The Dark Knight Rises debate continues…

3

Firstly, I did not dredge this debate up, it’s been simmering for some time amongst internet fandoms. With the ongoing speculation and bizarre casting choices for the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, and the divisions that Man of Steel sparked within Superman fandoms, one debate still maintains fervent contention; that of The Dark Knight Rises, its many faults, and how good or bad a film it was. Why do we keep doing this? From my end I must say; it’s because we weren’t satisfied, and we won’t be satisfied for some time – the vast majority of Batman fans can never be so especially now that Affleck has his hands on the cape.
What inspired this article is a piece I read recently on Whatculture: 6 Common misconceptions about TDKR, delivered in an ‘unbiased’ article, but supporting TDKR nevertheless. Let me clarify this point though: The Dark Knight Rises was not a BAD film, it was just heavily flawed, not well executed, and for many, just deeply unsatisfying.

Batman Origins
So let me start with this: Promises that The Dark Knight made that TDKR broke.

  • “So we’ll hunt him, ‘cos that’s what needs to happen, because he can take it…” – Apparently he can’t because he gave it all up, so there was no reason for Gordon to make this speech because they didn’t really have to hunt for the Batman after all.
  • Batman can be the outcast – By hanging up the cape, Bruce Wayne removed Batman from the picture. In the comic books/graphic novels, there is a story in which he hangs up the cape (though retains communication with Gordon), call it indefinite sabbatical – a story they chose as inspiration, but, ultimately didn’t actually tell (in part due to all the superpower laden characters, including Supe’s).
  • Being more real than a comic book. – this is something Chris Nolan and co outwardly stated and successfully did with The Dark Knight and even many elements of Batman Begins, but in TDKR they relied heavily on comic book source material, and leaned on (some say copped out) on a nuclear bomb storyline (from a different graphic novel). As one commentator put it, Nolan trod the tightrope with TDK, but plummeted to the safety net in TDKR.
  • Batman can endure. Again, NO he can’t apparently. Even Alfred thought he couldn’t endure this. But with Bruce’s resolve, he “rose” and defeated his enemy, thereby illustrating his own ideal and resolve, whist highlighting his undying iron will, even when outmatched physically, stripped of everything, and while all others had given up, on him and on hope, he did not, because he’s “the best of us”. Nolan changed the Batman mythos by ‘killing’ the character (for the benefit of Gotham and the story he wanted to tell) – but that doesn’t hold against what Batman ultimately embodies… this one is still being debated!

 

Batman painting_2

Illustration by Mehmet Ozin

Things TDKR didn’t grasp about The Dark Knight’s success -
So its hard to follow up a masterpiece, but in short, the filmmakers failed to learn from a successful formula (if it can be seen as such). Here are a few good elements from The Dark Knight that were missing from ‘Rises’.

  • A collection of charismatic villains. In TDK, ALL the villains were interesting and fun to watch, even in the shadow of Ledger’s brilliance as the Joker, the role of the other villains, mostly in organised crime, is often underestimated. From Maroni to Lau, Scarecrow and later Two-Face, and even the lesser ones like Gambol and the Chechen – they portrayed intriguing criminals who also displayed their humanity at various levels, albeit spring boarding off the Joker’s lunacy; Maroni betraying the Joker’s whereabouts to Gordon as an example. In TDKR all we got was Bane and his henchmen, the divisive Selina Kyle and then right at the end Talia (along with Bane’s demise).
  • Likeable characters. Selina Kyle is a point of contention, but let’s count her as likeable for now (though not everyone enjoyed her presence, barring her one good scene). Once again, in TDK, most, if not all the characters are likeable, even the bad guys… in TDKR, Lucious Fox has minimal screen time, Alfred mostly argues with Bruce before he leaves, and then another divisive element occurs; they polarised newcomer John Blake (whom we sympathised with because he was in Gordon’s corner)  and Com. Gordon in that ill-handled scene where the truth around Harvey Dent comes to light. This doesn’t leave us with many characters to like –of course there’s Batman, whom everyone’s supposed to like, but he only shows up briefly half way through the film. TDK had amusing and playful banter – something that was either missing or drastically reduced in TDKR – which removed the fun element of the film.
  • Understanding Batman. This strikes at another Nolan point of contention. Why did Bruce decide to become Batman in the first place? He was inspired and traumatised by witnessing the death of his parents – something that would haunt him for the rest of his days. But an aspect that is alluded to in Batman Begins (and of course the comic books), is that Bruce actually liked being Batman. He likes that it has become his purpose, he enjoys playing the detective, and getting to beat up bad guys, not to mention the cool gadgets… so part of the trouble in him wanting to give up the cowl (because he/no one could do it forever) is that part of him doesn’t want to give up something he enjoys. And then there’s the small detail that secretly he doesn’t believe he’s a good person – no good person in their right mind would go out looking to beat up bad guys to a pulp, even if we all harbour likeminded notions, actually doing it night after night – that leans on sociopathic tendencies. All this indicates a character that’s more complex than a lot of people like to admit (which is why I get so irritated by folks who say “Oh Affleck, he certainly has the chin for it…”! – Batman isn’t one of the most iconic characters of all time because of a chin!)… It sort of leans toward The WATCHMEN complex, in that the most likeable and popular (read favourite) character there IS also quite simply a sociopath who enjoys killing and punishing bad people – Rorschach. Some of the most complex characters around are those who are essentially good guys, but willing to do bad things and get their hands dirty…
  • Ultimately, The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t a natural sequel to The Dark Knight – it did not follow on organically which is why the first hour is such a mess of explaining and character building. And so, instead of extending and building on the success and elements developed in TDK, they went and built next door to it.

 

A funny piece as usual from HISHE, but they make valid points:

I wrote this piece simply to remind people that, even though the best superhero film yet to hit our screens was one containing the caped vigilante going up against his old foe the Joker, we are still yet to see THE Dark Knight fully fleshed out and at home in his Batcave, minus camp-iness (and Ben Affleck). The ‘camp’ refers to the Tim Burton films (if you balked at this, just go watch them again).

In the Nolan trilogy, every villain challenged or broke Batman in a different way: Scarecrow – the mind, Raz al Ghul –morality, Joker – spirit, Two Face – hope, Bane – body, Talia al Gul – heart… but after all that, Batman was meant to show his true resolve and outlive them all, which he did, technically, as Bruce Wayne, but after hanging up the cape, and in secret. Of course the comics and graphic novels delve deeper and stretch and break more of his faculties, but in each case he finds a way to overcome. In one storyline from ‘The Black Hand’ he fortifies his mind (sort of like Inception, but more hard core), by traveling (back) to the far East to conduct mental exercises and meditation… it served him well when he was later buried alive.

This is part and parcel of why the Batman film franchise will continue well beyond Man of Steel sequels and whatever Justice League soiree  is in the works – because quite simply, as utterly brilliant as ‘The Dark Knight’ is, we still haven’t been given the Batman we deserve. Chris Nolan may have broken boundaries and redefined the genre (and I/we thank him for it), but this is one character that has so much more to give… the bottom line is this :
Let Batman, BE BATMAN!

 

Some other reading on this topic: Another look at The Dark Knight Rises.

[And I’ll add this extract from the intro of one of his timeless graphic novels – and one of the best of all time – a masterpiece that Nolan claimed to use as inspiration…]

 

“…

Even fat, beet-red old ‘Penguin’ chirps out a curse or two before bursting into tears. Then they get talking. And if you’ve got half a brain, you listen.
They talk about amazing adventures, sounding like a bunch of retired car mechanics the whole time.
They talk about a Man of Steel. An Amazon Princess.
But they never talk about the mean one. The cruel one. The one who couldn’t fly or bend steel in his bare hands. The one who scared the crap out of everybody and laughed at all the rest of us for being the envious cowards we were.
No, they never talk about him. Say his name and watch Dibny’s face sag so bad his jaw hits the bar.
Not a man among them wants to hear about Batman.

…”

– Introduction by Frank Miller, ‘The Dark Knight Returns

Batman vs Superman - Good person
  • Zaid

    This makes a very good point. We’ve yet to a see a Batman film, minus the camp, that sees him at the fullness of his powers. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both tell the story of how Bruce Wayne fully transforms into the Batman. And you’re right, we’re essentially promised that we will see this character in the third installment, but instead we get a version of Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

    I dunno if it was intention, but I suddenly like that movie a lot less.

    • http://stevenbenjamin.weebly.com/blog Steven Benjamin

      Thanks Zaid, the intent was simply to be honest. I know that after The Dark Knight I (and my inner fanboy) had goosebumps; but part of the problem (as I mentioned in my other piece “Another look at the Dark Knight Rises”, is that we were ribbed of a film – in that there should’ve been another film in this Nolan series – “Rises” could’ve been split into two films, building up to Batman ‘retiring’ and including more elements of “the hunt for the caped crusader”. I just think this film was rushed though, like it works in concept format but that they needed to flesh out the idea properly. The 5 year gap in production didn’t help either…

    • http://stevenbenjamin.weebly.com/ Steven Benjamin

      Thanks Zaid, the intent was simply to be honest. I know that after The
      Dark Knight I (and my inner fanboy) had goosebumps; but part of the
      problem (as I mentioned in my other piece “Another look at the Dark
      Knight Rises”, is that we were ribbed of a film – in that there
      should’ve been another film in this Nolan series – “Rises” could’ve been
      split into two films, building up to Batman ‘retiring’ and including
      more elements of “the hunt for the caped crusader”. I just think this
      film was rushed though, like it works in concept format but that they
      needed to flesh out the idea properly. The 5 year gap in production
      didn’t help either…