or maybe Nolan’s just a fan of Rosa Klebb and decided to throw in another Bond reference to go along with his wholesale sacking of OHMSS for Inception. So the bomb goes off, Rachel is killed, Two Face is forged in the cauterizing inferno and the Joker’s dastardly scheme continues apace. I was quite shocked by Rachel’s death I have to say, the filmmakers had taken the time to establish her as a feisty, independent, professional type nor merely hostage / arm candy – well, apart from the champagne reception bit where she and Bats implausibly fall several hundred feet but we’ll just forgot about that - which is a rarity in itself for today’s action blockbusters, but to actually kill off a major character is almost unheard off, and this time there is no cinematic sleight of hand to bring her back as they did with Gordon’s expertly arranged feint, thus the stakes are established and the audience is distressed to understand that all bets are off, I mean it’s not like they’ll be bombing hospitals next or something (nervously laughs), right? Oh…..
I’ve mentioned in previous pieces that Gotham city itself is a defined and central character in the films, a formless vortex of myriad citizens, corrupt and decaying institutions on both sides of that porous veneer of legality, the huddled masses suspended in an urban thrall which both Batman and his repeated opponents seek to manipulate and cajole, from Ra’s Al Ghul & the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, from the Joker in The Dark Knight and I’m sure Bane will have the same objective in The Dark Knight Rises, the fight is always for the soul of the people and this is no more acute than in the second and final acts of this film, where the fascistic drive of the film becomes fully acute, speaking from a strictly academic, dictionary definition of the ideology*. Crime fiction has always been a rich artery for channeling the anxiety of the day, operating as it does on the cusp of legality and the transgressive, and although the film was widely interpreted as a cultural manifestation of the War On Terror® Bordwell says that Hollywood can be strategically ambiguous about politics, as he argues against the zeitgeist theory in his usual erudite and convincing fashion, I’m reminded of the scene in Jarhead where the Marines unironically enjoy watching Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now as exciting war films, not as the complex works which on the immediate surface are not flagrantly anti-war, but operate more as obtuse texts with different ideas and images leading to different meanings and conclusions to differing alternate individuals. Therefore the credo or dogma of the film is further obfuscated by the elevation of Nolan and his immediate companions – Michael Bay, Peter Jackson, Spielberg, Lucas and the bombastic others – into being the chief proponents of so-called ’Shock & Awe’ cinema, deploying intense sound and visual material to literally befuddle and deafen the audience into a numbed obsequious servitude, with 3D, motion capture and IMAX being the latest weapons in their cinematic arsenal – the volume drowns the message.
Whilst we’re on the subject of critics some of the mediums more insightful sophists such as David Denby have remarked that The Dark Knight operates in a state of almost hysterical ’constant climax’, a phrase which alludes to the exhausting combination of pummeling and deep edit rhythms, heightened performances, an emphasis on melee and confrontation, and the high-pitched strings from Hans Zimmer’s vociferous score, an analysis which mirrors the Shock & Awe assessment propagated by Bordwell and their ilk. It’s an observation which I broadly accept as it’s obvious that this is exactly the effect than Nolan and his team are striving to achieve – unlike his contemporaries he insists on shooting even the largest action sequences with single fixed cameras, such is the level of pre-visualisation he has already mentally constructed before building or scoping sets, instead of arranging the scenes from a plethora of sources in the editing suite, and the film has an undeniably pulsing, coruscating rhythm and aura throughout its second half with perhaps a few too many plot strands to be competently weaved together. The conflict arises as to the opinion of this being a legitimate and desirable evolution of cinema, of whether potent ideas and commentary can simmer under the surface of what is ostentatiously a commercial, fiscally attuned cinema, but I’d argue that from Intolerance to The Wizard of Oz to Singing In The Rain to The Godfather - to use some widely acclaimed and loved examples across both historical and genre palettes – cinema is spectacle, it is grandiose and accelerated, overbearing and in your face, in certain cases this is what distinguishes it from TV or theatre, from live music or gaming, and sometimes I think the critics lose sight of this when assembling these critiques, just because they are genre pieces the message and interpretations are just as valid in a Nolan film as they are in a Kiarostami film.
One of the more amusing theories I’ve recently absorbed refers to Nolan’s work being a detailed treatise on what it means to be a modern human in a post-religious world. In Batman Begins for example Bruce Wayne, as the primary audience avatar, must face his intangible, superstitious demons and self-actualize his fear, with such emotional paralysis being a major component of the film on a host of different thematic and narrative levels. In The Dark Knight, the second stage of development in the pursuit of the elusive self-actualisation is to define a framework of ethics and social order, or chaos results. In The Dark Knight Rises - who knows? Perhaps it will be the conflict with other self-actualized beings and their definitions of self, order and ethics? Will Bane as a Oedipal ’other’ be seeking to usurp the city and indoctrinate its citizens to his Occupy themed socialist ideology? Will Catwoman be the franchise’s first signal of overt sexuality, liberated by the death of Rachel, Bruce Wayne’s childhood sweetheart from the previous film? In Batman Begins our orphaned hero defeats the Scarecrow as a childhood boogeyman in the first stage of development, and Ra’s al Ghul as the Oedipal father is rejected and defeated to ascend to the next psychological threshold. In The Dark Knight it’s the Joker as the malicious id who fosters the birth and drive of Two-Face as the mirroring ego, with Ra’s al Ghul now the intangible, overarching super-ego, invisibly fostering the drives and desires of the schizophrenic Batman to conduct the greatest sacrifice, the destruction of his ego (Two Face) to thwart the ruinous desires of his id (Joker), assimilating the shattered remnants of his own, better, manifest self (Harvey Dent) at the apex of the film? With both the id locked away in Arkham Asylum and the ego subdued the arrival of Bane and Catwoman in the new film activate a new neurosis, they are just as good as Batman, if not better, at simply being who they are - competent, goal-oriented and already self-actualized – forcing his return to the alter-ego? Or maybe I’ve got too much time on my hands and I’ve been reading far too much psychoanalytical theory dossiers. Well then hmmm….
So we finally arrive at the hospital scene where the Joker gets his most revelatory scene. Heath Ledger’s performance throughout this controlled, asceptic film as the fractured, disembodied Loki figure with his unreliable and ambiguous origin stories are quite simply breathtakingly audacious, it breaks every Hollywood screenwriting rule where you must have a clearly defined antagonist from which the hero can ricochet in full dramatic glory, and full marks to both Jonathan & Christopher Nolan for not even giving us a final act resolution to his origin or psychological purpose. Such an approach really makes him some sort of free-floating insurgent agent of anarchy, and Ledger really captured the zeitgeist with his performance whose charismatic chaos speaks to some of the disenfranchised generation X, Y’s and Z being expressed in that speech, the mouthpiece of frustration of a segment of society (in their view) under the thrall of absurd, corrupt and ineffectual systems of control, a catalyst which viewers can chaotically indulge in some of their more disorderly fantasies. It’s curious then that Nolan operates at societies nodal points throughout his movies, he frequently arranges scenes in the airports and the cities, in City Hall or police stations, on aircraft or in hospitals, throughout the works the march of civilisation is centered, and then there is the insane court jester whose role throughout history has always been to speak truth to power and disrupt and lampoon the perilous position of the elite, it’s maybe an instinctive choice of apparatus that we all, commonly, subconsciously realise and loathe. Ledger, in his tragic final performance was throughly brilliant; twitchy but not overwrought, malicious but not cartoonish, even in that scene above – in drag as a nurse for christsakes - he simultaneously comes off as deranged and dangerous, even during a narrative snapshot that could so easily have descended into farce. The Iraq allusions are overwhelming with an opponent using asymmetric warfare against a homogenic foe, sending scratchy, out of focused shaky footage which hints at unseen atrocities, in an identical manner to the fanatic self-proclaimed ’Islamist’ brigades who continue to blaze a bloody vengeance across the Middle East. The film drips with an ichorous nihilism which again tapped a chord with its vast audience, a darkness which can have only been intensified with the tragic death of Ledger and his posthumous Academy Award, is it not one of those cruel twists that a millionaire and critically acclaimed film star, supposedly a figure of adoration the world over, one of the lucky souls who through a difficult conflation of luck and talent ascended to the movie star pantheon yet still led such a wearisome life that he was wedded to the crutch of numerous legal drugs to simply face the next day? That’s no joke….
But the center rings true, at least for the moment. Some cultural theorists, acolytes and other academic cinema types have identified a genre of film that emerged in both the wheezing, dying breaths of the past millennium and the birth pangs of the new, through a series of American movies whose purpose was to separate an illusory reality from the allegedly more authentic ‘real‘, a sequence that was immediately guillotined by 9/11 and replaced with texts positing the simulation coming under attack from overseas, from sources very much alien in both senses of the word from the prevailing ideology. I’d argue that The Dark Knight is very much the next logical development in that sequence with the disembodied threat being supplanted with indigenous foes, the paranoid surveillance state engaging in widespread doublespeak and triplethink, an enemy within responding to maelstroms of cultural contradictions which is the very essence of the ludicrous and terrifying notion of a ‘war on terror’. With the exception of Wayne, Gordon and Rachel everyone in The Dark Knight is susceptible to being perverted, corrupted and turned, from the men and women of law enforcement to the crusading district attorney Harvey Dent, solidly portrayed by Aaron Eckhert who never seemed to get the kudos he richly deserved for a difficult performance that is foreshadowed with just enough seething rage to make his final descent psychologically convincing – well, I mean convincing for a tent pole Hollywood movie, this isn’t nor is it trying to be Strindberg or Ibsen – and just a quick word on Gary Oldman – he’s just fucking great isn’t he? Another unimpeachable foundation stone in the series success, alongside Michael Caine noble Alfred, who I’ve never fully appreciated until I caught the films back to back yesterday.
Screens and surfaces, media and manipulation. Before seeing the film again I was sympathetic to the captious claims that the final confrontation, the climactic set-piece with the ferry booby traps and moral gauntlet proffered by the Joker felt just a little ‘forced’, another sequence in a slightly obese film with the sonar enhanced melee becoming a little tiresome by dredging out a blockbuster movie to an unnecessary two and a half hour run-time, a complaint that was compounded by the fiscal fallacy circulating Hollywood at the time that more villains equalled more thrills, so merchandising minded executives urged screenwriters to insert redundant threats ad nauseam to pointlessly elevate the dramatic ante, but with another visit to this movie the criticism simply doesn’t hold water – Spiderman 3 however is another entity. I’m happy to be proved wrong but if memory serves The Dark Knight is the only movie where the villains actually seem to functionally operate in the same film universe, to recant and reflect upon each other in a clearly logical and dramatic sense, the Joker’s murderous creation of the dually horrific Two Face is perfectly played and serves at the final checkmate move of his increasingly convoluted and perhaps absurdly contrived master plan, yet it makes narrative sense as his final coup de grâce in potentially disrupting the moral imperatives of Gotham’s citizens, which was anarchicaly expressed as his ultimate goal in the hospital scene. Although the film’s editing gets choppy and slightly confusing with the cross maneuvers urging a rather confrontational reaction – again the ‘constant climax’ exhaustion comes into play and this is perhaps Nolan’s occasional stumble throughout his cluttered storytelling style - yet the meridian of one opponents defeat is expertly despatched;
So here is some more of Nolan’s gravity defying camera techniques that he went on to explore more fully with Inception and judging by the prologue to The Dark Knight Rises we will be seeing more of those unusually inverted movements. The Joker gets his final speech alluding to the similarities between the two symbiotic nemesis ‘dragging Harvey down to our level’ before he gets one final maniacal laugh to haunt us as he pushes off into the ether, as in one sense he has won and pushed the hero into his personal Gehenna, as a common murdering criminal that ignited his nocturnal crusade in Batman Begins. I really like the way that the Nolan’s have almost written themselves into a corner by maintaining the heightened realism and cast Bruce as a murderous vigilante, and in just a few days we’ll know how they’ve extracted themselves from that potential narrative cul-de-sac.
Cue applause, house lights up, long exhale – we’re almost done. Some of the success resides in the little touches – Bruce playing playboy and ditching the champagne on the veranda as he must remain focused and in control, the Joker responding to accusations to being crazy by nervously muttering ’no…no…no I’m not…’ as if he’s having to convince himself, Bruce effortlessly dispatching a goon and dismantling his weapon as he walks toward the panic room in the party scene, the Joker’s hand-washing moment in the hospital, that evocative moment of Bats musing over his failure in the smoldering debris of Rachel’s homicide - they all add up to a textural pattern which displays a tangent of filmmakers completely in control of his material, and judging by the early word on The Dark Knight Rises that vice like grip continues into the final installment. I’m not the only one to have been immediately reminded of the ending to Shane with the close of Dark Knight, my esteemed colleague Philip French noted the same thoughts during his review back in the day, it’s a final allusion to the mythic grandeur that cinema can provoke for its eternal celluloid heroes when manipulated by the right hands. So whats next ? Watching the first two back to back reminds me of just what an outstanding narrative arc they have developed for the franchise, of the psychological allusions and confusions, I’m certain we’ll see more of the same in Rises but I was also struck by just how emotional the films are, there is a real heart and spirit churning under the action sequences and gadgets, a real sense of threat and struggle beyond the pyrotechnics and intellectual shadow-play, and this I think is what has elevated them above other superhero and blockbuster fare, and if early reports are anything to go by then we’re in for some intense material for the final chapter – I have my suspicions of where certain things will go but we’ll leave that Pandora’s box firmly closed for now. Looking beyond the weekend you Bat-fans will also be excited to hear of this bat-project which I stumbled across during my research, but for now let’s just calmly convalesce and wait for Friday, and see just how the Nolan’s and Bale, Caine and Freeman will finally wrap up this outstanding, incredible series of films – are you excited yet?
* OK, I’m not suggesting that Nolan are Fascists or anything, I’m merely pointing out if you look at the strictly academic view of what that political ideology ia, then apply that to millionaire Bruce Wayne’s ideology and activities and well….
You might have heard of this, it was a little project that Warners put out a few years ago, having been reasonably successful (over $1 billion in worldwide box office alone), it’s got itself a sequel this year. True to form after promising a write-up on this as part of my ancient Films of 2008 entry I’ve finally managed to fulfil this promise a mere four years later, punctuality evidently being my strong point. Why the delay? Well, initially I wanted to give it yet another look after the two cinema visits and a couple of Blu-Ray revisions, but after the rabid exposure the film and its potential sequel engendered over the subsequent couple of years I frankly got a little sick of the movie (although that’s not the films fault), there must have been some tangential news story in the on-line press almost every day during the first couple of quarters of 2009 so I really wanted to go away, take a breather, then come back to the movie fresh and attempt to explain why I think The Dark Knight really touched a nerve with not only the rabid fan-boys who went to see it four, five, even six times at the cinema (which of course explains some of that box office) but also the appeal to the more mainstream punters who visit the cinema maybe once or twice a year. Of course the interest and speculation has continued to swirl unabated around what we know as The Dark Knight Rises over the intervening few years, as its 20th July release date inexorably marches forward it’s finally time to step up the plate and push some thoughts out there prior to the release of the historically difficult third movie in the trilogy, be warned as this may very well be the most absurd, lengthy, fanboy inspired nonsense I’ve ever fabricated so I’m preemptively blaming the pain-killers. It’s an obvious allusion I know but I’d argue that The Dark Knight is the quintessential film of the last decade, with its domineering leitmotifs of entropy, corruption, instability and insanity it is the primary exemplar in reflecting and illustrating many of the crumbling structures that are under assault by a panoply of threats - fear, anguish, destruction, hypocrisy, paranoia – that have perverted the citadels of the West as their hegemonic stranglehold exigently slips away, as the moral lines are increasingly obscured as independent, ideological driven groups fight for their interests by violating the margins of the status quo and established, increasingly redundant and rejected political methods are superseded by direct action, and it’s also got some kick-ass action sequences so where better to start than with the introduction of the films hero, and I ain’t talking about some nocturnal psychopathic vigilante;
Click on the top left link to catch the final moments of that opening, alas I couldn’t find it in its entirety. Firstly, this obviously serves as the second part of a trilogy with the opening blue flame hued bat symbol – we’ll seeing that more of that temperature in the film of course – serving as a thematic and design continuation of the opening of Batman Begins and its auburn hues which both dispense with any titles or credits, both serve as semiotic glimpses of the tale that follows and its cinematographic palettes. An expansive helicopter mounted dolly penetrates the world of the film, the modern urban environment, its briefly tranquil atmosphere shattered as the goons rupture the status quo as they prepare their aerial assault that is immediately reinforced with a cunning character introduction, an empty mask shown in silhouette with the unidentified character turned away from the camera lens, a presage of the fruitless search for identity, reason and morality that gravitate around the films real protagonist – The Joker – whom subliminally mocks the film’s title. He is a void, a vessel for the audiences fears, a mysterious agent of chaos and entropy with a constantly shifting origin and history (does he even know his own back-story?) but I’ll delve fully into that in part two of this brief series. A meticulously planned robbery ensues, cut to the tempo of Hans Zimmer’s shrill and stretched score, a criminal inauguration which simultaneously references The Killing (there, didn’t take long for the Kubrick mention did it?) with similar nods to Heat via the casting of William Fichtner, signaling Nolan’s impeccable influences and inspirations. I love the nonchalant shooting of the bus driver and the grenades imposed on the trembling bank customers, we’re clearly dealing with a meticulously prepared and efficient psychotic (unusual for a PG13 movie for obvious reasons) whom immediately obliterates the scenery chewing antics of Nicholson, reinforced with the callous execution of his comrades and the grenade smoke bomb gag which acquaints us with this clown prince of crimes nebulous attitude to life and death. This merciful introduction is inverted with a shock a few minutes later in which writers Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer perfectly pitch a moment of terrible violence with splenetic humor, a grim yin-yang that reverberates throughout the film, both times I saw it with an audience they went fucking wild and that’s cinema right there, the shared experience that nothing can equal. So the films temperature and temperament is independently established away from the usual carnage saturated action-film context, it’s afferent inductions functioning within the narrative, not being a function of the narrative, not merely an excuse for kinetic deviations that leapfrog the recital to the next ballistic set-piece - in The Dark Knight they are intrinsic designs and conceptions that embed the characters psychology and environment – the oppidan and urban, the criminally lunatic, the dispassionately violent – at the core of the films anfractuous ambitions.
After this bravura prologue the film settles into its rhythm and the major plot lines emerge, Harvey Dent is introduced as the passive reflection of Batman, the principled idealist who is committed to make a difference, battling the crime and corruption of Gotham city within the confines of the system rather than following an individual, morally suspect, unhinged nocturnal crusade unfettered by such ridiculous notions as civil rights, presumption of innocence and trial by jury - in a word, Guantanamo. The political praxis is set, the City Hall and legislature machinations are placed in dichotomy with the criminal syndicate operations, as Gotham City itself is established as a living entity with enough sparse sociological dimensions to serve the plot developments in the films succeeding acts, a pivotal stroke as Nolan and his screenwriter accomplices understand that the city is as crucial a character in their legendarium as Bruce Wayne or Alfred, Lt. Gordon or Harvey Dent. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes from Batman Begins as the romantic plot device, as Rachael is re-contextualised from the first movie as Bruce’s most significant personal sacrifice – a totem which shortly becomes mortally intangible - a love requited but impossible to consummate given his psychological demons and the potential of an Achilles heel should a particularly fervid villain learn of their secret affections. After an entertaining (although rather redundant) sojourn to Hong Kong and an escalating body count the narrative reaches a second plateau, the preceding hour or so is undoubtedly the films weakest section, I don’t want to belabor the point but the frantic cutting of editor Lee Smith can leave the viewers a little confused and a few redundant threads are raised – the copycat vigilantes, the blackmail attempt from a suicidally ambitious Wayne Industries executive - all of which seems a little forced even as it inevitably links in with later developments in a rather overly complex*, serpentine script. All of these maneuvers are presented in the usual single character frame shots, spiced up with a creeping track-in camera movement as characters spin out some occasionally portentous dialogue, all punctuated with Nolan’s beloved cityscape establishing shot transitions, before we are relived of this flagitious framing with a rather memorable soirée amongst the higher echelons of Gotham society;
What’s that? No, no we erm don’t talk about what subsequently happened back at the party as that seems to be quite a serious omission from the cutting room floor, given that the narrative moves along without resolving the threatening incursion upon Gotham’s 1% one assumes that the protracted run time urged some serious snipping of the editors cruel scissors. Anyway, note the swirling, circling camera moves as the Joker expresses his fluctuating origin story, a simple but efficient tool to suggest the disorientation of having that mentalist literally in your face with a knife in view, as the threat moves from the abstract to personal for both Bruce and Harvey as the competing paramour of moon-faced Gyllenhaal. I think both Wally Pfster and Nathan Crowley have been somewhat overlooked in favour of Nolan’s and Ledger’s achievements on the movie, both these talents evidently worked in harmonious tandem, populating the film with a metallic sheen of reflections in the architecture of the film and embedding stark, regimented angular designs for the forces of order and control whose arrogant perch is assaulted by the explosive campaign of the Joker. Note that the native, primeval lair of the original Batcave has been exchanged for the rigid geometric order of the Batcave 2.0, the gothic and elemental superseded with the mechanised and controlled, the new nest of our nocturnal paladin sporting a sleek, cool and fetishistic sheen (as does his weapons, vehicles and armour), a sharp contrast to the primordial, instinctive tools of his opponent, as simple bombs and knives are the inventory of his anarchist adversary. The next sequence of note is the terrifying Al-Qaeda video inspired moment when the first hostage demand is transmitted by the press, I still can’t quite believe this sneaked into a 12A certificate film as it is numbingly nasty and genuinely unsettling, both times at the flicks the patrons were shocked into a dumbstruck silence, as cunningly Nolan cuts to an overhead shot of Gotham as a chance for the audience to catch their breath and compose their spirits, a lull in the storm before the next action sequence ignites;
After this meandering we come to the central action set-piece and the film never looks back. I’ve been somewhat beaten to the punch by this widely circulated analysis of the sequence which has its merits, although I think having issues with the 180° rule being consistently violated is somewhat missing the point – if it convinces, if it excites and thrills then it’s job is done, regardless of any arbitrary academic transgression, and the claim that this is just sloppy film-making and is not intentional on the part of Nolan and his editor is frankly ludicrous. The ominous and subtle joke of the fire engines ablaze is another nice touch, the shift from diagetic sound to Zimmer’s (quite literally) highly strung score easing us into a frenetic, brilliantly conceived and executed action sequence which stands above its peers by virtue of being, well, real. That’s real vehicles doing real stunts with real human beings, I’m not naive enough to think some of it wasn’t tweaked back in the labs but there are real visceral thrills in the sequence which does not rely solely on CGI domination (perhaps a little too real as a stuntman was killed during production), rather than using your cornea as a punching bag the concatenation has a drama, a lift and a presence through the characters and the parallel cutting techniques, and I’d argue that the entire film strives for a slightly disorienting, anxious ambience, embedded through every level of the film-making from the costumes to performances, soundtrack to set design. For all the films submerged depths and edifying intricacies it also delivers on the action and excitement front – let’s not forget that this is a $250 million Hollywood movie and as such it has some obligations to the cultural tropes of that breed of cinema – and this scene works as a microcosm three-act embezzlement of the form with its set-up and establishment of the characters in relation to the physical universe, the underground tussle and mêlée, and a final triumphant revelation of the Bat-pod and Westernesque showdown, all crowned with the twist reveal of Lt. Gordon bringing the maniac martinet to justice. I’ll admit I was suckered, I honestly thought Gordy had been killed earlier on so when he was revealed as the arresting officer on scene I was mentally punching the air in triumph along with the audience members who clapped and cheered along with this disclosure, a superb finish to what can roughly be parsed as the mid-point of the film, but not before we interrogate one of the more critical scenes of the entire movie;
There is nothing I can add to what already been expressed about this by Nolan here, it’s an illuminating interview, and you can see from that piece how the film works at an iconic level, he and Goyer and his brother got it and understand that the symbiotic relationship culled from the more mature Batman & Joker graphic novels are what makes them so intriguing and psychologically charged, this scene being the crux of the entire movie from which all the tendrils and all the other themes and events coalesce to lurk in a slithering, quivering mania. How can a force that thrives on conflict and degrading its opponent to its level ever be defeated? When do the ends justify the means in the face of illogical and indiscriminate brutality? When faced with the dispassionate, indifferent cruelty of the world and its hollow and hypocritical moral structures isn’t the only sane response to go insane? On that charming note let me draw a veil over part one of this reprise, giving me a breather to compose part 2 where we’ll get into the remainder of the film along with the performances, with some of the more virulent adumbrations and crucially how the film slots neatly into Nolan’s wider worldview, it’s all to come in a couple of weeks after this apprehensive musical interlude;
* Here is my favourite, most sarcastic appraisal of one of the films most glaring flaws – ‘I especially like the part where he (the Joker) had arranged to have two guys named Harvey and Dent killed so as to draw Batman’s attention to a bullet fired into the brick wall at the crime scene knowing that bullet would shatter but that Batman would recover it and take it to an improvised crime lab where he would then discover a way to model the shattered bullet on his computer and virtually reassemble the bullet in order to discover a fingerprint belonging to the minion who put the bullet in the gun and in whose apartment Batman would then discover that the funeral guard for Commisioner Loeb’s funeral has been bound and gagged and as Batman walks to the window to discover that the apartment overlooks the funeral of the commissioner, he fails to notice that a timer has been set to snap the window shade up at exactly the second that Batman arrives at the window, causing the snipers covering the funeral to fire at the window and allowing the Joker to make his next move! That is tight planning! I can see why audiences were so swept up by this story, which was not at all horseshit’….
Tha-thunk thunk tha-thunk. Tha-thunk thunk ta-thunk – he’ll be back. Well, actually he isn’t if you catch my drift, well, not entirely, but some of his mates are. With McG wielding the megaphone the latest installment of the Terminator franchise wasn’t exactly the most anticipated summer movie of the year but I think a secret excitement was building at the prospect of returning to the tech-noir time jumping genre hybrid which cemented the careers of some of the biggest American film action talents of the past twenty years. Ignoring the lamentable ‘Terminator 3′ the first two movies remain classics of their kind, the first as a regular staple of any movie fan’s viewing habits of the 80′s and the second as a benchmark moment in the development of new SFX that will be culminated in Cameron’s return to the big screen come December. That fusion of state of the art action with vaguely arresting paradoxes have always struck me as one of the films enduring qualities, has McG corrected the course of the franchise and delivered a new contemporary classic of its kind? In a word, no. No he hasn’t.
A prologue in 2003 introduces us to Marcus Wright, a death row prisoner who signs away his body to medical science following the pleas of the cancer stricken Dr. Kogan (a thoroughly unexpected Helena Bonham Carter), a senior scientist for the recently USAF acquired Cyberdine Systems – yes, we’ve heard of those jokers before. After Wright bites the needle we flash forward to post holocaust 2018 with mankind’s last struggle against the merciless Skynet in full swing, our last hope resting in the guise of John Conner (Christian Bale, broodily angry as usual) has acquired an ultimate weapon that can disable the mechanoids battle machines, a WMD that represents humanity’s last chance of survival. The arrival of a confused Wright, no older than the day he was executed some fifteen years before challenges Conner’s understanding of the future he was led to believe, is this Skynet’s last coup de grâce on the exhausted militia or an omen of a unseen, uncertain future?
Overall it’s an unfortunate waste. The post ‘Judgement Day’ west coast irridated USA could have been a potent playground for taking the franchise forward, genre fans like yours truly were always keen to see the dimensions of the furtive battles against our robotic overlords. Whilst it delivers some faintly impressive set-pieces – it’s not the utter travesty that was predicted – it clunks from one encounter to another with virtually nothing in-between, no context for the struggle, no examination of the burden that a self proclaimed saviour of mankind would endure and most critically no tangible grasp of the time skipping anomalies that could take the tale into uncharted waters. I don’t want to sound too churlish about this, at the end of the day it’s a big, bombastic action movie not a Cassavettes or Sayles character piece but I was hoping for more of a mariage of kinetics with intellect.
Stylistically it’s the stalwart bleached film texture coupled with hand-held immediacy which seems de rigour for any movie with a $50 million plus budget made since ‘Saving Private Ryan‘ over a decade ago – can’t we move on? The film-makers chuck a few of the iconic lines in from previous installments (although they missed the finest dialogue exchange of the entire series, if they’d made her the correct Sarah Connor, that would have been interesting…) to warm the cockles of every fanboys heart and I’ll concur that the film does improve somewhat in the final act with a stealthy incursion into the heart of Skynet offering some genuine excitement and thrills (including an amusing CGI rendered cameo from a certain mono-syllabic politician) but it’s all too little too late. One of the more interesting aspects of the series – the time travel loop and its consequences – is paid mere lip service which was for me the films main failing. If you removed the Terminator mythos aspects of the plot you’d be left with little more than a mid-1980′s direct to video action-SF number which is all well and good if you’re in the mood for that, personally given the series previous achievements I was hoping for a little more substance. Just to be obvious, yes, here is a link to the films real cause célèbre, well it made me laugh……
For my final film at the festival I took in something of an oddity – a mainstream Hollywood film directed by a real eccentric German auteur – Werner Herzog. You may recall dear reader that I mentioned this film way back in January as one of the films to look forward to this year so it’s a shame to report that this film is a somewhat flawed curiosity. If you want to see the film then avoid the wikipedia entries as there be spoilers…..
1966, Indo-China, shortly before the skirmishes in Vietnam ignited into a full blown war. Our hero Dieter Dengler, heroically portrayed by Christian Bale is a slightly naïve young air force pilot who is about to embark on his first clandestine mission – an illegal bombing raid deep in Laos. Shot down inside hostile territory, Dieter is captured and transferred to a hellish prison camp where a number of other American servicemen and native dissidents are struggling for survival. The choice is clear – survive and hope a political solution is achieved and all POW’s returned to home soil or brave the guards and the lethal jungle itself on an impossible trek to Thailand.
I can see what attracted Herzog to the material; a single minded, obsessive protagonist, the clash of civilisation against savage, the curious symbiotic relationship between ‘man’ and the natural environment – all themes Herzog has explored before (and indeed he has already made a documentary on this very same story) but this does not reach the same lofty heights of ‘Fitzcarraldo’ or ‘Cobra Verde’. There is one moment toward the end which left me speechless – really didn’t see that coming – but overall this is something of a clichéd survival movie with a disgraceful jingoistic finale that honestly leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I don’t know if Herzog had this imposed by the studio (given that the film has no less than eight executive producers and three ‘normal’ producers) but I wouldn’t be surprised as it certainly has no parallel in any sequence in any of other films he’s made over the past thirty years. A shame….
I’m off to see Wes Anderson in conversation tonight at the BFI to round off this year’s festival, quite an apt finish as his film ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ is the closing night gala picture. I think I’ll catch ’30 Days of Night’ beforehand, a vampire movie for Halloween – perfect….<cue ominous, booming supernatural laugh>….