"Posh burgers": what do you make of literary action movies?

Charlie Brooker offers ambivalent praise for the Batman-Bond trend toward smarter, more literary action movies.

The Dark Knight Rises can't simply be a popcorn movie about a man who dresses as a bat and fights a bloke with a jockstrap on his face. No. It's The Seventh Seal in a cape. Skyfall isn't about a globetrotting secret agent with a trouser-phobic dick. No. It's an essay on matriarchs and Bond as a cultural signifier. No bad thing. If the year's two biggest blockbusters strive to be meatier than Transformers, hooray. Hooray, hooray, hooray.


Q: What do Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises and a hamburger have in common? A: See below [Guardian]


  1. I guess I get what he’s trying to say, but I’d rather films try to have some higher meaning or “meat”, and just deal with the fact that they may be trying too hard or may be misrepresenting that they’re “pop”, than have to sit through a film that acknowledges fully that it’s a blockbuster pop movie and gouges even bigger holes in its plot because it doesn’t care.

    1.  Though admittedly going that way can have its own charms. I laughed quite hearthily at 2012 – though probably not where I was supposed to.

    2. I was just arguing this last night.  I would say, in my experience, that the opposite is the case; both Avengers & Dark Knight Rises have plot points; Avengers, however, has smaller holes that are largely holes that some no-prize hand waving can cover.  Dark Knight Rises has huge systemic holes in it, predicated on “serious twists” that are meant to wow the audience but do so at the expense of…well, all of the characters & plot.

    3. The point made sense to me: if you want to your higher meaning to have impact, the first step is not to have reality work inexplicably like a video game.

  2. TDKR (can I do that?) was held back by a lack of emotional involvement in Bruce Wayne’s plight, and hastily explained-away return to form.

    It was a grown-up theme that had to retain interest for the kiddlies.  Entertaining, but it felt like the producers looked at their future revenue streams for Batman and forced the director to sit between two stools.

    Sure, there were lots of influences that had good form, but the overall synthesis came out less as a finely tuned burger (which appeals to everyone) than a souped-up McD.

    1. I agree.   I thought it tried to do much, introduce and do a complete backstory on Bane, almost the same for catwoman and focus on Batman’s and Catwoman’s relationship and look at Batman’s personal failings.  For me it lost all the things that could have made it great.  I was really disappointed in it.

  3. I think you could throw an h in there as well and make the case that Bond and Bats are posh burghers as well.

  4. It depends entirely on the movie. Marvel is perfectly happy being light pop corn entertainment, because that’s what suites Avengers etc just fine.

    Both Batman and Bond benifited from a more seriouse tone as their characters are more seriouse; a vigilanty and an international spy.
    And also to wash away the super sillyness both franchises had devolved into.

  5. smarter, more literary action movies

    Does he mean films like Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back?  So what’s not to like?

    For years the complaint has been that screenwriting took a back seat to the sordid CGI spectacle onscreen.  Now with the opposite trend, the author is trying to pin down some amorphous, clever punditry half-hunch and fails at it.  And what’s with the mini-jpgs blown up to blurry full-page proportions in that website?

  6. Cinema is supposed to be “cinematic”, not “literary.” The “meat” of film is raw, visceral emotion, not symbolism and social commentary. Let movies do what movies do best.
    Also, I hate to be the one to say it, but Transformers is actually a pretty good movie by those standard. It’s got some backwards social politics, but at the end of the day, it’s a far better, smarter, more effective film than people give it credit for. Think of it as our generation’s Commando.

      1. Ok. I just mean that judging a film according to it’s literary merits is like judging a CD by its cover art or a videogame by its cutscenes. You can do it, I guess, but it kind of misses the point. If you want something literary, why not read literature.

        1. Book cover is a lot less important than meaning to a story. Film is meant as a tool to entertain. I find a story with meaning entertaining.

          1. I agree! But the meaning should come out of the film form. TDKR deals with sacrifice, corruption, etc. There are ways to write that kind of depth into a screenplay that doesn’t just resort to characters talking endlessly in shot-reverse-shot.

  7. I don’t think they succeeded in making Bond more “literary”, what I do believe is that they have killed part of the fantasy of Bond as “unattainable” or kind of the cinematic equivalent of aspirational luxury goods.

    To me, Bond (and Bond girls) have always been sort of like looking at luxury magazines depicting 50k suits or dresses: beautiful but not realistic or even attainable. This latest Bond, with a semi beaten Craig, full of hesitation and “humanity” has done away with that fantasy. In Skyfall, Bond is more of a regular spy one could imagine working with Gary Oldman’s Smiley rather than the high end, glamorous guy he always was.

    1. I’m not sure it’s a result of being more literary or Craig’s Bond having more humanity, but I thought Skyfall was seriously lacking in the FUN I associate with Bond movies.  I just watched Live and Let Die again recently.  Cheesy 70’s corny as hell Roger Moore but the shit was a lot of fun to watch.  Skyfall has an homage to Live and Let Die’s Roger Moore dashing to safety across the backs of crocodiles when Craig uses the back of a Komodo dragon to leap out of a pit.

      1. Yes on the fun factor! the same can be said of Bond’s relationships with the “Bond girls”. It used to be cheesy, almost absurd romance and now it is full of tortured feelings and lacks the joy of yesteryear. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Daniel Craig and I think he looks smashing as Bond (or better said, looked until this last movie where they seem to have purposefully aged him) but this Bond is just too “dark” for my escapist taste.

    2. I’m a chick and I HATE how they have tried to PC up Bond. Make him “fall in love.” Yuck. The guy is supposed to a super-studly douchebag, good with a gun, quick with a stick shift, and good looking in a tux. The women should be insanely hot and insanely good in bed, preferably with names that would make a porn star blush. Why they have taken the fantasy and fun out of the Bond series and turned it into any old generic action film is beyond me. But, I like Daniel Craig. That man is some fine eye-candy. That’s what this is all supposed to be about, amirite?

  8. I guess he has a point, but I saw these movies some time ago, its easy to dismiss the fridge logic now.

    I also remember thinking that banes plan was a bit… (insert underpants gnome reference here). But in the end, it was a movie about batman instead of featuring batman, and I did enjoy it on that level.

    In the end though, i think the dark knight will still be relevant in 10 years while the dark knight rises might be forgotten sort of like how the first matrix is a good movie if you ignore the fact that its the first movie in a trilogy. :)

    1. That’s the thing though, The Matrix was a single movie upon which two sequels were hastily grafted once the studio saw its success.

      1. And TDKR was a poor remix of elements from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but mostly BB. League of Shadows villains? Check. Identity of the real bad guy revealed in the end? Check. Overly complicated plot to destroy the city that fails in James Bond-villain ways due to the arrogance of explaining the damn plot to the good guy and waiting long enough to give him time to stop the plot? Check.

        The only new thing that TDKR added was a femme fatale, who sadly ended up as a mere sidekick.

  9. I think in about five or six years time, the Nolan Batman’s will be the cinematic equivalent of bell-bottom flares – people will look back and wonder en masse what the fuck they were thinking.  The Nolan brothers sense of plotting is extremely unwieldy (it was bad in Dark Knight and absolutely abysmal in Rises), they’re awful at writing dialogue (characters never rise above plot devices, exposition-machines, and symbolic ciphers), rather than respecting the intelligence of their audience, these movies consistently insult it by over-articulating/explaining their banalities ( how many “I am a symbol/you are a symbol of” speeches are there in Dark Knight?), and to top everything off, Nolan remains extremely poor with regard to blocking and editing action sequences. 

    I think the point might be not so much that pop movies shouldn’t take themselves seriously, but just that they should do it well if they decide to go down that route. Casino Royale took itself quite seriously, and I think it worked brilliantly, largely because it was smartly written, character-driven, and grown-up. I didn’t go to Skyfall because friends (including life-long Bond fanatics) kept telling me the same thing: not nearly as good as Casino Royale, wait for DVD.

    1. I think you’re wrong about Batman.

      I think in about five or six years time, the Nolan Batmans will be looked upon very favourably. A product of their time, certainly. But no more than The Crow is a product of it’s time, which still has a great deal of artistic merit even if it does feel somewhat dated these days.

      I think people will look back and realise that the Nolan Batman films are about as dark as the Dark Knight will ever get on the cinema screen. Any darker, and they risk losing too much of their audience. Any lighter, and people will be annoyed that the character is not being taken seriously.

      It may not be literary or cinematic perfection (assuming your idea of cinematic perfection is the original 3-hour long Russian version of Solaris, for example), but it’s as close as Batman is ever likely to get in our lifetime.

  10. I think the litter-airy treatments are great, but work best when the cinematic elements are also first-rate. I’d be way happier with Nolan’s plumbing the depths of all things Batty if he could direct–edit together a halfway coherent action scene. It’s like he’s got this Fritz Lang obsession but without Lang’s killer chops. 

  11. Action movies can be dark and philosophical, no problem, all I ask for is that they make the slightest bit of fucking sense. I´m talking about Skyfall here. Beautiful visuals and great acting all undone by an awful script.

    1. Agreed. There were too many “what were they thinking?” moments. I don’t understand why I heard “greatest Bond movie ever” before I went to see it.

      **Spoiler Alert**

      Why would the new Q be stupid enough to plug the villain’s laptop into their damn network? He’s young, but he wouldn’t have that position if he could be that stupid.

      1. **Spoiler Alert**

        Why would Silva be sitting on a deserted island just to host a few servers, waiting for Bond to come there and capture him with the clever use of a radio signal (holy shit that was clever!), only to escape from his cell via said laptop and blow up a subway tunnel just to get to M, when he could just fly to London walk up to her and fucking shoot her (or enter her home, which doesn´t seem to be much of a challenge)?

        Why would Bond take M to a house in the middle of nowhere, taking no serious weapons and supplies with them and actually lead Silva there, instead of using the manpower and infrastructure of the secret service to protect her?

        Why would the mercenaries politely leave their cars at the front gate and walk slowly across the wide open space with no cover whatsoever instead of blowing the fucking place up with their combat helicopter right away?

        Why would that weird scottish guy that seems to be living in the deserted house on his own in the middle of nowhere with all the furniture covered up, take M through a secret tunnel to safety, then proceed to wave around his damn flashlight like a madman until every last one of the mercenaries knows exactly where they are?

        Goddammit, what a mess!

  12. I wondered why Brooker didn’t just come out and say that the Joel Schumacher Batman films were his favorites. To extend the burger metaphor a bit more, the Schumacher films were the cinematic equivalent of Guy Fieri’s new restaurant.

  13. I like what the writer said about these films seemingly being embarrassed by their own premise. I haven’t seen Skyfall, but I came to a similar conclusion after each of the last two Nolan Batman movies.

    It seemed like instead of continuing on the trajectory set by the first movie and embracing that Batman is a completely impossible masked vigilante comic book hero and creating a universe where that worked and wasn’t too far removed from our own (i.e. no super powers and better gadgets), Nolan responded to the praise by trying to make it more than it was.  To Nolan, that apparently meant unrelenting, heavy handed grittiness and awful, obvious expository dialogue to make it feel “real” instead of like a movie about a guy who dresses like a bat and fights oddball criminals.  Ledger’s performance helped that be less obvious in The Dark Knight, but with Nolan’s Bane as the bad guy, there was no hiding that Nolan seems to be a one trick pony.  By the end of the trilogy, Nolan’s “grit” was just as absurd as the “POW!” and “WHAM!” graphics of Adam West’s Batman.

    That said, I actually enjoyed all three movies.  I just don’t understand the mountains of praise, hardcore fandom or the need to try and portray them as high art.  They were enjoyable movies.  Isn’t that enough?

  14. The 80’s were way too po-faced.  Breakfast Club made me want to hurt myself.  When I watched it – in ’99 – we called it emo. So chalk gloomy guss Batman up to cyclical aesthetics. I’m certainly not wearing 90’s jeans (again) yet. You can’t make me. Though I gather you brits still enjoy a good Doc Marten. Worn with MFG and No Fear, I presume.

  15. FWIW, on the whole, Brooker is perfect for BB – Brit, snarky, a little smarmy, and understands the inner workings of what he mocks (his bits on reality TV and news presentation are awesome), and Gameswipe…well, I wish he’d actually make a full series of it, since he’s written on the subject of Videogames for years, even peppering his normal tv/culture/news references with Videogame references. If you get the chance to watch Screenwipe/Nwswipe/Screenwipe, do.

  16. Others have said – perhaps better – but I’ve gotta reiterate that the issue isn’t that these films’ directors want to elevate their creations but that they often do so by jamming incoherent and convoluted plot trappings into every nook & cranny. This is not far removed from the way that George Lucas nuked the fridge on the Star Wars prequels.

    Even as captivating and intriguing as Catwoman and Bane were, I found Nolan’s 3rd Batman film to be super-intense, gloomy mess with plot points that required mental acrobatics to follow well. And he simply tried to cram entirely too much into a single movie. It’s as though the juggernaut rode the poor director into the ground on the way to its own conclusion.

    And there was waaaaay too much Batpod! Apparently nobody in the production crew ever heard the quote, “Always leave them wanting more.” Over-reliance on a gimick is precisely why the young digital Jeff Bridges was a flop in “Tron Legacy” – had we been shown much less, it would’ve had the desired “Whoa!” impact, but we saw enough to have ample time to find the flaws.

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