Some Days You Just Can’t Get Rid Of A Bomb: Ramblings on The Dark Knight Rises

Some Days You Just Can’t Get Rid Of A Bomb

Ramblings on The Dark Knight Rises

*SPOILERS! SPOILERS EVERYWHERE!*

The Dark Knight Rises is a good movie, not great. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are both 9/10 films, but I’d give The Dark Knight Rises an 8. Nolan’s Batman series can be compared to the original Star Wars trilogy: a brilliant first entry, an even better sequel, and a flawed yet satisfying concluding third.

The Dark Knight is the pinnacle of Nolan’s Batman series. However, it is a brilliant movie in spite of itself. The Dark Knight is not a perfect movie; it suffers from some serious second act issues. (Batman Begins is the strongest in terms of structure.) The Dark Knight succeeds because of the Joker, and not just by virtue of Heath Ledger.

Ledger was brilliant, but I think the Joker is just that kind of character. He is the jewel of Batman’s rogue gallery. The Joker juxtaposes Batman so perfectly that the story almost writes itself and you’d have to really try hard to mess it up. Also, having established Batman’s character with all his origin exposition, The Dark Knight provided Nolan the opportunity to let his ambition run wild. There are many other reasons why The Dark Knight is great, but mostly the raw material provided to Nolan in this case had the highest potential.

What I’ve learned from comparing the three films is that Nolan struggles with conventional – that is to say strictly chronological – narrative. Consider his two best films: Memento and Inception. Both of these films play with narrative and chronology. To a lesser extent, Batman Begins, certainly in the first act, also plays with the chronology of the narrative, . The Prestige as well employs an acrobatic narrative. Consequently, it’s safe to say The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are definitely Nolan’s least risky films.

Still, I would argue The Dark Knight Rises makes a better go at the conventional narrative than The Dark Knight; it doesn’t sag in the middle the same way The Dark Knight does. However, because it doesn’t have the raw potentiality of The Dark Knight or the dynamic narrative of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises is the runt of the litter.

In a word, The Dark Knight Rises is flabby.

There are two distinct moment of the film that struck me as first/second draft writing that could’ve used some tightening. First, there is the scene in the Batcave in which Alfred tells Bruce how he wanted something else for him beyond Gotham. He tells how while Bruce was missing, he would travel to Italy and take an afternoon at a cafe, hoping that he would see Bruce with a family, knowing that Bruce had established a new life away from Gotham. The sentiment was right, and it made sense given the payoff at the end, but the execution was off. The scene felt forced with Alfred’s lines appearing scripted as opposed to conversational. Also,  the flashback was unnecessary, making Nolan’s game obvious. I thought it would’ve been more effective if Alfred merely described the scene to Bruce. That would’ve been enough for the audience to go on.

The second scene that was problematic was Blake revealing his insight into Bruce’s identity. It makes sense to me how he could figure it out, but the script made the revelation feel unearned. It needed a more of an empirical connection to accompany the emotional connection that Blake makes. After all, why would Bruce’s sudden reappearance in Batman Begins and subsequent re-hibernation after The Dark Knight coincide with Batman’s first and final appearances? Also, who else could afford all this gadgetry? A detective isn’t allowed to believe in coincidences, after all. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief about Bruce being able to maintain his secret identity, but I wouldn’t balk at someone figuring it out after some minor researching, just like Mr. Reese did in The Dark Knight.

(If I were writing the scene, I would’ve had Blake develop his suspension based on his empathy with Bruce and the confirming his hunch by seeking out Mr. Reese. This would’ve strengthened the plausibility of the scene and also developed Blake’s characterization as a natural detective.)

Nevertheless, although a runt by comparison to its own litter, The Dark Knight Rises is a purebred compared to most other films.

Firstly, what I like about The Dark Knight Rises is that it confronts the consequences of The Dark Knight‘s conclusion. One of my issues with The Dark Knight was that the conclusion was much more morally ambiguous than the film seemingly let on. It seemed to give us that old post-911 bullshit of how security and safety trumps transparency; that it’s OK to lie to the public and subvert their freedoms and rights because the consequences are too much to bear.

More specifically, what The Dark Knight Rises addresses are the consequences of repression, both globally and individually. In regards to the former, repressed truth eat away at the core of a state. So, while Gordon has managed to clean up Gotham using the Dent act on the surface, underneath, a criminal underbelly is growing unnoticed, which eventually legitimizes itself by exploiting Gordon’s lie. In regards to the latter, the weight of the repressed weigh on Gordon and Bruce, with Gordon now estranged from his family and Bruce a shut-in. Bane is the return of the repressed, rising up from the sewers, bringing with him all the filth that Gordan and Bruce thought they’d buried with Harvey Dent.

In many ways, Nolan’s Batman trilogy is an excellent portrayal of the post-911 American Zeitgeist. Gotham is a state weakened by its own excess and is now besieged by outside forces. In response, Batman emerges to return the rule of law. However, in order to achieve this, he must work outside the law in order to dispatch the dangers of imminent chaos. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, and it means making morally ambiguous decisions that come with disastrous consequences.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Nolan takes seriously the gray area Batman calls home. Rescuing Gotham and beating the bad guy is not as simple as the cowboy riding into town and saving the day. Nolan examines how imposing law upon an unlawful state requires monstrous acts, and these acts can have consequences resonating over many years.

(This is where the analogy becomes messy because many would point out that while Batman’s actions may have been justified given the threat posed by Two Face and the Joker, the Bush administration’s actions were not warranted, and were just opportunistic, unilateral maneuvers to strengthen American hegemony. But let’s not open that can of worms.)

This is what separates Nolan’s Batman from other comic book adaptations; it isn’t afraid to make the villain sympathetic and the hero unsympathetic. We connect with the Joker’s love of anarchy and disdain for order. Likewise, when Bane reveals Gordon’s letter, we see that he has point that the inmates of Black Gate were wrongfully denied parole. In contrast, we see that Bruce and Gordon’s manipulation of Harvey Dent were reprehensible, however necessary it may have seemed.

Another aspect the film explored that I appreciated was Bruce Wayne’s depression.

At the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises we find a Bruce that is very much like the Bruce Wayne we see in Frank Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns; a Bruce Wayne unable to cope with his forced retirement, who all too eagerly suits up again, but this time with a death drive gone haywire.

What makes Batman such a rich character is his sense of alienation. He is isolated in a way that other superheroes aren’t. Batman doesn’t have a love interest like Superman, Spider-Man, and Iron Man. One of my issues with Batman Begins was that at the conclusion, it felt like Bruce was content and had achieved some kind of balance in his life. While The Dark Knight challenges this, we don’t see the true extent of Bruce’s isolation and misery until The Dark Knight Rises.

It takes courage to portray your protagonist in such a negative light, especially in a $200 million epic. Iron Man 2 tried to portray the stresses of being a superhero but that descended into self-parody. Spider-Man 2 did a good job illustrating Peter Parker’s forfeiture of the mantle, but he didn’t reach the depths of Bruce in The Dark Knight Rises.

Ultimately, Nolan ought to be commended for having completed a (semi)original trilogy that consistently maintained a high standard. Try and appreciate how rare a feat this is. Obviously there is Lord of the Rings, and to a lesser extent Harry Potter, but they were adapted. While Nolan had a rich cannon to draw from, the story is his own. Consider also the absence of any other successful comic book film trilogies; Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand were disasters, and Iron Man has already gone off the rails with its second entry.

Despite its flaws, The Dark Knight Rises has a heart and a brain. It achieved a satisfying and cathartic conclusion to the best comic adaptation we may ever see.

cheers,

-B

p.s. One day, when I have enough time, I’d like to sketch out a three part, psychoanalytic reading of Nolan’s Batman series, detailing how Batman is the superego and each villain represents a different neurosis – but don’t expect that anytime soon.

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~ by braddunne on August 1, 2012.

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