Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK SMASHES THE PUNY PARADIGMS OF FILM CRITICISM WITH HULK-SIZED SEMIOTICAL ESSAYS ONSTORYTELLING, CINEMATIC PRINCIPLES, AND MEDIA THEORY! HULK EVEN MAKE PRACTICAL HOW-TO GUIDES! See More...

Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Hulk takes on The Bat.

Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES DESERVES A GIANT HULK-SIZED ESSAY.

SADLY, HULK DOESN'T HAVE TIME AT THE MOMENT :(

SO HULK WILL ATTEMPT A SHORT AND SWEET EVALUATION (IS 2000 WORDS SHORT?). BUT MOSTLY HULK MISSES THE SHIT OUT OF YOU ALL... SOHERE GOES!

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BEFORE WE BEGIN, PLEASE KNOW THAT HULK WILL TEPIDLY ACCEPT ARGUMENTS THAT THE DARK KNIGHT RISES IS NOLAN'S BEST BATMAN MOVIE. FOR ONE, HE SEEMS TO HAVE FINALLY EMBRACED THE CONCEPT OF HAVING FUN. HE TRULY DELIGHTS IN SHOWCASING ALL THE FUN TOYS AND RELISHES THESE SWEEPING SHOTS OF "THE BAT" MOVING IN AND OUT OF THE PITTSBURGH SKYLINE. EVERY TIME SOMEONE SEES "THE BAT," IT SEEMS TO EVOKE THIS WRY SMILE AND A SENSE OF AWE AT JUST HOW MAGNIFICENT THIS THING THEY ARE BEHOLDINGTRULY IS. AND HECK, AT TIMES NOLAN MAKES THIS FILM DOWNRIGHT JOKEY. HE ABANDONS ALL SENSE OF REQUIRED PRETENSE AND HAS JUST GONE FOR BOMBAST. AND WITH THOSE GESTURES HE SEEMS TO HAVE FINALLY EMBRACED THE INHERENT COMIC-BOOK-Y ELEMENTS OF THE CHARACTER... THESE ARE ALL GOOD THINGS. AND IN A TURN FROM HIS USUAL DOUR DISPOSITION, HE EVEN EMBRACES THE "SCOOBY DOO MEGA HAPPY ENDING"AS EMILY GORDON APTLY CALLEDIT. IT IS BOTH A KIND GESTURE AND PRECISELY THE KIND OF FAN SERVICE THAT NOLAN HAS SO ADAMANTLY AVOIDED UNTIL NOW. THERE'S SOMETHING ODDLY REFRESHING ABOUT IT TO HULK. STILL, THERE ARE SOME WHO ARE CITING THESE OBLIGING ELEMENTS AS BEING THEREASON THE FILM DOES NOT WORK. HULK DISAGREES ON PRINCIPAL. THERE IS NOTHING ABOUT THESE ELEMENTS IN AND OF THEMSELVES THAT PREVENTS THE FILM FROM BEING A GOOD FILM. THEY ARE SIMPLY THE MOST NOTICEABLE THINGS THAT ARE DIFFERENT FROM THE PREVIOUS ENTRIES, AND THAT'S WHY PEOPLE ARE CALLING THEM OUT.

THE REAL PROBLEM IN THE DARK KNIGHT RISES IS THAT NOLAN UTTERLY FORGOT TO INCLUDE THE THINGS HE DOESBEST.

AND BECAUSE OF THAT, HULK WILL MORE READILY ACCEPT ARGUMENTS THAT THE DARK KNIGHT RISES IS HIS WORSTFILM, PERIOD.

OUCH... THAT SOUNDS VERY HARSH, BUT LET HULK TRY AND EXPLAIN WHAT HULK MEANS.

NOLAN IS AN IDEA-DRIVEN FILMMAKER. HE TAKES A CONCEPT AND EXPLORES IT IN A FAIRLY CONCRETE WAY WHILE PLACING THAT IDEA WITHINA PLOT THAT OFTEN INVOLVES AN INTERLOCKING PUZZLE OF SOME SORT. THIS IS HIS MODUS OPERANDI AND EACH FILM HAS ITS OWN COMPELLINGANGLE. BUT HIS BEST FILMS ARE THE ONES WHERE THESE THEMES AND CONCEPTS ARE GIVEN A STRONG THROUGH-LINE, OFTEN TO THE DEGREE WHERE THEY BECOME THE UTTER POINT OF THE FILM ITSELF. FOR INSTANCE, THE PRESTIGE BEAUTIFULLY ILLUSTRATES NOTIONS OF SACRIFICE AND SHOWMANSHIP, ARTICULATING IT PERFECTLY IN THE CHARACTER ARCS. BETTER YET, THE VALUES OF THE CHARACTERS DOUBLE TO ARTICULATE WHAT NOLAN VALUES AS FILMMAKER (THE METHODS OF REVEALS, THE SAME SHOWMANSHIP). THE FILM IS GREAT. AND INCEPTION TAKES THAT IDEA OF MOVIE-AS-THE-PROCESS-OF-MAKING-MOVIES ONE FURTHER, BUT ALSO ENDS UP BEINGHIS MOST PERSONAL EFFORT. HE SHOWCASES WHAT IS ARGUABLY HIS FIRST MATURE TAKE ON RELATIONSHIPS/ LOVE AND THEN PITS THEM AGAINST HEAVY DRAMATIC FIXTURES LIKE LOSS AND LONGING. HECK, HE EVEN DIVES HEADLONG INTO HIS OWN PSYCHOLOGICAL HANGUPS. SURE, THE FILM IS OVER-RELIANT ON EXPOSITION, BUT NOLAN MANAGES TO MAKE THAT EXPOSITION THRILLING. AND THEN HE MASTERFULLY PLACES HIS BIG IDEAS RIGHT INTO THE STRUCTURE OF A COMPELLING AND BEYOND-INVENTIVE HEIST MOVIE. QUITE HONESTLY, HULK CONSIDERS THE FILM TO BE AMASTERPIECE.

BUT IN ORDER TO REALLY EXPRESS WHAT GOES WRONG WITH THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, HULK HAS TO ILLUSTRATE PRECISELY WHAT HE DOES SO WELL IN THE DARK KNIGHT. FOR STARTERS, THE FILM IS JUST PLAIN ENTHRALLING. ONTHE SURFACE IT'S TECHNICALLY A GAME OF "CAT AND MOUSE" WHERE THE BAT CHASES THE CLOWN DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE IN A SERIES OFMACHINATIONS, INVERSIONS, PUZZLES AND FEINTS. SOME OF WHICH DON'T MAKE A HINT OF SENSE, BUT HAVE GREAT DRAMATIC EFFECT. HECK, THE PLOT MODEL IS BASICALLY JUST AN EPISODE TOM AND JERRY. BUT THE REASON TDK RESONATES BEYOND THOSE SIMPLE TRICKS IS BECAUSE IT TAKES A SINGULAR THEMATIC THROUGH-LINE AND FOLLOWS IT THE ENTIRE WAY THROUGH THE MOVIE. AND IN THE END THOSE THEMES OUTRIGHT MANIFEST THEMSELVES IN THE FINAL ARCS OF THE CHARACTERS. TO WIT: THE FILM IS EXPRESSLY ABOUT THE EFFECT THAT PLACING THE JOKER, IN THIS CASE A PERFECT REPRESENTATION OF TOTAL ANARCHY*, DIRECTLY AGAINST THE FABRIC OF SOCIETY AND WATCHING THE WAY THAT SOCIETY REACTS. AT TIMES IT'S AN ALLUSION TO 9/11 POLITICS. AT TIMES IT'S A TREATISE ON SOCIETAL VALUES, WHETHER THEY ARE THE ROUSSEAU-IAN SOCIAL CONTRACT OR A BASIC JUDEO-CHRISTIAN OUTLOOK. BUTNO MATTER HOW THE FILM EXPRESSES ITSELF, THESE IDEAS ARE STILL A TANGIBLE RESULT OF THE CENTRAL THEME'S DRIVING FORCE. THENIHILISTIC ANARCHISM OF THE JOKER RESULTS IN THE CORRUPTION OF HARVEY DENT, THE SLIGHT-MORAL BENDING OF BATMAN (AS WELL AS ULTIMATELY CONFIRMING HIS VERY PURPOSE AND NEED), AND EVEN ILLUSTRATES THE WAY SOCIETY CONSTRUCTS THE "THE WHITE KNIGHT" IN THE WAKE OF TRAGEDY/THE FACE OF ADVERSITY. EVEN IF HULK PERSONALLY DISAGREES ABOUT SOME OF THOSE VIEWS, IT'S STILL A PERFECTLY CLEAR ARTICULATION OF HOW SOCIETY STANDS UP TO THE THREAT OF ANARCHY. IT IS A PERFECT MARRIAGE OF THEME, CHARACTER AND PLOTTING.

MEANWHILE, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES DOES NOT HAVE A THEMATIC THROUGH-LINE WHATSOEVER.

YES, THERE ARE IDEAS IN THE FILM. SOME OF THEM ARE EVEN COMPELLING. BUT THEY ALL SEEM TO GET LOST IN THE CHAOS OF... WELL... WHATEVER ELSE IS GOING ON. EVEN IF THE IDEAS INTERSECT WITH CHARACTER PURPOSE OR PLOT FOR A GIVEN MOMENT THEY WILL BE UNDONE A MOMENT LATER AND GIVE WAY TO A NEW, OFTEN CONTRADICTORY AIM.

LET'S TACKLE THE BIG STUFF (SPOILERS): ANNE HATHAWAY IS GREAT IN THE FILM AND YES, BATMAN AND CATWOMAN HAVE THEIR CONFLICTS/OVERLAPS, BUT RARELY DO THEIR PHILOSOPHIES CLASH IN ANY MEANINGFUL WAY, NOR TO ANY GREATER POINT. WHAT DOES BATMAN SEEM TO LEARN FROM ANY OF IT? ANYTHING? AND FAR WORSE, BANE'S ENTIRE MOTIVE AND CLASS DISPOSITION IS ULTIMATELY SUBLIMATED INTO MEANINGLESSNESS BECAUSE HE IS REVEALED TO SIMPLY BE TALIA'S PROTECTOR/STOOGE. HUMANIZING TO ONE DEGREE, BUT THEIR ENTIRE PHILOSOPHY ESSENTIALLY GETS DRUDGED RIGHT INTO THE LEAGUE OF SHADOWS BAD-GUY NONSENSE WHERE ITS NOTHING MORE THAN AN OBLIGATORY, FAMILY-INHERITED REVENGE YARN. ULTIMATELY, THE THEMATIC EXPLORATION OF CATWOMAN, BANE AND TALIA ARE ALL DECIDEDLY HAPHAZARD AND DOWNRIGHT UN-NOLAN. EVEN BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN'S FINAL ARC, WHICH AT LEAST GETS A LOT OF SCREEN TIME, IS RIFE WITH REPETITION (HE'S ESSENTIALLY BROKEN DOWN AND HAS TO COME BACK TWICE IN THIS FILM) AND A MEDIATION ON SACRIFICE THAT GETSUNDONE WITH ONE OF THE MOST WRONG-HEADED GESTURES OF AN ENDING THAT HULK CAN THINK OF. THE ONLY GUY WITH ANY SORT OF COHERENTSTORY GOING ON THAT FITS INTO THE CENTRAL CONCEIT IS JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT'S JOHN BLAKE (AND EVEN HE MANAGES TO GET SLIGHTLYSCATHED BY A LITTLE MENTION OF HIS REAL BIRTH NAME).

IN EMBRACING ALL THE BOMBASTIC FUN OF THE COMIC BOOK ELEMENTS, NOLAN SEEMED TO FORGET TO HAVE A DRIVING IDEA BEHIND IT ALL. AND BEFORE YOU START ESPOUSING ON THE IDEAS HE MEANT TO PRESENT, HULK SHOULD FIRST WARN THAT HULK'S BEEN READING PEOPLE'SIDEAS ON IT ALL WEEK... AND TO BE HONEST NOTHING HAS REALLY TAKEN IN HULK'S BRAIN. THE FILM IS JUST TOO INCOHERENT IN THISREGARD. TOO BLOATED. TOO LACKING IN SYMBIOTIC OVERLAP OF CHARACTER, PLOT AND THEME. AND IF HULK HAD MORE TIME HULK WOULD GO THROUGH EVERY EXAMPLE TO MAKE IT CLEAR, BUT HULK IS SIMPLY GOING TO HAVE TO INSIST THAT THERE IS NO THEMATIC THROUGH-LINE WHICH MAKES THE OVERALL NARRATIVE WORK. AND EVEN IF YOU CAN CONSTRUCT ONE, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY THAT IT COMES CLOSE TO THE LEVELOF MASTERFUL SYNCHRONICITY THAT ALL OF NOLAN'S OTHER FILMS HAVE EXHIBITED.

AND AS A RESULT, ALL THOSE NEAT BITS OF HAPPINESS THAT THE SCOOBY DOO MEGA HAPPY ENDING COULD HAVE AFFORDED US... WELL... THEYDON'T ACTUALLY WORK ON A STORY LEVEL. THEY'RE NICE, BUT THEY AREN'T EARNED. THE ONLY JUSTIFICATION FOR BRUCE WAYNETO GET HIS AFTERLIFE IS ESSENTIALLY ALFRED'S WEAK-SAUCE VERSION OF CHUCKIE'S "BEST PART OF MY DAY SPEECH" FROM GOOD WILL HUNTING (PROPS TO BAD'S OWN BRIAN W. COLLINS FOR NAILING THAT ONE). WHAT DOES THE FILM SAY TO REALLY ARGUE BATMAN WANTS THAT? WHAT DOES THE FILM SAY TO ARGUETHAT SELINA KYLE IS THE ONE WHO IS MEANT TO SHARE THAT? THE QUESTIONS HANG OVER EVERYTHING.

WHICH LEADS TO ONE MORE TERRIFYING QUESTION BEYOND THAT: COULD CHRISTOPHER NOLAN REALLY HAVE MADE SUCH A THEMATICALLY DISINTERESTED MOVIE?

SURE HE COULD.

BUT FIRST A WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS PURE CONJECTURE CROSSED WITH A LITTLE BIT OF INSIDE BASEBALL. AS SUCH, IT'S INHERENTLY UNFAIR. SO PLEASE LET'S NOT TAKE ANY OF THIS AT ANYTHING BEYOND FACE-VALUE. COOL? COOL.

SO... HULK IS REASONABLY SURE THAT NOLAN DID NOT WANT TO MAKE THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. COMING OFF THE DARK KNIGHT HE WAS QUITE CLEAR THAT HE HAD MADE HIS DEFINITIVE VERSION OF BATMAN AND ONE HE WAS COMPLETELY SATISFIED WITH. FURTHER COMPLICATING MATTERS WAS HOW INCREDIBLY AFFECTED HE WAS BY THE DEATH OF HEATH LEDGER. NOT JUST ONA PERSONAL LEVEL, BUT WITH THE RUEFUL ADMITTANCE THAT THE JOKER WAS GOING TO BE AN ABSOLUTE FIXTURE IN THE ENDGAME OF HIS TRILOGY. HE WAS QUITE CLEAR ABOUT THIS. SO AFTER HE FINISHED THE FILM HE WENT ON A BREAK TO GET AWAY FROM IT AND THE FILM WENT ON TO BECOME THIS MASSIVE COMMERCIAL AND CRITICAL SUCCESS AND IT WAS EVEN HAILED AS A MASTERPIECE. AND WOULDN'T YOU KNOW IT, BUT WARNERS CAME KNOCKING ABOUT THE SEQUEL. THEY KNEW THE SUCCESS OF THE THIRD FILM WAS TIED TO HIM AND WERE SMART ENOUGH NOT TOPLAY THE "WE CAN GET SOMEONE CHEAPER" GAME. WARNERS HAS ALWAYS BEEN VERY SMART ABOUT THIS KIND OF THING. SO THE FIRST THING THEY DID WAS GIVE HIM AN UNGODLY AMOUNT OF MONEY. THE OTHER ISSUE WAS THAT NOLAN ABSOLUTELY DID NOT WANT TO JUMP BACK INTO THE WORLD OF BATMAN SO SOON AND WANTED TO MAKE ANOTHER FILM FIRST (LIKE HE DID WITH THE PRESTIGE). SO WARNERS GAVE HIM A BLANK CHECK AND SAID GO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT AS LONG AS YOU COME BACK FOR BATMAN. THIS IS HOW WE GOT HIS MASTERPIECE INCEPTION.

AND SO WHEN IT CAME TIME TO RETURN TO THE BAT, NOLAN WAS IN AN INTERESTING PLACE. HE CRACKED A STORY WITH ELEMENTS HE FOUND INTERESTING. HE BROUGHT IN THE ACTORS WITH WHOM HE HAD AMAZING RELATIONSHIPS. BUT HULK ARGUES THAT GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF ALLTHIS PRETENSE, IT EITHER CONSCIOUSLY OR SUBCONSCIOUSLY ENDED UP AFFECTING WHAT HIS GOALS WERE WITH THE FILM. AND GIVEN WHAT WESEE ON SCREEN, HULK HONESTLY BELIEVES THAT NOLAN SIMPLY GAVE UP ON MAKING HIS USUAL, IDEA-DRIVEN, PERSONALLY-STIMULATING FILMAND INSTEAD EMBRACED THE MORE MECHANICAL, FUNCTIONAL NEEDS OF CAPPING OFF THE STORY. HULK THINKS HE SUDDENLY EMBRACED WANTING TO MAKE FANS HAPPY. SO HE MADE IT ALL NEAT AND WRAPPED A BOW ON IT. HE TIED IT TOGETHER WITH BATMAN BEGINS AND MADE IT LIKE CLUNKY BOOKENDS TO THE TRILOGY. HE DIDN'T INGRAIN PLOT WITH CHARACTER OR THEME. HE LOADED THE FILM WITH SUCH STUNNING COINCIDENCES AND A LACK OF CARE FOR LOGIC, WHICH GIVEN THE NATURE OF THE FIRST 2/3 OF BATMAN BEGINS IS SORT OF ASTOUNDING... ALSO HULK COULDN'T HELP BUT LAUGH ANYTIME BANE SAID ANYTHING, SO THERE'S THAT.

THE THING TO ALSO UNDERSTAND IS THAT MOST OF THESE THINGS ARE NOT THE KIND OF THINGS THAT PREVENT NOLAN FROM MAKING A BIG, ENTERTAINING MOVIE. HE'S TOO GOOD A FILMMAKER NOT TO KEEP YOUR ATTENTION WITH CINEMATIC GUSTO.

BUT THE DARK KNIGHT RISES IS NOT A MOVIE THAT IS IN  ANY WAY REPRESENTATIVE OF WHAT MAKES CHRISTOPHER NOLAN A SPECIAL FILMMAKER. HE'S SOMEONE WHO GAVE US THE PRESTIGE, DARK KNIGHT AND INCEPTION ALL RIGHT IN A DAMN ROW. AND THOSE MOVIES SO ESCHEW THE IDEAS OF MERELY BEING ENTERTAINING AND OBLIGATING FANS IN THE NAME OF GOING DOWN THE WELL OF FAR MORE FASCINATING CONCEPTS. AND THAT THEMATIC COMMITMENT ANDUNDERSTANDING IS THE REASON WE CAME TO LOVE HIM.

SHOULD WE BE ANGRY THAT HE SUDDENLY DECIDED TO OBLIGE US WITH THIS KIND OF BOMBASTIC FILM? HULK'S NOT SURE. AT ITS MOST INNOCENT, THE ENTIRE SITUATION SPEAKS TO THE NOTION THAT GIVING SOMEONE THE ENTERTAINMENT THEY WANT IS SOMETIMES FAR LESS EFFECTIVE THAN GIVING THEM THE EXPERIENCE THEY REALLY NEED (CUE ROLLING STONES). AT ITS MOST DISHEARTENING,HULK HAS TO ADMIT THAT HULK NEVER IMAGINED WATCHING A CYNICALLY MADE MOVIE FROM CHRISTOPHER NOLAN. ONE COULD ALMOST ARGUE HE'S STANDING BEFORE THE CROWD HAVING HIS "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!?" MOMENT... OOF.

BUT THOSE ARE TWO WILDLY DIFFERENT ASSUMPTIONS, AREN'T THEY?

SAM STRANGE MADE THE GREAT COMMENT ON TWITTER THAT IT SOUNDEDLIKE EVERYONE WAS TALKING ABOUT COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FILMS. AND THAT REMARK IS RIGHT ON THE DAMN MONEY. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES IS FILLED WITH BOTH INSTIGATING AND COMPLACENT MOMENTS, BIZARRE CONTRADICTIONS, AND YET PUT ON DISPLAY WITH A SMOOTH, EVEN, ENTERTAINING TONE. WHICH ODDLY ENOUGH PUTS IT RIGHT IN LINE WITH A YEAR FULL OF CINEMATIC, SUPER-INTERESTING MIXED BAGS. BUT WE ARE OBSESSED WITH THE ONGOING ISSUE OF 'WORTH" IN THIS HUGE RANGE OF REACTIONS BECAUSE WE'RE TRYING TO DECIDE IF IT'S GOOD OR NOT. DEVIN SPENT SO MUCH OF HIS WONDERFUL, ARTICULATE REVIEW WRESTLING WITH THAT VERY QUESTION. AND HULK DOESN'T THINK THAT QUESTION EVEN MATTERS. THE MOVIE IS BEYOND ALL THAT IN A WEIRD SORT OF WAY.

GOOD? BAD? THE MOVIE IS ONLY WHAT IT IS.

AN INTERESTING THING TO TALK ABOUT.

AND QUITE HONESTLY, THAT'S PRETTY NEAT.

<3 HULK

ENDNOTE

*EVERY TIME HULK TALKS ABOUT THE SUBJECT OF ANARCHY/THE JOKER HULK GETS EMAILS FROM ANARCHISTS. YES, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF POLITICAL FORMS OF ANARCHY THAT REPRESENT SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY AND TO ALIGN THE CONCEPT ON A WHOLE WITH WHAT THE JOKER IS DOINGIS DEEPLY TROUBLING TO THAT PURPOSE, BUT THE TRUTH IS HULK IS TALKING ABOUT ANARCHY IN A DE-POLITICIZED, CONCEPTUAL SENSE. HULK DOES SO BECAUSE IT'S THE WORD THAT BEST EXPRESSES THE IDEA (POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS OR NOT). AND TO BE HONEST, HULK GETSTHE INTENTION OF MOST POLITICAL ANARCHIST GROUPS, BUT THE END EFFECT OF A LOT OF REALLY SMART RHETORIC IS A BAD POLITICAL RESULT THAT UNDERMINES EVERYTHING HULK HOLDS DEAR. HULK HOPES THAT OPINION IS UNDERSTANDABLE.

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.