Assuming you’re neither a member of an extreme religious group, nor dead, nor both (take THAT, David Koresh), you are aware that The Dark Knight, the most anticipated movie of the summer (screw you, Indiana Jones and the Overly Elaborate Title), is being released tomorrow. Pre-sale ticket figures from websites such as Fandango.com and Movietickets.com are already showing astronomical numbers in terms of revenue (over $3.5 million in IMAX alone), sold out shows (over 700), and percentage of ticket purchases (about 90% of all sales belong to TDK). Today is so many fanboys’ Christmas Eve. In fact, having already seen the film myself (hooray for press screenings!), I’m even MORE excited at the aspect of seeing it again next Monday the 21st (all other shows were sold out) – this time, in IMAX. I love this movie just as much as the next guy and, if I were married, would probably be willing to divorce my wife if we couldn’t agree on the film’s awesomeness. But as phenomenal as this film is and will, there’s a flip side to every coin. Co-writer/director Christopher Nolan has not only single-handedly resurrected a dying franchise but he’s also been able to successfully translate the psychologically complex and gritty realism of indie films to a $200+ million dollar Hollywood blockbuster. Nolan has proved that there is still value to be found in Hollywood filmmaking and, in the process, made some producers look really, really smart.
However, Christopher Nolan has also ruined my movie going experience. Nolan has taken the superhero genre – a genre of incredible fantasy and suspension of disbelief – and make it real. Whether it’s Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, you can sit in your chair watching a brooding billionaire dressed as a bat fight crime with high-tech gizmos, and you can believe that it could plausibly happen. Because of this my brain, in a logical leap reminiscent of TiVo, will assume that this realism could and should be applied to any story involving the fantastic and the whimsical. “Well, if Christopher Nolan did it, than anyone can do it.” If you don’t immediately see the error in that, then shoot yourself in the head and survive. People have done it, so you can do it too. No, just because one extraordinarily talented filmmaker can bridge the gap between the real and the unreal doesn’t mean that it can, or necessarily should, be done with every superhero story. Ever since I first saw Batman Begins in the summer of 2005, I’ve found myself slipping in the phrase “suspension of disbelief” in a lot of reviews. In fact, I’ve said it twice already in this piece and will more than likely say it again.
When a friend and I walked out a press screening for Iron Man, we spent at least 30-40 minutes talking about what was wrong with it (what was right with it can be summed up in three words and roughly 2 and a half seconds – Robert Downey Jr.). We walked from the theater to a bar, sat down to grab some beers, and discussed the many flaws of the film: weak supporting cast, anti-climactic final battle, poorly scripted plot points, lack of dramatic tension, and yaddy yaddy yadda. After some time, we put down our glasses, stroked our (metaphorical) beards and asked ourselves, “did Batman Begins spoil us?” For every flaw we listed, we could point to how it was done well in Nolan’s revamping of the Caped Crusader, but it didn’t stop there – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Incredible Hulk, and even to an extent, Hellboy II: The Golden Army were all marked as disappointments because of “too many calls for suspension of disbelief.” (That’s three times, for those of you following along at home). For the love of Pete, Hellboy is a half-man, half-devil struggling to stop an Elfen lord from resurrecting an indestructible robot army created at the dawn of time, and I’m COMPLAINING about suspension of disbelief? What have you done to me Christopher Nolan?!? (Though, in Nolan’s defense, many of Hellboy’s II problems came from the phenomenal substance of the first installment that Guillermo del Toro seemingly decided to abandon for style).
It seems odd to be angry at a man for kicking SO much ass, yet that’s where I seem to stand. Starting with Batman Begins and continuing with The Dark Knight, Nolan has set the bar so high not only for superhero films, but for Hollywood blockbuster films as well, that my brain is having trouble realizing that not everything can be, nor once again, should be, equated with Nolan’s Batman films. If a guy flies around in an armored suit faster than the speed of sound and another guy grows into a 9-foot tall behemoth when he gets angry, then I shouldn’t automatically begin thinking “do I believe this could happen?” Of course it couldn’t f***ing happen, but that’s not the point! Nolan’s films are believable because the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman is believable and we get enjoyment out of thinking, “what could happen?” Iron Man/Tony Stark and Bruce Banner/Hulk are not believable, but we get the same enjoyment out of thinking, “what could happen?” Now if only my brain could accept this. Damn you, Christopher Nolan. But I love him so much, please don’t tell him I said that.
Suspension of disbelief. I had to say it one more time…
Oh, and also, Iron Man did kind of suck.
Jim Rohner is a film critic and associate producer for Zoom In Online.