There is always an obvious tension in adaptations, where you want to serve the fan base (henceforth this will be known as ‘fanservice’) and you also want to bring in people who have more things to do with their lives than digest entire mythologies. One of the many praises bestowed upon Christopher Nolan’s Bat-movies is that they did little to alienate hardcore fans and were immensely attractive to more casual attendees. As a fanboy, and therefore someone who expects fanservice, I was not at all put off by changes made to the world of Batman. But again, it’s fair to inform you that I know a lot about the Bat-comics before I continue to review DKR.
Do you know what fanservice is? Fanservice is informing the audience, minutes before the film ends, that Batman’s spunky kid off the street sidekick whose tragic story mirrors his own is named Robin. That is fanservice.
I don’t think the earlier Nolan movies are perfect, but the consensus is that they are pretty damned good. I might not be gaga for the Dark Knight personally, but I can certainly appreciate how beloved that movie is. So let me put this as gently as I can, so that I do not hurt anyone’s feelings: Before Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan was on a short list of directors who had never made a bad movie. Now he is off the list.
Calling the plot of the Dark Knight Rises confused would be like calling a Woody Allen protagonist ‘whiny.’ Following the proud tradition of culminating works in a series (Harry Potter, Episode 3 of Star Wars), Dark Knight Rises introduces a wide array of characters we are supposed to fear and/or love and expects us to place them on the level of pre-existing members of the series.
Perhaps the perfect example of this is Miranda Tate, played by the always beautiful Marion Cotillard. We are led to understand that she’s pretty cool because she pays for the food at a charity dinner herself, and also she was not always rich and just look at those fucking eyes. Seriously. It takes Bruce about five minutes to fall head over heels for her.
And surprise, she’s Talia al-Ghul, the son of Batman’s father figure/enemy/spirit guide from the first film! And she stabs Batman or something? Who cares? All of Gotham is going to fucking blow up, so don’t you think there are maybe some more important things to worry about?
And wouldn’t you know, Liam Neeson’s ghost shows up in this movie too, just to have a complete conversation with Batman where he reveals new information that Batman didn’t know before magically fading into nothingness.
Reread that last sentence. Liam Neeson’s ghost appears to Batman and taunts him and then literally fades into thin air. Remember when this series was hailed as a gritty, realistic take on Batman? And then there was that movie where a rope and a weird vaguely ethnic guy fixes Batman’s broken back so he can climb up out of a pit in the middle of what I can only assume is Agrabah and go back to Gotham City so he can stop a nuclear bomb from detonating? And the only people he can think of to help him, even though he can apparently sneak into Gotham City at will, are the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, the princess from Princess Diaries, the narrator from March of the Penguins and Egor Korshunov? Also Marion Cotillard is there because have you seen her eyes?
Imagine if someone had told you that Star Wars Episode I was supposed to be a gritty, realistic reboot of the Star Wars franchise. So you go to the theater and then there’s the first wipe cut. Expectations are hugely important with movies, and accordingly, having them flouted entirely tends to make movies seem worse.
There’s nothing wrong with a campy Batman, as every other Batman movie besides the Nolan films has argued, but there is a problem with selling people camp when they were expecting raw, uncut grit. It’s the equivalent of selling someone the inside of a pixie stick instead of cocaine. Both are fine, but you need to know what you’re getting.
I also like how Nolan boldly chooses to use flashbacks instead of trusting his audience to remember things from the first two films in the trilogy. Although, to be fair, if you’re going to continue the terrible Harvey Dent plotline from the second film I guess you should show some of the totally awful CGI done on Aaron Eckhart’s face.
Of course, there are good things about the movie. I was an early opposer of Selina Kyle (see, fanboy, what did I tell you) being portrayed by Anne Hathaway but fuck me was I wrong. The first scene where we meet Ms. Hathaway, she masterfully conveys the essence of what I believe Catwoman to be. She is at once glamorous and deadly with a hint of personal tragedy, femme fatale incarnate. Of course, the script is more abusive to Ms. Hathaway than anyone else and her character slowly shrivels from a capable rival to Batman to a wise-cracking sidekick. But Ms. Hathaway does her best and for that, sincerely, thank you.
Also Bane! What a terrible character in the comics and what a cool version in the movie! He seemed very much the badass the whole time, up until the part where he starts losing. Heath Ledger was a tough act to follow, and while Bane isn’t as immediately quotable as the Joker, I found him to be a more consistent and impressive antagonist. Except for the part where he blows up a football field, declares martial law, and then is revealed to be a complete patsy because he was in love with adolescent Marion Cotillard. That part was weird.
The other issue with this movie, and one that didn’t really come up in the first two, is that Batman looks really fucking stupid in the day time. The first fight between Batman and Bane reminded me of a video game, namely Final Fantasy. They took turns hitting each other until Batman got 999′d.
As much as I hate to admit it, people jumping around and punching things in ridiculous costumes never looks good. And when it’s during the day time, they look even worse because we can see them entirely. There’s a reason DC Comics spent all their time showing Batman only at night, and that was in comics where everyone’s hair looks blue because they didn’t understand how ink worked.
I raised that point to a friend of mine and he dismissed it because Batman had to fight during the day because Bane was doing shit during the day. But Batman doesn’t have to do anything! He’s a fictional character, a remarkably inconsistent one at that, and so any argument that things have to happen hold very little weight.
A friend and fellow film-fan of mine, Alec Khan, once suggested that Christopher Nolan movies depend on the audience not asking questions while the film is in progress. If you do so, you end up with more questions than answers. And I certainly finished watching the Dark Knight Rises with a lot of questions, mostly along the lines of ‘Why was Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this movie?’ and ‘If you install a court of the people why would you let an insane terrorist run it?’
I can understand liking this film, I really can. I love a lot of movies that aren’t very good (DOA: Dead or Alive springs to mind). But if you like this movie, think about what I’ve written here and go watch it again. I’m certainly planning on seeing this movie again and I’ll try to keep as open a mind as possible for the second viewing. Who knows? Maybe this time I’ll be excited to see a bunch of cops who’ve been trapped underground for three months cheer loudly as the Bat-copter blows up two bat-tanks and then engage a highly trained paramilitary force armed with assault rifles and then Batman is going to unplug Bane’s mask thingy and Marion Cotillard is gonna stab him but he’s not going to punch her or anything because HAVE YOU SEEN THOSE EYES?