Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dark Disappointment

Christopher Nolan was supposed to be the guy to finally break the third film curse. His Batman trilogy was expected to not follow the same disappointing pattern as Spider-Man, The X-Men, and Blade's cinematic trilogies where two good-to-great films are capped off by a lame, frustrating finale. Now, some people will tell you that he did accomplish that, that The Dark Knight Rises was pretty good - maybe even great! - but I don't think there's a legitimate case to be made in that regard. In its own way, Rises is yet another third film disaster, ending this series on a bum note.

Chief among its failings, Rises botches the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman. I know this is supposed to be Nolan's take on Batman so some leeway ought to be given for interpretation but under Nolan's guidance, Batman has become not so much a tireless crusader for justice but more of a self-pitying schlub who thinks nothing of sulking alone in his home for almost a decade. Yes, it's true that Bruce has given up on being Batman before in the comics - and in the world of animation - but it's always been due to either advancing age or some quickly resolved crisis of conscience concerning whether the Batman does more harm than good. Here, it's a lame combo of still being morose over the death of Rachel (!) as well as serving as the city's scapegoat for the death of Harvey Dent.

That last thing, by the way, is really asinine. Supposedly, after Dent's death, a piece of legislation known as The Dent Act was passed, making it possible for organized crime to be more easily prosecuted and before long, organized crime has been run out of Gotham entirely. But...isn't organized crime accustomed to working around the law? Isn't that part of the whole "crime" thing? And the plausibility of the Dent Act aside, even without organized crime, there'd still be plenty of old-fashioned disorganized crime to keep Batman busy. Just the idea of common criminals roaming the streets without fearing The Batman ought to be enough motivation for Bruce to keep donning the cowl at night, rather than spending the better part of a decade shuffling around Wayne Manor.

Not only do Nolan and co. have Bruce give up on crimefighting but they also have him all but abandon his own company and let all the potential good that could come from its charitable work fritter away (even the old, long retired Bruce Waynes of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and the animated series Batman Beyond were never shown as descending into cluelessness - the character was still portrayed as being sharp as a tack). If there's any way to make Batman look bad, Rises finds it. On top of retreating from both crime fighting and from managing Wayne Enterprises, Rises shows Bruce as being all but incompetent once he does get back in the game. Batman is supposed to be not just someone who has molded themselves into peak physical shape but is also one of the world's greatest detectives and, above all, a master strategist. In contrast to that, Rises gives us a Batman who is outplayed at every turn, taken by surprise over and over. Where Batman is supposed to be someone supremely on top of things, Nolan portrays him as always being a step behind.

Then there's also the confused politics of the film to contend with. Is this a film about the haves and the have-nots, a indictment of the 1%, or is it a kneejerk slamming of the Occupy movement? If anything, it seems like the latter as once Bane puts his plot in motion to isolate Gotham, the lower classes are portrayed as grasping greedy animals, swarming on the homes of the rich as the wealthy cower in fright. It's a grotesque cariacture of the OWS movement that Fox News itself would be proud of - the jealous poor getting revenge on all the people who have worked hard for their fortunes. This lines up with Nolan's curiously contemptuous view of Gothamites as sheep, easily led by a lie (Dent's legacy), and makes Rises seem like a simple-minded conservative jab at valid real world complaints about social and economic inequity.

Bane, certainly, doesn't represent any true political viewpoint. As much as, if not even more than, The Joker, he simply wants to watch the world burn. He's just lighting a much longer wick towards that end. His speeches about being for the oppressed are nothing but lip service meant to hide his true intentions and nowhere in Rises do we see any evidence of the people taking Gotham back. If anything, what we see is the police force reasserting themselves while "the people" do essentially nothing.

On a technical level, The Dark Knight Rises certainly looks just fine. But the storyline and the characterization of Batman (a big deal in a Batman film - in fact, a deal-breaker in my book) can't be defended. This is one of those movies that annoyed me on such a fundamental level that I could go through a whole laundry list of individual moments that had me rolling my eyes but that would just be piling on. Going forward, I'll just have to pretend that the series ended with The Dark Knight.

Finally, there's the matter of how guns are handled in this film. It wouldn't be fair to chastise the film for how it reflects against tragic real world events but it is fair to note that it goes against Batman's staunch anti-gun stance. Yes, Batman himself is still anti-gun and instructs Catwoman at one point - "No guns. No killing", to which Catwoman replies "Where's the fun in that?" but what really left a sour taste in my mouth is how at a crucial climatic moment, the use of a gun (a huge gun, of course) is allowed to end a battle, capped by a flip, "cool" comment to Batman to the effect of "That thing you have against guns? I don't have that." It's a moment that glibly undermines Batman's antipathy towards guns and his historic insistence on always finding a another, better way to deal with his foes. For any long-time Bat fan, it's a moment that will stick out as being wrong.

There's plenty of that kind of thing to go around in Rises, unfortunately. Having followed the character for many years through comics, TV, animation and film, I'm all for different interpretations of Batman but if you're going to just gut the core of the character, what's the point? The line "I Believe In Harvey Dent" echoed through the last two films in Nolan's trilogy but I just hope that whoever takes on the responsibility of rebooting this franchise down the line will be able to say "I Believe in Batman" and say it with real conviction.


Mummbles said...

Strongly disagree here. I found it to be a well done movie and a great finish to what is the best comic book trilogy ever made (so far!). I feel your main problem is that you wanted him to be like the comic books, Nolan goes for a more real world approach. 87% on rotten tomatoes and 9.0 IMDB rating...the audience agrees with me here.

Jeff Allard said...

I always find that using the general audience to support your views is never a wise move. Too many times great movies are ignored or actively disliked during their initial releases while mediocre-to-poor movies are applauded. People often fall back on statements like "but everybody loved it!" or "but everybody hated it!" to support a particular opinion on a movie - but only when the mass opinion happens to agree with theirs. So as a rule, I believe you're always better off simply standing by your own opinion - whether it's a popular one or not - because, sooner or later, you're not going to agree with what everybody else thinks. And then what are you going to say?

As for Rises, I would say I wanted to be like the comics only in regard to presenting a Batman who wasn't a weak-willed half-wit. I want to see a Batman who is indomitable, not an addle-brained cream puff. I don't think that's asking too much. But hey, at least Nolan made two pretty good Batman films - that's not too shabby.

Unknown said...

I think, potentially, I can understand Nolan's decision to make Bruce Wayne an addle-brained cream puff. His vision is a semi realistic interpretation of Batman. After going through what he does for several years he would be a bit diminished. He fights people every day for a few years, gets in car crashes. He can't keep it up forever.

I have heard that maybe Nolan was going for the myth that Batman is an identity to be picked up by new people every few years.

Not that I agree with any of this as a good decision with regard to the comics. Just my two cents as to why he might have gone that direction.

Jeff Allard said...

Cody, I think that's exactly why Nolan has gone in the direction he went. In a recent interview - for Entertainment Weekly, I believe - Nolan said that he only envisioned Bruce Wayne as having short term goals in mind as Batman, that he didn't see himself being Batman forever and that it was more of a symbolic gesture. Nolan went on to say that thinking of Batman this way was the only way he could wrap his head around the character.

To me, if you have to struggle that much to accept the idea of Batman, you're probably not the best person to chronicle the character's adventures. Yes, there's a lot of suspension of disbelief at play in regards to Batman but that's the name of the game and I think it's ultimately self-defeating to apply too much realism to the character and the world he inhabits.

A certain amount of grit works when dealing with Batman but in the end, it's a fanciful notion that a billionaire would spend his nights prowling the city dressed as a bat. In real life someone could only do what Batman does for about a night before getting fatally shot, arrested, or permanently injured.

And even if Nolan wanted to go with the "realistic" notion that Bruce physically couldn't keep on with being Batman, it didn't mean that he also had to have Bruce be so negligent towards Wayne Enterprises and his charitable works.

If Rises works for some people (and obviously it does), that's great. It just didn't do it for me. I think that the best movie version of Batman would lie somewhere between Nolan and Burton's approach. I'll be curious to see what the next incarnation of the character on screen will look like.

Anonymous said...

The reason why I love all of Nolan's bat films is that they looked to ground Batman in reality and in some instances (as seen in TDKR), with actual modern day goings ons.

And to that end, when we visibly see Bruce's wounds and when he goes to the doc just to have the laundry list of injuries rattled off, really points to the fact that he is a mere mortal, something the comics never really did until the Knightfall series. Granted, I am not as well versed as you, but when I read comics back in the late 80's and through most of the 90's, this was the first time Batman was shown as truly vulnerable, running the gauntlet of villains and then finally succumbing to Bane's overpowering menace.

This rooted in reality approach on multiple levels worked for me as well as the consistent theme of committing to an ideal but ultimately, anyone with the same principles can be Batman. When Rachel ended his world ended and I can see how he would want to hang up the cape and cowl (on top of taking the fall for Dent). I think we can all empathize with the feeling of being so committed to someone that when they pass, we simply can't move on or let go. It may not be something that the Batman of the comics would do but his pain and commitment felt very honest and again, grounded in reality with this incarnation.

As for Nolan's comments, I take it as not that he couldn't wrap his head around the character per se, but what actual motivations and 'real-life' events would fit into his vision of the character.

Overall, I thought it was a brilliant ending to a brilliant series.

Jeff Allard said...

Nolan's take on Batman has clearly struck a resonate chord with a lot of fans, PoT! All I know for sure is that whoever takes on the task of rebooting Batman is going to have their work cut out for them.

Anonymous said...

That's for sure!

sm_hayes90 said...

I finally went to see this movie today and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I thought it was nearly on par with The Dark Knight, and I felt that the ending was perfect for the series. Bane doesn't even come close to matching the Joker, which was tough to live up to and kind of expected. I did though, like Hathaway and Cotillard more in the female counterpart roles than I did Maggie Gyllenhaal. I also liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt better than Aaron Eckhart in the sort of "3rd crime fighter" role (after Batman and Gordon).
My only complaint was that they didn't mention a single thing about the Joker once, especially after they kind of left him hanging (literally and figuratively) at the end of TDK. I understand it was out of respect for Ledger, but I thought at least 1 little comment would have been acceptable.
I only find 1 thing unfair about your review, and that is your mention about the crime with the Dent Act. IMO, it wasn't that crime was ENTIRELY wiped out from Gotham after the Dent Act, it was that there were no more criminals that were too powerful for regular officers to handle. Bane was the next to come along where Batman was needed.
But that's just how I felt. I don't agree, but I did enjoy your review. As for if this will stand the time for me and I'll still be able to put it on par with TDK, we'll just have to wait and see.