Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Mike D'Angelo, Eric Kohn and Keith Uhlich
July 20, 2012 11:52 AM
17 Comments
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Critical Consensus: Mike D'Angelo and Keith Uhlich on 'The Dark Knight Rises,' Christopher Nolan, and Batman's Next Move

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.

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17 Comments

  • YESKALLAM | August 18, 2012 5:20 AMReply

    Calling pfister's DP work pedestrian is like saying Federer's serve is pedestrian.... If you are giving out some non-sense it better be supported!!! the best you got to say is "dimly lit medium shots"... Oh man if you ever attend a film photography course or have knowledge of photography(film photography) you know how stupid that statement of yours is..... One of the best things to come out of Nolan's batman films is Pfister's work as DP...

  • YESKALLAM | August 18, 2012 5:15 AMReply

    RUBBISH in every way... Thank you for wasting my time... didn't go past the first page out of fear, let me spell it out for you F-E-A-R!!!

  • trionel | July 21, 2012 4:56 PMReply

    **WARNING GIANT SPOILERS AHEAD**
    To start I am not a pure lover of Nolan films I loved the Prestige but had huge reservations with Memento and Inception found both more confusing than enjoyable. I am not a comic book reader at all (aside from a few non batman graphic novels) but enjoyed BTAS and specifically the movie Mask of the Phantasm. I also love small movies where you are NOT bludgeoned over the head unlike Nolan's Batman. But I truly love Nolan's batman films flaws (and there are large flaws) and all simply for there grand ambition, which I think is important for film makers to go to these places. Just think about what Nolan attempts to accomplish: A story about an extraordinary but still very limited guy through circumstance of having a family legacy in building and maintaining Gotham and guilt for the death of loved ones, feels the need to DO SOMETHING to help the city and chooses to do it by creating a symbol of dramatic acts. Though Nolan adds elements of Bruce's loneliness, he does not linger on it, and chooses to focus on the IMMENSE PROBLEM of CHANGING Gotham city. What is it going to take? How much will it cost him and the people around him? Are dramatic symbols the right way to go? Is it even worth it? Everyone he knows is against it (to various extents) and once he begins he faces resistance from all sides: his own company, all types of criminals, & constantly being betrayed by other justice seekers. Thus the movies are very bludgeoning because Nolan is interested in the painful reality (literally he is stabbed, shot burnt, poisoned, broken bones etc) of creating actual change for the better which I have been told my entire life is neither fun nor quick. Then there is Nolan's problem of adding the All major points from the Batman mythology (Amazing villains, Bat tech, Gotham cops, and ordinary Gotham citizens) onto his original problem plus the emotional lonely character trying to get over his parents death, and amazing stunts all in SEVEN hours. That's impossible without losing story cohesion and creating consistent fully earned emotional payoffs. Also it is arguable the Batman mythology cannot sustain the story of changing a city for the better but it definitely can sustain the story of the loneliness of a single traumatized person. But for me it is worth it. I think it is important for at least someone to try tell this story in a stylized way (not realistic but again limited) as all other painful change stories aren't as stylized and other stylized films do not have the change or limits. Personally I just connect more with the person trying to do something in the first 2 movies and understand when he cannot do it anymore for reasons to help Gotham as shown in the beginning TDKR, that his loneliness overwhelms in ugly ways (he becomes a recluse) than in Phantasm where he is able to maintain dignity. That with some help and realization of the need to live he can comeback and connect and trust completely with at least a couple people (in this case Selina and John Blake). That in the end the symbol isn't worth his life and Gotham itself has to go through these changes with the imperfect symbol they are left with. I truly love the thoughtful but unsustainable in time given plot (hopefully Nolan will learn from going past the edge), the high volume and wide variety of great moments and performances I have not seen in any film series, and when everything clicks the truly jaw opening moments I have not seen in any other film. I love them just as much as smaller more well made movies. These things to me are more important than mistakes made in technical areas (these movies are full of them) and whether the story convinces me completely (not without help from my imagination). But that's just me.

  • Fandango | July 20, 2012 7:58 PMReply

    It's nice actually to hear someone bashing Nolan's work for a change. If you want to find someone loving up Nolan's work you can find it practicaly anywhere else. This was quite refreshing to read.

  • Ed Harken | July 20, 2012 6:36 PMReply

    it is so painful to read indiewire and the "critics" and "reporters" that write for it that I dread opening an alert anytime i get one (thankfully i am doing so less and less as it gets worse and worse) - the smugness of the critics, the ineptness of the "reporters" (do they every fact check or do they solely rely on what is spoon fed to them?) - where are Hernandez and Brooks - what happened to this once credible news source?

  • thisisnotanexit | July 20, 2012 4:19 PMReply

    @STRANGELOVE Look, it's too easy to tear what you're saying to shreds because you contradict yourself in your own response to my response. I sincerely hope you are NOT a critic, as your argument construction and ability to analyze simple sentences appears to be faulty.

    "...they give us perspective by all their past knowledge of history of the art form."

    ...which is precisely why he mentions that he is knowledgable of Nolan's past works and doesn't particularly care for them. He's bringing his KNOWLEDGE of film, particularly his of viewing previous Nolan films to this particular review. So, then, you saying that because he doesn't like Nolan, he's not a "real" critic is just plain stupid. His opinion of Nolan's style is informed by his knowledge of it. Everyone is biased going into whatever film they see. People have different life experiences, viewpoints, and tastes that inevitably inform their opinions. It's IMPOSSIBLE for someone writing an editorial to be completely impartial. Do you know of some factory that's produced a film reviewing algorithm for its robot critics, or something?

    "Did you really expect they would post these conversation without thinking there would such a discussion?"

    Yet, you criticize them for having the conversation at all.

  • Strangelove | July 20, 2012 7:12 PM

    I too enjoyed 'The Dark Knight Rises' and will admit it is clunky and rushed at times due to the doubling of characters and multiple storyline. But isnt this what we want, a big film with big ideas and themes if the studios want to take our hard earned money, which I would rather spend watching an indie world cinema. Like I said before this the best we are gonna get for now. The criticism to me still feel sensationalised and someone trying to be different from the herd or even made me think they were Marvel fanboys nitpicking everything. I have always read reviews of films before I watched them, as lets face it there are a lot of garbage out there that just angers me that they are made with the budget they have. But most would agree they would rather have more Chris Nolan films than Michael Bay films (Bay might be too easy a target). But no matter all the negative or positive reviews these big budgeted films receive they will make a profit. Do critics even matter when it comes to big budget films or do we only care when they start to rile the populous? Also by the way, thanks for the compliment, its the result of growing up watching English films and TV.

  • Thisisnotanexit | July 20, 2012 6:11 PM

    First of all, I didn't criticize your English. I criticized the basis of your argument as you articulated it. I've worked with a lot of ESL students in my time and have a lot of respect for multilingual people. Your English is actually very good. I didn't read between the lines; I directly addressed specific points you raised. And your assumption that I agree with the above article is incorrect. I actually really enjoyed THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, even though I think it had its faults. The difference is that I respect these critics and their opinions even if they differ from my own.

  • Strangelove | July 20, 2012 5:11 PM

    I apologise for my lack of perfectly formed sentences as English is not my first language, let alone second. Since you like reading between the line and debunking what I say by phrasing everything, I am in the impression you agreed with the above article. I said no one can call themselves a critic if they do not stand by what they say, esp when they heavily criticise a piece of work and given this particular case where as you so insightfully pointed out that its impossible to be impartial in an editorial piece, but it would definitely be a lack of journalist integrity if it was a place to take potshot as someone. Or shall we chalk that up as an opinion based on past experiences as well. The voice of the critic has changed from the time when it really made a difference. I do not criticise them for having the conversation, I would have rather had someone with more interesting to say than your everyday average sensationalism critical point of view, but I criticise them for thinking being a critic is such an easy job where you can just blast out every vocabulary at their disposal to debase something to provoke a response. And you will be glad to know I am not a critic just a valued daily visitor of the site concerned at the drop of standards.

  • Adam K | July 20, 2012 4:33 PM

    Ha, I didn't see this while I was writing my comment below, and we have basically all the same points, even down to the formulation of "robot critics." High five!

  • thisisnotanexit | July 20, 2012 3:07 PMReply

    "Are these guys really critics? Then why would you start with 'I have never like a Chris Nolan's film (maybe apart from 'The Prestige') and start ripping on 'The Dark Knight Rises'. Where is the impartiality in that?"

    A critic doesn't need to be impartial. A critic needs to offer CRITICISM, which requires them to analyze a work and formulate opinons.

    "And me coming to the film's defence doesn't make me a fanboy, just someone who wants to read your reviews not read your transcribed bar talk."

    You realize they post these kinds of conversations all of the time, right? If you don't enjoy this type of "transcribed bar talk," why read this one?

  • Adam K | July 20, 2012 4:32 PM

    To STRANGELOVE (good name, btw):
    It seems you're looking for some sort of inhuman robot-critic to objectively review something. You speak of them "giv[ing] us perspective by all their past knowledge of history of the art form" and doesn't that include the histories of the director and actors? How would, to rephrase your words, "a critic go[ing] into a cinema with a preconception of preferring a certain filmmaker thus formulating a positive comment" be any less impartial than the negative version?

    Actual human critics can't pretend to be impartial any more than regular moviegoers can, except that critics have a wider and deeper range of knowledge to pull from and typically (as opposed to regular moviegoers) give reasons behind their assessments; we're all people, after all, but at least these two critics are helpfully willing to give us their biases up front instead of feigning an impossible "impartiality." I suppose I'm trying to figure out what this mythical "impartiality" of yours would look like.

  • Strangelove | July 20, 2012 3:38 PM

    A critic needs to have an authoritative voice, be it in any form of art, they give us perspective by all their past knowledge of history of the art form. When a critic goes into a cinema with a preconception of not preferring a certain filmmaker thus formulating a criticism; because of such impartiality is what make these critics irrelevant when it comes to big budget films. Believe me 'The Dark Knight Rises' will be the only big budget film I will be watching this year so why wouldnt I read everything I can read about it as I do with every other film I watch.
    Did you really expect they would post these conversation without thinking there would such a discussion? You are not a critic if you heavily criticise a piece of work and completely fail to stand by your words by saying 'Thats just my opinion, everyone has their own'.

  • Migdia Chinea | July 20, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    You guys are completely wrong. Completely! Migdia Chinea UCLA MFA TFTDM - KNINTH FLOOR - 2012

  • CJ | July 20, 2012 1:52 PMReply

    You lost all credibility by speaking as if everything you said was fact. Oh, and when you stated your liking for the bomb that was "Batman and Robin." some just don't understand the character I suppose.

  • Scott | July 20, 2012 3:01 PM

    It's clearly an opinion piece; it is ridiculous to expect every statement to be preceded by an IMO.

  • strangelove | July 20, 2012 1:17 PMReply

    Are these guys really critics? Then why would you start with 'I have never like a Chris Nolan's film (maybe apart from 'The Prestige') and start ripping on 'The Dark Knight Rises'. Where is the impartiality in that? Of course, you can say you didn't like the 'The Dark Knight' but dare not say you didn't like Heath Ledger's performance. Lets face it, most audience are sheep, they will go watch anything if the studios bombard them with enough marketing campaign, which has given to the question 'Why do we need critics?'. Big dumb studio blockbuster always end up making a profit, if not in the US then overseas, which is why they are dumbed down because they expect the guy who has the minimal grasp of the English language (myself a non-English speaking non-US audience) to be wowed by the million dollar CGI explosions and monsters.

    Question to them is who would you want directing these big hundred two hundred million dollars production if not Chris Nolan because its not like the studios will stop making them. You are not gonna get PT Anderson or Michael Haneke to get asked by the studios to direct these films. Lets face the realities, this is the best it will get for now.

    Would I have even bothered to write a comment if they talked about 'The Dark Knight Rises' was a masterpiece, a zenith of modern filmmaking, the bar every aspiring filmmaker to thrive for? No, I wouldn't. But to completely dismantle a film with bias just make critics that much irrelevant again when it comes to big budget films. And me coming to the film's defence doesn't make me a fanboy, just someone who wants to read your reviews not read your transcribed bar talk.