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Reflecting on The Dark Knight Rises

July 26, 2012

Please Note, I am discussing a movie and what happened in it… there are spoilers, you have been warned.

I, like many people, went and saw The Dark Knight Rises this past weekend.

Before I even get into my actual feelings regarding the film, I feel the need to address something regarding why I felt the need to watch it the weekend it came out. I knew that I would want to comment on this movie, to “be a part of the conversation,” and I realized that if that was to be the case, I would need to see it at the first available opportunity. Why?

Because our society now moves from one diversion to the next with such rapid speed that if I were to see it the following week and try to comment the week after, it would be too late. Hell, I must wonder even as I post this nearly a week since the film’s release if I am too late.

In talking about why there was such a recent reboot of Spider-Man, Neal Gabler of the LA Times, suggested two things: that ‘Millennials’ have no use for “old films,” and this is largely because of their obsession with events and spectacle, with discussing the cutting edge and new. I found it difficult to argue with the whole of Mr. Gabler’s article because he built the article in the realm of generalization thus removing any chance to point out the Millennials that do enjoy older films. Or even that Millennials aren’t searching to reinterpret and reboot everything.

Still, I do agree with him on the concept of how our society has quickly turned a film’s premiere into far more of an ‘event,’ than it once was. No longer does a movie just come out on some date, and you can go watch it with friends, and maybe read some information on it before or after if you’re really into the film.

First, the movie has a build up. There are teaser trailers, more trailers, short films on youtube that serve to help promote the film and build its world, a slew of interviews, speculative websites and forums, bitching on IMDB. Hell, long before the teaser trailer comes out there’s discussion of script doctors, directors, casting issues, production stills, and so on. What was once only the concern of film buffs and people in the industry is now scrutinized by every person with a twitter account.

Then comes the actual build up of your friends and acquaintances that want to see the movie. Events on facebook, trends on twitter, pictures of the movie poster oversaturated on instagram. People talking about how they’re going to see it at midnight. These statuses aren’t an invitation, they’re a chance for you to see how awesome that friend is because he’s going to a midnight screening. The excitement of going to see a new film is amplified to a huge degree.

Paying eight to fourteen dollars to gawk at a screen for two to three hours didn’t used to be this exciting. Or at least, I don’t remember it being so exciting.

Then there are people who liveblog the experience.

Then they’ve seen the film, and assume everyone else has too. Social Media sites become a mine field of spoilers, opinions, and blog links. Reviews begin to pour in not just from the traditional sources, or even just internet film critics, but from everybody. People that have never used the word cinematography before are arguing about the cinematographic choices of the latest film.

Finally, come the post-modern reflections. Reimaginings of the characters with new concept art from dozens of deviantart artists. Debates on the merit of how the plot was executed. Bringing the intertext to the forefront, and showing the main character in the garb of other famous characters. These eventually fade to the background as a new film prepares to blast into theaters. The reflections linger for years, and possibly decades, until perhaps one day one of those artists or writers gets tapped to write a comic adaptation or (perhaps) reboot the damn thing.

Still, it was the realization that I didn’t want to have a movie ruined by social media that caused me to go and devote the majority of my Sunday to seeing The Dark Knight Rises.

As I begin my own ramblings and yellings on the movie, I would like to point out that yes, I am fully aware that I am a part of the internet insanity involving films. I blog about them, I follow their production stills on websites, I complain about casting decisions, and I bitch endlessly about certain directors being tapped to do things. I even tweet and update Facebook regarding my experiences in movie theaters.

After all, I am a part of this generation.

Anyway, how do I feel about The Dark Knight Rises?

I want to say that I liked it, but at the same time I feel like something in me wants to prevent myself from saying that. I’m very conflicted regarding the film, even on singular elements of it.

As has been made clear in previous posts, I did not have high expectations for this film. I was wary of the fact that Nolan originally didn’t want to make it but for some reason was convinced to make a third movie, and I’ve become wary of trilogies in general. I can’t say I really have a strong opinion regarding Christopher Nolan either or even this series of Batman movies.

I really liked The Dark Knight, but I wasn’t someone who went to go see it again and again and again. I haven’t seen Inception, and while I feel like I’m supposed to I’ve obviously never felt compelled to. I can watch Memento again but only with someone who hasn’t seen it before, and I enjoyed Batman Begins. My interaction with Christopher Nolan have been fairly straight forward, he makes entertaining movies and they don’t feel stupid or pandering, which is sadly, good enough most days to win at least some of my admiration.

Furthermore, the way he breathed life into the Batman character for modern movie going audiences is where he really gets my appreciation and admiration. I wish that every superhero could have a writer/director behind them who was capable of making them into a phenomenon.

Overall, I found it to be a pretty entertaining movie, and definitely worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of the other two. That all being said, I will also say it’s not a movie that you should think too much about.

I sort of agree with what the gentlemen of Red Letter Media suggested about Nolan as a writer/director, in that he creates emotional cores to his movies and the plot is in service to that emotional core. The plot isn’t there to tell you a linear narrative, it’s there to help actualize these emotions. The issue that I find with this film, is that to create its emotional core it causes problems with the fact that it is part of something larger than itself.

Ultimately, this movie made me question whether or not Nolan actually gets Batman. Writing a Batman story is one thing, but writing a Batman arc, writing Batman for years is something very different.

There’s something I really loved about the ending of The Dark Knight, and sort of what that movie is over all. The Dark Knight, is an encapsulated Batman story. It opens with Batman as an established character, with the links that he made in the first film to Gordon and the city of Gotham. Batman does his best to aid the police, and do what they can’t. The events of the film happen, with the Joker, and Harvey Dent, and at the end while Batman’s relationship with the police has changed, he remains the same. Batman runs off into the night, to continue his place as a silent protector with or without the police.

I’m not trying to say that Batman must remain a static character but that there is a continuity to him. Batman stands against the terrible things in the night. He is a hero, he is dedicated to Gotham, and no matter what happens in the outside world, he is there. The Dark Knight ends with that being the implication, at least to me. Batman isn’t a flawless savior, but he is ultimately a savior.

Thus my surprise when the movie opens, and it has been eight years since Batman “disappeared into the night,” directly after killing Harvey Dent. During those eight years, Bruce Wayne has become a shut-in, the injuries he sustained during his time as Batman finally have caught up with him… I guess?

This is the moment where I felt that Nolan didn’t want to come back to the series because he wasn’t sure what to do with Batman. The only choice, to grow him as a character and make him have to take a hard look at his life, requires elements to be introduced that weren’t present in the first two entries of the trilogy.

I think this is where I start to divide from other people who saw this movie. I’ve found other people talking about how they actually felt this movie was the first time that Batman took center stage as a character. I disagree with this for a few reasons.

First, is that I felt that Batman was sort of absent from the film. He exists as a symbol, and he’s talked about a lot, but he’s not actually there. He’s not even particularly reactionary, but almost passive. Other characters take it upon themselves to do the work of moving the story forward.

More importantly, it’s not Batman that grows, it’s Bruce Wayne. There’s a further line drawn that Batman and Bruce Wayne are very different people in this film, especially with the continuous recitation that, “Batman could be anybody.” Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne must come to terms with everything that has happened to him that made him create Batman in the first place. This was very interesting, and executed well, but it felt strange.

Once more, it felt constructed just for the purposes of this film, and telling this story, rather than in relation to the whole trilogy.

Which is what brings me to the rest of the film, and how I feel about it.

This movie to me felt like Christopher Nolan sat down with his original idea book when he pitched Batman Begins, and picked up all the threads that he had whittled away, and brought them together to make one movie. A lot of the individual parts of the film are amazing, but when put together I didn’t feel like they were greater than the sum of their parts.

Catwoman felt particularly strong, and I was very happy to see an interpretation of her. I liked that she was a combination of jewel thief, social chameleon, and love interest. She brought the movie to life in some instances, and really felt like someone that would intrigue Batman/Bruce Wayne enough to pursue. Anne Hathaway was also perfectly cast.

Bane made for an interesting villain, and a cool way to drive the plot. The plot may have been a little far fetched, especially when within less than 4 months all of Gotham has been turned into some sort of anarchist stronghold forsaken by the US Government (whether it made more or less sense than No Man’s Land, I’m not sure). I was somehow able to forgive it this, largely because on the whole it was entertaining. Bane could have been a more interesting villain if Nolan’s Batman were more intellectual. Nolan’s Batman is certainly intelligent but he isn’t the intellectual that some writers interpret Batman to be and thus the chance to have Bane be an opposing figure becomes somewhat lost.

The appearance of Talia al Ghul actually made me briefly forget some of the things nagging at me. It’s a powerful twist, but a twist that I feel in repeat viewings may lose some sense of emotional impact.

Finally, what I loved the most is the introduction of Joseph Gordon Levitt as a young cop who is frustrated by the law and the GCPD’s place in the new “safe,” Gotham. Throughout the whole movie I was actually hoping that Bruce Wayne would give up on the suit, and that the Batman torch would be passed in mid-film. I don’t know whether or not this would have improved or ruined the whole trilogy but it was nagging me in the back of my mind the whole time.

Of course, even this thread becomes bitter sweet when the potential for more movies is ruined by the realization that this is the end, and the studio will be rebooting it, sans the interesting interpretation of Robin.

That brings us full circle though to how I feel about this movie. It was a number of interesting interpretations that get brought together to make a complete film. These threads got brought together, and Batman was left with little to do except for Bruce Wayne to realize he didn’t want to be Batman anymore, after not being Batman for eight years? It’s not even entirely clear to me why Bruce Wayne gives up being Batman in the first place, beyond so he can fight with the urge eight years later in this film?

It’s an interesting interpretation of Bruce Wayne and Batman, and perhaps the only send-off I can really imagine for him, but it doestn’t feel right. Even when surrounded by all these other interpreted characters and story arcs, it didn’t seem right.

I suppose it’s that I’ve been ruined by Frank Miller, and picture Batman as someone who struggles with the concept of retirement. The idea that somehow Bruce Wayne could give up fighting crime, and just settle down to a normal life, even if he has to metaphorically destroy Batman and actually destroy Bruce Wayne to do it, just doesn’t seem possible.

The Dark Knight Rises is interesting, entertaining, and definitely showcases Nolan’s ability to interpret the characters. It’s worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of the previous films, but just don’t think about it too much. If you think about it for too long, you pull at the threads and it starts to unravel.

 

As for how the movie was technically arranged, I find myself agreeing with most other folks. It is a clear step forward from previous films, but Nolan isn’t exactly mind-blowing. Here’s an exceedingly vitriolic take on the film and how it was shot.

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