July 22, 2012

BANE of a glittering career


What is it about expectation that weighs down even the mightiest of geniuses? When Christopher Nolan announced ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ after The Dark Knight, what started was a long wait. An agonizing wait for every Nolan fan, every Bat fan, every cinema lover and also those film viewers who had finally started appreciating some intelligent cinema thanks largely to the mesmerizing performance of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. During the course of those 4 years, every bit of news was tracked, the slightest of information went viral, leaked set photos were devoured. Trailers, teasers, clips and interviews were digged in the hope for possible plot points. Nolan was clearly tipped to make history. Well, considering the near universal praise being showered upon him across social forums and media alike, he may well have created history. Fans don’t seem to be wasting a single moment praising the film. But alas, the film woefully shattered the expectations of a minority who don’t just watch his films but dissect them to the tiniest detail, who don’t just appreciate his films, but devour them so that not even a bit of the man’s brilliance is unaccounted for. And sadly, I am among one of them.

I had long imagined myself writing this review having gone gaga over the film, having seen it like 5 times, having prepared myself with an armor of bombastic words in praise of the film. However, it’s a shame that being an incorrigible Nolanite, I am writing this with downright dejection. A friend of mine said, “Never expect anything from films. Just watch it for the entertainment.”  And believe me, that’s all I expected. PURE ENTERTAINMENT. But what I was subjected to was a 164 minute ordeal of hypocrisy. I also write this review out of a lot of envy for you, who in all likelihood have enjoyed the film thoroughly. I so wish I were you. But if you hated it like I did, I am glad I met you.

Now before I proceed, let me warn you of potential spoilers ahead. I will be discussing a lot of plot points throughout this piece. So if you haven’t seen the film yet, I urge you to leave right now and return once you have seen it.

Alright. So you have seen the film by now I assume.  Without wasting too much time, let me come straight to the point. The problems with The Dark Knight Rises are manifold. And the biggest complaint I had towards the film was the sheer pretence that was on display. The film pretends to be so serious and claims to reflect upon so many issues but only ends up making a mockery of them. The film claims to allude to French Revolution, economic warfare, environmental sustainability etc. but reduces it to a formulaic superhero film with a nonsensically convoluted plot with weak characters and irrational scenes.

1)      Bane in the Ass - What was Nolan thinking when he cast Tom Hardy as Bane? In the name of giving Batman a physically superior nemesis, he ends up giving a beast of a man who is menacing as long as he doesn’t talk.  Even John Abraham could have done that with a nice dubbing artist. After all his mouth is never shown. All the menace and muscle just to be killed by Catwoman with the shot of a bullet? Then what were the armed police doing when he was out on the streets in public view in broad daylight?. Couldn’t anybody have shot him? Just because he is physically stronger than Batman means only he has the right to fight him is it? Okay. And also in the middle of the climactic fight he is shown punching right into a pillar! So cool. Lesson learnt. American pillars are made of thermocol.

2)      This is America boss – Now US is a country that can go to any lengths to protect its interests and citizens. By length, I mean literally. (Read Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan). A hotel in Mumbai is hijacked by a handful of terrorists, and we have the National Security Guards intervening. Do you really think when an entire city is invaded by an army of mercenaries, the US Govt. of all would just sit and watch? Once again, Nolan pretends to know that by showing a dumb footage of the President coming on air and exuding an air of assurance to the citizens. We are also shown a small team of expert army consultants or whatever the crap they were who come to the city and get killed like pawns. And to top it all, an entire police force is seen marching towards a band of mercenaries in the middle of a street and it’s war?! Give me a break. This is 21st century for God’s sake. On one side you have these really uber cool gadgets hovering around in the city.  And on the other side you have these 2 dumb sets of people running towards each other on a narrow street as though saying “Hello! Let’s make this cool and do it the way Spartans did!” How ridiculous is that!

3)      India to Gotham, Gone in 60 seconds! – The whole prison sequence was the most, for the lack of a better word, frustrating experience of the entire film. The most frustrating being an old man decaying in the adjacent prison cell but admant at showing off his bilingual skills. We first see him muttering in some eastern mumbo jumbo which we and Bruce understand thanks to the interpreter. And then we see the same man switching to an English mode in the interpreter’s absence. Heck of a skill no? Aur haan..how the hell did Bruce reach Gotham all the way from India? Wayne Enterprises was broke no? He didn’t have a penny no? Who booked the filghts? Alfred had left him no? I slap myself and say, “Oye Renjith! Stop breaking your head on that! That hardly matters.” What matters is Bruce got his vertebrae back in place, did a couple of push ups, climbed a tunnel by himself and became stronger than Bane. Alright. Is there anything more I am expected to digest?


4)      Cry cry itna cry karte hai kaiko? – The man who is often touted as the emotional and the witty core of Nolan’s Batfilms, Alfred is reduced to a weepy Bollywood papa whose sole aim in life is to see a bahu step inside his house. Sir Michael Caine is a fabulous actor and I am a big admirer myself. But why did he have to play Uncle Weepy here? Ek scene mein theek hai. But repeatedly when a seasoned actor is made to ham to death, what are we supposed to do? Join him in a tear shedding orgy? Well, I did. But for a different reason. Aamir Khan must have shuddered watching him for the fear of being replaced in Satyamev Jayate season 2.


5)      Love, sex aur dhoka – Trust me! Nolan couldn’t have stooped any lower. One reason why his Batman films stood out from the rest was how subtly he showed romance. Bruce’s sole love in life was Rachel Dawes - a girl who grew with him right from his childhood, a girl he had waited for despite the fact both knew there would never be a world without batman.   But here, we are shown a billionaire Bruce Wayne who showed exemplary restraint in living 8 years away from the outside world (which in itself I find outrageously bull crap.). But the same restraint goes for a toss as soon as he sees a sultry babe all wet in the rain. Whatever was the need for that scene? Oho. Did Nolan expect the sex scene to be the ultimate symbol of love blossoming between the two? “Arey yaar..every man needs a move on” you may say. That’s quite a move on I say! Brood for 8 years for the loss of your beloved but bang a wet babe you met just 8 seconds before! Please. For a moment it looked all planned. And evicting Alfred was one step in that direction. "Phew. Got rid of the old man. Finally, some privacy!"  You know...And not just that did I really see Catwoman kiss Batman at the end?! Oh Nolan! Tell me you didn’t shoot that scene! What a cheap thrill to please fanboys. Is this why I came to see your film?

6)      Uncommon Sense - Doctor says no cartilage in his legs no? Then how does Bruce make that sexy jump in the hospital? I am no science expert. Barely passed biology in fact. But common sense says in the absence of cartilage in your legs, you can’t walk properly. Right? Which is why, I assume he was shown carrying a stick in the first place. But all of a sudden he throws himself out of a window. And joining him is rationality.

Also, remember the ice that cracks open when an ordinary citizen walks over it post Scarecrow’s judgement. But Gordon ain’t no ordinary citizen is he? At least not in Nolan’s self important universe. We are shown Batman slicing the entire ice bed with a flame that goes on to become a gorgeously constructed bat insignia. Wow. Deafening applause in the theatre. How the hell did that bat symbol come up there? Was Batman busy making it to announce his arrival when the city was reeling under the terror? Must be a darn egotist fellow. And worst of all, a 7 year old kid sitting next to me asks me, “Bhaiiyaa, wont the fire melt the ice, crack it open and drown Gordon?” and I give him the kinda look Rock gives in those facebook memes.

7)      Die-alogues - Long laboriously written dialogues which sound preachy. Yes some of the lines work. But they are also the ones which are the shortest or the wittiest. None of them has the depth that we find in the man’s other films. Bane’s endless monologue outside the so called ‘Bastille prison’ sequence reminded me of my kindergarten teacher reciting a nursery rhyme to the whole class.

8)      Commissioner or Constable? - Gordon became a commissioner right? In which metropolis does the Commissioner of Police spend more time on the field doing menial constable work? His job is to give orders, guide his forces, direct his troops and have a constant bird’s eye view of the whole problem. Here he is not only seen scourging through the sewage canals while the younger and fresher blood keeps watch aimlessly on the ground. But we also see him doing all sorts of aerobics over a moving truck. Too much for a 50 year old commissioner no?

9)      Bomb again? Not again! As if bringing a city at the mercy of a nuclear threat wasn’t clich├ęd enough, carrying a weapon of mass destruction far away from the civilians is probably the least innovative stuff I have seen coming from Nolan in his career. Remember what Iron Man does at the end of Avengers? No? Remember what the Camerlengo does to protect the Vatican in Angels and Demons? No? Okay let me bring you closer home..If you committed the grave mistake of watching Agent Vinod , remember how the silly Saif saves the city?  No? Hell then.. Go figure!

10)   Where's the common man? . The film tries to factor in Ra’s Al Ghul’s idea of using economics as a weapon to destroy Gotham. But where is the downtrodden? “You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Coz when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large.. and leave so little for the rest of us.”, purrs Selina Kyle in Bruce’s ears. And I ask who are the “rest of us”? The Dark Knight Rises ends up assuming so much of self importance that the entire battle ends up being too institutionalized where only the police and Batman take to streets. But what about the stupid common man? The spirit of the civilians in the city that was so beautifully demonstrated in The Dark Knight is not even touched upon at a stage when the city faces its worse crisis ever. We see Gotham Stock Exchange being robbed. We see a football stadium being blown up. And also a jail breakout. But what about the common men? What happened to them? Their plight is never focussed upon. Gotham is never shown to be rotting at its economic roots as Selina Kyle mentions in her statement. And even Officer Blake seems to be conveniently concerned only about the orphanage he grew up in. A true revolution is one where even the common man picks up arms and revolts against the establishment. Read Egyptian Spring or Indian freedom movement itself.

11)   Twist hai par mast nahi.. Marion Cotillard has been stereotyped by Chris Nolan as a Jill in the Box in every film. When she makes an unexpectedly eerie appearance at the climax of Inception in the gas chamber, the impact was just phenomenal. My heart literally skipped a beat. But here, the scene where she reveals her true identity was also the one where I gave the longest yawn in my memory. “Main Talia Al Ghul hoon!”..... “Accha? Main Taali nahi maroonga. Sorry.”

The Dark Knight Rises has to be the laziest work from Christopher Nolan. The priority was to make it an epic. Not to tell a story. The man wanted to explore a lot of themes but ends up doing justice to none. Ever since I expressed my dissatisfaction people have been playing daddy to me. Saying I shouldn’t compare this film with Heath Ledger’s Joker. But shocked as they may be after reading so far, I never once rued the absence of Joker.  Did I? But that doesn’t mean there is nothing good in the film. Anne Hathaway’s take on a naughty Selina Kyle appealed to me the most in the film. In a world full of characters who ham it  to the point of exasperation, her mischievous and deliciously vicious take on the character was a breath of fresh air. It’s startling to even imagine she is the same girl who played the sweet intern in the Devil Wears Prada. Even Joseph Gordon Levitt was heartwarming as an earnest Officer Blake. Action and the score were top class as well. But that is something that is given in a Nolan film or a superhero film – what we call in marketing, a ‘hygiene factor’. The Dark Knight Rises when rated against an average superhero movie may still be miles ahead. But the reason why I still enjoy those films is because they are proud of their silliness. But when a film claims to be a serious  reflection on our contemporary society, it better stick to it.

It’s like we don’t admire an iPhone because it is a phone. We admire it for the experience. But imagine an iPhone that has a weak battery, a faulty case and a dysfunctional chip. Well, it’s an iPhone for sure but not one that you’ll ever consider. That is exactly why The Dark Knight Rises fails. With a half baked plot, poorly developed characters, not a single dialogue that deserves to be discussed and forced twists and analogies, The Dark Knight Rises is undoubtedly the best comic book film in the trilogy. Yes you read it right. Coz unfortunately, it is also the only one. Because the other two don’t even deserve to be categorized under that genre. They were works of art. If you loved The Dark Knight more than Batman Begins, then you may not like The Dark Knight Rises as much. But if you genuinely appreciate Batman Begins more than The Dark Knight (which I did), then you will just hate The Dark Knight Rises. Coz it defies everything that Begins stood for. The first 2 films were made to tell a story but in case of Rises, the story was written to make a film.

But it’s okay. Even Sachin gets out on a duck sometimes. Rahman too comes up with an occasional CWG anthem. And in Harvey Dent’s world of fairness, even Nolan is entitled to his ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. As for me, will that stop me from looking forward to his next? No way! ;-) The wait resumes and with that, a new world of expectation....