Bruce Wayne chases a new chaotic presence in Gotham City while wondering if it's time to hang up the cape.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Aaron Eckhart
Review by Jon Kissel
One of the most influential movies of the 21st century, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight ushered in a wave of blockbuster filmmaking that’s either copying it or working in opposition to it. If a superhero movie is being made by Warner Bros or Fox in the ensuing years, it’s going to have to attempt to be a gritty/grounded film with a philosophical background on society. If Disney’s at the helm, the demands of the market force their superhero movies to leave the dark stuff to someone else and lean heavily into a jokey tone with little connection to the real world. The success of the latter strategy implies that the wrong lessons have been taken from The Dark Knight, that only this group of actors and filmmakers at this point in time could pull this off, as demonstrated by the insufficiency of The Dark Knight Rises four years later. It’s not like every facet of The Dark Knight is pulled off as successfully as some others. What does work here is some of the best of Nolan’s career and is worth emulating, but by so clearly aiming for profundity and seriousness, the film invites an interrogation it can’t hold up against. One wishes that a reckoning with the War on Terror didn’t have to be wrapped up in a superhero movie, but we live in the cultural world that Nolan helped to create.
On our master spreadsheet, a movie gets a ranking after 3 people have graded it. We’ve currently logged 4,226 movies, but only 1721 have been ranked. Six movies have received only F’s, and of those six, Batman and Robin has been given an F by eight Mediocre Movie Club members. By consensus, this is the worst movie we’ve logged in the nine years we’ve been doing this. The fourth film in a franchise that’s turned over its entire cast three times, with the exception of Michael Gough as Alfred, Batman and Robin is what it looks like when everyone has given up and surrendered whatever artistic or technical aspirations they have to greed and apathy. No one appears to be trying to make something acceptable. Joel Schumacher buries Batman and resets the superhero genre back to square one in the public’s eyes as a clownish and juvenile endeavor. That wouldn’t last longer than a few years with X-Men and a 9/11-goosed Spider-Man, but it’s not like Schumacher and Co don’t shovel as much dirt on the corpse as possible. Critically reviled movies often come in for a reevaluation years after their release, but Batman and Robin doesn’t achieve some kind of camp quality, nor is it a scrappy underdog. It was bad then, and it’s bad now.
Tim Burton’s been a caricature of his former self for more than a decade now, but for the first chunk of his career, he was a major pop auteur. Burton’s instantly recognizable style and aesthetic is established from the beginning, whether he’s making original ideas like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands or adapting big franchises like Batman. His first five films, ending with Batman Returns, have all the Gothic architecture, domestic satire, and Danny Elfman musical scores that would make him successful and recognizable. Of those five, Batman Returns is the most off-putting, including the one about a crass demon. Burton seems to be signing his own resignation letter and daring the studio to kick him off the franchise, and after seeing audiences both flock to and be recoiled as a drooling Penguin bites the nose off a flunky, Warner Bros. obliged. Batman Returns leans hard into the silliness of superheroes by making so many big choices that, whether they work or not, are at least the kind of independent creative thinking that make the film into a fascinating mess.
Immigrant stories are a recognizable kind of film for Hollywood, as the many stories about Italian or Irish or Latin newcomers to America attest to. Most of the time, these flatter American sensibilities even if the experience of the immigrant character is less than hospitable. The fact of the immigrant coming here supports the myth the nation likes to tell itself, circumstances on the ground be damned. Black Americans never get this kind of story because how could they? For anyone brought here as an enslaved person, dreams of a better life or even personal will never entered into it. The connotation for a wider/whiter audience is one of accusation instead of flattery. What makes Daughters of the Dust compelling is that it’s that rare cultural item, an immigrant story from a Black perspective. Thanks to the geography and the history of the Gullah islands on the South Atlantic coast, formerly enslaved people were able to isolate from the wider country and retain the customs of Africa, turning it into the equivalent of the immigrant burroughs in major cities that have a foot in both the old and new worlds. The dilemmas of the Gullah people then become recognizable and universal as they consider the comfort of the familiar versus the adventure of the unknown, heritage versus adaptation, superstition versus modernity.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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