I figure now’s as good a time as any to throw my hat in the ring regarding that there Batman film. Better now than in a week’s time when TDKR analysis has reached critical mass – a la Prometheus – and everyone’s just bloody sick of it and wishes the internet had merely remained the province of technophiles and porn emperors.
It’s not that I didn’t like it. I did, for the most part. There were good things in it and (though I did fall asleep for a few minutes) I didn’t regret paying the ticket price. Not always a guarantee.
With that in mind, I have a whole bunch of reservations. I’ve recently seen people saying that those who are ‘moaning’ about the film not meeting their expectations are the ones who were hyping it up in the first place, that it’s largely without fault and thus not worth mentioning.
I’m sorry (I’m not), but: what complete and utter cack.
First off, the hype machine is fuelled primarily by marketing, and I doubt those involved with the production, distribution and publicity of a film of this importance to a studio are going to slate the movie in a public forum, regardless of their opinon; potentially losing their job over such a trivial matter just doesn’t seem worth it.
Secondly – and more relevantly – those who mentioned their high expectations and ‘hyped up’ the film on a personal basis likely did so because they were ACTUALLY REALLY EXCITED ABOUT THE THING. I find it incredulous to believe that anyone would divulge how pumped they were to go and wait in line for hours on the opening night of a film they had no interest in seeing. Which can only mean that they had high expectations, and who’s to say their opinion is less valid because they thought it would be a better film?
All of which is preamble and justification for my own qualms, which feels a bit pretentious now I’ve written it. Then again, I think it’s an issue that’s worth writing about: people shouldn’t be ostracised for wanting the films they see to be good and then voicing their disappointment when they’re (surprise surprise) disappointed. It smacks of anti-intellectualism, and, while I’m not nearly well-read or disciplined enough to describe myself as one, it strangles discussion.
And, fuck, if a valid point is made about a writer or a director or a cinematographer’s work in a critique of a movie and they actually dare to read it, that might actually have positive effect on their future work. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if the twin spheres of creation and criticism had a little overlap? Worked for the French New Wave, didn’t it?
Ahem. Got a little carried away there. Anyway, my grievances – which I shall list in efficiency-promoting bullet point form, and mostly regard the ending – are as follows:
[Oh, and if you’ve read this far without actually seeing TDKR yet and are actually bothered about spoilers, you’re probably too brain-damaged for a warning to have any effect. But still: SPOILERS FROM HERE ON]
- Bane. No, not the voice (it’s actually a huge improvement from the gravel-gargling mess I experienced when I attended an IMAX preview of the first six minutes, after which we were encouraged to give notes); he’s a good enough ideological adversary for the first two-thirds (until you think about it, which I will later), turning Gotham into the kind of anarchist-fascist state that Batman’s behaviour seems to dictate is necessary. The only thing is that, once all the exposition’s done with and Marion Cotillard is ‘shockingly’ revealed to be the mastermind behind the whole plan and the little Al Ghul who could, Bane is quite literally blown out of the picture, no closure, no nothing. This character that had been writ so large in the myth of the ‘final chapter’ is just given the high twos and sent packing. Which I would say was a bold move, if the story hadn’t made such a big deal about finding out who Bane was. Which we never really do. He was just some dude in prison who helped a girl and got helped in return, so now he’s her errand boy, all of which reduces his ideology to nothing – especially when you consider Talia’s true motivation.
- Gotham didn’t need saving. Which is to say, at the beginning of the film it’s made a pretty big deal of that Gotham’s in amazing shape and things have never been better for the people in it. In the end, we discover that the villain is Talia, Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter. What did his group, the League of Shadows do? Tear down civilisations that had become too messed-up for their own good. In Batman Begins, the city was in the throes of a huge crimewave, “limping on” as Ra’s put it; Gotham needed putting out of its misery. Now Talia comes back, supposedly to finish her dad’s work, but why? Batman, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon ensured that the city not only survived, but thrived and became a better, more moral place for people to live. I know, there’s the financial decadence that’s alluded to rather ham-fistedly that could be justification for the destruction of an island? I don’t buy it. People the world over aren’t going to stop being greedy because of mass murder. Watchmen (the comic, not the film, you philistine) did this so much better, and about so much more. So what’s the real motivation? Revenge. Talia wanted to kill the man – and the city – that killed her father, pure and simple. If it sounds like slim motive to you, that’s not surprising in the least. Nolan’s worst habit is that he never draws his women in three dimensions. I’ll come back to this later. So Talia’s just an angry little girl who wants Bats dead. Man, I hope none of her devout followers ever catch wind of such a petty reason for genocide, otherwise it might seem like a waste of their zealot-y devotion to timeless ideals of utilitarianism and self-sacrifice. But the thing is, that could have worked, if only the writers had ‘fessed up to it, made it clear that Talia really was just seeking revenge instead of playing it for the EPIC everyone for some reason decided this needed to be. For a series of films that seems to revel in the little flaws and saving graces of humanity, they really missed a whopper there. Instead she dies, anticlimactically bleeding out in a truck, but still pretty as a peach. (Nolan likes to beautify the death of women. See Memento, The Prestige, Inception. He seems to like killing Marion Cotillard best.) Interestingly, Bane’s similarly violent death was dealt with far more briskly.
- He. Didn’t. Die. In the first of many discussions of cop outs, this is the big one. Batman is a symbol, and a symbol never dies, right? But people do. They need to. They’re destined to. If Bruce Wayne had died out there over the Atlantic, he would have found his peace. He would have reached his logical conclusion and been no more. But The Batman would still live on. It would have been poetic, more elegiac than the half-hearted eulogy that Gordon gives at Wayne’s fake grave. Everyone could have been given their parting gifts to remember him in their hearts. It could have worked. And if you think that would have been a downer, you’re wrong. You’re so wrong. So why, oh why did Nolan have to ruin a perfectly good ending by spreading schmaltz all over it? Honestly, there’s not a scene in any of his other movies that’s as cheesy as the across-a-crowded-cafe nudge-wink between Alfred and Bruce Wayne. It doesn’t even make sense as closure. Batman is a part of Bruce Wayne’s psyche, right? He was irreparably damaged as a boy and fought crime in a superhero costume to deal with that. Tell me, at what point in the movie did he *explicitly* overcome his father’s death (not his mother’s; Nolan couldn’t care less about Batman’s mum) that now allows him to live a normal life? It’s not a matter of earning the freedom to live his life, it’s the fact that he needs his identity as Batman to keep him sane. Just look at how crippled he’s become at the start of the film, eight years after he hung up the cape. We’re meant to believe he’s not going to turn out the same way now just because he saved Gotham from a bigger threat? And he’s run off to be with someone else who has a dual identity, for christ’s sake! Which conveniently brings me to:
- Selina Kyle. Now, I think Anne Hathaway did an astounding job of giving some depth to her actually rather one-note character, unlike Marion Cotillard, whose transition from bland, unbelievable romantic lead/plot point to criminal mastermind/other plot point is so clunky it seemed like David Goyer was still writing the screenplay. But the problem with this Catwoman is that she’s not so much a character as she is a sieve for the film’s political themes to drain through into Bruce Wayne’s brain. But with tight trousers and a kick-ass motorbike. Oh, and a tendency to stab him in the back, but it’s okay because she’s conflicted. Bruce repeatedly says to her throughout the movie, “there’s more to you”, even when we’re reaching the end of the movie and they meet for the first time since she was responsible for his back-breakage. “There’s more to you”, which apparently is good enough reason to forgive someone for essentially leaving you for dead. We never really do find out what “more” there is other than the fact that she looks after an extremely underdeveloped orphan girl and looks out for street urchins. This Selina Kyle’s just a more PC-friendly version of the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold that right-wing comic writer/artist Frank Miller often uses, infamously in his Dark Knight origin retelling, Batman: Year One, in which Kyle actually is a prostitute. But, as I said earlier, Nolan doesn’t like to give his female characters too much depth. If they’re not villainous, manipulative bitches then they’re dead love interests for the male lead to pine over, and if they’re not dead then they’re audience analogues whose only real purpose is to be interested in the (male) hero. Which is to say that they’re all there in service of a man, even if that service is dying so that he’ll have something to get angry about. (This is called ‘fridging’, by the way.) The Dark Knight Rises has been praised for its ambitiously large cast, but how many of them are women? Three, if you count Juno Temple’s wasted role. Of the main characters Batman kills one of them, fights with the other and ends up sleeping with both of them. And, of course, Selina doesn’t get her own closure (she barely gets an opening); she’s there to help facilitate Bruce’s own.
- “Robin.” Do I really need to explain this one? Quite possibly the hack-est, laziest piece of writing in the entire movie, the whole thing stinks of smug self-awareness and sets up a sequel that will never be made. I try not to roll my eyes in the cinema for fear of seeming like an elitist prick but, well: I am an elitist prick.
- It becomes a superhero movie. And I mean that in the worst way. I knew there was going to be trouble as soon as I saw the new Batwing, and the last chase/action sequence confirmed it in the worst way by boring me with the kind of pointless showing-off and pyrotechnic worship that I come to expect from – and I apologise so sincerely in advance for invoking this name in the presence of Mr. Nolan – Michael Bay. It did nothing for me, and it’s the kind of stakes-raising bullshit that Hollywood and superhero comics in particular feels is necessary for the audience to get the most bang out their buck. Almost sent me to sleep. The Avengers got away with it because a) it was incredibly self-aware and knew when to have fun with the situation, b) it involved people we cared about protecting people we felt needed protecting, not a bunch of military hardware putting on an airshow, and c) it reached an actual climax. A good action sequence is like sex: if nobody comes, then what’s the point? Yes, I know there’s an atomic explosion at the end. See above for reasons why that’s not worthy of the title climax. And, as a friend pointed out on Twitter, Batman does a great deal of admin between watching Marion Cotillard die and flying away (BUT NOT REALLY) on his nuclear voyage. The whole affair really takes the personal, grounded feel of the movies away and plunges TDKR from comic-book realism into something quite beyond suspension of disbelief.
All of this, I think, is valid. It doesn’t stop me from enjoying the film. In fact, I like thinking about these things because it’s discussion material, informs my own creative process and allows me to appreciate the (many) aspects of The Dark Knight Rises that I really did like.
Yes, there’s always a but.
Though I initially had faith Nolan would not disappoint, I came to realise that I didn’t believe my own convictions midway through the film. Taken as the final part in a trilogy, it could never truly complete what the first two films (especially The Dark Knight) had begun, and that is largely because of Heath Ledger.
I’m not going to talk about his performance. That doesn’t matter, and all variations on opinions have been recorded for the ages. It’s his death that’s the problem.
“You and I are destined to do this forever.”
If the brothers Nolan and David Goyer didn’t have plans to include the Joker in the final film in at least some small way before Ledger died then I’m Nelson Mandela. And that means the cycle is incomplete.
The Joker showed Batman that the two of them were eternally warring forces, each a fractured mirror of their own damaged minds, and the fact that they end up knowing each other as intimately as they do is hugely detrimental to Rises, because the two films contradict each other. TDK cements Bruce Wayne as a half-man who can only be completed by the good in him – Batman – and the bad – Joker (TDK, as I’m sure you already know, all about duality) – while Rises suggests that, once he’s done enough, he can rest. The two just don’t gel. Rises may well be a great film, but it’s the conclusion to a different trilogy than The Dark Knight belongs to.
The issue isn’t that Bruce Wayne is alive when he should be dead; even in the comics (especially in the comics), dead rarely ever means dead. The issue is that he’s no longer Batman, a removal that is incongruous with everything we know about the character – and, indeed, all great comic book heroes – and its message ends up proclaiming a counter-progressive message:
Do enough good, and you shall be rewarded by never having to do good again.
When a more noble message, surely befitting of a character so purposefully steeped in myth and legend, would be:
Do good because you must.
Batman needs to do good, to help others, to fight evil. Not because he likes doing good, not because he feels a moral obligation to combat crime, but because there is burning need inside Bruce Wayne to punish wrongdoing, and if he doesn’t give in to that need it will destroy him.
He’s an eternal archetype, and Bruce Wayne’s life is forever bound to that other being. The only way he can escape it is in death. Like Angel’s quest for redemption (because I can never resist adding a Whedon comparison), Batman has to keep fighting because he has to keep fighting.
There is no happy ending; dark avengers don’t get those.
I’ll say no more. I’m sure I’ve said too much already, but I’ll leave you to be the judge of that. If you’ve read this far, then thank you so much for giving up your time to read this. I hope it’s made you think some and want to talk about the film more.
All I’ve offered is an opinion; I’m not saying it’s right, just that it’s mine, and I’d love to hear yours if you’ve got one. If you feel I’ve wasted your time, I do apologise. But you got this far, so I don’t think you did.
Cheers for reading. If you have anything to add/contest, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter.
I look forward to it.