Another look: The Dark Knight Rises

 

In an otherwise dismal year of film releases, currently basking in the ample light of Skyfall, many of us knew very early on where we’d find our thrills. Every year begins with a look at coming attractions and besides the 007 sequel it was the return of the caped crusader that most were looking forward to, in fact it was widely believed that others would have to fight to get a share of the remaining spoils of the market… reality was, well, a little more realistic. And I speak for many when I say that TDKR didn’t live up to expectations. Here I plan to look at the “why’s” the “head-scratching moments” and the “could’ve been’s” of 2012’s most anticipated film…

Let’s start with what we got. Since Joel already delivered his review earlier this year I will simply sum up my assessment (assuming everyone reading this has already seen the film – so fair warning to those who haven’t, I advise you to skip to the very last paragraph then): I believe this was a good film which mostly lived up to the hype in terms of delivering a huge, loud, blockbuster special, but with a very solid and serious undertone…

And that’s it really, because when I think about it, this was a real missed opportunity. I believe the Nolans really sold themselves short and placed unnecessary pressure on themselves (and all the rest involved) by labelling this film, from the outset, as the final chapter. In other words: finished, end, no more – effectively wiping their hands clean of this franchise. In essence, they flattered to deceive.

 

Here’s why:

Since the beginning they claimed they were rooting this Batman in reality; and they succeeded with the previous two instalments, but then decided to hash through on the final chapter, copping out with a rather clichéd nuclear explosive climax (though I must admit feeling a little giddy at the sight of some of the scenes which I recognized from the storied panels of the comics and graphic novels –they did admit to pulling certain sections directly from the books). If done well, this shouldn’t be a problem, but since we’re speaking of Chris Nolan here, it seems like his actions somewhat contradict his earlier claims of “rooting it in reality” (allowances are made of course for the fact that there are no real caped crusaders in our world, so one can only go so far with this type of fiction).

As for the film itself, as Joel alluded to in his review, there are holes in the storyline and the editing needs work, in fact, it is the weakest in the trilogy as far as simple filmmaking goes. It’s way too jerky, and not all of the gears seems to mesh quite right – this is curious when looking at the quality of the work they did on The Dark Knight and Inception; both similarly tricky with many moving parts. Again it comes to the timing and what I’m calling “final chapter syndrome”. If they’d simply gone about things in a less rushed manner, treating this film as they did the others (because that’s not the impression we get), they would have delivered a much improved and well-crafted product, giving more to the characters, allowing for better use of the talented actors in attendance (Nolan seems to be developing a habit of underusing talent).

To “timing” then – but in this instance referring to the timeline in the film – Referencing the “reality” comment again; it struck me as bizarre when they notified us that TDKR would take place 8 years after the end of events in The Dark Knight, since it had only been 5 years (in reality – our time)… okay, so adjustments made and we were allowed a bit of  time to get used to the idea (for me though, this was a mistake, and the first of many red flags which as they just so happened, had their own repercussions). In that mistake they essentially made TDKR a stand-alone film, but also in doing so, they alienated it, by distancing themselves from reality again (storylines aside), and falling heavily on the graphic novel material, something Nolan said he was trying to avoid, as he claimed in the beginning that they’d simply use Frank Miller’s storylines and character versions as inspiration. I am of course speaking of technicalities here, because as I’ve mentioned, this is still a good film – it just could have been so much better.

I won’t go in depth into the variety of other errors made – a simple Google search will reveal them – suffice is to say, there were some head-scratching moments and inconsistencies, for instance:

  • Alfred wouldn’t just up and leave Bruce Wayne hanging.
  • In the Dark Knight we were taught: “Batman can endure, he can make the choice that no one else can make” – apparently he couldn’t endure this, according to Alfred who, as we’d learned up until TDKR, always helped Bruce to adapt and grow to overcome his new enemies and whatever came his way.
  • The timeline issue was hard to grasp – Bruce just seemed too capable – we weren’t allowed enough time to grasp the fact that his wounds had taken their toll when in actual fact (to contradict themselves) he was simply lounging around doing nothing in his rebuilt estate for the last eight years.
  • Bane wasn’t allowed to be the villain he should have been (one commentator suggested they should have made him and Thalia siblings, to place him on an equal footing, further justifying his beef with Batman, and resulting in making him a more intriguing villain)
  • Where were all the people of Gotham?  – There were too many scenes of Gotham’s empty streets, betraying the elements of fear and peril.
  • Time line again – for a wartime saga, the 3-6 months that Bane occupies the city, never feels that long… allowing Bruce a speedy and expected recovery – because we all know he’s going to rise.
  • It lacked, perhaps understandably, a good dose of humour, despite it being a wartime epic – effectively sapping a bit of the enjoyment factor from viewing; “as bad as the Joker was, he was a joy to watch – a guilty pleasure – though Bane cannot shoulder this dynamic.”
  • Throughout the first hour I was waiting… knowing that the good bits were yet to come… and if you’re sitting in the cinema ‘waiting’, well that tells its own story.
  • *Insert here: any moment where you were left thinking “WHAAAT?”

Where’s Batman?

One large gripe most people have with this film though, is that there wasn’t enough Batman in his own film, and then just when you start to get into it, its’ all over. Of course this is because Nolan wanted to make this more about Bruce Wayne and was seemingly hell bent on deconstructing the character (and Jim Gordon’s mind you) to conclude the franchise – this just felt wrong and sad.

The character that I know and love fought criminals in Gotham’s underbelly even in the darkest days, when he was being hunted by the cops who issued a veritable “shoot to kill” order or “arrest on sight”.  Entire comic book series’ (and TV series’) were based on this portion of time – Batman as the hated outlaw. Bruce would not have simply sat back in Wayne Manor for eight years mourning the death of his friend/pseudo love interest – not when his primary motivation for becoming Batman was rooted in the trauma of losing his parents. Yes he had injuries, but he would found his way around them.

To the Dent Act then; are we really convinced that Dent’s death simply eradicated the criminal element in Gotham(where’s the reality in that?).

 

What we missed, or should’ve received but didn’t.

Who knows what Heath Ledger’s death robbed us of… I think it’s safe to assume there would have been at least one more film in the franchise – yet that void could have been negotiated better.

At the end of The Dark Knight we were left off with a beautiful and goose-bump inspiring monologue by Jim Gordon, basically describing to his son (and us) exactly what Batman is and means. And then when the screen goes black you’re left with that feeling of “YES. He nailed it!” as well as the feeling of a new beginning, because as I’ve mentioned, it was (in the books) the start of a new chapter, the so-called “Hunt for Batman”. In The Dark Knight Rises this “chapter” took all of 10 minutes with Mathew Modine getting all excited.

Filling the void (just because I can)

Another film – we not only deserved one, but their current storyline needed one. Here’s some wishful thinking if you’re willing to entertain my ramblings, though these sentiments are shared by many others:

The third instalment of Batman should have been called The Dark Knight Returns. Let’s say (not to throw out the current storyline) that it takes place 4 years after events of TDK. Crime has subsided and the Bat is in the wind (Bruce though, is fine, injury free for now, content with being the head of his family’s corporation and finding solace in the new company of Thalia Al Ghoul as a business partner and potential love interest). Dinners are aplenty, ballrooms are filled but as the rich busy themselves, there’s one new criminal that arises and evades police capture – enter The Riddler Here’s an extract from Batman.wikia.com to colour it in:

“You don’t understand. .. I really didn’t want to leave you any clues. I really planned never to go back to Arkham Asylum. But I left you a clue anyway. So I… I have to go back there. Because I might need help. I… I might actually be crazy.” E. Nygma, from the 1999 Batman Gotham Adventures

 

– all the while something more sinister is coming (segue into the first sightings of Bane, just as we’re introduced to him in TDKR).

As Gordan and Richard Grayson -John Blake “roll your eyes” aka Robin- try, fruitlessly, to apprehend The Riddler, Bruce decides to intervene. Building up to the first climax, Batman captures The Riddler, serving him on a silver platter for the police. In his escape though, Batman gets hurt – purely by accident, as he does in another sequence from the comic books (where a piece of a gargoyle he grabs, breaks off and he plummets a few floors. This forces him to lie low and to ask Lucious Fox to develop the high tech knee brace. In that same sequence though, Richard Grayson the first to arrive on the scene, witnesses the incident and takes note that Batman is hurt; although he keeps this info to himself. Later he’ll spot Wayne on crutches or something – this better explains how he’s able to decipher the identity of the Batman.

At another political ball/gala, we’re introduced to Selina Kyle, and so we’re enlightened about the plight of Gotham’s poor under the Dent Act.

And in the main climax to the film, Bane rises to take over Gotham, much as he does in TDKR. Batman takes him on and fails… breaks his back and “falls”.

Boom. There – the end of the film leaves us with occupied Gotham, and an ultimatum that there’s a 6 month time delay for destruction – all to let Batman suffer.

The next film would then be The Dark Knight Rises – with a few months between film releases giving us the illusion that it’s reflecting events in the films.

In the interim, with much of Gotham’s police (NOT ALL of them –because who sends their entire police force underground?) powerless, it marks the period where Richard Grayson develops as the main hope in Batman’s absence. And events follow much as they do in the film now, only better.

This idea would give the filmmakers much more room to move, play and flesh out much of the mess that was the first hour, also allowing for more flair and subtlety that was seen in the other films and missing here.

 

To conclude:

As Joel mentioned, one cannot really compare TDKR to its predecessor, and I haven’t. This film/pill though, just wasn’t as palatable as I’d hoped.

In essence, with all the talent on tap, The Dark Knight Rises reminds me of something else. This is like your favourite sports team, be it football or rugby or whatever, playing the perfect season (defending champions) in their run to a consecutive championship title. They pitch up to the final and when the final whistle blows, they’re crowned champions and walk off with the gold. However, upon reflection you realize that in that game, your team, priding themselves on the best and a certain attractive brand of play – didn’t actually play all that well. It leaves you feeling somewhat conflicted, happy that they won, but unsatisfied at the manner in which the victory was achieved. Chris Nolan and company was the veritable dream team, the zen of film-making in the last decade… but they applied too much pressure on themselves with this final installment  by making it just that, in other words, not allowing for room to play, as they did in their other films, and delivering a somewhat off-form display – an ugly win so to speak.

The Dark Knight was minus the Batcave as well as Wayne Manor, yet now that it’s been rebuilt. We hardly got a chance to see it, to live and dwell with the characters we so know and love…

Most thought that The Dark Knight Rises would sweep the box office this year and set new records. It didn’t. Instead, and this speaks volumes in my opinion, it was outdone by The Avengers in the earnings, and I suspect, come Christmas, we’ll have seen Skyfall eclipse them both.

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About Steven Benjamin:

A Capetonian – the only son, amongst four siblings, of a demure working mother and a missionary (once upon a time) for a father. Humble and God fearing, I’m a writer looking to add a different perspective whilst also telling stories on the side. I’ve lugubriously turned to writing after failing in a mental attempt to become a Formula 1 driver. I’m currently also working on my spicy debut novel, The Quiet Days!

Steven’s personal blog