Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chapter 83: In Which I Discuss Blowing the Shit Out of Pittsburgh

I saw Batman in IMAX. It was big and loud. Sometimes I was entertained, sometimes it bored me, and I left the theatre having no strong feelings about it whatsoever. I told myself I'd see one superhero movie this summer, and that was it.


Somebody needs to make a film version of Wicked, stat. Seeing the Wicked Witch of the West cast as the villain in an Oz movie kind of upset me, after the character's been reimagined so well. That version should get a movie. They didn't show the Witch's face, so I'll bite if they have a kickass actress commanding those screechy flying monkeys. IMDB says it's either Mila Kunis or Rachel Weisz, both interesting choices. Mila's been in line for a villain turn for a while. But it would be great to see Elphaba get her due in film, with all the singing and dancing that entails.

Batman. My first thought: hey, it's Carcetti! Love Nolan's casting. If you're wondering how "dark" and "gritty" this movie gets, having one actor from The Wire is as far as that goes.

After all the talk of a "dark, gritty Batman" universe, I loved that Nolan quit faking it and made his movie as comic book-y and Hollywood and stupid as possible. Nuclear bombs with ticking clocks. Nuclear explosions. The most needlessly complicated corporate takeover in history. The whole affair is just as dumb as your average Silver Age "What if Batman was 5 inches tall and Bat-Mite was a hundred feet tall?" storyline. I like this because Nolan's universe, while sporadically dark, was never gritty. In The Dark Knight, he borrowed the language of Michael Mann movies to tell an over-the-top story full of outsized characters. Comic book fans made it the flagbearer to prove the validity in superhero comics, as if they ever needed validity. In The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan explodes his own myth by chucking internal consistency right out the window. On the one hand, I found this disappointing. In TDK and Inception, he tried to do a smarter action film. TDK had the moral grayness, Inception had the intricate plot structure. Here, he tells the audience to kick back and enjoy people kicking ass in funny costumes. Maybe soon comic book fans can get over this grimdark fetish and just focus on whether the story is good. If I want grit, I'll watch, you know, The Wire.

So just how crippled is Bruce? In the same scene a doctor tells us he has all this nerve damage, he rappels down the side of a building. For a guy with a bum leg he can dance pretty well. Not to mention someone with a bad leg could have never made that jump. I don't get it. But in a universe where you heal broken backs just by punching the bones into place, I guess I'm not supposed to.

Loved the ending. In this movie, moreso than any other Batman film, I felt for Bruce Wayne as a person. Part of this had to do with Christian Bale looking sicklier than he has since The Machinist. I just wanted to give him a hug. Bruce Wayne is absolutely human in the movie, and Bale brings all sorts of pathos to this physically and spiritually broken person. What separates Nolan's Batman from any other incarnation: he does not want to be Batman. He sees cleaning up Gotham as a mission, but even in The Dark Knight he dreams of somebody taking his place so he can set aside the cowl. His ultimate victory is not just in defeating Bane and Talia, but going on to become a regular person. For me, this is the most realistic aspect of the films. Being Batman is not fun. The Batman of the comics is an obsessive control freak who would never dream of leaving the job. He will continue to brood and scowl and punch muggers in the face long after we are all dead. Nolan gives Bruce the happy ending that the comics never will. I'm down with that kind of fanfic.

Politics? Eh. People have been going on about how pro-authority, pro-cop, anti-protestor this movie is. I'm sure Nolan's right-wing leanings are there, but they ignore the fact that every Hollywood movie is pro-state. I haven't seen a blockbuster that challenged the system since X-Men 2. I hate cops just as much as the next guy (by the way, fuck you assholes for breaking up the East End Share Fair in Pittsburgh, hope you get sued), but seeing the police lionized in a Hollywood movie is not atypical. I am disappointed that the battle for Gotham boiled down to cops versus mercenaries, especially after the focus on civilians in the last movie. But it is the disappointment of seeing something I've seen before. Part of what makes the movie forgettable.

Christopher Nolan does love some cops, but he sure doesn't make them look good. Thousands of police march in a line into a tunnel, all together. No scouts, no strategy. Literally just a clump of cops. Of course they get buried alive. Bane proceeds to send them food and water, for no discernible reason, other than I guess he's the nicest supervillain ever. In the end, the cops come charging out, no worse for wear after their months-long imprsionment. They're not even dirty. Then they face off against Bane and Occupy Gotham. Once more, they all walk up the street in a line, and charge straight at them like Braveheart. Never mind that they have guns. And because this is PG-13 there's a bunch of sparks going off at their feet instead of people dying, and I'm watching fat beat cops charging down the street to do hand-to-hand combat, and I have to wonder if this is supposed to be a comedy.

I've gotten to the point where I have to laugh at scenes where white men say Important Things. Once Bane brings out the bomb they cut to a scene on some batteship somewhere. Nameless Radar Guy says wit horror "They've activated the bomb." Cut to Crusty and Repsectable White General looking like his underwear's giving him a wedgie and he says "Get the president on the line." I laughed. These people have nothing to do with the plot. The most the government does is send in a really terrible Special Ops team. How many movies have I watched with generals standing around uttering Important Things? And then they show the president, who in the Nolan-verse is another old white man! Never mind that the movie has a retired black movie-president in the cast. In the Nolan-verse such nonsense never happens.

Fanboys have long said that Robin would never work in the Nolan-verse. Nolan found a way around that, brilliant in its simplicity: just make him a grown damn man. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character fills all the functions of Robin, only he's old enough to convincingly kick ass and doesn't wear a silly costume. That's how they should have done it in the comics. The idea of Robin was always stupid. A 12-year-old fighting grown men every night? What's the bright red costume for? So the criminals shoot at him instead of Batman? Moronic.

I love how everybody and their mother knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne. Not just the random cop who outs him and Bruce inexplicably doesn't care. Let's face it, Bruce never had a good disguise. In the modern age, it wouldn't take long for somebody to do some computer composite on Batman's face. In the Nolan-verse, Batman retires for 8 years. Bruce Wayne goes into seclusion for 8 years. Unless the citizens of Gothan are absolutely oblivious (a conceit the comic is based around), I'll just assume half of them suspect he's Bruce and choose not to dwell on it.

There is a such thing as too serious. This movie moves from one ponderous scenario to the next. From speech to interrogation to murder to fight to arguing to the next speech. The sheer heaviness with which the film treats this gets silly. I know DC wants to kickstart the JLA movies so they can get in on some of that Avengers money, and it's about time. Hell, ditch the Nolan stuff and keep Christian Bale. it would be cool to see him have fun for a change.

Loved Bane. They did the character right, with all the physical presence and eloquence. His brutal fistfight with Bruce was easily the highlight of the movie.

There is a such thing as too long. It moved along at a steady clip during the introduction parts. Adored Catwoman and all her scenes. Then halfway through, when the movie turns into the Akira manga, it slows down and stays slow up until Batman starts demolishing everything. I can only watch so many explosions. I can only watch Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt speechify for so long. I can only watch Matthew Modine for so long. It's a stop the bomb plot. It shouldn't take forever. I could have watched a whole movie about Bruce and Catwoman, but instead I got filler, the characters slogging toward an ending that felt rushed, anyway.
The Scarecrow cameo was awesome. Such a comic book moment.

There are definite disadvantages to PG-13. It took me ten minutes before I realized Bane was dead. Yeah, Catwoman shot him, but he's a big guy wearing a possible bulletproff vest, and she shot him with Batman's bike which has been proven to shoot non-lethal explosives. Why would he have live rounds in his bike? So when she blasts Bane across the room, I expected him to come back. I hate to say it, but a little blood spray would have done that scene some good. It reminded me of the scene in Dark Knight when Joker slits that guy's throat and there's no indication he died other than a dramatic music beat. Hella confusing.

But all my qualms with the movie we're forgiven, because they blew up Pittsburgh. I've been waiting thirty years to see my hometown demolished in a film, and it was magical.

I heard they filmed the movie in Pittsburgh, and there was a part of me that resisted the notion on instinct. Since when do they make blockbuster movies in the Steel City? I mean, they should. Imagine Jason Statham chasing a villain through the abandoned Steel Mill. Imagine Vin Diesel doing a car chase on Mt. Washington. But they hardly ever film anything in Pittsburgh, for some reason.

So I go see Batman, and the US military set up on what is very obviously one of our bridges. Yeah, they CGI'd a harbor in there, but it's Pittsburgh. Then I see Matthew Modine hangin' aht in Bloomfield. But it's not over. They DEMOLISH HEINZ FIELD (and were those the Steelers in there, or am I imagining things?). Batman chases the nuke through dahntahn in his Bat-plane, and at that point I'm just picking out landmarks. They fly under One Oxford Center. They shoot missiles at Mellon Bank buildings. They go zooming down Penn Avenue. They were really, genuinely, blowing up Pittsburgh. It was the most fun I've had at the movies in a long time. Take the joy I got seeing Carnegie Mellon in Wonder Boys, stick Michael Douglas in a gas mask and pump him full of steroids, then magnify everything by 100. That's how I felt.

I wonder if New Yorkers feel the same way watching action movies in New York. Other than Tokyo, their city gets the most film damage. Even real life terrorism can't stop Hollywood from nuking NYC once a year. Do New Yorkers watch a giant flaming alien fall on Central Park and think "Hey, I've been there!" Or are they cynical about it. I'd imagine your average New Yorker knows half of their city through images anyway; it's that ubiquitous in media. Have they completely divorced the nonstop images from the reality they see every day? Or do they get that thrill of seeing the fantastic literally occur in places where they've set foot?

That was the magic, for me. And I have the Nolans to thank. I'm hoping for their next movie they go back to basics, learn some editing and tighten their storytelling. And they're free to have Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine blow up the Warhol or something. My score on the movie? Hmm. A B. For Batman.

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