04 October 2012
When I walked out of the movie theatre after seeing The Dark Knight Rises, I was conflicted. Certainly, I didn’t hate it. It does all the things a good summer superhero movie should do. It made me want to eat popcorn and fight crime. It’s got great action sequences, punchy dialogue, a sense of the epic and badass all undercut with the slight cheese of caped crusaders and often simplified ideas of heroism. The Dark Knight Rises is a fun movie.
So why the internal conflict?
I fundamentally did not like the script. It was messy, often heavy-handed, and took itself waaay too seriously. Also, it wasn’t a spectacular movie—something I knew it probably wouldn’t be, but couldn’t help hoping for on the heels of The Dark Knight—and I care too much about Robin (as in, the shorts-wearing boy wonder. Used to say, “Leapin’ Lizards, Batman!” on TV a lot… yeah. He’s my top priority. Seriously).
If you haven’t seen it by now, Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises takes place 8 years after The Dark Knight ends. The city has made Harvey Dent into a civic hero—celebrating Harvey Dent day and the Dent Act—while Bruce Wayne has holed himself up in Wayne Manor and let his cape collect dust. As Bane, a mysterious terrorist, and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) start threatening Gotham’s peace, Bruce comes out of hiding to be Gotham’s dark knight once more, spiraling down to utter ruin, isolation, and despair before rising again. In case you weren’t sure about how this movie would end, Nolan has conveniently given you a clue in the title.
From here on out, I will assume that you’ve either seen the movie or have been spoiled. This has been your spoiler alert.
My Robin issues aside (but we will get back to those later, I promise), my biggest problem with The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s a messy script. There are too many plot lines floating around, all intricately detailed and interwoven, but without as much psychological or emotional resonance as they were clearly meant to have.
The mess starts at the very beginning of the movie with two dueling opening shots—one of Gotham gearing up for Harvey Dent Day, and one of Bane and his men infiltrating and disabling a CIA plane. The movie continues to flip back and forth, giving each through line lots of screen time, but little clarity. More and more elements are introduced: Alfred and Fox both pushing Bruce to get out of the house and start dating, Selina Kyle and her antagonistic flirting with Batman, Commissioner Gordon is being phased out, Blake—a young police officer and orphan—reveals that he knows about Bruce’s masked alter-ego and implores him to bring Batman back, Alfred walks out on Bruce, and Miranda Tate (an heiress chasing a clean energy project) becomes board chair of Wayne Enterprises and Bruce’s lover. And that’s just the set up. By the end of the movie we’ve had a hasty “reveal” of Miranda Tate’s true identity (Talia al Ghul), a throw away line marking Blake as Robin, and a shot implying a clean start for Selina and Bruce.
I think Nolan panicked when he realized that he only had one movie left in which to cram all of his ideas. So he tried to stick three movies into one freakishly long feature-length film. A tough, responsible editor could have changed everything, but this is part of why I’m torn: I have no idea what story elements I would have cut.
While I think it was rushed and underwhelming (Aside: I know we- MyEntertainmentWorld, specifically Kelly- broke that story, but even if you didn’t know going into the theatre, you can’t honestly tell me that you thought the child was Bane. *End of Aside), I do like the idea of Talia al Ghul’s involvement—it ties in nicely with Batman Begins—and I love the beautiful (but tragically underutilized) devotion between her and Bane. I adore Michael Cain’s Alfred, and really think that (perhaps especially for fans of the comics) Alfred’s ultimatum was one of the emotional highlights of the movie. While I love Selina Kyle—and Anne Hathaway did a much better job than I was expecting—I think that she felt a bit out of place. Because really, the Batman and Catwoman story alone is enough material for a full-length feature (and it would be better that way). But I do love her, and as a final pairing for Bruce, she makes a lot of sense. I understand wanting to close on that note.
My first choice for a character cut probably would have been Blake/Robin.
And here’s where we get into my Robin issues. First of all, you should know that I have a deep affection for Joseph Gordon Levitt (like every other female of my generation). I will always love him. I have loved him since Angels In The Outfield and 10 Things I Hate About You. He’s a great actor. He didn’t have a very good script to work with in this one, but he managed to do a fine job anyway. But despite my fondness for Joey, I am a real DC girl. And my favorite character in the canon is Dick Grayson—the original Robin. (Aside: Yes, there are multiple people who take on the position of Robin over the years. *End of Aside). So it irks me when the name Robin is tossed in there at the end, as a parting shot. It’s just such a shame, because the relationship between Batman and Dick Grayson—a combination of strained surrogate father/son, mentor/mentee, hero/sidekick, and best friends—is the meatiest one Bruce Wayne has. I would have preferred to either really go for an examination of that dynamic, or just leave Robin out of it.
Even if we decided to leave Blake/Robin in the mix, that script needed cutting somewhere. It was a long movie (a scant 13 minutes shorter than the first Lord of The Rings movie. No joke), and a lot of it was unnecessary. Like the pit. I had a lot of problems with the pit. I know that the movie is called The Dark Knight Rises, and I get that the script is bringing Batman to his lowest point before letting him rise again, but did we have to put Bruce in a literal pit of despair? No. No, we did not. I take issue with the general heavy-handed literalization of Bruce’s emotional journey (literal pit, literal leap of faith to climb out), but more than anything what bothered me about the pit was that it was a useless detour.
After Selina leads Bruce to Bane, Bane kicks Batman’s butt, ships him off to the pit, and holds Gotham hostage with a nuclear bomb. So we spend five months (movie time) watching Bruce in the pit, while Bane encourages anarchy and violent socialist revolution in Gotham. (Aside: This script was clearly written while we were in the throes of Occupy.*End of Aside). But we know that Batman is coming back. He has to. There’s no way Nolan makes a movie called The Dark Knight Rises in which Batman dies in a literal pit while Gotham gets nuked. And yet, despite that obvious conclusion, the film wallows in long, lingering shots of a captive Gotham and Batman talking to mystical prison doctors (as well as Ra’s al Ghul’s Jedi spirit) in the pit. Why? If we wanted to explore a new element of Batman’s psyche, possibly the last thing we need is monologues about children forged in darkness and dialogues about fear as fuel.
But then, as I always have to remind myself, Nolan’s Batman is not my Batman. One of the chief differences is that Nolan’s Batman is ruled by his romantic relationships. In the comics, over the course of several arcs, Bruce/Batman experiences quite a few romantic entanglements (many of them important) and much more heartbreak, but the Bruce Wayne I recognize from the comics would never have sequestered himself in his room for 8 years (I repeat, EIGHT YEARS) over the loss of a woman—even one he truly loved. Frankly, I can think of very few people (beyond the clinically insane) who would do that. But in Nolan’s movie, he does. And the thing that first nudges Bruce to resume life beyond Wayne Manor is an interaction with Selina. At the end of the movie, Selina is the symbol for Bruce’s clean slate, and the answer to Alfred’s wish that Bruce lead a happy life.
I know that the movie industry constantly reminds us that Love is the truest and best reason for existing, but… there is more, and there’s love for ideals, and the- not even simplification, so much as soppiness—irked me when applied to Bruce.
I realize that I’m bringing all of my bias to the table and letting it inform my ideas about this movie. I may hold the comics a little too dear to evaluate the movie entirely as its own entity. But The Dark Knight Rises does not exist in a vacuum—it’s part of the trilogy, and part of the Batman franchise, and it does have to stand next to The Dark Knight and the comics. In the wake of the revelatory, genre-defying The Dark Knight, it’s resoundingly fine, but obviously fails to be as dark, as heady, as psychologically gripping as it’s predecessor.
Ultimately, it’s a fun movie, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a very good one.