The Dark Knight Flops (Why’s Everyone Got a Hard-On for Christopher Nolan?)

Ok, here’s my crackpot theory for the week: Christopher Nolan is overrated. (Feel free to outline my shameful wrongness at the usual place below.)

I can’t deny his movies make heaping piles of money. And nor can I kid myself into supposing he’s, well, bad at what he does.

It’s just that I can’t for the life of me see how he’s the best movie-maker in town. The surest bet right now for wowing us at the local AMC… I don’t get it, is all – and am baffled why so many people do.

Momento gave me a headache. Insomnia I liked, but it was basically a solid remake of a foreign original. The Prestige was good, albeit far too silly to be so serious. Inception had some great moments, but was way too long and surely not as smart as it would like us all to think (one easy knock on Nolan: confusing ≠ smart). And the Dark Knight Batmans parts one, two, and three: yep, definitely glad I saw ’em all, but still a bit like being beaten up by a noisy bully for seven hours. Why so terribly gloomy, navel-gazing, and RELENTLESSLY LOUD?

Is it just me?

Or, maybe, does Nolan do the things he’s good at (mostly visceral, apt to make us go ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ a lot) so well that we look too kindly past an awful lot of rubbish?

Like plot holes every bit as big as his film’s insane budgets. And characters forever just showing up in the exact right place at the exact right time because, oops, something needs to happen. And character motivations that wilt under the slightest slither of scrutiny (why does Bane do what he does? Oh right, because he’s ‘crazy’ and what-not, yeah.) And these same characters saying VERY IMPORTANT things to each other, but scarcely ever anything charming, witty, or wry.

Like an unfortunate absence of interesting women (Batman went to bits over Maggie Gyllenhaal?! Really? I didn’t even remember she was in part two until part three reminded us.) And a soul-sapping surfeit of thudding music compelling us to recognize some heavy shit going down, don’t you know.

I’ll concede that Nolan rates the intelligence of his audience higher than a great many other Hollywood bigwigs do. But from I’m sitting his movies are almost never deft, funny, sexy, joyful, or welcoming. They’re often thrilling, yes. Only, too often at the expense of much else besides.

And just because his work is chockfull of hyperbole doesn’t mean we have to praise it in similar breathless terms. He’s miles better than a load of old toss – Michael Bay, McG, and so and so forth – but, come on people, that really isn’t saying much.

For my money, a list of better British directors still going strong starts with Paul Greengrass, Danny Boyle, Shane Meadows, and the ever-engrossing Mike Leigh. And compared against, say, a Spielberg in his prime, or even a Hitchcock off his game, the idea that Christopher Nolan is some sort of movie genius for the ages just seems kind of… daft.

Doesn’t say much ’bout the state of big summer blockbusters, does it?

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About newjonnytransit

Same as ever, only better.
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4 Responses to The Dark Knight Flops (Why’s Everyone Got a Hard-On for Christopher Nolan?)

  1. Fair points all. I saw it last night. I thought it was a bit underwhelming, which I think is a theme that is present in all of his films, but still quite enjoyable. Also miles better than anything we see in the mainstream, event films at the moment. I guess that’s why he is rated so highly. But he’s definitely not one of the ‘greats’.

    As always, great post!

    • Exactly! “Still quite enjoyable…” I don’t have a real beef with Nolan or anything – just wish the bar was set a whole lot higher for big summer blockbusters… sort of like how we all expect much from big American TV shows these days, you know?

      Cheers for the comment! Blogging’s made me think we should have hung out more at BU… hey ho!

  2. Controversial… Mate, I couldn’t disagree with you more regarding this blog and have to say, unusually for you, you have a lot of holes in your argument (ironic eh)!

    Firstly, how you can knock Memento is beyond me. A great idea for a film (man unable to make new memories) that in lesser hands could have been a train wreck, full of cliche… Instead Nolan turns it into a film about the lengths people will go to live the life they want to lead (a massive part of Inception). Guy Pearce’s character believes his life is defined by his wifes death and the pursuit of her killer. The final scene is amazing (SPOILER), when he kills Joe Pantalinos character knowing full well he is about to reveal the truth about what really happened to his wife. He consciously makes the decision to kill him raher than have his whole reason for living destroyed. He basically ends the film back at square one, in a loop. (I haven’t described this very well, but needless to say, there is a hell of a lot more going on than meets he eye).

    I kind of agree with you on the female front (though I thought Catwoman was one of the best things in DKR). However, the same thing could be levelled at 90% of the directors out there (I seem to remember them saying the same thing about Scorsese right up until Casino – don’t tell me you don’t rate him as well! And Spielberg’s hardly renowned for his strong female characters (with the exception of Raiders))!

    This comment had me worried, “But from I’m sitting his movies are almost never deft, funny, sexy, joyful, or welcoming”. I thought his take on the Joker was one of the funniest (in a crazy way), sexiest and most joyful characters to grace the screen in a very long time… the very embodiment of chaos! I fear in trying to put Nolan down, you have been reduced to grasping at straws! Some of the scenes with Alfred during these movies have been extremely emotional (a few tears were shed during some of his scenes during DKR). I suppose it frustrates me that he takes risks by having these pretty emotional scenes 30 minutes in to one of the most eagerly anticipated summer blockbusters and you accuse him of being overly loud. If his films were short, you’d accuse him of not having much to say. When he tries to do more with the story, work on some underlying themes of heroism and hope, you accuse him of being confusing and making his films too long!

    I’m not saying he always hits the mark and there are plot holes to be suspicious over… but why the negativity! I dare you to go back and watch Batman and Robin and then you will see just how right Nolan got that franchise.

    One final note (I fear I’m running out of momentum), to compare him to the other British filmmakers above is silly. Nolan makes blockbusters, he’s playing on a grand scale, and the advantages that this gives you (mainly a boot load of money) also, in my opinion, makes it harder for you get across wider themes amidst all the explosions and action set pieces. Greengrass, fair dues, did a great job with Bourne, Green Zone wasn’t great though. Boyle, Meadows and Leigh all great directors when working on small, urban projects but they are not making the same types of film that Nolan is making so the comparison is unfair. In fact, the one time Boyle tried his hand at a bigger movie (Sunshine) it was a big pile of turd and he quickly reverted to type (Slumdog). The reason Nolan is so hyped is because he’s one of the few directors who works at the real business end of movie making (£200 million dollar budgets) and delivers on every level.

    • Batley – your comment makes me very happy! Exactly the kind of thing that makes keeping a blog so much fun sometimes… What can I say? Glad I got this particular post in after you got your exams out the way for the year!

      Anyhow, let me start by saying I really don’t disagree with many of the points you make. Especially “why the negativity?” Hope you agree that’s not my usual style… and clearly I didn’t give Nolan anywhere near as much credit for the things he’s good at. After all, the fact I’ve seen all of his films says something, right?! And, yep, Green Zone wasn’t all that great, and, equally yep, Boyle, Meadows and Leigh are obviously making very different types of films… (quick aside, though: you’re kind of harsh on Boyle, no? He did an Olympics opening ceremony and he made Slumdog in one of the world’s busiest, most populated cities… ‘bigger’ seems like something he has in locker to me.)

      I just can’t join the Nolan love-in, that’s all. Not so uncritically at least. I guess what I see as confusing you see as deep. And, sorry, Michael Caine turning on the waterworks every now and then doesn’t do much for me (as much as I like Caine)… maybe if everything was just a bit more fun, the ‘emotional’ bits would resonate a little more, as satisfying contrast.

      As for the all those plot holes and moments of narrative expediency (characters introduced out of nowhere – like at the end of Batman Begins) just because the plot needs advancing: don’t they take you out of the movie? Either way, sure my blog post had a few holes in it (definitely agree with that!) – but I just wrote it on the train home from work and no one gave me $250million to… Spend that much money on a film and, damn straight, we should have proportionately high expectations. More, at least, than: is it better than Batman and Robin.

      Basically, give me Jaws or North by Northwest any day of the week… And can everyone stop kissing Nolan’s bottom for five minutes just because he’s so much better than Michael Bay? I mean, who isn’t?!

      On the other hand: like I said your contribution to this post pretty much made my day. Even disagreeing with you is a pleasure! P.S. The Smiths.

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