One of the ideas about Batman that both Mr. Ramey and I have held very dearly over the years is that since Batman is a fictional character, there can be an infinite number of interpretations of him. And none of these interpretations are “right” or “wrong” -- a person can decide for themselves if a particular interpretation of Batman works for them or not. As Batman fans, we all agree to disagree -- my sensibilities relating to Batman may be very different from yours, but if you and I were to have a debate over those sensibilities, I would take pains to be respectful of you and your opinions during our discourse. That said, I would like to share my thoughts about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES with you
Let me first say that I HUGELY enjoyed the film -- I have seen it a half dozen times so far, and it is filled with many, many things that thrill me as a lifelong Batman fan. And I would like to urge all of you to see it in IMAX format if you can. The IMAX version of RISES is simply stunning -- it makes seeing the film into an immersive experience that most any serious Batman fan will find unforgettable. I’m not going to get into a lot of RISES’ plot points and spoilers, but I will say this -- with the movie, director Christopher Nolan closes out his Batman film trilogy in a spectacular, emotionally satisfying fashion. This trilogy is a very notable achievement not only in the history of the Batman character, but in the history of film itself.
But I also have to say that I believe Nolan’s Batman in RISES runs counter to several important, long-cherished elements of the Batman character -- and because of this, there are likely going to be many Batman fans such as myself who cannot consider the film’s take on Batman and his world to be truly “definitive.” My main disagreement with Nolan over Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY is over the following questions. Why does Bruce Wayne don the disguise of Batman? What satisfaction does Bruce get from being Batman? In this film, Nolan has answered these questions very differently from the way that I would answer them -- and very differently from the manner in which Batman has been portrayed in comics for generations.
As to this first question, in the comics Bruce becomes Batman to fight crime in order to avenge his parents’ deaths -- ALL crime. His relentless quest for justice can never end, because there will always be SOMEONE in the world who is being adversely affected by crime. Simply put, as long as is there a breath left in Bruce’s body, he will don his costume in order to fight crime and seek justice. Consider the following dialogue from the classic 1976 Batman comic story “There is No Hope in Crime Alley” written by Denny O’Neil. Batman stops a mugger from robbing a poor old man, and the man asks Batman why he would bother with such a small crime. Batman tells the man that “crime is crime…and to you the loss of a dollar is more important than the loss of thousands to a banker.”
The Batman of Nolan’s trilogy is nowhere near as determined as this classic comic Batman. In the film, Bruce actually tells Gordon that he quit being Batman for eight years because “Batman wasn’t needed anymore.” Batman wasn’t needed? You’ve got to be kidding me! In the movie, crime in Gotham City has become less rampant because of the passage of a law known as “The Dent Act” has brought crime in Gotham to a new low. But obviously, there is still crime in the city -- for example, the bodies of young men who died under mysterious circumstances are regularly being discovered in Gotham’s sewer system.
Batman as I understand and appreciate him would be down in those sewers in a heartbeat investigating those deaths, but that is not what the Batman of RISES does. In the film, Bruce is in the prime of his life and has a lot of fight left in him -- yet in the face of adversity, he chooses to give up being Batman, hide out in his mansion, and ignore mysterious deaths such as the bodies being found in the sewers. This is just not what my vision of what the character’s basic motivation is.
I’ll bet a lot of you would counter this viewpoint by bringing up Frank Miller’s classic Batman graphic novel THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. In that work, Batman has retired for a decade, much like he did in RISES. I would answer you by saying that RETURNS takes place much later in Batman’s career, after he has fought crime for DECADES -- Bruce is all the way up in his mid-50’s when he decides to again don the cape and cowl. Nolan’s interpretation of a younger Batman who fights crime for about a year and then quits for EIGHT years is a far cry from the determined, relentless Batman of the comics -- RETURNS included.
This leads me to the second question I posed -- what satisfaction does Bruce get from being Batman? In the comics, Bruce is most always able to take some satisfaction in knowing that his mission is truly helping Gotham City and its citizens. This mission has helped him to make sense of his life in the wake of terrible tragedy. In other words, Bruce sees being Batman as doing something positive with his life.
In RISES, both Bruce and Alfred look upon Bruce’s costumed adventures as some kind of curse. Alfred even suggests that Bruce is in effect trying to commit suicide by being Batman. This line of thinking is about 180 degrees removed from how Bruce and Alfred view Bruce’s Batman persona in the comics. In the comics, Bruce and Alfred are very much partners in Batman’s amazing, ongoing adventures. Bruce is a hero as The Batman, and Alfred’s ability to aid and care for Bruce makes him very much a hero as well. There are times when Alfred is bemused or even alarmed by Bruce’s obsession -- but on the whole, both men see Batman as a very noble endeavor. I feel that RISES’ premise that Bruce and Alfred view Batman as an overwhelming negative is a giant and unwelcome departure from the character’s time-honored mythos.
Some of you might counter this viewpoint by saying RISES is so deadly serious, so rooted in our real world, that Bruce and Alfred SHOULD view Bruce’s Batman exploits as an unbearable risk. Well, I don’t believe for a second that RISES really works as a “real world” piece. The film suffers from maddeningly inconsistent story construction, which leads to its characters constantly saying and doing things that simply make no sense. These story construction problems greatly affect the movie’s action sequences -- I’m not a scientist, medical doctor, soldier or engineer, but I know enough about these fields to know that much of the action in RISES is at times as far removed from reality as the action found in Joel Schumacher’s Batman films.
Let me put it this way -- in RISES, we are not in the real world at all, we are in Nolan’s world. And Nolan’s world is operating in a manner that allows him to make his own social and political commentary. A lot of this commentary is deadly serious, which doesn’t really work for me at all -- it just doesn’t make sense to me to support deadly serious commentary with so much silly, unrealistic action. And make no mistake, there is a TON of silly, unrealistic action in RISES. I’m not going to describe any of that action in detail here, because I don’t think I should be revealing too much of the film’s plot -- let me just say that RISES is filled with scenes that defy physics and logic.
Do all of my misgivings about RISES completely ruin the film for me? No, not at all! As I said at the beginning of my review, RISES is filled with many, many things that thrill me as a lifelong Batman fan. Bale is by far my favorite screen Batman of all time, Hathaway is fabulous as Selina Kyle, and the film’s other principals such as Oldman, Caine, Gordon-Levitt, Freeman and Hardy are wonderful. I can set aside my misgivings about the film and enjoy it for what it is at its core -- the epic conclusion to Nolan’s screen interpretation of Batman. I don’t care for it as much as Nolan’s two earlier Batman films, especially BATMAN BEGINS. I consider Part 1 of the Trilogy to be Nolan’s greatest Batman triumph, and as far as I am concerned, neither TDL or RISES ended living up to the promise of Begins.
(A quick note: Those of you who look at my earlier reviews might notice that in my review of TDK, I said I liked that film better than BEGINS – but as the years have passed, TDK has not held up as well for me as BEGINS has. I have come to feel that TDK suffers from the same story construction problems that RISES does.)
RISES may not reach the heights that BEGINS did for me personally, but that does not prevent me from being a fan of it. My theatrical view count will go well into double digits, and I will be first in line to buy the film when it comes out on Blu-ray.
Here’s my final thought. Good luck, DC Comics and Warner Bros Pictures! When it comes to your Batman film franchise, Nolan has left you with one incredible act to follow. - Mark Reinhart
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES -- starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard -- hits theaters on JULY 20, 2012!