Massive spoilers ahead for “The Dark Knight Rises”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”, and “The Avengers”
I haven’t done a movie analysis on this site since Prometheus came out and since I’m tired of complaining about that movie and everyone is undoubtedly sick of hearing me complain about it, it’s time to move on. So what better movie could I possibly pick now that I’m ready to move on than the thrilling conclusion to director Christopher Nolan’s stunning trilogy about Batman? But what the world doesn’t need is another review of that movie (it’s great.), nor does it need me to weigh in on questions like “was the movie Batman enough?” I want to try to keep this blog focused on the literary aspects of the film, including its story structure, plot devices, dialogue, etc.
Let’s start with the cons and get them out of the way. There is only one major problem that I had with the plot of The Dark Knight Rises and that problem is that, for all the “epicness” of the movie, I never felt invested in the threat. Enough has already been said about The Joker in The Dark Knight, but because of that character’s uniqueness and unpredictability, he always seemed like a genuine threat. It didn’t hurt that the very nature of the character opened him up to A) better dialogue and B) more memorable scenes (the “disappearing pencil” bit, for example). Also, with The Joker’s murky origins, intellect, and unrivaled conviction, there is a reason why that character is Batman’s ultimate foil.
Bane, on the other hand, was always intended to be a more physical rival of Batman, and this isn’t to say that Bane doesn’t have an intelligent component to him, as well, because he certainly does, but, come on—when you look at Bane, you see physical intimidation first. I also was not particularly impressed with the basic presentation of Bane, although the wonderful Tom Hardy did everything he could with the performance. It was just impossible for me to not see shades of Osama bin Vader in that character with that mask and voice. (Serious spoilers ahead!) I never became remotely invested in Bane until the Talia Al Ghul revelation towards the end, which happens only minutes before Bane ends up being blasted to kingdom come by Catwoman.
But my BIGGEST gripe with the plot is that it involves a nuclear bomb. From a plot standpoint, nuclear bombs are one of those clichés that we have got to figure out a way to avoid and, to be honest, I don’t have a ready alternative to suggest. Nowadays, whenever a movie needs an epic threat—something capable of destroying a city—there are only two directions to go: Nuclear bomb or Godzilla. The Amazing Spider-Man outdid itself earlier this year by basically having both: A giant lizard trying to destroy a whole city with a gigantic biological explosive attack. Not quite the same thing I know, but it’s close enough, in my opinion.
Frankly, I would have enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises just as much if Batman battled the Cloverfield monster. Fanboys, before you start chewing me out for that comment, I assume it’s obvious that I’m not being serious. Let’s move on.
Anyway, to quote Chris Rock, these nuclear bomb plots have simply “got to go”. Why is a nuclear bomb attack so lame in a Batman movie? Because I never believed for a minute that Batman was going to let that bomb go off in the middle of Gotham City. Never going to happen. Nice try, Mr. Nolan. So instead of spending the movie wondering if Batman will be successful, I spend it wondering how he will be successful, which is not the same thing and is, really, less satisfying for the viewer. How can I say that? Well, look at presidential elections. Which is more exciting: not knowing who is going to win or wondering what the inevitable landslide winner will say in his (or her… I’m progressive) acceptance speech? (SPOILERS) Furthermore, with the introduction of the aerial craft The Bat, I assumed the movie would involve Batman carrying the bomb away somewhere so that it could explode at a safe distance from Gotham. I was hoping that wouldn’t happen but, of course, it did. Yawn. And, hmmm, why do they keep mentioning this auto-pilot thing? I hope that doesn’t end up being important.
Why do I hate Batman carrying a nuclear bomb away from Gotham City? Because it already happened this year! It happened in The Avengers. A billionaire playboy who moonlights as a superhero heroically carrying an atomic weapon away from a major city while an epic battle between the forces of good and evil takes place in the streets below? I saw that back in May when Iron Man did it! That’s why nuclear bombs are the new cliché for action films. My advice, either don’t use a nuclear device or break with convention and let the thing actually go off! That’s where I’ll give the Watchmen movie credit; it knew how to raise the stakes.
In fairness, Nolan probably had no way of knowing that the Avengers was going to suddenly introduce a nuclear weapon in the waning seconds of that film. In truth, he probably had a great big “son of a bitch!” moment when he found out about it. But I’m a little worried that as superhero films try to outdo themselves and become “more epic”, they’re going to continue to write themselves into what I call “The Nuke Hole”, where a nuclear weapon becomes the only threat sizable enough to justify the heroics of the protagonists. There is a comedic theory called Godwin’s Law that basically maintains that the longer any argument continues, the greater the likelihood that one of the arguing parties will be compared to Hitler. I would like to submit a similar theory for action films called “Sean’s Law”: As the epicness of the threat in a summer action movie increases, the probability of a nuclear weapon being introduced approaches 1.
Okay, now let’s get to the stuff I liked about The Dark Knight Rises, which actually included a great many aspects of the movie. The reason so many people adore Nolan’s trilogy is that these are the ultimate Bruce Wayne movies, as well, and The Dark Knight Rises does a wonderful job of bring that character’s story full circle. I was not initially sold on the prison used in the movie, but as a visual metaphor for the well into which Bruce Wayne falls as a boy in Batman Begins, the film is absolutely brilliant. Nolan may be unrivaled at the moment among directors for visual symbolism and the relationship between the prison in TDKR and the well in BB is absolutely undeniable. I may not be sold on the idea that a 7-year-old girl was able to escape simply because “of spirit” or whatever bulls***, but I admire the sentiments and ultimately rallied behind that idea.
(HUGE SPOILER) I also thought that Catwoman and Robin were handled exceptionally well. Robin, in particular, was something that Nolan knocked out of the park, ironically, without ever actually showing, which was a brilliant strategy. Let’s face it, Robin is a corny character. Good stories have been made in the comics about him, but I still don’t think he would translate very well to screen. However, the casting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a role that basically served the same purpose as Robin was a fantastic and practical approach because it allowed the audience to see Robin without ever actually having to, well, see him in that ridiculous outfit. I loved it and since we’re left with nothing but our imaginations to try to conceive what Robin will do now that Batman is gone, the result is ultimately more satisfying. This is something all writers could stand to learn: Sometimes it’s best to let the reader/viewer do the imagining.
In the end, we can rest assured that Christopher Nolan has created the definitive superhero trilogy. I may be speaking for myself, but after these three Batman films, I think I’m finally ready to move on from that character for a while. I hope they’ll wait a decade or more before rebooting the series with a new actor, director, and vision. I doubt they will. I think we’ll see a new Batman within five years as production ramps up on a JLA movie, but that’s kind of out of our control. Hopefully they’ll continue to do the character justice. For now, I’m content to have a fantastic Batman trilogy that created a perfectly realized world for that character and never once neglected the man behind the mask.