The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

Finally saw this with Clare yesterday. I find myself deeply ambivalent about it. There was definitely a lot to love about it – it did all of the surface stuff quite well. Yet I left the theatre feeling unsatisfied and almost uninterested. On some level, the plot or characters or something failed to really deeply engage with me, but unlike The Amazing Spiderman there were enough hints at depth or some kind of expectation that I couldn’t be satisfied.

At this point then, I only have some theories about why I feel this way. Emotion is not exactly the most rigorous basis for a high-concept critical discourse, but nevertheless, it’s the primary mode of experience and can’t be ignored, however subjective it is.

I think that at the heart of my problem with the film is that I felt like I’d seen all of the emotional beats in the first two of Nolan’s films. The process of becoming Batman was well-covered in Batman Begins, allowing The Dark Knight to showcase the iconic character engaged with his iconic villain. Well, the opening chapter of The Dark Knight Rises seemed to rehash this ground, which was then re-re-hashed after his confrontation with Bane in the sewers… I’m on record as saying that the origin story is the least interesting and informative of the superhero stories, and now I feel like Nolan has had not one, not two, but three bites at that particular apple.

My second intuition is I feel a problem with Bruce Wayne’s central motivation in this film, deriving from problems in The Dark Knight: the love story. I don’t have a problem with a love story per se – you can see my long discussion of why Justice League should have followed through and consumated the love story with Wonder Woman. My problem is with the response to the tragic ending – in Batman Begins we see Bruce Wayne transcend his personal losses by becoming Batman. But now in the third film, we see both Batman and Bruce Wayne destroyed by a very brief love which was mostly potential rather than fulfilment. It just didn’t track emotionally for me.

Perhaps my biggest negative emotional response, however, was to Bane and his cohorts’ motivation, especially their desire for self-sacrifice. Given that the whole backstory of the villains is about the fulfilment of impossible hopes, their ultimately self-defeating plot just struck me as unbelievable. Even more damning, I found it to be a poor copy of the Joker’s self-destructive impulse. The Joker was continually taunting Batman, egging him on to take the final solution. In his twisted logic, that was a victory over Batman. Bane’s motivation to die here just seemed to be a cheap imitation of that victory-in-death-wish.

We talk about comics a lot in terms of having an “emotional realism” that renders “real realism” obsolete. Cause-and-effect don’t need to play out strictly, because the emotional decisions do play out in accordance with our understanding. I found the emotional content of this film difficult to accept, difficult to believe in… which made me unable to accept as irrelevant all of the other little logical problems.

Clare remarked afterwards, when I began to express doubt about the film, that it was better than The Amazing Spiderman and I agreed. But, having thought a little more about it overnight, I’m actually going to have to go back on that. The Amazing Spiderman did what it set out to do. The Dark Knight Rises failed; at least for me. What I would argue, is that it was far more interesting, and that it was far more ambitious. And that I would rather that more films failed in this way than succeeded in the shallow terms of The Amazing Spiderman.

Now I’m off to see Hulk SMASH, and so I may be back later with more.

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3 Responses to The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

  1. Despite enjoying the movie quite a bit, I still feel dissatified by it too. I think I picked up the vibe that it felt like a repeat of the previous beats from the other two movies, but with the added attempt to make them feel un-Batman-like. As a result, it didn’t feel like a Batman movie to me at all (possibly spoiled by Dark Knight Returns). I agree Bane and his cohorts were a weak part of the movie too and really struggling in believing them. This was made worse by the previous attempts of the Joker which were much more teriifying for me.

  2. jarratt_gray says:

    Yeah I mean I liked it overall, but mostly I felt the film was just too big in scope. The most interesting part of the film could have been the occupation but given that it took so damn long to get there it had to be glossed over. Maybe there were just too many characters. I also didn’t buy into the Miranda Tate thing. It was Catwoman who brought Bruce back to life so why the hell is he falling for Miranda Tate.

    Mostly I just think that they tried to go too big with what was ultimately an emotional story. The motivation of the villains was to fulfill Raz Ah Gul’s destiny for Gotham from the original film and yet Batman was such a critical part of their plan.

    And finally the worst thing about the movie was the setting. Batman Begins uses Chicago as a base with a whole lot of stuff to make it feel like Gotham. There is a island location with a prison, presumably on a lake. This all made sense. I always felt that Gotham was Chicago compared to Metropolis being New York. The Dark Knight strips the Gothamisation of Chicago which is okay but a little annoying. The late is still there and a pivotal part of the film with the whole ferry thing.

    But the Dark Knight Rises for sake of plot completely changes the landscape of the city. It is not New York with a central island and bridges in. It’s coastal. There is no lake. And then the film spends so much time flying over the new city and given us the landscape of it. Yes it is really important for the plot to know the landscape of this city. The city gets locked off, Batman saves the day by going out into the ocean, bridges and frozen rivers are hugely important.

    How did this happen. If Gotham is a central character of these films (especially 1 and 3) then how does it change sop dramatically to service the plot. Couldn’t the story have been written within the limitations of the Gotham that was already established? This limitation could have possibly led to a better film overall too. You can’t just write what you want, you need to exist within the world you have created.

    And why did the prison feel like it was just out of town.

  3. Pingback: BvS: DoJ, ***** | My One Contribution To The Internet

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