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.