Contradicting Popular Opinion:
An Enquiry Concerning Why Your Favorite Movie Sucks
I saw The Presitge a few weeks ago. I didn’t enjoy it, surprise, surprise.
The thing is, it seems to be a popular little flick among my peers. I’ve asked a lot of folks wherein lies the film’s appeal. So far, I’ve found two answers to be acceptable: 1) they’ll watch anything with David Bowie and 2) parts of the film are steampunkish.
Apparently, there are other things which are appealing about this flick. Currently it is in IMDB’s top 150 movies of all time.
What’s so funny about Prestige, love and understanding?
This column will be loaded with spoilers. This is all the warning you get.
Let’s get plot summary right out of the way. The Prestige is set about 100 years ago, and tells the story of two rival magicians, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Those are the actors’ names not the characters. Their characters’ names in this film are not Batman and Wolverine, but it is difficult not to refer to them as such. I won’t not refer to them by those names. Anyways the two pointy masked super-heroes work together for a spell. Then Batman might have, possibly, could have, maybe, exacerbated conditions during a magic trick causing Wolverine’s Coyote Ugly bride to die. This, possible, action leads to a somewhat deadly prank war between the two.
Wait, wait, you’re saying. What did Batman do to kill Coyote Ugly? Well, he and Wolverine were working as plants for another magician. Wolverine’s wife was doing a water tank escape. Batman might have, at Coyote Ugly‘s request mind you, tied a knot that was more difficult to escape than had been practiced previously. She was trapped in the tank, pounding away on the glass. The tank was chopped open, and she was dead by the time she was freed, which is weird as she had only passed out moments before she was out of the water. Usually you get a good 3-4 minutes after that point before you have to even worry about death. Even with the old tyme-y medical knowledge, she probably would’ve lived, but so it goes.
Back to the story, Batman says he doesn’t remember which knot he tied. This is partially because he is an idiot, and partially because he secretly has a twin brother, which, as we all know, tends to make people absent-minded about such things. At any rate, I guess nobody bothered to look at the knot that remained on the corpse of Coyote Ugly. It was just sitting right there. There was a whole audience of people, and nobody bothered to glance at her wrists. It’s not like she was escaping at that point.
Wolverine and Batman go on to separate magician careers. Batman does the tried and true bullet catch trick. Sort of. Instead of having his assistant shoot the gun, he allows an audience member to do this thing. So Wolverine wears a disguise, manages to get picked from the crowd, loads the gun with a real bullet and shoots three fingers off of the Dark Knight Detective.
Here’s rule 87 d: If you are a magician against whom someone bears a grudge, don’t pick an audience member out of the crowd that looks like a guy in a disguise. Pick a sexy dame, and bang her later.
Naturally, Batman is pissed about the missing fingers and decides his best chance at revenge is to wear a disguise and get picked randomly out of the crowd at Wolverine’s magic show. (It’s apparently really easy to volunteer at a magic show.) Wolverine is not familiar with rule 87d and picks out the man from the crowd that looks a lot like Christian Bale in disguise.
Batman’s big revenge? He, somehow, knows exactly how Wolverine’s complicated “magic” device works, and sabotages this trick, killing a bird and breaking some poor woman’s fingers.
Some more stupid shit happens, and the movie seems to last forever. There are a bunch of scenes of secret diary reading, practical jokes, and dating troubles, but thankfully no Kimmy Gibbler-esque nosy neighbors. Eventually Tesla(!) makes Wolverine a magic cloning machine which seemingly has no regard for that whole “matter cannot be created nor destroyed” law.
(It also appears that Tesla invented scotch tape a good 20 years before anybody else, as he uses it to affix a note to his machine. You know he gets no credit for the radio, either.)
Wolverine makes a new him and kills the old every night on stage, which is just about the dumbest way to perform his “Transporting Man” trick, let alone use a magic cloning machine.
Do I even need to explain why that is so freaking dumb? At the very least, just keep one clone around to do the trick, and set up a big fancy Tesla coil on the stage for showmanship. That way, you won’t have to explain the 60 dead bodies floating around your theater to the five-oh. Or, you know, use the device to clone food to help starving people. Or breed pandas. To fight. To the death.
At any rate, as the trick goes, old Wolverine drops off the stage, and the new clone shows up at a predetermined location several yards away. I just wonder how the fine tuning of that thing went. Did they have to turn the machine just right to avoid the clone showing up with a seat cushion bisecting his torso? “Look I’ve reappeared magica- OHMYGOD MY LEGS!!”
On Logan’s last performance of the trick, he makes it look as though Batman is responsible for the clone dying. I guess they turned the machine some more so that nobody could see that night’s clone. That would’ve been embarrassing, to have been spotted during your murder.
Anyways, Batman gets hanged for killing a Wolverine, but don’t worry he secretly had a twin Bat-brother this whole time. It turns out the guy that was helping Bale all along was covertly his twin, and they took turns being the real him. What a shock I tells ya. The fella that was never framed well, with virtually no lines, and who looked like he was in a bunch of make-up, was secretly Batman in disguise.
Shocking I tell you.
Eventually it all spins out of control to an ending which is not particularly happy nor sad nor ironic nor interesting.
I guess the big problem here is that we have two main characters, neither of whom is particularly likable or admirable or even cool. Bale is a good actor, but his character seems to be a bland idiot savant. Jackman is a mediocre actor playing a thin character.
Of course, the story doesn’t help matters. The Prestige is more interested in plot twists than plot. There is no real story to speak of, just a series of swerves. Then, the film doesn’t even have enough faith in the audience to understand its misdirections, foreshadowing the dick out of each one of the twists. The entire first act of the film is foreshadowing. “Look, the old Asian magician lives a lie for his craft, pretending to be a cripple, like Christian Bale pretends not to be twins.” “Look this trick is done with lookalike birds. The first bird is killed and a second appears in the prestige! We won’t be doing anything like that **winkwink**”
There are a bunch of plot holes, continuity errors, and anachronisms, but there is one thing above all others which requires the greatest suspension of disbelief. Our two rival magicians are both non-creepy, good-looking, hard-bodied, heterosexuals. Haven’t the film-makers ever seen a magician before? Here is what Max Malini looked like. Compare that thing to this one or this one.
That’s all I have to say.
Eric has mentioned me in his last 2 columns. So I link to him, as he linked to everybody in his Tuesday column. It’s like a pyramid scheme where nobody makes any money. It is JUST like a pyramid scheme, come to think of it.