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Critical Consensus: Mike D'Angelo and Keith Uhlich on 'The Dark Knight Rises,' Christopher Nolan, and Batman's Next Move

By Mike D'Angelo, Eric Kohn and Keith Uhlich | Indiewire July 20, 2012 at 11:52AM

Time Out New York critic Keith Uhlich joins freelancer Mike D'Angelo (The A/V Club, The Man Who Viewed Too Much) to discuss "The Dark Knight Rises" and other aspects of director Christopher Nolan's career. They conclude by exploring where both Batman and Nolan may wind up next.
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Christopher Nolan.
Christopher Nolan.

D'ANGELO: Keith, I'm gonna do my best not to turn this into a debate about the merits of "The Prestige," which you're of course entitled to dislike.  I do want to quickly note, however, that your bleak interpretation of the film's "message" is 180 degrees from what I think Nolan intended.  It's a materialist work, to be sure, but being a hardcore materialist doesn't necessitate renouncing wonder or mystery.  Ultimately, "The Prestige" is a paean to magic -- including, implicitly, that of the movies.  It doesn't chide us for needing illusions; on the contrary, it celebrates their creation, to the point of fashioning a hero who sacrifices himself nightly to provide them (an element that wasn't in Christopher Priest's novel).  That's precisely what I find so oddly moving about it.

As it happens, I badly misunderstood "The Prestige" the first time I saw it, and wrote a fairly mixed review.  Why? Because I had certain expectations regarding a movie about magicians, and got thrown when Nikola Tesla showed up and the story took a sudden swerve into the realm of science-fiction.  In general, expectations are a curse. There's no way of eliminating them entirely, but I do my best to neutralize them as much as possible, by avoiding trailers (as Keith correctly noted) and eschewing fundamentally promotional events like Comic-Con.  Ideally, I'd prefer to see every movie completely cold, without even knowing who made it; as you guys may recall, I experienced the entire 2007 Cannes Competition slate that way, and it was an eye-opening experience (which I haven't repeated only because remaining ignorant is a giant logistical pain in the ass that requires you to be a hermit for two weeks).

In the specific case of  "Dark Knight Rises," I guess my expectations were mildly hopeful.  As a huge Nolan fan, I eagerly anticipate each film; at the same time, his Batman movies aren't my favorites (on the Criticwire scale, I gave each of the first two a solid "B"), so I can't say I was salivating.  Certainly I didn't expect to be as bored as I often was.  Also, unlike Keith, I have no special attachment to Batman as a character, having been more of a Marvel kid growing up.  As for the fanboy hype, I find it problematic even aside from the vitriolic comments...but no more problematic, I have to say, than the mindset of some hardcore cinephiles I know who are convinced sight unseen that each new Dardennes or Von Trier or Garrel or Costa movie will surely be an unqualified masterpiece.  Hero worship is unhealthy as a rule, and perhaps that simply gets magnified when it comes to a movie about an actual superhero.

Whatever you make of Nolan's approach to Batman -- and it's clear now that critical reactions have been a lot more divided than initial hype suggested -- it's obvious that these movies did allow Nolan to successfully transition into an entirely new plane as a commercial filmmaker, as evidenced by the success of "Inception" (if not "The Prestige").

Mike, since you almost certainly care more than Keith, tell us: What would you like to see Nolan do with his power and influence during this new post-Batman phase? He's a producer on the upcoming Superman movie "Man of Steel" but has not yet announced his next directing project. Should he return to the smaller, trickier projects of his early years? Or is this the wrong question to ask because, post-"Dark Knight Rises," you no longer care what Nolan does next?

'If Nolan doesn't make any more trilogies or comic-book movies, that's okay by me.'

D'ANGELO: I'm absolutely still interested in what Nolan does next. (Abbas Kiarostami spent a full decade making movies I couldn't abide, then gave us "Certfied Copy."  Never write anybody off.)  He should obviously go wherever his creative urges lead him, and I have every confidence that if he continues to make hugely expensive event films, they'll at least be orders of magnitude more intelligent and ambitious than most of Hollywood's output.  Still, I wouldn't be unhappy if someone handed him "only," say, $10 million and told him to do whatever he wants with it.  He and his brother Jonathan share a prodigious imagination, and I'd rather see it channeled into Memento-style structural ingenuity than dedicated to realizing F/X wet dreams like city streets folding over each other or football fields collapsing underfoot chunk by chunk.  In particular, I'd be happy to see Nolan adapt more novels -- what he did with "The Prestige," employing the outline of Priest's narrative in service of an essentially new-but-related story of his own, is an ideal example of how one medium can inspire another.

And if he doesn't make any more trilogies or comic-book movies, that's okay by me.

Keith, since you're the bigger Batman fan here, what would like to see happen to the character now? Does he deserve a reboot? (Does anything?) Or are the existing movies -- the ones you like anyway -- enough for you to get all the Batman fixes you need?

'It's tough, much of the time, to speak passionately about an artist you love without tipping over into defensive posturing.'

UHLICH: Mike: I remember your review of "The Prestige" vividly, as well as the turnaround you experienced. I had a similar road-to-Damascus moment with Spielberg's "A.I.," which so confounded and angered me on first view and has since become a favorite. Interestingly, I partially attribute my initial reaction to seeing a packed-house opening night screening at Manhattan's Ziegfeld, where the sense of the audience turning against the film during the 2000 years leap forward was painfully palpable. I couldn't disconnect myself from that. Much as we strive for ideal experiences of movies, I think they're fairly impossible to attain.   

Mike, I read your take here on "The Prestige" and it makes me wish I could see it through your eyes. I also wish I felt it was worth a revisit, but I've been burned and bludgeoned by Nolan so many times that I'm not feeling especially eager for a re-viewing. Never say never—e.g., after swearing off Paul Greengrass post-"United 93" (I'll watch any Nolan movie again before I rewatch that muddled, malevolent shitstorm), I'm finally getting around to his Bourne movies in anticipation of the fourth one. Who knows what our journey holds?

I also agree about the shared affinities between fanboy and hardcore cinephile commentary and the hero-worship that frequently results. It's tough, much of the time, to speak passionately about an artist you love without tipping over into defensive posturing. Better the person who thinks and rethinks, who doesn't kowtow to the fashionable be his obsession Bruce Wayne or his godhead Godard. Much as I have my favorite filmmakers, they almost all have disappointed me in some way or another (see, or rather don't, De Palma's "Redacted"). Likewise there have been artists I've loathed who have surprised me with something potent and powerful (perhaps someday I'll work up the courage to write a full-on defense of Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch"—but that's another discussion).

I will take a crack at Eric's earlier question about Nolan and what I'd like to see him do. And I mean this in all honesty and good faith: I hope he keeps doing whatever he feels he has to do, and goes wherever his muse takes him. I may never be a proponent of his work, but as long as we can both occupy our own creative spaces without any real infringement, then godspeed. No artist should bear the burden of having to please. And all I ask is the continuing freedom to respond.

Finally, as far as what I'd like to see happen to Batman now: Let whoever wants take a crack at the character. Reboot. Rework. Rethink. Pace several reviewers, Nolan's isn't the final word. At this point, Batman belongs to the world, and there's enough of a mythos there for other creatives to explore. As I said above, he's malleable, and though there are certainly plenty of stories to return to, I'm always interested in new visions and directions—as much of what's established as what has yet to be imagined.

This article is related to: Critical Consensus, Keith Uhlich, Mike D'Angelo, Batman, The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan, Anne Hathaway, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy





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