I knew this was going to be bad. I only watched it because I was bored on the plane and I wanted to see just how bad it was.
Everybody in the world already knows that Matrix: Revolutions is bollocks. I'm writing this post just to satisfy my desire to rant. It will contain spoilers.
First Matrix was good because it was built around such a simple, surprising, and flexible metaphor. The Matrix is the mass media, or it's religion, or overreliance on technology; whatever allegory you like. It's the unquestioned life, the false paradise, sugar-coated slavery. The real world is a war-torn hellhole where life is short and full of struggle and suffering. You are offered the choice to live in the Matrix or to join the fight against it, the easy thing or the right thing, the pleasant illusion or the unpleasant truth; what do you do? That's powerful stuff, man. Mythic. Woven together with this are themes of fate vs. free will, the nature of humanity, man vs. machine, etc. Plus inverted cyberpunk tropes, scary robots, and cool martial arts battles. Hooray!
Oh ho, here comes a sequel (Reloaded + Revolutions is really a single sequel story spread across two movies)! Are you excited? Are you ready to outdo the first movie? Expand the universe, put the characters through the wringer, reveal all secrets and destroy the matrix forver? Ready for it? Here we go! This is what happens in the sequel, boiled down to the essential plot points:
The evil robots are drilling down to Zion with a giant drill to kill everybody. Agent Smith goes rogue and starts turning everybody he can find in the Matrix into more copies of him, because he's, like, a virus or something, I don't know how he got that way.
Then Neo goes to the machine city and talks to the boss robot sea-urchin-with-a-face-made-out-of-swirling-mini-robots, points out that Agent Smith will take over the whole Matrix and then infect the machine city, and offers his virus removal services in exchange for Not Killing Everybody Please. Then Neo has a really long, fake, Dragonball Z style fly-around-and-punch-each-other-through-buildings fight with one Smith while the other Smiths just watch. He wins, so the boss robot calls off the giant drill. The end.
That's it? That's it. No character development, no new philosophical themes or even deeper exploration of existing themes, not even a satisfying resolution to the plot. Will the sky ever be cleared, will the Matrix be destroyed, will the machines find an alternate source of power besides humans, will the human and machine civilizations learn to live in harmony, can the rest of the humans adapt to life outside the Matrix? I sat through almost five combined hours of sequel and I don't know the answers to these questions any better than I did after the first movie.
Between the two sequels there's maybe 30 scattered minutes of interesting new content. The intriguing suggestion that Zion and the rebellion against the Matrix are part of the Architect's even larger plan (so even by fighting the system you are still part of the system) was raised but then dropped and never mentioned again. The battle in the Zion dock between the human mecha pilots and the invading squidbots is kinda cool (though it really bothered me that the mecha design leaves the pilot completely unprotected).
I'm having trouble even remembering what filled up the rest of the running time of these movies, so inessential was it. Pointless filler plotlines and video-game style fetch quests involving keymasters, gatekeepers, the Source, the Trainman, the Merovingian (lamest villian ever) and so on ad nauseum. The not-particularly-interesting concept of "rogue programs" in the Matrix is introduced and driven into the ground; said programs get more screen time than most of the human characters, and the the humans still trapped in the Matrix (remember them? the ones you're trying to free?) are forgotten completely. Trinity is killed, then brought back to life, then killed again in an insultingly anticlimatic way, then gives a dramatic death speech that goes on so long it becomes self-parody. Secondary and tertiary characters we don't care about are introduced and then killed off. The Oracle drops vague hints. There is a lengthy rave sequence. A lot of people jump around in slow motion while shooting and/or kicking each other.
Most of all, there's talking. Not philosophy, not character development, just... talking. A lot of drivel about whether A knew B was going to do C, or whether W was fated to happen, or whether X already knows the anser to question Y deep in his heart, and whether or not he's ready to know Z. You may remember the theme of "fate vs. free will" from the first movie? The sequels don't do anything new with that theme, but they do erect giant flashing neon signs around it, in case we missed it. Also the movie makes damn sure we know that Trinity LUVS Neo A Lot and Neo LUVS Trinity Too and they are B.F.F. and in fact Trinity LUUUUVS Neo so much that she doesn't even care if she dies! They tell us this over and over again, and yet it remains unconvincing. (This is why the idea of "show, don't tell" was invented.)
Most offensive of all is the fawning adoration for The One. Much screen time is devoted to having all other characters remind us that Neo is The One and talk about how darn SPESHUL he is. Every character who agrees with and believes in Neo is vindicated, everyone who disagrees with him or doubts him is shown to be foolish. He can see without his eyeballs, shoot real robot-killing lightning, and go Super-Crucifix-Saiyin, and the only explanation is that he's Just That Special! All the other people are worthless compared to him. When they die, it's OK, because The One is the only character who matters, and the rest of them were just there to take bullets for him and inform the audience of his Specialness.
Seriously, Wachowski brothers, we GOT that you were recreating a messianic myth the first time; you didn't have to go all third-century Christian apologia on us. And you certainly didn't have to forget about everything that made the first movie good and replace it with a double-length pile of wanky Neo fanfic.
When I first saw the trailer for Dragonball: Evolution, I thought it had to be a joke. Like, a spoof of all the horrible Hollywood adaptations of beloved cartoon shows. No way could it be real, right? No way is Goku a white preppie suburban teenager with no tail. I mean, that trailer offended me pretty bad and I don't even like Dragonball that much.
Unfortunately, it is real. Is nothing sacred?
Above: A poster spotted in the Tokyo subway system. Notice how they show "Goku" from behind? Because that's the only way he looks anything like Goku. (And he only wears the kame-sennin gi for like the last ten minutes of movie, by the way). The other thing to note is that the words across the top and down the sides of the poster are fire safety messages reminding us to change the batteries in our smoke detectors and make sure the stove is off when we leave the house. I guess somebody thought the space given to this poster shouldn't go totally to waste.
Anyway, the airplane ride was really really long, so I ended up watching Dragonball: Evolution right after Matrix Revolutions, just to see how bad it is. Pure masochism, I know.
So, it was terrible, of course, but at least it was the entertaining kind of terrible. Entertainingly weird, that is. It's so disorganized as a film, so loopy and random, that it's hard to hate entirely. You can tell the actors are embarrassed about the whole thing, especially when they have to say their character names out loud. "Hi, I'm [bareley suppressed cringe] Chichi.".
The setting was really, really weird. Some scenes looked like they were set in modern America (or Hollywood's version of it) — where "Goku" goes to high school. High school!. Other scenes had everyone speaking Japanese. Still other scenes seemed to be set in a low-fidelity alternate reality at least somewhat similar to the Dragonball comics. It just went back and forth between mutually contradictory settings with no explanation or transitions or continuity. I think They Just Didn't Care. Yamcha is a frat bro with a truck? That can fly when the plot requires it? Sure, why not. Chichi goes to Goku's high school, but lives in a castle and regularly commutes to a lost temple in the middle of the desert for martial arts practice? Whatever. Piccolo is described as having been sealed away 2,000 years ago but starts the movie out flying around in an airship shooting meteors at people anyway? Meh, who cares. It's like they were just making up random crap to fill time as they went along.
Oh, and the Kamehameha is described as "the highest level of airbending technique". Airbending? Really?
I know I'm reading way too much into what was basically a feature-length Power Rangers episode, but this movie was in a really weird place culturally. Gohan (Goku's grandpa) is supposed to be Chinese, I think (he cooks chicken feet), but Goku is a white kid... but then his teacher asks him "what would your ancestors say about this eclipse?" like he was a marked ethnicity... are Saiyins a recognized minority at this school? Is Goku a perfectly reasonable name? Who knows, who cares. Then there's all the gratuitious Japanese-speaking in the background; and then, at one point Master Roshi (played by Chow Yun Fat, who is way too good for this movie) goes to consult his master, who is a black guy, and they say "Namaste" to each other, at which point I just gave up even trying to guess.
One last thing, then I'm done ranting. You know how there's a Standard Adventure Movie Plot Structure? This movie follows it religiously, to the point where you can guess what scene is coming next based only on how many minutes into the movie you are. "I think it's about time for the scene where the baddies wreck Goku's house and kill his granpa in an attempt to steal the dragonball, which will lead to the Hero's Call To Adventure.", I found myself thinking, and then a minute later it happened. "I wonder why we haven't seen any random mook monsters yet", I think, and then they show up. "It should be about time for the Designated Love Interest to offer her body as an incentive for the hero to train harder" and then she does (ba-arf). So the form was utterly predictable, even as the content was a bunch of crazy random crap and non-sequiturs. If it weren't for ripping off much better movies, the plot of Dragonball: Evolution would be pretty much incomprehensible. It just doesn't make any sense on its own.
So, all in all it's interesting as a kind of perfect example of the many ways that a movie can fail miserably. All it needs is a little bit of MST3K lovin' and it could be a cult classic.
I'm way late to this party (the casting choices were announced in December), but the pictures of the main characters just came out and they are so wrong that I had to add my two cents to the ongoing fan protest.
I had an interesting conversation a month or two back with a friend who thought that there was nothing wrong with using white actors for all the main characters. The way she saw it, they probably just picked the best actors for the roles, and who cares what the race of those actors is? Aren't the protesting fans the ones bringing race into it? Isn't it more racist to say that the actors shouldn't be white? (And besides, the cartoon characters didn't exactly correspond to real-world races, so...)
There was a time when I would have agreed with her, but now I realize there are a couple major things wrong with that logic.
One is assuming that the actors were chosen on merit, without reference to their race. As it turns out, that's giving Hollywood (specifically Paramount Pictures) way too much credit. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, but then I read this blog post (thanks to Chris for the link). (More here.)
So, first the casting call explicitly expressed a preference for Caucasians for the four main roles. True, they did say "Caucasian (or any other ethnicity)", but the fact that they expressed such a preference proves that the producers made a conscious decision to "whitewash" the characters.
Then, in the casting call for extras, they said quote "We want you to dress in traditional cultural ethnic attire. If you're Korean, wear a kimono.".
"If you're Korean, wear a kimono". Do I have to explain how wrong that is? (Ironically this is for the movie adaptation of a cartoon that got traditional Korean hanboks exactly right, in a random Earth Kingdom episode.) Paramount's casting director was saying loud and clear that they want white main characters, and they want asians only in background, non-speaking roles, reduced to their "traditional cultural ethnic attire".
Paramount, you suck.
The other important thing to understand, in order to contextualize the Avatar casting thing, is that the pattern matters. In a perfect world, maybe actors would be chosen strictly on acting skills, and we wouldn't care whether they matched the race of their characters.
But if you look at Hollywood movies, that's not the case. There is a depressing trend: White people are heroes, villians, and the whole range of roles in-between. Asians (including Asian Americans) are kung-fu masters who teach their skills to the white hero, or they are evil overlords/minions, exotic sexually available women, or nerds who are good at math. And very little else. Name me one American-made movie with an asian/asian-american main character not played by Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee. (Or, OK, Jet Li. That's three, and they're all famous for their martial arts.)
Let me tell you a little story. One of my Aikido friends in Chicago is a Japanese-american and an aspiring actor. He tries out for lots of roles, has done some stage work, etc. He almost got a minor part in The Dark Knight (would have been "asian lawyer #2" in one courtroom scene) but sadly the scene, and the part, got cut. The finished movie? It had, I think, one asian person in a speaking part and his one defining character trait was that he's "good at calculating". (Aarghh! Again with this stupid stereotype.)
Among the things that made the Avatar cartoon so special were its unusually respectful and well-researched depiction of Asian cultures, and its diverse cast of main characters. When I say diverse, I want to emphasize that in Avatar it was never a matter of including token minorities, or satisfying political correctness — it was part of portraying a complex and realistic world, where the relationships between the different races and cultures were always a major part of the story.
It was a cartoon that respected kids' intelligence. It offered kids a group of heroes comprising two brown-skinned, pseudo-Inuit siblings one pseudo-Tibetan boy, and it respected kids enough not to assume that the audience needed a white main character to identify with. Making a movie out of this cartoon would have been a great opportunity to buck the trend and give some young aspiring asian-american actors a chance to play heroes.
(Note that after coming under criticism, Paramount recast Zuko as an Indian-american dude. So, they lightened all three of the heroes and darkened the villian? I'm, um, not sure that's an improvement.)
I wish Hollywood respected its audience as much as the creators of the Avatar cartoon did, but it's obvious that they do not.
Friday night at my board game party, the topic of the Dragonlance animated movie came up, because somebody there didn't know it existed. He needed to be told of the horror. Me and Sushu actually own a copy of this train wreck on DVD. The conversation reminded me that I never got around to blogging my Dragonlance rant, so here goes...
This movie is a really, really special kind of bad. I think the scene with the monks sums it up best. (This is the only version of the video I could find, so just ignore the Portugese subtitles on top of Hebrew subtitles and the Michael Jackson in the corner. Even though they're the only good things about this clip.)
No, this is not a dream, or an Internet parody. They really made a whole movie like this. The dialogue is terrible, the voice acting is worse (surprising as there are some supposedly decent actors slumming in it). 2d and 3d animation are melded together in the most awkward way imaginable, highlighting the weaknesses of both. Even if you sit through the whole thing, you never get used to the animation. Every scene finds new ways to drag the art of animation down to depths that would embarrass a Saturday-morning cartoon.
(My favorite part about the monk scene is that none of the Draconians in the movie ever show any signs of being able to speak English at all, except in this one scene and only when hidden in monk robes.)
Um, no. The movie sucks by being too slavishly faithful to the book. There are way too many characters squeezed in and no time in the movie for most of them to get any character development, or in fact to do anything except stand around in the back of the party like cardboard cutouts and occasionally make a one-liner to express their one-dimensional personality. But OH NO, they HAVE TO BE THERE because they're in the book and some internet nerd might complain if the all-important Tasselhoff Burrfoot, say, were taken out to tighten up the screenplay! The movie doesn't even try to be accessible to anyone not already well-versed in stupid D&D lore; when watching it with Sushu we had many "You would know this if you had read Lord of the God Kings!" moments, with me in the role of Gabe. Why the hell is valuable space in my brain being taken up knowing about Kender, Gully Dwarves, and why Raistlin's pupils are hourglass-shaped? Gah!!
I'm going to commit gamerdork heresy and state that blame for the stupidity of the plot and characters belongs to hack novelists Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis, and not the film animators. Unlike most long-time D&D geeks, I never thought the Dragonlance books were all that great. Even when I was a dumb kid reading the original trilogy during lunch breaks in high school, I had a lot of issues with it. The plot is nothing but a bunch of magical McGuffins, and the characters are whiny and have no personality beyond their Fantasy Ethnic Stereotypes. The third book in particular was a wall-banger. (Dear lord look at the fanboys orgasming all over that Amazon review thread). Major events happen off-screen, NPCs do the important jobs while PCs watch, subplots appear out of nowhere, and critical conflicts hinge on arbitrary magical objects that were never mentioned before. (That dude with the jewel in his chest? WTF?) And the dwarf unceremoniously dies for no apparent reason. Like, literally, he's just walking along when he has a heart attack and dies.
It's not just that you're reading somebody else's D&D campaign. It's that you're reading about a campaign you wouldn't want to play in.
And remember, this is what 12-year-old Jono thought of these books. 12-year-old Jono thought the fucking Sword of Shannara series was good. What would I think of Dragonlance if I read it now, now that I have developed taste, now that we have books like Game of Thrones around showing that fantasy doesn't have to suck? The fact that the Dragonlance novels were New York Times Bestsellers proves only that people in the 80s were desperate to read any crap as long as it had dragons and wizards on the cover.
James Maliszewski at the old-school D&D blog Grognardia argues that Dragonlance was a huge influence, for the worse, on the development of both fantasy fiction and role-playing games in the 80s and 90s:
whereas Shanarra and Dragonlance are both quite obviously Tolkien knock-offs in broad outline -- being epic fantasies whose settings are pastiches of Middle Earth -- Dragonlance, by being associated with D&D, is the one that probably formed the imaginations of more future fantasy writers. This next generation of writers would, instead of imitating Tolkien, imitate Weis and Hickman, thereby starting the process by which D&D -- and fantasy RPGs in general -- would be snakes swallowing their own tails creatively.
I never played any of the Dragonlance adventure modules for 1st and 2nd edition AD&D. Even though I read the novels at the same time as I was getting into D&D I had no desire to do so, which should tell you something. But from what I hear about them, they were the first major published adventures based on prescripted plot. Previously, adventures were maps of locations where you could go adventuring at your own pace; post-Dragonlance, they shifted to being Epic Storylines that player characters would be thrown into. They had pregen characters (i.e. you WOULD be playing the characters from the book) and those characters had to act a certain way to move the plot forward. Certain events were required to happen or you wouldn't be able to play the next adventure in the series. In other words, they were the first published adventures to require heavy railroading on the part of the DM to function.
This approach was already well-established by 1994, when I got into D&D. Every sample adventure I read was full of "When the PCs do this..." and didn't say what the GM was supposed to do if the PCs didn't do that. Game texts at the time didn't explain any other way to play, because at the time they mostly didn't explain how to play at all, except to warn us that Dungeon Crawling Was Immature And Bad And You Should Aim To Have A Story Instead. The old-school D&D tools for fun nonlinear adventuring had been lost or hidden by the post-Dragonlance gamerculture bias for Story Good Dungeon Bad. It took me a while to realize that the pre-scripted approach to story creation Just Doesn't Work, and is guaranteed to make gaming miserable every time you try it. But when we tried to play without a scripted storyline, the result was usually a bunch of random fights and wandering around, and no story at all.
I didn't figure out how to make role-playing reliably fun until 200-fucking-7. And now I know that Dragonlance gets some of the blame for that.
So! In conclusion: Dragonlance! Terrible movie, terrible books, AND it helped ruin both role-playing games and fantasy fiction. What's not to love?
But I think the Star Wars prequel trilogy is really something special. These are no ordinary bad movies, to be watched once, laughed at, and forgotten. These movies are way beyond that. They had everything going for them - the story George Lucas was supposedly dying to tell for 20 years, unlimited budget and CGI technology, tons of time and fame and reputation and even love went into them, and they had a built-in audience of fanatical fanboys...
... and with all that, they weren't just, like, mediocre-bad. They weren't just not-as-good-as-the-originals bad. They were fundamentally screwed up at the most basic level of storytelling competence.
The prequel trilogy needs to be saved and passed down to future generations as a monument to human folly. Anyone who wants to learn about writing and how to tell a story, especially in science fiction (and I know I do) should study these movies in order to learn how to avoid their many mistakes. We should maybe even thank George Lucas for giving us the Rosetta Stone of bad filmmaking.
It's a total of 70 minutes long (!!) almost half as long as the movie it's "reviewing". It's an epic takedown, a dissection of every mistake. The reviewer barely even wastes time on the surface-level mistakes like Jar-Jar and midicholorians and excessive CG. We already know that stuff is bad; why waste time rehashing it? Instead, the reviewer goes for the deeper structural problems in the story, like the fact that it has no protagonist, the villain's plan makes no sense, and nothing is at stake in any of the battles.
The reviewer also takes on a bizzare persona, talking in a "creepy old man" voice and dropping hints that he is a serial killer who does whatever his Pizza Rolls tell him to do. Eventually the police come for him. (This is how you make a 70-minute-long review stay interesting: give it a plotline of its own...) He also splices in behind-the-scenes clips to support the thesis that everyone was too scared of Lucas to challenge his ideas.
So, check out this post on The First Draft of Star Wars. It quotes extensively from the very first draft, from 1974 of the first Star Wars movie. It's... very different from what ended up on the screen. It's also amazingly, hilariously bad. It starts on the planet Utapau, Luke Skywalker is over 60 years old, the main character is "Anakin Starkiller", there's a space fortress that gets blown up by Wookies, and a major plot element is a belt of test tubes containing liquid scientist brains. I am not making any of this up. There's way too much clunky exposition of backstory that nobody would care about, and the whole thing just sucks.
For me, that clinches it. George Lucas is rubbish at writing. The only reason any of the Star Wars movies were any good at all was because of the people who forced him to keep revising his original drafts... or who wrote the script for him, in some cases. The badness of the prequel trilogy wasn't because Lucas, like, forgot how to make a good movie. The badness comes from Lucas getting exactly what he wanted, with nobody telling him "no". Exactly what he asked for in his first draft.
Scary, isn't it?
Some other miscellaneous links.
The same reviewer also does some very funny and spot-on takedowns of Star Trek movies in the same fashion. The one for Generations is a good place to start.
I've also been enjoying Darths And Droids, a photo-comic which reimagines the prequel trilogy as the output of a role-playing campaign that jumps off the rails in the first session and never really recovers. The plot makes no sense because the GM is desperately trying to improvise. The guy playing Qui-Gon is an idiot, the guy playing R2-D2 is a ruthless min-maxer, and when somebody's kid sister wants to play they let her create a character... she comes up with Jar-Jar. Everything makes so much more sense this way.
I can't understand why everybody at Mozilla is so excited for this Tron sequel. The original Tron was a terrible movie: Slow, boring, nonsensical plot, stupid costumes, and it pushed the idea that computers are full of magical computer fairies who are like little people running around doing things, which is not just wrong but insultingly wrong, like making a movie where the sun goes around the earth. And sequels, especially ones made 30 years later, are always worse than the originals. Besides, computer graphics, which were the point of Tron, are no longer interesting since they're now in every movie.
How could it be anything but terrible? And yet people at the office today are all excited about it and are planning a group trip to the movie theater. I don't get it.
Going to the Ghibli Museum made me want to catch up on the more recent Ghibli movies I never saw, so after I got back from Japan I watched Howl's Moving Castle and A Wizard of Earthsea.
Ugh. They were not good.
Howl's Moving Castle had a lot of interesting elements in it, but they didn't seem to add up to much. A lot of time was spent setting up the war and setting up The Witch of the Wastes and then neither of them did anything in the resolution. It felt like one of those roleplaying sessions where the players all lost interest in the original plot hook and focused on a side plot until it became the main plot. I haven't read the original book so I can't compare, but from Sushu's descriptions it sounds like they took a unique story and crammed it into the "generic Ghibli movie" mold.
I can compare the Wizard of Earthsea movie, though, and wow. As a huge fan of Studio Ghibli and an equally huge fan of Ursula le Guin's Earthsea trilogy, I was originally pretty excited to hear that the former was animating the latter. Then I heard it sucked. But dayum I was not prepared for this level of suckage. It was way beyond "disappointing". It wasn't just that it completely missed the point of the books (thought it did): it completely failed to work on the most basic level as a piece of narrative fiction. There are whole scenes where nothing remotely relevant to the story happens at all. Just beautifully animated scenes of dudes plowing farmland and eating stew, and plowing more farmland and eating more stew, for what feels like forever. I got so bored I started yelling at the screen, "Plot! Plot! Where did you go, plot? Are you ever coming back?"
The story, such as it was, is a fanfictiony mash-up that pastes elements of the first and fourth books onto the basic idea of the third (The Farthest Shore). This is an odd choice since it means Ged isn't the main character; he's the Wise Mentor Guy who leads Prince Arren around offering spiritual-sounding but extremely vague advice.
There's an intro scene where a king and some wizards fret about the magic seeping out of the world and the balance of nature and stuff, then we never see any of those guys again. Almost all of the movie takes place on land, which is a damn shame. Ged drags Arren to live in a farmhouse with a woman he knows from Book Two. They eat stew and plow fields for so long that this movie should have been called "Farmhand II: The Plowening". Ged goes off to do Wizard Stuff we never get to see. The standard Miyazaki tropes show up: Generic-faced destiny girl? Check! Viscous black goop representing black magic or industrial pollution? Check!
Finally about half an hour before the end the movie shifts gears and starts rushing towards what feels like the climax of an unrelated story. There's some fights and about three speeches in a row about how Death Is An Important Part Of Life And The Cycle Of Nature So Trying To Be Immortal Is Really Bad. This was a big theme in the book, but the difference is that good writers like Ursula le Guin express themes by having characters live them. The characters in this crappy movie just randomly decide to make heavy-handed philosophy speeches that come out of nowhere and have nothing to do with the story.
The only decent things about this movie are a well-animated midair fight between two dragons (which has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie) and a nice drum-and-flute song called Kachoufuugetsu -- which we're now learning to play in our taiko class.
1. Pacing is awful. Every scene feels rushed. There's no time for any scene to breathe because it's all bam, bam, bam, gotta get to the next plot point. The cuts are so fast, and jump so much in time and space, that the whole movie feels like one long montage.
The movie is overstuffed with plot points, like they mashed together the scripts for two or three different stories and then forced it all to fit in the alloted time by cutting every scene down to a few seconds.
Each time the camera cuts you're like "Is this the same scene? The next day? Months later?" Who knows?
2. Everybody speaks in monologues. Gordon delivers monologues, Alfred delivers monologues, holy crap does Bane deliver monologues. The way we know how Bruce feels is by other people monologuing at him about how he feels. What's-her-name can't just stab Batman, she has to give this ridiculously long monologue about how revenge is best served cold. Oh my god, Bane, are you STILL talking?
3. There's barely any Batman in this movie! He hardly says anything and he hardly does any Batman stuff. For large stretches he's off screen, and when he's on screen he's boring. He just mopes around, or does push-ups in prison.
Gordon, Catwoman, and Robin were the heroes of this movie; Bruce Wayne was a shlumpy guy who took up way too much screen time doing boring things. At least Catwoman was pretty cool. She rescued most of her scenes with stylish ass-kickery and not-giving-a-damn.
4. The bad guys' plan makes no sense. I don't even know what Bane wants. The movie focuses obsessively on Bane's backstory, flashing back to it repeatedly, yet never tells us *why* he does anything except for "Ummmm.... League of Shadows! Handwave!"
I guess Bane thinks Gotham is corrupt and needs to be destroyed? Even though it's much less corrupt than it was eight years ago? So he steals a nuke that can blow up the city, but instead of detonating it, he gives the detonator to... a random citizen? And then sets a really weird list of conditions, like nobody's allowed to leave the city, but he also blows up the bridges so they can't leave anyway? And the bomb will blow up after three months anyway even if he doesn't set it off? Then he gives speeches about "I HAVE GIVEN YOU BACK YOUR CITY!" and sets up a weird kangaroo court that makes people walk on ice?
Three months later, he still hasn't detonated the bomb. If he wanted to destroy Gotham why didn't he set if off already? Some weird thing about wanting to give people false hope? Nope, sorry, I don't get it.
Later we find out, in a really shitty twist, that the Bane backstory we saw was... actually somebody else's backstory! Great, so we know nothing about Bane. He's just a super-goon with a scary mask and a silly voice and a plan that makes no sense for a motive that's never established.
5. Gotham's government is overthrown and it's cut off from the outside world for three months and ruled by a gang of convicts. That sounds interesting! What sort of society emerges? Do ordinary people turn on each other or do they band together? You could get an interesting movie out of that premise alone.
But Dark Knight Rises barely touches on it. They've got a kangaroo court that convicts the rich and powerful in some sort of half-assed French Revolution Reign of Terror analogue. There's a couple scenes with random perfunctory looting in the background. That's it. We never see anyone really affected by these changes, because there are no characters representing the perspective of ordinary Gotham citizens.
For a movie that seems to be trying to do some kind of (ham-fisted) class-warfare story, it's odd that we only ever see things from the perspective of the rich and powerful.
Explore the one interesting concept the movie has given us? No time for that, we have to cut back to what Bruce is doing down in the pit!
6. The pit. The stupid, stupid pit. WHYYYYYYYY. Why does the movie spend so much screen time on this dumb pit jail that Bane sticks Bruce in? Why is there a rope dangling from the top to help people try to climb out? Why is one of the prison inmates a miraculous doctor capable of fixing a broken back by punching it? Where is this pit, Morocco? Are you telling me Bane interrupted his very important plan of not-blowing-up-Gotham just to take unconscious Bruce Wayne on an 11-hour plane flight to Africa because, what, he wants Bruce to share his very special hell-pit childhood memories? That aren't actually his memories? You never see any wardens so, like, who even runs this prison? After he gets out Bruce doesn't have any money or anything - how does he get back to Gotham? Hitchhike? He's just magically there in time for the next scene, perfectly clean-shaven. Time and space are meaningless in this movie.
7. Every single cop in the city goes into the sewers at the same time? So they can all get trapped down there at once? Seems like most cities would probably have a policy against doing something that dumb with their police force. But don't worry, the police are all fine stuck in the sewers for three months, and they come out healthy and still in clean uniforms. But then they charge, unarmed, straight at Bane's army and get cut down. Is "Suicide charge" a tactic they teach at police academy, or did they learn that in the sewer?
8. The final Batman/Bane confrontation is just the two of them punching each other really stiffly and awkwardly on some snowy steps. All this buildup and you're not even going to give us a cool fight scene? This fight makes them both look slow and clumsy. It's the opposite of exciting.
9. WHY SO SERIOUS? This film is constantly beating you over the head with how GRIMDARK it is and how SERIOUS you're supposed to take it. The tone never lets up. Just listen to all that CHANTING! Can't you feel the apocalyptic fervor? DUDES IN MASKS PUNCHING EACH OTHER IS VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS! Somebody got so wrapped up in making Batman serious that he forgot Batman is supposed to be fun and heroic too. But the material isn't substantial enough to support the tone, so it just comes off as even more ridiculous.
In the end, the only really enjoyable part of this movie was making fun of Bane's voice.
Hollywood movies have always been pretty formulaic, but if you feel like they've gotten even more formulaic lately, you're not crazy. Because lately all the screenwriters are following the same book, that tells them not only how to structure a plot, but exactly what page of the script each plot point should happen on.
The book is called "Save the Cat" (as in, a random thing you have your hero do in Act 1 to make them likeable), it's by Blake Snyder, and there's a website here where they dissect one movie after another to show how they all (with sufficient prodding) fit into Blake Snyder's all-encompassing 15-beat plot structure.
I mean, it's a good structure. You can see how it keeps the movie moving along at a good pace, gives you a framework for setting up the villain's plan, works in time for one character to have a rudimentary character development arc, etc.
It's certainly better than flailing around with vague character and setting ideas in search of a plot (raises hand guiltily)
But I take issue with the claim that it's the only workable plot structure. There's so much that it doesn't allow: Sad endings, for instance. Stories with more than one dynamic character. Anything where the loose ends don't get all nicely wrapped up by the climax. And this is why movies are not my favorite storytelling medium. There's only so much you can do in 2 hours anyway, but Hollywood has put even more restrictions on the form to the point where every movie is pretty much the same. There's always a scene 3/4 of the way through when everything seems to have gone wrong and the hero gets their big soul-searching moment to regret their mistakes before coming up with the new plan that kicks off the climactic sequence. (Point 12 of Blake Snyder's master plan.)
The most charitable interpretation is that Hollywood movies have become a highly formalized art form, like sonnets and haikus, where the art is all in working within the structure. The less kind way of putting it is that Hollywood just wants to make the same movie over and over, because they're afraid of gambling their investment on less than a sure thing. (The movie they keep making is the story of a young white guy who doesn't play by the rules, discovering who he truly is and overcoming the odds to prove he's the best at... whatever. And getting the girl.)
That might explain why Pacific Rim, despite its super-cool visuals, had such a predictable, generic plot with such boring, generic characters.
It might explain why like 5 of the last 6 action/adventure movies I've seen all ended with the (white male) main character bravely sacrificing his life to save the world... and then miraculously turning up alive anyway, through handwavy plot shenanigans that would make Aslan embarrassed. Isn't it nice, getting to sacrifice yourself without actually dying?