Revisit The Dark Knight Rises With Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman

Kevin Smith is naturally a positive and forgiving personality, which makes his podcasts fun, but often prevents him from really getting into a serious critique of a film, especially when it’s a film close to his heart such as anything featuring his favourite superhero: Batman. To balance off his natural positivity, Smith sometimes employs the analytical talents of Ralph Garman, his “Hollywood Babble-on” co-host, who is more willing to turn a critical eye towards beloved artifacts from popular culture. Together, they make for a formidable critical team.

Smith and Garman, the critics, have appeared together in podcast form only a handful of times, but they’re all worth revisiting. The first came in 2012, following the release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. On a special edition of “Fatman on Batman”, Garman, a full-on Batman fanatic, stops by to highlight the film’s many flaws, several of which the more forgiving Smith glossed over in his enthusiastic endorsement of the film, spread over two previous podcasts. “A sobering take on a film, by a man so far from sober,” Smith intones at the end of the episode, after he and Garman have spent over 90 minutes reminding us of exactly how foolish some of the storytelling devices were in that film. Some highlights:

  • On the character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt: “Here’s a rookie cop who figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman because he ‘gave him a look’ once in the orphanage!” Smith and Garman riff on this for some time, finally suggesting that the character would have been better if he were played by Andrew Dice Clay, and giving a long speech along the lines of, “‘Dis guy came into the orphanage and when guys come in here, they give me one of two looks: 1) I wanna fuck this kid, or 2) I’m Batman. Most of the time I get the first look, but this time I got the second.” They return to this later on in the podcast, “Y’know, this guy once gave me a look – not that look, the other look!” (Later still, when they discuss Lucius Fox, Garman says, (in a perfect imitation of Morgan Freeman), “I know who Batman is. I’m as smart as any rookie cop.”)
  • Garman and Smith both laugh at how Batman tosses the Gordon-Levitt character the keys to the batcave at the end with no training whatsoever. Batman picked the blue flower, but this guy’s a rookie cop. It’s almost as if Batman is saying, “Here ya go. Have fun getting your ass kicked by every villain in Gotham.”
  • On Batman’s cryptic non-reveal of his identity to Commissioner Gordon: “When did Batman suddenly become the Riddler? Dropping hints about coats? Is Gordon trying to remember everyone he’s ever put a coat on? Maybe Batman was his prom date. [In the gruff Batman voice] ‘Thanks for the corsage’.”
  • “Alfred is so emotionally raped in this movie,” notes Garman. They imagine Alfred finally seeing Bruce in Italy after having spent years in depression, convinced that he had failed his employer and led to Batman’s death, saying angrily, “One time I took pills, Bruce. And I’m not going to say it was an accident!” (Garman has great fun doing a choppy Michael Caine impression as well, on the lines, “I failed you. I failed your son.”)
  • On the prison to which Bruce is sent after the fight with Bane: “That’s not a plot hole, that’s a plot abyss,” recounts Smith. It’s supposedly an ancient place that’s inescapable, yet it gets a great TV signal. Garman and Smith proceed to impersonate Bane and the thickly-accented foreign chiropractor: “We’ve got the NFL Sunday ticket. And HBO. East and west coast feeds. You can watch Curb Your Enthusiasm three hours early.” To which Bane adds, “I think Larry’s so funny.” Then, after escaping from the prison, Smith points out, “He’s got no money, no weapons, no ID and he’s obviously in a savage land…” Garman interrupts, “So, he’ll be home in about eight hours.”
  • Smith lets his usual flair for vulgar sexual humour run rampant when discussing Talia Al-Ghul, criticizing her for not taking revenge on Batman while she has Bruce Wayne’s “member” in her mouth during sex. “What is she thinking? Just bite down. Cauterize the wound. Make him deal with it. You’re now a dickless Batman. That’s revenge.”
  • Bane gets special attention, with Smith and Garman wondering why Batman doesn’t just punch him in the mask, right away. That’s obviously his weak spot (“He’s a video game boxing enemy”), yet it takes Batman three fights to figure it out. Also, “What does that gas he’s inhaling actually do? Other than make him chatty.” Smith goes on to shake his head at the scene in which Bane convinces the entire population of Gotham that Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent were corrupt, by reading a letter in front of an audience. Besides the strange logical leap that the plot takes at that point (“What — are people in the audience in the football stadium thinking ‘Yeah, that sounds like Jim Gordon’s writing!’?”), it’s very odd to have a scene in which someone wearing a mask is reading a speech. That’s pretty anti-cinematic.

In summary, and leaving out all the allusions to sex and other sorts of tomfoolery, Smith and Garman’s main point is that the makers of this film didn’t seem to understand the character of Batman very much (Batman emphatically wouldn’t take eight years off when something goes wrong). While Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were real as a heart attack, The Dark Knight Rises features a turn into fantasy, and it isn’t handled well. Filmmakers can’t bring an audience with them up to the point of buying that such a character as Batman could exist in the real world, and play by real world rules, only to ditch logic when it becomes inconvenient and take wild leaps.

Garman is a great influence in Smith in situations like this, because he allows Smith to drop the fanboy love of everything Batman (and even here, Smith rushes to add, “Well, at least we had a Batman movie!”) and put on his filmmaker hat to see the product through critical eyes. Garman returned the following year to lay on his scathing critique of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which is also worth a listen, although on that episode, Smith is much more defensive of the film and doesn’t follow Garman so willingly into critique. (He does get some nice moments, like making fun of the elaborate headwear of the Kryptonian elders, noting that if he were Jor-El, he’d be yelling, “Let’s go! Get your hatboxes, pack up your haberdashery and let’s go! There is lava shooting out of the fucking ground!”)

These commentaries don’t sync up with the films, as is the case with Smith and Marc Bernardin’s episodes about the 1990s Batman films of Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher, but they’re no less illuminating and entertaining, and belong on the listening list of the discerning pop culture and comic book enthusiast.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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