Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why Do We Fall?

Hello Mr. Wayne...

[As always, spoilers apply.]

After the success of The Dark Knight, it was evident that Christopher Nolan was faced with the impossible challenge of concluding his epic Batman trilogy without its most memorable villain, the Joker. Respectfully and wisely he chose not to recast the role and decided to make no mention at all of the Joker in the follow-up However there were still lingering questions that bothered me about the ending of The Dark Knight and the Joker's mysterious absence in Rises becomes prominent during the major events that occur throughout and simply go unacknowledged. Heath Ledger's absence in the film is indeed felt as is also the absence of Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent/Two Face whose questionable death at the end of The Dark Knight made Batman a pariah who has disappeared from Gotham for almost a decade.

The Dark Knight Rises is a disappointment for Batman fans, but most audiences who are not stepped deep in the lore of the comic book mythology or character will still probably enjoy the film as mindless summer blockbuster escapism. Never mind that the film is riddled with more plot holes than a block of moldy Swiss cheese that would make even The Riddler green with envy. For example, if Batman has retired, why then did he even bother rebuilding the Batcave when Wayne Manor was restored after its destruction in Begins? How is it that Batman is able to survive having his back broken by Bane and is able to not only heal himself without the use of the Lazarus Pit from the comics but also climb out of a virtually inescapable prison pit somewhere in India to return to physically confront his nemesis is a time frame that defies any logical sense? And how is it that Bane can travel half way around the world to dispose of Batman and return to Gotham all the while in the midst of executing his uninterrupted and strategically coordinated terrorist attacks on the city? Why does Alfred abandon Bruce Wayne after repeatedly assuring him he would never leave his side in the other films? Why does Bruce fall in love with Miranda Tate after being so distraught over Rachel's death that he hangs up Batman's cowl? These and many other lapses of plot logic largely go unaddressed throughout the film leaving the viewer to either scratch their heads in bewilderment or simply accept them with naive suspension of disbelief.

Admittedly Christopher Nolan was not that familiar with the comic book mythology of Batman, instead turning to screenwriter David S. Goyer for story and character ideas to help him bring a decidedly reality-based Batman to the screen. As a result, there are not that many Batman villains from the infamous "Rogues Gallery" who could have convincingly translated well into the "Nolanverse" on the big screen. Certainly the Penguin could have worked in a very crime boss way taking over for Carmine Falcone in Batman Begins, but the inevitable inclusion of Catwoman as alluded to in The Dark Knight would have made The Dark Knight Rises feel more like a redux of Tim Burton's Batman Returns. The Riddler could have potentially worked if he had been realized as a sort of Zodiac killer but ultimately the Riddler would have felt like The Joker-lite.

Enter Bane who represents a significant chapter of Batman's comic book mythology in that he is the villain responsible for breaking, both literally and symbolically, Batman's back and putting him out of commission while Jean Paul Valley a.k.a. Azrael takes up Batman's mantle during the "Knightquest" storyline from which Goyer and Nolan have "lifted" many of their key plot points for Rises from and also from the "No Man's Land" epic storyline in which Gotham City suffers from a catastrophic earthquake which isolates it from the mainland while the inmates of Arkham have taken over the city ala: Escape From New York. The result is a visually stunning epic film that ultimately makes very little sense plot-wise.

Tom Hardy's portrayal of Bane is unique and vastly different from the steroid induced hulking Bane wearing a Mexican wrestler looking mask from the comic books. Hardy is one of the most interesting and versatile method actors to watch onscreen. His performance in Bronson was extraordinary and his physical presence onscreen as Bane is chillingly brutal even when limited by emoting from behind a synthesized face mask that at times makes his dialogue somewhat distorted and unintelligible and come off sounding like Darth Bane. The character's origins have been altered significantly from the comics. Instead of a South American inmate that had been physically transformed by an experimental super-soldier serum Venom, Bane origins initiate from somewhere in the Middle East where he was disfigured in a prison in which he is coincidentally, for the sake of the plot, the protector of Ra's Al Ghul's daughter Talia who has returned to Gotham under the name of Miranda Tate and her reveal as Talia who has returned to avenge her father's death and fulfill the destiny of the League of Shadows to destroy Gotham feels like a forced plot contrivance tacked on at the end of the film.

Perhaps the biggest offense though in TDKR is the fact that Nolan has repeatedly gone on record stating that Robin would never make an appearance in his Batman films but then decides to shoehorn him into the ending of the film in such a way that is not only a slap in the face to Batman fans everywhere but does so in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with the character of Dick Grayson's Robin, or even his protege Jason Todd or even his successor, Tim Drake. Joseph Gordon Levitt's John Drake/Robin has more akin to Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond, Bruce Wayne's future successor to Batman's mantle from the cartoon and it's literally a "cop out" if you'll pardon the pun. John Drake is an orphaned street cop who just walks up and knocks on the door of Wayne Manor and announces that he knows Batman's secret identity is Bruce Wayne and we are supposed to buy that Bruce then endows Batman's entire legacy and mantle to him, without any of the martial arts training he acquired under the tutelage of Ra's Al Ghul or the League of Shadows, and will allegedly continue on as Gotham's new Batman?

Christopher Nolan is, though, to be commended for bringing a gritty realism back to Batman and keeping the franchise alive after Joel Shumacher's campy farcical films nearly destroyed the franchise completely. However, a director of Nolan's acclaim and talent should be ashamed for the lackadaisical directorial effort demonstrated in TDKR. In short, it feels like Nolan phones it in on this one. Like Indiana Jones, Batman has Nuked the Fridge. Perhaps it was the overwhelming success of The Dark Knight, the daunting task of continuing in the wake of the death of Heath Ledger, and or physical and mental exhaustion of contractually delivering a third installment to the studio that makes TDKR feel so substantially "off" from the pitch-perfect feel of The Dark Knight, a superior film by comparison which felt as though all of the narrative pieces fit together seamlessly along with the strong performances by Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart.

TDKR is the Return of the Jedi of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. It is a very flawed, tired, but guiltily entertaining film to watch. It will be interesting to see where the Batman franchise goes from here. Will it continue with Joseph Gordon Levitt wearing the cowl or will a new director recast and reboot from scratch and completely disregard the alternate reality continuity of the Nolanverse? Batman is a mythology that has been continuously retold in all media from different interpretations of the character. If The Man Of Steel is successful I can already see Warner Bros handing Zack Snyder the keys to the franchise, turning his vision of a reboot into a hyper-reality, CGI exaggerated 300 meets Watchmen style of Batman. Personally, I would much prefer a big screen adaptation of Arkham City. Probably the best interpretation of Batman I've experienced in any media.

The Dark Knight Lives.


Bruce Vain said...

Great review, DD! I also agree about Arkham Asylum, it would be a great adaptation for the next film. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I thought the film was a major letdown. I feel that Nolan didn't care as much and just wanted to end it. There were a ton of plotholes in this compared to the Dark Knight. I expect better in a Nolan film.

Justin said...

I am not hugely steeped in Batman lore, but I agree with your review completely. There were a ton of plot holes, the Robin angle at the end made no sense, and the Talia Al Ghul twist felt contrived and not like it was a part of the grander scheme. I also wondered how Bane made it to the Middle East and back in such a short amount of time. Bruce's recovery from his broken back was astonishingly fast. It was an entertaining movie, but it was a let down from a story perspective after The Dark Knight's superb narrative.

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. Although I enjoyed the film, there were many places that I scratched my head. I know nothing of the comics but certainly can see a plot hole.

However, regarding Robin, I knew from almost the beginning that the orphan policeman was going to be Robin. It kinda was obvious. I loved the scene with him standing in the water and the platform rises. Again though I did not know, Nolan said Robin would never make an appearance.

I swore the Joker died at the end of the last movie, or at least they made it seem that it was possible. There is no way they could successfully recast the character, Heath Ledger, made infamous on screen. One of the best bad guy roles I have ever seen! Would seem more like a slap in the face to Ledger and Joker fans.

The movie was fun and visually exciting and I loved Bane but not the way he was so quickly executed by Catwoman. A serious let down for me personally.

WesAlex said...

>If Batman has retired-the Batcave was not destroyed in the second film, just Wayne Manor. How quickly did Wayne make the decision to hang up the role? >How is it that Batman is able to survive having his back broken- I believe in the movie, it was not his back that was broken but vertebra that needed to be put back into place.
>Climb out of a virtually inescapable prison pit- The young girl did it. Also the time frame for Bane's occupation of Gotham was a few months. Wayne worked to get himself back into shape. Considering he was a member of the Shadow's Society, I am sure he was familiar with how to do this.
>Bane can travel half way around the world- Good point unless the govenrnment allowed his passage due to his threat to destroy the city.
>Why does Alfred abandon Bruce Wayne- Alfred just could not take it any longer. He said maybe his leaving would cause Bruce to change his mind. It did not.
>Why does Bruce fall in love with Miranda- Maybe he listened to Alfred's advice to rejoin the world.
>As for Robin, I thought it was a different touch. They would be foolish to start this entire franchise over like they did with Spiderman. Sure, Robin will need training. Maybe he may not become the Batman but Nightwing. Why should we think that whoever directs will follow the Batman legend in the comics. Why not make changes that are not out of this world. Who is to say, Wayne survived and returns to train Robin. As Wayne/Batman said at the end, anyone can be Batman.

It was an enjoyable movie. I look to be entertained. I don't go to find fault unless it is glaring and can't be overlooked. I seldom see the same movie critics do, therefore, I don't pay much attention to critics, who are suppose to find fault and are biased to start with.

See the movie. Judge for yourself.

AlanKeno said...

Great Review!
You hit on all the things that were bugging me.

Coronavirus NYC said...

Ouch it wasn't that bad! I think it opened alot of doors for new characters storylines to take over. I mean it is just a movie. And oviosuly it will never been like a comic.

Justin said...

Here is an excellent article discussing what to do with Robin John Blake: http://comicbook.com/blog/2012/07/23/the-dark-knight-rises-five-john-blake-next-moves/

The biggest problem is that John Blake only exists in Nolan's Batman universe. If he is going to be Robin, then why not use one of the characters people know is Robin: Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, or Tim Drake? If he's going to be Nightwing, why is he not Dick Grayson? If he's going to be Azrael, then why not have him be Jean-Paul Valley? Instead they created a character who only exists in Nolan's Batman universe which makes rebooting or continuing the franchise with that character difficult.

bsmith13 said...

Wow. I feel so alone.

I consider myself fairly well steeped in Batman lore, having read the comics since the late '70s.

I enjoyed the movie a great deal, and didn't have any of the problems that all of you seemed to have with it.

I guess I'm the predictable statistical anomaly?

Randall said...

Terrible review. And condescending. There was plenty of contrived, logic-defying material but not any more than a myriad of similar things I could bring up in BB & TDK. It's a Batman movie. Oddly, most of your list have easy/obvious answers and weren't logic-defying at all:

"For example, if Batman has retired, why then did he even bother rebuilding the Batcave when Wayne Manor was restored after its destruction in Begins?" BatCave was never destroyed (the fire destroyed the house). Reconstruction of Wayne Manor began right at the end of Begins ("I'm going to rebuild it brick for brick").

"How is it that Batman is able to survive having his back broken by Bane and is able to not only heal himself without the use of the Lazarus Pit from the comics but also climb out of a virtually inescapable prison pit somewhere in India to return to physically confront his nemesis is a time frame that defies any logical sense?" He had a bulged vertebrate, not a severed spinal chord(was never paraplegic). It seem like 4 or 5 months passed while recuperating/training in prison. It's a superhero movie.

"And how is it that Bane can travel half way around the world to dispose of Batman and return to Gotham all the while in the midst of executing his uninterrupted and strategically coordinated terrorist attacks on the city?" Did Bane ever go to the prison? Can't remember... if so, that's a fair logic lapse.

"Why does Alfred abandon Bruce Wayne after repeatedly assuring him he would never leave his side in the other films?" Out of love. He couldn't watch Bruce kill himself and thought leaving might be the only way to save him (forcing him to change his mind).

"Why does Bruce fall in love with Miranda Tate after being so distraught over Rachel's death that he hangs up Batman's cowl?" He had 8 years to grieve... much more time than necessary. Instincts/desires would take over anyone after that length of abstinence.

How can a rational adult not make such simple connections, and why would you nitcpick a Batman movie to that kind of degree (again neither Begins nor TDK could stand up to such standard).

RCT4 said...

I was extremely disappointed with this movie. Nolan is going the way of George Lucas!

Anonymous said...

I think the review is spot on. Great work, Dec Dave. Agree about the problems, too bad Nolan didn't hit this one out of the park.

Anonymous said...

Don't agree with this review at all. Most of what he calls plot holes at the beginning are easily explainable if you pay attention to the film. For instance, Batman's back is not broken and it takes him 3 months to recover from his injury.

This review uses words such as mindless and guiltily entertaining, terms which do not in any way describe the work of Christopher Nolan. Also the constant references to the lack of Heath Ledger have become beyond tiresome. The Joker was never going to appear in the third film. End of.

Jay said...

I can't disagree more with this review. Brilliant movie that worked on many levels; I can't possibly imagine thinking of it as "mindless" or "meaningless"... much less a disappointment. Every reviewer is entitled to their opinion, but I'm also entitled to be glad I didn't see the movie with you.

Leonardo Da Vinciaprio said...

Excellent review. This was my least favorite of Nolan's Batman films. It was also my least favorite Nolan film. It appears that he's fallen victim to thinking he can do no wrong and has no one that will tell him when something is too much. Hopefully he won't be as sloppy with what he does next.

Batman Detractor said...

I can't say I invested much into Nolan's Batman. I felt the first movie was inadequate as there was no super villan. The Scarecrow seems easily defeated with the plot about hallucination drugs as the main point. The second movie had the Joker, but the movie was unnecessarily violent. I can't say I'm looking forward to the next version. I will certainly watch it at some point.

Anonymous said...

Terrible review, but not unexpected from a Disney butt-boy, who promotes Marvel constantly. The movie had much more to say than the usual fan-boy crapola. Enjoy the mindless garbage that Disney serves up next Summer in Iron Man 3. I'm sure you'll lap that slop up like a pig at a trough.

Foba Bett said...

Hey Anonymous,

Maybe you can't read, but the review was by Decadent Dave, not Honor who runs the site. DD isn't a big Disney fan, but does reviews for the site. He's actually quite good, but you'd know that if you read a little more before you stuck your foot in your mouth.

Anonymous said...

I stand by my comment. Disney = Marvel. It's obvious that they want to bash TDKR, DC Comics, and Warner Brothers.

J.J. Jameson said...

Anonymous = Whining DC fanboy.

Anonymous said...

I think this review is definitely too harsh, Randall picked apart most of my problems with it. But to each his own...

The only thing I came here to say was THE LAZARUS PIT = THE PRISON. Once I realized this I felt it was a genius way to include the pit in the film while maintaining Nolan's grounding in reality.

Ra's Al Ghul said...

The Lazarus Pit IS NOT the same as the prison pit in the film!!!! The Lazarus pits are naturally occurring well springs discovered by Ra's Al Ghul that have regenerative healing powers that sustained his immortality. The side effect is that they cause insanity. The prison pit in the film was a nod to the Lazarus Pit from the comics but it certainly did not provide regenerative chemical healing powers for Bruce Wayne. It was more metaphorical than literal.

Anonymous said...

Even though i find your comment to be somewhat offensive, you just nailed it