UPDATED: Christopher Nolan's people have reached out to us and denied this quote. For more, click here.
What was Christopher Nolan's contribution to Man of Steel? For one he made director Zack Snyder watch US Army test footage to get a sense of how objects move at high velocity. And he stopped the studio from adding a post-credits stinger. According to the Guardian:
When the studio asked if Snyder would add a comedy coda ending, in the style of Marvel, Nolan’s reply was “A real movie wouldn’t do that.”
Apparently what a real movie does is cover every scene in exposition, like Interstellar. I know that some will take my irritation at this quote as a kneejerk defense of Marvel, but the reality is that it's an irritation at the sniffy Cult of Nolan in general, the cold-blooded quality of seriousness that too many confuse for depth and meaning. The Nolan stuff always gets played out in the media in the same way. Someone on Twitter put it perfectly:
@devincf It seems like they are treating him like gallant and goofus with Michael Bay and pretending no other directors exist.— Kirkules (@KirkVaughn) November 4, 2014
This is the entire problem not only with the Cult of Nolan but also the Doomsday Cult of Cinema in general - they look only at the most extreme ends of the spectrum and make sweeping proclamations. The end of movies are upon us, they cry, as Nightcrawler is in theaters alongside Fury and Gone Girl. It's all cartoons for kids, they weep as they gnash their teeth and extol a Broken Windows philosophy of cinema.
And here's the thing: this insistence on holding Nolan on our shoulders as the Defender of the Realm of True Big Budget Cinema is going to look really ill-timed as it comes during the hype period for Interstellar. The film is good enough that I gave it a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes - you should see it, yes - but it's also so flawed and problematic that the more I think about it the more it diminishes, like the wonders of space when subjected to the narrow and literal gaze of Nolan himself. This isn't quite the Emperor's New Clothes, but the Emperor is definitely wearing threads that are not as nice as people keep telling him.
This comes on the heels of The Dark Knight Rises, a movie that only works as a self-loathing rebuke of the previous two films and that, even then, barely works as a coherent piece of cinema. That we've given the movie as much of a pass as we have is simply evidence that we keep accepting Nolan's lizardy chilliness as being meaningful.
Let's parse that whole quote from The Guardian. Not only is Nolan against a post-credits stinger, he's against it being comedic. This is Nolan at his Nolaniest - being a strict structuralist (movies only exist until the end credits! And there are such things as 'real movies') and a total killjoy. The jokes in his Batfilms are basically quips that would make you smirk over your cup of tea. In a way this is brillant in The Dark Knight - the Joker's almost aggressive lack of humor elevates the character to the level of greatness. He's his own antithesis, a true distillation of nihilistic anarchy. And the chilliness works in Inception; yes, Nolan's dreamworld is sexless and without wonder, but he's examining the precision of a great heist first and foremost. He's interested in teams working together as professionals, and that works in that film.
Which is to say that I don't mind Nolan being overly self-serious, but at the same time that approach doesn't work with everything. Like Man of Steel - that's a movie that could only have been improved by a little kick of comedy. It can't be that Nolan is against shilling for sequels as he ended Batman Begins with an advertisement for the next film in the form of a playing card. It can only be that he is dogmatic about the structure and tone of movies.
I'm interested in seeing the popular reaction to Interstellar; we live in a time when the cinema is full of wonders visualized, so stunning special effects don't have the same cache that they did in the era of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I don't believe the spectacle of Interstellar is enough to overcome the film's storytelling and character problems, and I'm curious to see if the public essentially agrees.
And if they do, will the people who push Nolan as the Defender of the Realm write these folks off as fools, never once taking into account that maybe the cinema needs some blood running through its veins?