Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan; story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
Cinematographer: Wally Pfister
Producer: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, and Charles Roven
by Jon Cvack
During our recent annual boys trip - where my three best friends and I spent an extended Memorial Day weekend up in Donner Lake (where we filmed Road to the Well), we got into an extended argument about whether art is democratic or subjective. I believe it is as while there is objectively good craft that goes into the making of art, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll connect to audiences. Van Gogh made hundreds of paintings, but "The Starry Night", "Self-Portrait", "Cafe Terrace" are for whatever reason his most famous pieces which millions hang reprints of in their homes. His paintings were widely shunned until long after his death, as the art form was evidently too progressive for its time and required the world to catch up. Shakespeare wrote around 38 plays, but he’s best known for King Lear, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello. I’m sure academics and critics could either explain why they are the best, or possibly why others should be more popular. The point is that these individuals sent their art out in the world and those are the pieces that most connected to the masses.
I understand the criticisms of Rotten Tomatoes, in which the craft of criticism is deduced to an aggregate score, but nevertheless, if you want to know if a film is pretty good, Rotten Tomatoes is fairly reliable. Anything critic sore above a 70% or so is probably worth checking out, and anything above a 90% if probably going to be incredible. The same goes for user ratings, whether on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDb; the film masses put in their own score and the scores are aggregated. A common misconception is that these numbers are some type of official score rather than averages. The point is that regardless of how the individual feels, the work is scored by the aggregate of critics, general movie fans, and cinephiles.
My friends disagreed with this line of reasoning, as they believe there are objective standards of what good art is, begging the question as to who this God-like individual is that has come up with objective standards as to what constitutes good art. As to even say a committee of people would come up with them would also make the process democratic, as by the nature of compromise, some would win their standards, others would lose, and a few in the middle might get exactly what they want.
Word of mouth is another democratic form of celebrating a work of art. If a movie is good enough we’ll post it to Facebook and tell our friends and the filmmaker achieves the legendary word of mouth success that is perhaps the finest form of merit.
Someone then might say they only read one specific critic and it’s that critic which best reflects their taste. Back when Ebert was still alive, I used to avoid looking at this star rating before I saw the film and see how close we were. I’d say we agreed around 90% of the time, plus or minus a half star. While I do believe he could objectively argue what a good film is, I also didn’t read many other critics. Perhaps my taste was directed by him and if I had consumed another critic, I would have seen and experienced films differently. Maybe it was his Chicago roots and blue collar vibe that made what seems to be a field now dominated by hyper educated elites.
As of writing this, I’m reading my Pauline Kael collection of reviews “Love Movies: 1998-1991” and after around fifty reviews, I think she’s only celebrated a couple of them; appreciating, but taking the axe to such films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Goodfellas (1990), Field of Dreams (1989), and Back to the Future Part 2 (1989). I struggle to think of more than two movies she enjoys (none of which I’ve even heard of), but her writing and insights are fantastic. If I read her before seeing these films for the first time, I might have grasped her point. I’ve tried other critics as well, but few seem to offer more that 90% synopsis and 10% paragraphs (a problem I’ve realized I’m bumping into over this last year); they’re not telling you about why the film’s good, they’re just telling you what it’s about and if they liked it.
Thus, whether it’s through reading multiple critics, looking at the critic’s aggregate score, looking on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb or Netflix at how people like the film - it’s ultimately providing a reason to check out the film. It’s the fairest way to decide whether a film is good or bad; you’re allowing a spectrum of people - some with your tastes, some in opposition - to share what they think. You then do your part by either rating, sharing, talking about, or perhaps saying nothing at all.
I can appreciate a film for a variety of reasons - whether of an individual actor or director or cinematographer or writer or a specific production company like A24. From there, I can appreciate performance, blocking, set design, photography, special effects, story, mood, sound, score, make up, wardrobe - essentially everything that gets a nomination (which is why casting and stunts should get a category). Ideally, all of these elements add up into a perfect movie. That’s the goal. Most recently and closely achieved with The Revenant (2015). At other times, all of these elements are absent and the movie becomes torturous to watch; providing that strange experience where time seems to slow down and your phone is sitting there, calling to you for distraction. Suffice it to say, The Dark Knight Rises was a contentious movie. Some loved it, I enjoyed it, and others hated it.
I’ve said it before, but The Dark Knight is up there somewhere with Indiana Jones and Back to the Future as one of the all time great summer blockbuster trilogies. Christopher Nolan creates a world just as rich as Burton’s, though shifting toward realism. There are implausibilities and silly moments, but for the most part it all abides by a particular logic, and with Nolan being one of the all time greatest action scene craftsmen, his films literally feel large when I watch them; as though my TV and sound has expanded, fulling immersing me with the story.
Like the vast majority of trilogies, The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest film of the series, but with Nolan’s skill, I can look past the weak plot and appreciate the individual moments he creates. It was this film that kickstarted the conversation about art, as my friend thinks that Gotham sending all of the police into the sewer was far too ridiculous an idea to buy, pulling him out of the movie. Although it's been too long since I've seen the movie (I always seem to stop after the first two), I completely agree. It is an absurd, plot-serving idea that they used in order to get the police off the street and allow Bane and his minions to take control of Gotham. Where my friend and I differ is that I can still appreciate the fight on the steps of city hall, the BatCopter chasing a truck with a nuclear bomb, and phenomenal car chases; not in terms of some grand artistry, but because they are so fun to watch. Regardless of why they’re happening I’m fully immersed and enthralled with what’s happening, and if we’re going to look at the roots of cinema and how it relied entirely on the image, these moments contain just as much art and craft as anything else.
The movie opens eight years after The Dark Knight (2008), which for those who don’t remember (cause I never have in my three viewings), Harvey Dent (aka Two Face) was killed by Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman), though Batman took the rap due to both fearing that the city couldn’t recover after the town learns that their charismatic mayoral candidate was entirely corrupt.
Before getting into the details, the film provides us with our first action sequence in which a group of captive terrorists are transported via plane back to the states. They’re led by Bane (Tom Hardy), a former League of Shadows member, who’s been captured and en route for extradition. The sequence provides the exact level of realism seen in the other films, in which it sure looks like they actually had two planes flying in the sky, attach cables, and have terrorists jump through the windows in order to make the extraction. However, it also begs the first question as to whether this was the best way to accomplish the mission. Would surrounding the men before they got on the plane, taking them out through snipers, or simply having more troops been easier? Sure, but that also would have been boring to watch, and going off my first point, a large part of what makes these films work is the incredibly realistic action sequences.
BELOW: Not sure if this was the best to retrieve Bane but it's sure fun to watch
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