Batman in Three Acts

I need to nerd out about the new Batman movie for a moment. Below are opinions and spoilers… You have been warned.

My hat is off to the Nolan Bros. and David Goyer for crafting a wonderful and compelling trilogy featuring Batman. I truly enjoyed every moment of it and have had many full conversations discussing them amongst friends and non-comics people…

…but I feel that you missed the mark on the last one. The Dark Knight Rises is a good movie, but it doesn’t have the soul of its predecessors.

Re-Cap

Many of the classic Bat-Villains are twisted reflections of Bruce Wayne. They are often examples of how his he could have easily become a villain himself and that he is essentially fighting with himself the whole time.

In Batman Begins, we have Ra’s Al-Gul. The similarities and differences between Batman and Ra’s are very clearly defined. They have similar motivations, goals, and training—but where Ra’s prefers a purifying fire to purge Gotham, Batman believes that Gotham will heal itself if it can be given the opportunity to do so.

In The Dark Knight Returns, we have “Two-Face” Harvey Dent. He doesn’t have the money and privilege that Bruce Wayne does, but he has the visibility and a good claim to the title of “Gotham’s Favorite Son”. Harvey already harbors a secret rage, as Bruce did for many years, but he lacks the temperance and self-possession to control or mold it. After his disfigurement and the loss of his fiance, Harvey loses faith and stops trying to make sense of the world. As Two-Face, he lashes out in a frighteningly self-destructive fashion. Bruce Wayne nearly did the same thing in the first movie. He too would have self-destructed if Maroni’s men hadn’t killed Joe Chill in front of the court-house.

Harvey’s fall really brings home the point of the movie, which you may have otherwise missed during The Joker’s spectacular antics. Despite the ultimate corruption of the symbol at the end, Batman had won! Gotham was well on its way to recovery. (This movie had even transitioned from Batman Begin’s shabby, run-down deco look for Gotham to a something less dated, though not quite modern. The transition appears complete by the beginning of the third movie.)

“Your victory has defeated you….”

In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman has no opposite number with which to play against. He is instead opposed by age, his cumulative injuries, and Alfred’s love but none of these things tell us anything new about Bruce Wayne or his journey as a hero.

They do attempt to draw some parallels between the prisoner from Peña Duro and Bruce Wayne. Both are orphans and both set out for revenge. Talia followed Bruce’s path and received training from the League of Shadows. After Ra’s Al-Ghul’s death, she even inherits the League’s resources and mission.

However, all this is only revealed at the very end and by then the damage is done. The redemption of Batman as a symbol has been achieved with only superficial effort. Talia’s true character is not a reveal or even development—it is reduced to a “Gotcha” that also manages to diminish Bane somewhat because his myth is actually her past.

I think this movie is supposed to be about Batman’s legacy. They do an excellent job of introducing an eventual replacement with Detective Blake. Blake’s elevation and decision to take up the mantle is always in the background. His decision to do so is the ultimate proof of the Batman symbol. Even if the man behind the mask is gone, a new man can step in and become that symbol whenever Gotham requires it. Unfortunately, this process was treated as a sub-plot rather than the true focus of the movie.

Final Verdict

The Dark Knight Rises is *not* a bad movie. If you like the first two, you will like this one. My wife thinks that this was the best of the three and I disagree. We look for different things in a movie and, I suspect, your own opinion will be different still.

The plot doesn’t suffer from any major holes, the action is good, and the some of the performances are amazing. Tom Hardy, in particular, dominates in nearly every scene that he is in. This is the best portrayal of Bane that I have seen yet and that is no mean feat. The character is complex and all too easily reduced to something much less.

However, I feel that they phoned in the “Batman”—which is really a shame since the movie is supposed to be about him and not just the spectacle of the conflict.

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~ by Hunter Rose on July 21, 2012.

2 Responses to “Batman in Three Acts”

  1. I have to agree with this review. TDKR is a *good* film, but it’s not a *great* film like Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. Both hold up, and Nolan is respectful to the mythos, while not burdened by that.

    In TDKR… Nolan drops the ball. The Blake sub-plot is the one part of the film I strongly disliked. Without it, I would have enjoyed the film much, much, much more. I hate the idea of the introduction as Blake as “Robin” or taking up the mantle. Previously Nolan has been respectful of the mythos. He didn’t invent characters to be main characters in the film (save for Rachel Dawes.) But there is a difference here between Dawes and Blake. Bruce has had many, many lovers when he wears the mask of a playboy. Dawes served to link Bruce to his childhood and humanize him.

    Blake is set up early on to be the successor to the Batman mantle. It’s pretty obvious from the trailers and scuttlebutt on the internet. (Though I did have a crazy theory that he was Ra’s Al Ghul post Lazarus Pit. Awesome, right??) But my gripe is that Blake isn’t respectful to the mythos. He’s some invented character who takes a BIG role in the film (larger than Dawes, arguably) in that he is now Batman. The little “Oh you should use your full name. I like the name Robin.” Easter Egg, when coupled with the invented character felt like a twist of the knife.

    The movie was good, don’t get me wrong, if not a little flawed. When I tell people my opinion of it, without giving spoilers, I say that the first 95% is good, and the last 5% is bad. But that’s just my opinion.

    Good review!

    • This is a tough review because the legacy of Batman is not necessarily a story that should be told from his point of view.

      I think that this movie should have been about Blake! (Though I love your Lazarus pit scenario). For this film, we should have only only seen Batman as the citizens of Gotham see him–as the Icon and not as a Man. In that light, Blake’s role makes more sense. He becomes our POV character who explores the conflicting stories behind the legend while trying to survive in Bane’s Gotham. In the end, he confronts Bruce Wayne and discovers that they are very much the same.

      Unfortunately, conventional Hollywood wisdom probably prevented such a radical shift in perspective, leaving us with a hybrid movie that tries at once to be something new and familiar–trying to tell the story from both sides of the looking glass, simultaneously.

      I don’t think that it would have been disrepectful of the mythos to take this approach either. It isn’t as if the though of Bruce Wayne moving on form his role hasn’t been a recurring theme for decades. (The earliest reference in my collection is Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns). In keeping with Nolan’s more grounded version of the vigilante, the damage of numerous fights accumulates at a much faster rate than in the comics.

      In the end, I feel that we have an excellent start for Bruce to start his own League of Shadows or, if you prefer, Batman Inc: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman_Incorporated Even without Nolan behind the next series, this gives us a path to both reboot (sorta) and to maintain continuity. Blake’s background may be similar enough to Bruce’s that some of the classic villains can be retooled only slightly to work with his Batman. OTOH, his story may also be different enough to offer some truly surprising character development going forward, making for a less rote movie experience.

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