Here’s a movie that can’t win. We’ve already had the definitive Batman. Unforgettable scenes are already in our heads. Heath Ledger won an Oscar for his immortal turn as the ultimate villain. There is no way to top The Dark Knight. No reason, ever, to want to go back; unless, of course, you count money. And it’s fair to say, the one thing new movie doesn’t lack is adequate funds. Bruce Wayne goes bankrupt in this film, in what could be read as an in-joke about exorbitant costs. The Dark Knight Rises is bigger in every way than its predecessor. But you can’t buy lightning in a bottle. No paycheque will bring Heath Ledger back. As Bane, the muscle-bound new villain has to learn, there are limits to bulk.
Terry Gilliam has a reverence for failure. In his movie The Fisher King, Jeff Bridges talks (ruefully) of Nietzsche’s “bungled and botched…expendable masses” who “get close to greatness, but never get there.” In a Gilliam movie, the hero is always either a fool or a madman, someone who sees much but blows his chances, aims high but is often speared by the world. As screen alter-egos go, these characters are candidly self-lacerating. Alexander Pope’s aphorism “To err is human…” is like a dare to Gilliam. He needs to conceive of movies that can’t work in order to prove that they can. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a case in point.
T.S. Eliot once wrote that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood; whenever Bob Dylan spouts poetry in I’m Not There, it’s like the opposite (you understand he’s talking bullshit the moment you hear it). For those not there back when Dylan was Dylan, this new movie confirms your every doubt about the wheedling, wheezy 60s-era Woody Guthrie. The movie is like a badly told lie; it wants to convince you of some guys’ mystique, but all it succeeds in is sophistry. It’s like divining meaning from fashion magazine covers. Even as I try to write about it I get Dylan-y (adj. to speak in gnomic utterances; to put the sound of words before sense).
Come back Adam West, all is forgiven! Though I doubt TV’s Batman would find much of a home in the new, brutal, unrelenting Batman movie, The Dark Knight. Perhaps he could be beaten to death as a pretext for another set-piece, but beyond that – No. The Dark Knight is not a movie that would welcome West, Burt Ward, or anything fun. I know I’m going against the grain – against doctrine – to say I didn’t like The Dark Knight, but this movie is to summer what a chain-saw is to a daisy-chain. The idea that its primary audience is children and young teenagers (it carries a PG-13 rating in America and a 12 rating in Britain) is pretty bloody depressing.