The Dark Knight Rises…just not as high as I was hoping

OK, it’s been long enough, time for my Dark Knight Rises review:

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne and Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle
First, what it got right-

  • Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle was a pleasant surprise; I remember all the apprehension I felt when I heard that casting decision, but she really nailed it.
  • This is Michael Caine’s best performance of Alfred by far. I’ve never looked at Alfred as so human a character before.
  • Christian Bale has a great understanding of the Batman/Bruce Wayne dynamic, and continues to drive that one home. This film lets him shine as Bruce Wayne in a way the others didn’t.
  • Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake are also really engaging; I felt for the former when he was explaining the “structure as shackles” thing to Blake and for the latter at the bridge scene.
  • The gadgets, the Batpod rolling over itself, the Bat being all…cool…and all that stuff was good. This movie also has possibly the best fight scenes of the trilogy.

So, all in all, definitely worth seeing for these performances and the sheer marvel of film that it is.

I have to say, though, that the writing for this movie was mediocre compared to the other films. The Dark Knight had clear themes it was speaking to and got to some gripping conclusions about them, and, most importantly, every scene helped to build to one of those conclusions. It was solid. TDKR, on the other hand, definitely has themes it explores, but it doesn’t commit to them the same way TDK did. I’m just going to focus on one theme, and ignore some others for brevity (other problems include this movie’s villains and plot being nothing more than the first movie with new paint, the way it referenced the Occupy movement but said nothing interesting about it, and the sudden disinterest in the goodness of Gotham’s citizens): Bruce Wayne’s struggle to get past being Batman is the focus at the beginning of the movie, but its then subverted with the appearance of Bane and Gotham being plunged back into utter peril, proving that Gotham needs Batman; all the scenes in the prison of him working himself back into Bat-shape and “getting angry” is just him turning Batman up to 11. At the end, though (huge spoiler here, stop and go back until you’ve seen the movie, I’ll wait!), Bruce Wayne gives up being Batman as if he’s reached some kind of resolution.

Well, if he did, I didn’t see it. It was hinted at, but it seems like Bruce Wayne’s important character development doesn’t really get very much screen time. He ultimately chooses to stop being Batman so he can live a real life as Bruce Wayne, and ends up dating Selina Kyle. This is a great ending, but it’s not built up throughout the movie very well. While it’s definitely the ending we want, there’s scant evidence that it’s the ending Bruce ever wanted. Bruce’s relationship with Miranda Tate, the first time he’s opened up to a woman since Rachel Dawes, ends up being a bad, bad decision, but he just gets over it and starts smooching Catwoman, who has never shown any interest in him until that scene? Yes, I realize that all of a sudden they were faced with the possibility of never seeing each other again and that does bring stuff out that wouldn’t otherwise come out, but while that is a perfectly realistic explanation, I’m not talking about real life, I’m talking about the conclusion to a cinema epic 7 years in the making; you can’t spring a love story on me like that essentially out of the blue.

The worst of it is that it seemed like they had all the pieces to make a poignant resolution to the whole trilogy, but instead of coupling these pieces together they left them separate and just sprinkled the whole thing with vapid spectacle instead. The conversations between Bruce and Alfred (my favorite scenes) put it perfectly; Bruce wanted to die for Gotham City, in a selfish way which, in his torn mind, seemed like self-sacrifice. But what he needed┬áto do was find something to live for instead. If Bruce died fighting Gotham’s battles, then ultimately Gotham’s problems overcame him. But if Bruce saved Gotham and then reclaimed his life – actually overcoming the grief and rage he had harbored and fed since his childhood – then the victory was truly Bruce’s.

While they played this up well during the first half of the film, once Bruce was thrown in the prison, the only motivation Bruce ever mentions is wanting to throw himself back into being Batman. The doctor guy in the prison was right there talking about how he needed to fear death in order to have the strength to get out. He was just a hair’s breadth away from saying what needed to be said; that something to live and fight for is more important than not fearing death. Instead of making that connection to life, though, they left it at “you need to fear death.” Period. They didn’t bring it full circle to what Alfred and Lucius Fox talked about in the first hour of the movie.

Had that point been made, then the relationship he had randomly begun with Miranda Tate could have been much more important. Bruce’s desire to get out wasn’t about Bruce getting angry, it was about him realizing that he had a life to go back to that he actually wanted, and that he needed to fight to save that opportunity now. That would have given the whole final conflict so much more emotional punch, and the betrayal by Miranda would have been that much more treacherous. But the best part of that would be that when Miranda explains how she really just wanted revenge on Bruce, he could then turn around and – instead of flatly-delivering some one-liner about slow knives – say something profound about how he knows revenge inside and out, and it will never satisfy her, it’s a loser’s game, or something much better than that but to that same point; he could invite her, even at that stage, to overcome that grief as he had and redeem herself. Of course she wouldn’t, and that’s fine. Because then, when Catwoman does come back a moment later, it proves that she’s actually the one with the kind of heart that Bruce could love.

Ideally Bruce and Selina would have had a tad closer of a relationship, then he would consider both Miranda and Selina in the prison, and ultimately choose Miranda as his motivation, then reverse that when their true colors are shown. Then when he says he’s going to sacrifice himself a couple scenes later, there’s a real emotional tug because we actually know that at this point he and Selina were on the verge of a great relationship, but he’s sacrificing that for Gotham, and Selina would know that, too, and actually be sad with us. Instead of watching their attraction to each other go from 0-60 at the speed of plot, we would be cheering for this relationship as it developed more organically and felt how much Bruce’s sacrifice would really hurt. Then the reveal with the auto-pilot would have sent us through-the-roof crazy with cheers because we were emotionally invested, instead of just being “cool.”

*Sigh*

So, in the end, TDKR is fun to watch, but really it’s only a wild success based on the momentum of TDK; the narrative fails to get us sufficiently invested in the characters, relationships, or even the themes it explores. I’d say it’s at the high end of average, but not truly exceptional like TDK or even Avengers is.

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