15 Thoughts on “The Dark Knight Rises”

23Jul12

It came, I saw, I thought about it for a long time. Here now are a collection of thoughts that make it seem like I hated this movie. Which I didn’t. Mild spoilers ahead.

1.) This is not my Batman. We own a couple titles in the “That’s Not My ____” line of baby books. Each subject (say, “My bear”) is dealt with in pictures focusing on a particular element, which can be touched by the baby. For example: “That’s not my bear, his ears are too fuzzy,” and the bear has fuzzy ears. I’ve been thinking about writing a “That’s not my Batman” title, and the Nolan movies — “Rises” in particular — would show a lot of my biggest quibbles with their version of the character. I’m going to deal with a couple of these at length, but the short version would be “That’s not my Batman, his face looks weird when he rides the Bat-pod.” “That’s not my Batman, he looks like a puppy when he tips his head to the side, which he seems to do constantly.” “That’s not my Batman, he sounds like Cookie Monster.” And “That’s not my Batman. He’s kind of a quitter and doesn’t seem to want to be Batman.” On that note…

2.) Batman’s a Quitter. TWICE. Maybe this is my own problem; in fact, I’m certain most of these quibbles have more to do with my own hang-ups and nostalgia than problems with the movie presented. HOWEVER, that doesn’t change the fact that Bruce Wayne, the most obsessed and driven character in all of these movies, starts the movie willingly retired as Batman, and works his way through the movie to a point where he can be a willingly retired Batman again. Again, maybe it’s me, but where the previous movie left off, I assumed Batman was going to continue his war on crime, with or without the help of the police. I assumed that during the 8 years since Harvey Dent’s death, Batman was going to have a ton of adventures, always staying one step ahead of the law. But no. Apparently we didn’t miss a thing, because Bruce Wayne just decided to stop doing everything. This sits poorly with me because, as I said in #1, MY Batman is not a quitter.

3.) Repeated Beats. The script felt a little dumbed down all around (“I’m gonna do something Gordon never could.” “What’s that?” “Take down the Batman!” he said, as he was in the process of, y’know, trying to take down the Batman). At 165 minutes, there should have been a better eye toward making some hard cuts. Little touches would have helped. I’m going to screw up the details, but I swear there’s some scene where Detective Blake finds out about (I dunno…) the sewer army, and then the next scene is about someone else learning the same information. You all have smartphones and you’re in a movie — share the information instantly! This is mildly forgivable, since I guess the facts behind who knows what when may affect the story. But what’s least forgivable, for me, is repeating story elements, such as the major ones involving Batman. In broad snarky strokes, his story goes: He’s crippled and out of shape, he works hard to get in shape, he fights Bane, he gets crippled, he workers hard to get un-crippled (and presumably back in shape), so he can fight Bane. Nolan did an admirable job of at least making each of these set pieces feel different, even though they were really repeats. Maybe nobody else noticed, but I sure did.

In fact — and this is jumping the gun, because I’m going to make a mild comparison between “Rises” and “Return of the Jedi” later — the whole story elements including the League of Shadows and Ra’s al Ghul makes me think I understand the complaints people make about “Jedi” being an unambitious and repetitious ending, bringing back the Death Star again instead of coming up with something new. It never bothered me as a kid, so I’ve probably just accepted it as cold hard fact and canon for my life. But since I’m in my 30’s when I’m seeing “Rises,” I don’t have the same nostalgia to protect it. Long story short: it felt like they repeated the plot of the “Begins” while repeating their own story in the same movie. Confused? Me neither.

4.) Continuity? Really? I thought we learned this with the “Star Wars” Prequels: the more you tie together, the more small things become. It seems like the total sum of the Nolan Batman adventures occurred during these three movies. Now, from a movie-making standpoint, that makes complete sense. The film character is defined only by the actions we see on screen, and it’s the director’s job to show us only those key moments.

EXCEPT… the true power behind any Batman film is the 70+ years of history we, as a culture, bring to it. Heath Ledger’s Joker channels power as much from his acting as from the original comic books, Cesar Romero, the animated series and beyond. He was adding his flavor to the mythos, and the commentary is what stuck most. You gain that historic power by allowing for viewers to fill in the loose ends. If you tie up every loose end of a historic character, you limit him, and that’s what they did with Batman. At least, that’s what they did with him in this final movie. The first one ended so perfectly with the idea of escalation, so that even if they hadn’t continued beyond that point, you were left with the idea of what was about to come (i.e. more crazy villains and adventures), and the Batman character lived on. It seemed “The Dark Knight” acknowledged this with the opening scenes, talking about a full year of Batman fighting organized crime, but organized crime involved guys like the Scarecrow. It allowed us (i.e. me) to believe Batman had been fighting the Arkham crazies for a full year, and we were just picking up at this point to watch one of the particularly crazy ones. “Rises” puts all of that into question. By bringing back Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows, it seems the only events — important or otherwise — in Batman’s career took place during these three movies.

Am I alone on this? Didn’t it feel like you could have watched “The Dark Knight” without having seen “Batman Begins” and you would’ve been fine? But then, all of the sudden with the third movie, you’ve gotta know those first two movies — especially the first one — to get many of the emotional payoffs to work.

5.) Plot and Plodding. I was never 100% certain what Bane’s goal was or how he was going to achieve it. It seemed so centered around Batman that it made it feel small, even when it was colossal. This focus on Batman allowed for not one but TWO moments of “I’m not going to kill you now” Bond-villain-level stupidity. I’ll give you one, Bane. But not a second one. The guy climbed out of that impossible pit, for crying out loud! He means business.

6.) Some Stuff I Liked. Taking a break from the quibbles. I liked Catwoman (calling a spade a spade here, folks). A lot. My wife mentioned how Anne Hathaway makes her eyes roll, but to see her is to get behind her. I thought Hathaway did a fine job of playing it playful and dangerous, selfish but with a weird nobility. It also helped that she seemed to get all the good lines.

I liked that it was Batman and Catwoman fighting together. Sidekicks!

I liked when Batman re-appeared, and they had that moment between the two cops lifted from “The Dark Knight Returns” comic.

I loved Blake tagging the Batman symbol around the city.

7.) Bane. The word I’m searching for is “difficult.” I don’t know where I’d categorize him, in the annals of Bat-villains or in this performance or as a character. In the comics, his character was essentially created to break Batman’s back. He was a means to an end. Some of the film character feels the same way. He was “born in Hell?” He’s in constant pain, so he wears that mask that relieves some of it. I guess that makes sense, but it comes off more as just explaining things that are there instead of telling us who this character is. And what he is is, basically, a bad guy. He’s a mercenary, and I suppose a tactical genius, but he’s a thug bad guy. It’s not exactly Ra’s al Ghul/Joker level villainy. On the other hand, the performance elements were kind of mesmerizing. I can’t stop his voice ringing in my head (a weird mix of Sean Connery and Zule). I liked how he hung his hands on his jacket like Abe Lincoln. I liked how he wanted to turn Gotham City into “Fight Club.”

8.) Exposition. There’s a lot of it here, and I think that has to do with two things: A.) having to explain to the uninitiated who Bane is, and B.) trying to tie in the events of two prior movies. To address the first thing — and it might be fair to compare — but I’m thinking about how little explaining there was in “The Dark Knight,” particularly when it came to the Joker. Now, granted, he’s an A-List villain, so you don’t really have to get into it much, but “DK” doesn’t get into it at all. In fact, the only times they talk about the origin of his scars, it turns out to be a lie. Just some creepy thing he says and alters depending on the victim. But with Bane, we get this big back story, and his mission and his allegiances and his motivations and on and on until it feels like the movie stalls out. When Bane’s just doing things, it’s fine.

He’s not the only source, though. Go back and watch “Begins” to remember how interesting of a character Alfred was, because in the last 1.5 movies, he’s pretty much only an exposition machine. I think he actually says the line, “Since you’ll be going out there to fight, you’ll want to know about Bane.” It’s an exposition line setting up MORE exposition! Again, perhaps unfair, but the first two movies (particularly “DK”) have serious momentum. They are driving hard toward something. The characters affect each other in monumental ways and they launch the story. “Rises” heads for something, but it feels retrofitted.

9.) My Version. I could probably keep all of the major beats, but start off with Batman still doing Batman things. It’s the feeling of “Batman’s been doing nothing for eight years” that set me up for an ill feeling. It’s better to get a story started when there’s some inertia. Start in the middle. This started in the beginning… but apparently the third part of the beginning?

10.) Crippled, Part 2. I’m repeating my own beats, but was I the only person who thought Bruce Wayne was faking his crippledness in the beginning? I mean, really,I don’t know when he became officially “crippled.” Was that supposed to be the result of the fall at the end of “The Dark Knight” (because, honestly, that might make total sense, seeing as the fall killed one guy but left the other one sorta fine)? Or did it happen after that? Or was it just deteriorated bones from two years of fighting? See, in my mind concerning Batman, I don’t think that’s possible. I mean, I suppose it’s possible and highly realistic. But we’re talking about Batman here. It’s not in his character. What IS in his character is incredible levels of paranoid subterfuge, and I was fully prepared and excited to see Bruce Wayne send home the party guests and staff, then toss his cane and run downstairs, ripping off that fake beard and jumping into the Bat-suit.

But no. He’s crippled. And pouty. In both the comics and this movie, Wayne has survived more than any person in the entire world. He “has no limits.” But apparently he has many limits. And he faces those limitations by pouting and walking around with a cane.

11.) The Deathwish. This is going to be vague, to save from too many spoilers. In the theater, I didn’t quite get it. But after thinking about it, I get it and it’s pretty good. I don’t think they nailed it all the way through, but it’s an ambitious idea. In fact…

12.) Ambition Makes This Film Work. You could argue that the entire series cooks on ambition. Rather than phoning in some run-of-the-mill superhero stories, Nolan and company have aimed for the stars. If they don’t land every choice, in every single way, it does still count for something that they tried. It’s exciting.

13.) Rachel. I was surprised she was still the character in “Dark Knight,” and I’m even more surprised she was so important to the events leading up to and throughout “Rises.” This is due to the fact that she wasn’t much of a character to begin with, let alone someone worthy of capturing the imagination of someone like Bruce freakin’ Wayne. But apparently I’m wrong. She’s actually a fascinating character whose mere memory is worthy of disrupting one of the comic world’s most important relationships. In a dialog scene.

14.) Third. Presently, this ranks third in the “Dark Knight Trilogy.” Easily. I hesitate to call it the “Jedi” of this series, because that would imply that I hold “Rises” at the same level. I’m not there yet. I’m not certain where it ranks in the whole theatrical Batman movie canon, either. But right now, I’m certain I enjoyed “Begins” and “DK” much more.

15.) More Thoughts. Are forthcoming. I’m not done, I just have to stop sometime.

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2 Responses to “15 Thoughts on “The Dark Knight Rises””

  1. Probably the biggest disappointment for me (and I liked the movie) relates to your number 3. I never really got what the whole League of Shadows is all about. Why exactly do they want to destroy Gotham? So to revisit that was disappointing. I don’t want to do spoilers either, but the villains plan at the ending really seemed to unravel.

    And I agree Catwoman was great. That character seems to steal any Batman movie she’s in.


  1. 1 Alfred: Good Butler, So-So Friend « Phillip Mottaz Town

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