Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Dark Knight Rises Review (Part 4 of 4)

Over the past few weeks, I've been tearing down Batman, discussing major foibles built into the character by the different creators and times in which he has existed. It's not because I don't like Batman; I've found that a good rule of thumb when encountering things I don't like is to just walk away and get on with my life. If I truly thought Batman was as fundamentally flawed a concept as these last few posts might imply, I wouldn't care enough to talk about it.

This series isn't even a critique of these variations of the concept; I'm painting with some pretty broad brushes here. Most of the time, these issues are part of the general, grating background noise of an imperfect universe that I alone haven't learned to tune out in an effort to go along and get along. If life experiences are a pile of burritos with mud in the middle, Batman's foibles are the ones where the mud's been replaced with onions; still awful, but better than most.

Which is why Nolan's version of the Batman concept—the concept being the sum total of the characters, the setting, and the central conflict—is the best that has ever been created[1].


Nolan's first moves ground Batman and give him finite villains. This redefines his war so that it's has an end condition while still being waged against a larger-than-life concept. There is an end condition written into Batman's existence. This Batman is fighting for the soul of a city by inspiring its citizens. An ambitious and extraordinary goal, but not quixotic. 

Bruce Wayne doesn't know this though. Whenever The Dark Knight Rises opens, Batman seems to have retired after defeating Maroni's gang, Ra's, and The Joker, but he hasn't. Step two of Bruce's plan to honor his family's memory was to improve the quality of life in Gotham City, a plan he's been attempting—and failing at—for eight years. The city has survived, but it hasn't thrived.

As an intelligent, motivated, person of wealth, he feels the only cause for this failure is within himself. He internalizes it and stagnates instead of accepting his limitations or pressing forward. In hindsight, he sees that punching dudes has been the only successes in a series of endeavors to honor his parents' memory. Naturally, whenever he hears a rumor that a supervillain is in town, he suits up to feel useful again.

Just put put a pin in it: Bruce Wayne in this movie becomes Batman again because he explicitly only feels good when he punches things and it's played as a character flaw. He is a human character who makes mistakes all over the place, but learns from them. He makes decisions based not only what's good for Gotham, but based on his own passion, failures, hopes, and—jesus guys; his character arc is entirely about finding the emotional impetus to want to live[2]. Despite Bale's stoic demeanor, this is the most widely-ranged portrayal of Batman's feelings I've ever seen.

Everyone loved Bane because he was chipper; he had a zeal for life that deliberately contrasted Batman.
It was literally why he kicked so much ass.

I'll be the first to admit that his arc doesn't nail the landing[3]. Batman has to learn that he isn't the only one who can save Gotham. While he stumbles, misplacing his trust the same way I misplace my pens, at the end he can leave Gotham and let go of his burden, confident that his legacy--and not his death--honors his family. His last line in the movie acknowledges the heroism that he saw in Gordon and which he then tacitly passes on to Blake in the final scene.

Look, I know it's not the most technically sound film (the sudden sunset being the most egregious example). I know that it leaves its grounded roots behind in an effort to make the story work, and you're either the sort of person who gets on the boat of punch-based chiropractic medicine, no-backsies stock exchanges, and an electric company which absolutely does not do payment plans because this movie is already long enough, or you don't.

In terms of writing a Batman that's aware of its audience and the culture in which it exists, a Batman that knows the concept's history, good and bad, a Batman that's a mature, intelligent exploration of a guy in in a bat costume wearing a tool belt and using kung-fu to fight crime, Nolan's take is the best.

Until the next generation comes along and starts calling us all out on our outdated, ignorant attitudes towards fear-based toxins or something.

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[1] With the possible exceptions of the several animated series he's appeared in.
[2] It's probably no coincidence that the most quoted line of the movie, the one in the trailer, says point-blank that death is a secondary punishment for Batman.
[3] It's only on the surface that the lesson he learns in the prison pits of Vaguestan is "punch Bane in the mouth," which would be a shitty lesson for a movie to have.

1 comment:

Jordan Shipp said...

Good review