Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: A Bit of Craic, Despite Itself

Roger Ebert, the Yoda of US film critics, was a guest on the Jay Leno show when Batman Begins was released in 2005. Ebert loved it, and was scathing in his criticism of those who were disappointed Batman didn’t have a PG rating. “I want a Batman for adults,” said Ebert, to general whooping and cheering among the audience.

Nobody stopped to ask what the children were expected to watch if Batman was adults-only. Hard to see them sitting through McCabe and Mrs Miller.

Comic book movies should sing to the child within. Leave the heavy lifting to Ingmar Bergman. The Dark Knight was overly bleak, with Heath Ledger’s Joker being just a little too real, and the dirty politics of the ending too close to home, to provide proper escapism. The Dark Knight Rises returns a bit closer to admitting that these are kids’ films, and there are two actors to thank for this.

The first is Tom Hardy, who plays Bane, the villain. Bane is a hard chaw given to philosophical expression while throwing his (considerable) weight around. If he were to exist in real life, he would be a composite of the actor James Robertson Justice, the actor, and Brian Moore, former hooker for Northampton, England and the British Lions. Pomposity mixed with a tremendous capacity for violent action. Hardy is wonderful in a role that was never going to be The Dane.

But the real star of The Dark Knight Rises is Anne Hathaway, who plays Catwoman. The New Yorker's Anthony Lane is typically witty about her role; your correspondent can only settle for a paraphrasing Mr Sinatra and remarking that if you don’t like Ms Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises, you don’t like ice cream.

This is almost certainly accident rather than design from Christopher Nolan. He is producing the new Superman, and the trailer suggests it’s being made as an homage to the cinema of Ken Loach. It’s so disappointing.

These things are meant to be fun. That’s the reason that the “new” Star Wars movies were all rotten. They were taken too seriously. They were made for fanboys, rather than people who don’t care which one is green and which one has antlers – they just want to have a good time.

Yoda is emblematic of the problem. In the Star Wars movies, Yoda has a thing that distinguishes him from the rest of the characters. Backwards he speaks. Wise to show he is. A pain in the neck it gets, after a very short while. They keep it up in all three movies. Religiously so.

But here’s the thing. When Yoda first appeared, in The Empire Strikes Back, he didn't always talk like that. “That is why you failed,” he tells Luke when Luke refuses to finish his training. Recognisable Queen’s English there for a vital plot point, because the plot point was more important than loyalty to a fanboy article of faith.

The best comic book movie of recent years was the remark of Star Trek, and there’s a scene at the end that illustrates just how well its writers understand the genre and realise that if the thing is going to work, it has to have broader appeal than people to make dead threats to movie critics online.

In the final minutes of Star Trek, Nero is about to meet his Waterloo when Kirk surprisingly offers to save him. This is the dialog that ensues between Kirk and Spock:

Kirk: This is Captain James T Kirk of the USS Enterprise. Your ship is compromised. You're too close to the singularity to survive without assistance which we are willing to provide.
Spock: Captain, what are you doing?
Kirk: You show them compassion, it may be the only way to earn peace with Romulus. It's logic Spock – I thought you'd like that?
Spock: No, not really. Not this time.

Spock cracks a funny. The fanboys should have been up in arms, because as a Vulcan Spock a, shouldn’t be able to see the funny side and b, should agree with Kirk’s reasonable point that peace with Romulus is more important than revenge on Nero. But guess what? There is no Vulcan, or Romulus! This is just a game – launch photon torpedoes! Blow them out of the sky!