Each week two of Bro Jackson’s film writers, David Kallison and Eddie Strait, will find a movie they disagree on and throw down as only film nerds know how: Through tersely worded emails. This week’s movie is the backbreaking and unfortunately not break dancing “The Dark Knight Rises.”
David Kallison: I loved “Batman Begins” and I loved “The Dark Knight” even more. While both movies were flawed, they were such big, entertaining takes on the character, the significant logic lapses were forgiven. The Joker‘s plan in “The Dark Knight” has been picked apart on the Internet, but those contrivances don’t matter because most viewers either don’t notice or don’t care. It is a comic book movie after all. The Joker’s switcheroo was cruel to the max, but more importantly, was quintessential Joker. The plot stemmed from the character. The larger themes of how society (the police, the mayor, the district attorney) dealt with anarchy flowed organically from the characters.
“Dark Knight Rises” fails remarkably on both a character and thematic level. I want to focus on Batman and Bane and address Catwoman later. The first time we find out any of Bane’s motivation, it is already over an hour into the movie. An hour. Bane does the following in the first hour: (1) kidnaps some guy but we don’t know who he is yet; (2) breaks into the stock exchange and, though we don’t know it then, steals all of Bruce Wayne’s money; (3) fights and captures Batman after Batman shows up looking for him. Only then do we understand his motivations. Only then do we have any clue as to what he wants. Therefore, his plane scene and stock exchange scene, hold no consequences and thus hold little tension. Do I care if that guy on the plane dies? Not at all, because I don’t know who he is. Do I care if Bane is stopped at the Stock Exchange? Not at all, because I don’t know what he’s doing. Compare this to Joker robbing the bank–I immediately learn how sadistic and smart the Joker is in that one scene. But an hour into this movie, I don’t know shit about Bane except that he has no regard for human life.
Batman, thus, has no motivation to give one shit about Bane. He suspects, I guess, that Bane is behind the Stock Exchange incident that drained his money, but he simply tells Selina that he “needs to find Bane.” No other reason shown or given. By the time we get to the fight, 75 minutes in, we, as the audience, have no reason to care about the victor besides that Batman is the “good guy.” But as we were told in “The Dark Knight,” the good guy isn’t always the best guy and “hero Gotham deserves right now” and blah blah, all thrown out the window. Bane is bad because he kills people and Batman is good because he’s Batman. Now fight.
Bane breaking Batman’s back was so powerful in the comics because it reminded us of Batman’s mortality and the fact that Batman was breakable, like us. It brought us closer to him and him to us. Yet, in “DKR,” it just sort of happens, no music, no nothing, and we move on. Because neither character has any real reason to be fighting, the fight itself is boring. Batman and Bane even look bored as they punch each other. And Batman uses no tricks, no gadgets, nothing. Instead he fights, hand-to-hand with someone clearly strong than he is. What the hell?
That should give you enough to chew on for now, but I have more. MORE. Batter up, Eddie.
Eddie Strait: Let me preface this by saying that I think “Dark Knight” is the best of this series in every facet. In a lot of ways “Dark Knight Rises” never had chance to be anything but a letdown. Obviously, there’s no topping The Joker. Second, “DKR” had to pay off two movies’ worth of setups. That said, I appreciate the ambitious approach in terms of the story’s scope. It didn’t all work, but I still think it’s a worthy conclusion to the trilogy.
The spectacle and execution of the plane sequence is incredible. If there’s a problem with Bane’s introduction, it’s that it’s too awesome. But really, I’d say it’s too similar to The Joker’s. I mean, I didn’t really care about the fate of the characters in the bank, I was just enthralled by the robbery itself. Compare that to Bane’s hijacking of the plane, which is equally calculated and just as merciless. We certainly don’t know the extent of Bane’s gameplan after the opening and the same goes for The Joker. I don’t see how these openings are that different in terms of what they accomplish. If anything, I’d complain that the villain intros are too similar. Now, I think the movie expects that audiences will be captivated enough by Bane that the reveal of his plan can wait. That’s compounded by the fact that Bane is carrying out somebody else’s plan, whereas The Joker is literally an army of one. If the mystery or puzzle nature of Bane’s actions didn’t work for you, I don’t blame you. I can’t say I cared about it too much either. I felt like it was building to something, so I was content to let it play out.
What I did care about was the threat that Bane posed to Batman and Gotham. Prior to Batman and Bane’s first fight, the focus of the movie is re-establishing the world of Gotham and how things are in light of “DK.” While we don’t know what Bane’s endgame is quite yet, we do know that he’s unraveling everything Batman and Gordon accomplished, which will not only bring down Batman but Gotham too. So from that standpoint I was hooked by the threat Bane posed.
Here’s how I see that first Bane/Batman fight. We’re already aware of Batman’s mortality. We’ve heard the laundry list of injuries and seen Bruce walking with a cane. We know he’s in bad shape. Even with his magic knee brace, Batman is no physical match for Bane and the fight plays out as it should. Batman tries his old tricks and they’re useless once Bane gets his hands on him. Going by what we’ve seen up to that point in the story, the fight shouldn’t be close at all. I think that’s reflected in the way it’s presented. No frills, no grand staging, just a brute beating a hobbled man. Batman was full of hubris and he was humbled.
Batman, like Gotham, needed to be broken in order to build something better. They had built up themselves up on a foundation of lies, no matter their intentions, so neither could be as pure as they wanted to be.
DK: I agree that the set pieces were spectacular, but I came for Christopher Nolan’s expertise, not a video game. I think you accidentally hit on one of my big issues when you said Bane’s intro was too similar to The Joker’s in “Dark Knight.” It feels, over and over again, that this part was written for the Joker, not Bane. The random violence, the chaotic bent, and especially the idea that a random citizen has the detonator, an idea that’s quickly dropped, all scream Joker to me. There wasn’t enough–backstory withstanding–that differentiated the two villains.
I really dig the idea that both Gotham and Batman were built on lies and, thus, could not stand. That’s a powerful theme, it just isn’t one that was successfully carried out, in my opinion. And I’m not sure the third movie in an action trilogy is the place to break down and then build up the main character. At the two-hour mark, entering the third act of the third film, Wayne is chilling in a jail cell. Why? And then, while we watch him do push-ups, we get a significant call-back to the first movie. Ghul hasn’t been mentioned in roughly five hours of screen time, and yet, here we are. Any tension built up during the movie is slowly deflated when Bruce goes to jail and starts learning about Bane. This is first act shit and yet we’re two hours in. Plus, it makes no sense, character-wise, that Wayne would sleep with Miranda. He was so cut up over Rachel that he limps around, but once he finds out she was going to marry someone else, he goes out and bangs a chick he just met? And then the romance isn’t brought up again. If it was supposed to make her betrayal more powerful, it failed.
Batman’s humbling at the hands of Bane, I agree, is a fun play. And there’s also bits about Batman needing those around him, not being able to succeed on his own, that were nice. I definitely dug Catwoman and sort of wish the movie was just about her. Anne Hathaway kills. However, the idea that Catwoman, after a whole life of thievery, just now decides to sell Wayne’s fingerprints to those dudes in order to get the Record Eraser Thingy is, well, quite a coincidence. This movie is full of those coincidences that could be forgiven (a la “Dark Knight”) if the overall work was better.
What did you like about the movie besides the action? What got you going?
ES: The Miranda-Bruce relationship never really clicked for me. The only justification I can muster is that he probably got tired of only having Alfred around for eight years and wanted the company of a woman. See, even the 1 percent have the same needs and desires as the rest of us. Maybe Nolan wanted a break from showing Batman as an ideal, a metaphor, and wanted to remind audiences that at his core this is supposed to be a human person. Not many people can relate to being a major American city’s savior in the face of destruction, but significantly more people can relate to a one night stand gone awry.
But seriously, I do think Miranda’s story works more often than not. I like that she’s set up as being a female version of Wayne: someone (with a disguise) whose deceased parents spur on all their actions and goals. Not only that, but Miranda has her own Alfred in Bane, someone who took her in and helped raise her. Of course that’s not an exact one-to-one comparison, but I think it’s an interesting one nonetheless.
The problem with the lack of tension that you’re talking about goes back to the ambition of the story Nolan is looking to tell. The story plays out over such a long period of time, especially compared to “Dark Knight,” that the tension is sacrificed. Everything in “Dark Knight” is so propulsive because The Joker gives everybody insanely short deadlines to force them into fast decisions, whereas when Bane does it, the deadline is six months. Even though the stakes are higher this time around, the elongated period is inherently anti-climactic, especially since movies have trained audiences to know that when a deadline is given, it’s inevitable that the excitement won’t really ramp up until time is almost up.
That’s where the material is really tested, because we spend so much time seeing Gotham’s transformation. It held my attention because the previous two movies had built up my investment in Gotham’s fate.
Where the story’s ambition comes back to bite it is the attempt to bring everything full cirlce with the reveal of Miranda’s true identity. It makes sense that Nolan wants to end the story in a way that ties things together as much as possible and make the series a cohesive whole. That forces the story into some coincidences that test your suspension of disbelief.
I’m glad you liked Hathaway, I thought she was good. She’s the only character I can recall in this movie that’s not a clear cut good gal or bad gal, that actually struggles with her decisions. I think she’s able to inject some humanity into Selina to keep her from completely being a thematic figurehead.
DK: There was a feeling, especially in the beginning, of being happy to just spend more time in Gotham. I guess watching Nolan destroy the city just to raise the stakes felt cheap exactly because we were so invested in it. Plus, we never really see Gotham go back to normal, right? Is the kangaroo court still in place? Are the cops OK? Because I now care, I wanted more denouement.
Speaking of denouement, wow. They certainly wrapped this one up with a bow didn’t they? Let’s finish up by talking about one of those last scenes, the one where Alfred sees Wayne and Selina in Italy, just like his fantasy. I actually don’t hate the scene on its face. Alfred is such a lovable character, any victory tossed his way felt good. But, do we really think this happened? Isn’t Wayne presumed dead? And if so, wouldn’t everyone freak out if they saw him just roaming the streets? This is the last shot we see of Wayne and to have it go against every bit of logic felt cheap. Especially after that ending to “DK” that makes me squeal with delight every time I see it. This felt ham-fisted at best.
Take us home, Eddie. What’d you think of the ending?
ES: This will shock you, but I liked the ending.
I think Nolan gets too cute with the ambiguous ending. Like you said, the final scene on its own is fine, but especially in comparison to “DK” it pales. But that goes back to my point about “DKR” having a much higher degree of difficulty than “DK” because it has to bring some sense of closure.
Whether the Italian lunch scene is all in Alfred’s head or not, I liked the last image of Wayne showing him as happy. As we’ve come to know him in this trilogy, his whole life has been marked by sacrifice and a sense of duty. That his final sacrifice is giving up the mantle of Batman fits really well with what Nolan had built in the movies, especially “DKR.”
I’m not that interested in debating whether or not Wayne actually died or not. I know somebody that believes without a doubt that he died, but I’ve also read the survival theories. I can see it from both sides. I prefer to think that he lives because I think that’s a stronger ending for the character and series. The idea that Batman represents something symbolically to the potential and protection of Gotham resonates with me. Sure, he can achieve that by dying for his cause, but that’s a grand, selfish gesture given the people that care about him (Alfred, Lucius) and the fact that he can do more good alive (like continuing to fund the foster centers) from a safe distance just makes more sense to me.