Monday, August 20, 2012

Thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises Poster by Jock

I finally got around to watching The Dark Knight Rises this past Sunday. [I started writing this post a couple weeks ago but haven't taken the time to finish it until now.] I enjoyed it. I don't love it, but I don't hate it, either. I'm sure I'm not as high on this movie as most folks seem to be, but that's all right. I wanted to love it, but I just couldn't. To me, this movie could have been worse, but it also could have been a lot better.

Maybe some people don't understand why I can't just easily embrace this movie. I think most of my friends think of me as "the comic book guy." After a little time to reflect on the movie, I think I'm finally able to articulate why I can't love The Dark Knight Rises like I do its predecessor. (The Dark Knight is one of my favorite superhero movies. I don't have any love for Batman Begins, though.)

Needless to say, MASSIVE SPOILERS abound in this post.

1. I actually couldn't handle Bane. During his longer speeches, I was giggling. I watched it with Albert and I think he thought it got a little ridiculous at some points as well. If the actor had just been using his normal voice, it would have been fine. The overly theatrical delivery just made it funny to me.

During their final fight, when Batman was screaming, "Where's the trigger?! Where is it?!" at Bane, Albert and I were laughing. I don't know. I guess it wasn't supposed to be funny, but I just couldn't control myself.

2. I guess it should be expected that the one chick with a foreign accent would turn out to be a terrorist. I figured she was Talia when she and Batman started making out. I thought that came out of nowhere, actually. When it happened, I was like, Why are they making out? Are they just that horny? Or did Nolan just want to establish the whole Talia/Batman dynamic while skipping the hard work of character development? They seemed to have a businesslike and professional relationship but then they just had sex after a couple scenes. That was really bizarre to me. Also bizarre was how Batman, the World's Greatest Detective (although apparently not in this movie trilogy), didn't think to run a background check on someone who was basically running his company.

On the other hand, maybe Nolan just wanted to establish that Batman's not gay. I suppose his sexuality could have been in question throughout the trilogy up to this point. Like, the whole Rachel thing was a beard; he knew she was an impossible, unattainable woman and he was setting himself up for failure 'cause he was subconsciously gay. Now? TWO women, badaboom, Batman's not gay.

3. I think they did a good job with the Catwoman character. I still didn't like her outfit (they should have gone with Darwyn Cooke's timeless and iconic design) but her character was portrayed really well. If only she didn't have heels or the domino mask.

4. But there were a lot of other small things that I struggled to swallow. The whole thing about Batman getting his back broken went a little beyond my suspension of disbelief. Yeah. I can accept high tech prototype jets flying around through a cityscape, but I've gotta draw the line somewhere.

I think it would have been fine if Bane did the backbreaker move on him, but they should have just said that Batman got beat up badly, not that he literally had his back broken. You'd think his armor would provide a little protection. It was a little silly how he came back from that. Watching the movie, which aspires to a fairly realistic tone, you'd think that all you need to heal from a broken back is for someone to punch your spinal cord really hard. Batman got better so quickly, too. He was out for like three months and then came back to fight Bane. That is one fast recovery.

5. Another thing that I didn't really enjoy was the nuke. I thought the mushroom cloud at the end was a little too corny. Nuclear bombs basically just change the scale that Batman's on. This is more of a personal thing, but I don't really want Batman to deal with nukes unless the JLA is involved.

I also laughed near the end when time was ticking down and Batman was about to use his plane to fly the nuke away. With the clock ticking, he wasted like 5 or 10 seconds to make out with Catwoman. Millions of lives are at stake, and he has to kiss his girl! Again, I get that the moment was meant to be dramatic, but it was also kinda funny.

6. It was kinda cheap how Blake was able to figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman just by looking at him in the eye at the orphanage. For a movie with so much exposition, it was kind of a strange plot point to just kind of skim over.

7. Speaking of Blake, that whole "Robin" namedrop at the end was unnecessary. It felt kinda condescending, like Nolan was all, "Oh, you comic book nerds want some pandering? You want a shout out? HERE IS A SHOUT OUT!"

8. The prison scene was kind of bizarre. I get that Nolan wanted to show the Dark Knight "rising" but to me, it was just weird to see how it took Batman every ounce of strength and mental willpower (and multiple tries) to successfully complete a jump that a malnourished twelve-year old girl did in one try. Any scenario where Batman doesn't compare favorably to a malnourished twelve-year old girl just doesn't make me feel good about Batman's manhood.

9. The movie's presentation of Batman's avoidance of guns or killing made him look a little weak. The first time he meets Bane, he gets his ass kicked straight up. The next time they face off, he just magically beats up Bane?

The story that was a mash-up of Knightfall, No Man's Land, and The Dark Knight Returns. I don't have much love for Knightfall and No Man's Land, but DKR? That's the best. This would have actually been a nice moment for a Dark Knight Returns homage, with the mudhole scene where Batman beats up the Mutant Leader on his second try. Come on! "This isn't a mudhole. It's an operating table." That's classic!

 Instead, it's just Batman punching Bane harder this time. Maybe you could argue that he lost his fear of death (or his death wish?) after making the symbolic and transformative jump (that a malnourished twelve-year old girl was able to make with very little effort) to rise up.

But then Catwoman's the one who finishes off Bane anyway, when she shoots him with the bike's guns, so it's like, why didn't Batman just do that himself? And also, at the end, Batman just blows up Talia (and her truck driver) with rockets from the Batplane. What's the point of having a hangup about using guns that shoot bullets when he's ready to kill people with rockets? I don't get that.

10. Those were a few little things here and there that ordinarily I would easily overlook if I genuinely loved the movie.

But after having some time to reflect on the movie, I don't like the ending. It didn't ring true for me. It didn't feel like Batman. I get that Nolan wanted to give Batman a happy ending, but to have Bruce Wayne retire and pass on the legacy of the Bat just didn't feel like Batman's character at all. I can't imagine he would just give up like that.

Batman is a character with mythical characteristics. He is Sisyphus. He's pushing up the boulder every day. He has his moments of victory but it never ends for him. I think the whole point of Batman is that he can never stop what he's doing.

His mission is to rid the city of the evil that took his parents' lives, right? When he finally rids Gotham of all crime, his job is done. And we all know that's an impossible, Sisyphean task. Therefore, Batman can never stop being Batman.

I look back to DKR (Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns), probably one of the top two pure distillations of his character and, essentially, the Batman Bible, and even in that story, when Batman's retired in the beginning and living it up as Bruce Wayne, he isn't really out of the game. In his mind, he's still Batman. He's still pushing that boulder up the hill.

The end of Dark Knight Returns, even though it's a fairly optimistic ending, pretty much exemplifies that Sisyphean quality as well. Batman wins a war, but moves on to a new one, with a new army of soldiers. The game has changed, but he has not. It just never ends for the Batman.

And The Dark Knight Rises implies that yes, it does end for the Batman. It implies that because Batman is bigger than one man, the legacy of the Bat is more important than the man behind the mask of Batman. While there's merit to that line of thinking, I still firmly believe that Batman (Bruce Wayne) never stops being Batman until either he succeeds in ridding Gotham of evil (impossible) or he dies.

Remember that Batman Beyond episode where the villain holds old Bruce Wayne hostage and tries to drive him crazy with a voice inside his head, only because the voice kept calling him "Bruce" he realized it was a sham? And at the end, Terry asks him how he knew he was being messed with, and Bruce basically said that in his mind, he only calls himself Batman? That's how it should be.

There's also something about Batman having a statue in his honor that doesn't jibe with my sensibilities.

11. I can't really hate the movie just because it doesn't satisfy my expectations of a complete Batman story. Thematically and ideologically, The Dark Knight Rises aspired to be richer than your typical superhero story. I respect that Nolan approached his trilogy with ambition. I don't think this is a terrible movie. I just don't think it's a great Batman story.

It's weird, but I think if you divorced all references to Batman from this movie, I'd actually enjoy it a lot more than I did.

1 comment:

  1. Hey,
    I've noticed you write a lot of great content about comics. I’m working for a new start-up called HeyLets and we’re trying to get people excited about doing what you do, that is engage with your world through your passions. We want our users to rediscover their city through mini-recommendations from people with similar interests and hopefully pay it forward. I was wondering, would you be interested in sharing some of your positive experiences in your community with us? We'd love to hear what you have to say and help you promote your blog.
    Drop me a line if you’re interested in more info:
    Thanks for your time and keep up the good work!