Last Friday, Operation Early Bird kicked off after a short viral campaign of “leaked CIA” redacted documents suggested an imminent surprise. The surprise was a countdown at www.operationearlybird.com. As the day went on Friday, points began to appear on a map. A few hours after these points appeared, links from pop-up balloons gave Dec. 13, 2011 – 10pm as a date and time at various IMAX theaters around the country, followed by a link to purchase tickets.
As fans guessed, it was a sneak preview of The Dark Knight Rises prologue attached to this Friday’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol release in IMAX.
SPOILERS (OBVIOUSLY) PROCEED WITH CAUTION!
If the short six minute IMAX teaser that hit select cities in the past week is any indication, Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises (2012), is in need of some serious work. Let’s flashback a couple of years to the Dark Knight (2008) teaser. Nolan not only introduced us to the film’s chief villain, Joker (Heath Ledger), but gave us an action sequence that had as much punch as it did polish. We were given a glimpse into the mindset of the Yin to Batman’s Yang that was wrapped in gorgeous, vertigo inducing skyline shots of Gotham City. In comparison, the prologue teaser for DKR is not only underwhelming but sloppy.
The prologue begins with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) addressing a crowd at a memorial for Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). He states that he believed in Harvey Dent and that his death has left a hole in Gotham City’s moral fabric that needs to be filled. Nolan then cuts to a jeep in a third world country carrying a team of CIA operatives with some hooded thugs and Dr. Leon Pavel (Alon Abutul) in their custody. The jeep arrives at an airstrip where the team meets up with their squad leader (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Game of Thrones), who promptly demands that the prisoners be loaded onto the plane. Soon, we discover that Bane (Tom Hardy) is one of the masked men and the whole plan was a ruse to discover how much information the CIA had on Pavel. A zero-gravity fight breaks out and we’re left, appropriately enough, with more questions than answers.
There are several problems with the prologue that worry me. First, and many critics and writers have already noted this, you cannot understand 90% of Bane’s dialogue. Not only is Hardy performing with what sounds like a Russian accent, but Nolan has spun that accent through modulators and distortion filters that leave him sounding like a descendant of General Grievous. We cannot understand most of the plot in the prologue because it all comes out like a coughed muffle. Now, this can be fixed with some post-production work but I cannot help but wonder why Nolan would rush this material if it wasn’t ready. It’s more embarrassing than awe inspiring (and this is coming from a huge Nolan and Batman fan, a prejudice that should be taken into account). Secondly, the dialogue by Christopher and Jonathan – at least in the case of the CIA ringleader – is on the nose to the point of being kind of hilarious. When the squad leader realizes he has sprung Bane’s trap, he shows off his Ph.D. in Obviousness by asking “What was the next step in your master plan!?” Nolan could have simply given us a concerned look on Gillen’s face; it would have accomplished the same effect without inducing a silent groan. Finally, Nolan’s staging of the action was pretty stale. While Jim Emerson has taken Nolan to task for giving us sequences that lack any spatial clarity in The Dark Knight, what blew my mind was how similar this sequence was to the hallway fight in Inception (2010): both scenes involve zero-gravity fisticuffs as people slam around an confined space.
Now, it’s important to note that we still have over half a year before The Dark Knight Rises hits screens. That gives Nolan plenty of time to loop Bane’s dialogue and refine some of his editing. On the prologue plus side, cinematographer Wally Pfister continues to get more and more comfortable with the IMAX format and we do get a couple of stunning shots (particularly the climax to the airplane hijacking). Moreover, composer Hans Zimmer has given Bane a theme that can perhaps rival that of his sinister suite for the Joker. Overall, I believe in Christopher Nolan but I remain a tad pessimistic after this sample.