Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

I want to say that I loved The Dark Knight Rises. It was a dense, complex movie with a lot going on. This was both what made it great and what gave it flaws that perhaps made it not quite as incredible as The Dark Knight which came before. This is going to be rife with SPOILERS, so beware of this going in.

Gotham's Reckoning

First off, I'm going to talk about what made the movie awesome, and then nitpick it from another angle. I loved Bane. I think they did an excellent job of turning him into a fearsome villain with presence, a force that moves through Gotham like a knife through butter. It is remarkable what Tom Hardy was able to do with only body movements and the use of his eyes. And, what's more, Bane is Batman's superior in almost every way, and it shows. There isn't a fight in the film where Bane doesn't kick Batman's ass, thoroughly. The only way he is overcome is through the cheap trick of punching his mask, which felt about as rewarding as beating Darth Vader by bitch-slapping his respirator.

It is worth noting that Christopher Nolan improved on the Bane of the comics by, on top of making Bane deadly, turning him into a sympathetic character. It is truly touching that Bane, a prisoner, essentially sacrificed his humanity to save the life of one little girl. Doing so turns him into what is clearly a monster, unable to connect with people and discarding them like sacks of worthless flesh. It is only with Talia that he is able to become a protector and show a scintilla of compassion. I wish they had spent more time on this dynamic, but given the twist of Talia's appearance, it could not be.

Al-Ghul Resurgent

One thing important to note about this movie is how important the events of Batman Begins are to the plot. Indirectly, Liam Neeson's Ra's Al-Ghul drives the entire story; Bane is trained by the League of Shadows and his plan mirrors their twisted philosophy of purging civilizations in order to purify them from corruption. Bane's excommunication from the League tells us two things: it requires us to take him seriously since this is akin to someone being kicked out of the Soviet Spetsnaz (an infamously dangerous special forces) for being too violent; it also illustrates that Bane is a dark shadow of what Batman could have become. It is also worth noting that Talia's parasitical entrance into Gotham's society would not have happened without Batman allowing Ra's to die at the end of the first movie. Revenge drives the movie, with Ra's Al-Ghul a specter above it all.

The Dark Knight Rises also returns us to the Asian and Middle Eastern influences of Batman Begins. I thought that one of the most powerful moments of that first movie arose from Bruce Wayne's time abroad in the Tibetan mountains, training with the League of Shadows. Similarly, Wayne's time in captivity in this movie, as well as the backstory surrounding where he is imprisoned, includes many of the more poignant scenes in the film. It's interesting that the most intriguing moments for me in this trilogy were the moments where we aren't in Gotham and when we aren't dealing with Batman; instead, it is those moments where we confront the psyche of the man behind the mask. We get a great deal of that in The Dark Knight Rises, possibly more than any of the movies that came before.

The Breaking of the Bat

Speaking of which, let's talk about Batman. Christopher Nolan does three things that are shocking for a comic book movie like this. First, he cripples Batman's spirit; the first half of the movie is a trail of Batman seeking a purpose in a world that hates him, and then being destroyed for it against the immutable wall of Bane. Second, he cripples Batman's body; Bane's thrashing of Batman is so brutal that he must spend months retraining his body and popping his freaking vertebrae back into place. Lastly, he kills Batman. Who does that? The only apparent way that he gets out of it is by some weird factor of Christian Bale being immune to nuclear explosions or Alfred being so mentally deranged by the events of the movie that he hallucinates Bruce Wayne's appearance in Europe. However, this is another area where I wished that they would spend more time allowing events to resonate with the audience. Things moved so fast that it was hard to connect with Bruce Wayne's anguish; we were too swept up in Gotham going to hell that it was more difficult to mull over the more quiet moments of the prison and Batman rising from his slump.

The French Revolution

One thing which I thought very daring on the part of Christopher Nolan was making clear references to the French Revolution. That same French Revolution that brought on the guillotine, the execution of Marie Antoinette, the kangaroo courts, and an atmosphere where you could be killed for any reason; a barely controlled anarchy. I have long regarded the French Revolution as the most terrifying event I've ever read about in history. Imagine going for a walk and being branded a traitor, brutally raped and murdered, just because you wore a watch. This was a time period where the lower class's hatred of the rich grew to such levels that they would lynch, torture, and kill anyone who had even the barest hint of privilege. If you spoke in a refined and polite manner, you'd likely be pointed out and killed. People reported their neighbors, old rivals, and anyone who pissed them off that day as traitors to the new order. And, because the desire for a purge of nobility was so powerful, it made absolutely no difference whether the claims were true or false; they'd guillotine you anyways. People accused one another just to focus the mob somewhere, anywhere, else. It was worse than living under some warlord's or drug lord's yoke; it was humans murdering one another for expressing rational thought, a bloodbath that targeted civilization itself.

We see that same sort of spirit in the revolution that Bane brings to Gotham. People are encouraged to replace the existing order, to kill those in charge and to overturn old idols. It is exemplified clearest at all in the monstrous court created by Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow of previous movies. He seats himself atop a ruin of thrown papers, books, chairs, and tables, the same devastation which Bane has brought to the order of Gotham. And, from this perch, he listens to people try to explain why they aren't guilty, but sentences them to death regardless, a mockery of the justice system of old. The fear that overtakes replacement Commissioner Foley is indicative of the same fear that overtook the average person during the French Revolution; people hoped that by remaining quiet and suppliant they might escape the carnage when, in fact, what was needed was a gathering of the silent majority in opposing it.

This was unexpectedly impressive food for thought but, like with the meditation of Batman repairing his sense of self, I felt that the French Revolution aspect of Bane's agenda came by so fast that it wasn't allowed to fully resonate with the audience. I'm willing to bet that the average movie goer completely missed that this was a perfect cautionary warning of how the excesses of groups like Occupy Wall Street could cause them to radically deviate from their agenda. It also is a perfect fictional illustration of the fact that, throughout history, we've seen populist movements before and that they must be taken with a grain of salt or risk spiraling dangerously out of control.


Altogether, I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises immensely, but I can't help but wish it had been a longer movie or that it had tried to tackle a bit less. All the points and characters that it brought up were incredibly interesting, but I found myself wishing for some longer scenes, for things to slow down just a little bit so some of what was happening could feel more fleshed out and less frantic. This is, perhaps, a hilarious complaint for a movie that's already three hours long. Perhaps this nitpick should be rescinded in favor of the fact that this will lend itself well to multiple viewings, which is always good for any movie.

But The Dark Knight is probably the better movie, if only barely. I say this just because, upon leaving The Dark Knight, I felt awed and thoughtful. By contrast, upon leaving The Dark Knight Rises, I felt overwhelmed and that I had a LOT to process. This isn't necessarily bad, but it's worth noting that I didn't find myself reaching that cathartic moment where the movie ends and everything feels tied together. But, then again, it isn't like we had that moment with the movie, Inception, either. It's a truly tough call.

If nothing else, I did want to comment that I find the idea of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a new Batman to be a little bit ridiculous. It isn't that he doesn't have the acting chops, it's more that he looks so young that I can't picture him in a Batsuit without laughing. Also: Catwoman was well done by Anne Hathaway but, like I predicted, I never felt like her presence in the film was really necessary. Batman didn't have to be trapped into a fight with Bane; he was going to fight him anyways. And someone else could just as easily have saved him and helped him out in the final confrontation. Her only salient point was giving Batman a sort of curious kick in the pants at the beginning, prompting him to stop being Howard Hughes and to put the Batsuit on again, if only to recover a lost necklace.

Anyways, enough nitpicking. All in all, it's a fantastic movie and I'll definitely be seeing it again at some point. I'd be curious to hear other impressions in the comments below, if anyone wants to contribute.


  1. The pieces to the "death of batman" puzzle come pretty quick in succession, but Morgan Freeman finds out after the explosion that the autopilot was in fact fixed by Bruce Wayne himself months before the incident. It seems that Batman convinced everyone that he was making a noble sacrifice and faked his own death, presumably bailing partway over the bay, then showed up at the spot in Vienna where he knew Alfred went to take his vacation to let him know that he was still alive. (Never mind that a 4 megaton explosion would have created massive fallout and probably engulfed the city in a tidal wave, a fact which is never addressed in the movie.) The end reminded me of The Iron Giant. Have you seen that movie?

    What do you think about the aspect of Bruce Wayne/Batman's romantic entanglements in this movie? Do you think Catwoman is the right woman for him (in this iteration)?

  2. Ah, I forgot about that point. Never mind the fact that escaping the radius of a nuclear explosion within thirty seconds is well nigh impossible. Never mind the radiation that'll wash up on Gotham's shores for decades afterward. Hah!

    I actually was a bit disapproving of Batman having romantic entanglements in this movie, at least with regard to how it happens in the comics. In the comics, Talia sleeps with Batman and becomes pregnant with his baby because she (and Ra's) believe him to be a worthy successor in commanding the League of Shadows. But this is before he turns on them because their methods are too harsh. By that logic, it would make more sense for their romantic entanglement to have happened in Batman Begins.

    However, because this is after Batman has killed Ra's (or "allowed him to die".. whatever) it is completely antithetical to Talia's character to seduce Batman. What's the point? Why sleep with someone you secretly hate with all of your power? This puzzled me. She doesn't need to get close to him for his fingerprints; they already have that through the mercenary actions. It certainly enhances the sense of betrayal, but that's a little ridiculous to hate someone so much that you'd insert yourself into their lives as a love interest just so you can smash that impression to pieces in front of them.

    As for Catwoman, she just seems so detached and independent in this movie that I personally thought that her 'romance' with Batman didn't feel real. The problem that affects both romances, and especially Catwoman's, is that Batman is so wrapped up in his own inner turmoil that he just isn't there 100%. You could argue that that works in Talia's favor because she's able to take advantage of him while he's vulnerable, but then you get back to the fact of why she's doing it in the first place. With Catwoman, they just don't have enough moments together for it to feel legitimate. When they showed her with her cutpurse friend, I honestly thought she was a lesbian (because there is precedent in some Batman comics and because she'd seemed so hostile to Bruce Wayne/Batman).

    Long story short, Talia and Batman was believable but with questionable motivation. And Catwoman + Batman didn't sell me because of too few 'moments' for them, the whole betraying him to Bane thing, and because of her general hostility throughout the movie towards just about everyone. Maybe repeated viewings will change this for me; after all, I still think this was a great movie, and the romance aspect of it was one thread of MANY.

  3. I wanted to clarify that I'm not against Batman having romances in his movies, but because, in this one, he's so consumed with falling apart and redefining himself, it seemed the wrong time to try and insert a romantic plot.

  4. I thought the Selina Kyle--I'm going to call her that as she wasn't called Catwoman in this movie--"romance" was important to the story. Her redemption at the end of the movie is is indicative of the painful redemption of Gotham. Also, I don't think they made too much of the romance. I thought the Nolans did a good job portraying the attraction between the two characters without making too much of it. I mean, it's not like Alfred goes to Vienna and sees the two of them making out. It's just coffee!!

    I think as a good conservative, I like this movie the best of the three. Order over chaos. Huzzah!