Home > Film > Thoughts on “The Dark Knight Rises”

Thoughts on “The Dark Knight Rises”

Disclaimer: I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises. It had its problems, including a small army of plotholes, which I will not address, because it doesn’t bother me as much as more fundamentally problematic issues, but I enjoyed it as a blockbuster. Still, it doesn’t mean that we cannot address what I felt were fundamental shortcomings, which is what is going to happen now.

And, yes, this is a spoiler warning. Please don’t proceed unless you’ve already watched the movie, or don’t mind being spoiled, or have already been spoiled anyways.

  • Nolan’s directing style was incompatible with The Dark Knight Rises. It is understandable that perhaps he was guided by the principle of ensuring that the Dark Knight trilogy remained PG-13. And while bloodless, sometimes off-screen violence (the Joker’s pencil trick and the carving of a Glasgow smile into a mob boss comes to mind) worked very well in films like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, where most of the violence actually amounted to mob fights and assassinations, by The Dark Knight Rises, the situation had escalated to what had essentially boiled down to all-out war. But because of the directing style, the adherence to “bloodless, off-screen violence”, a lot of scenes that could’ve been powerful were diminished in effect, and a lot of scenes outright made me scratch my head. Particular egregious was the final battle between the GCPD and Bane’s forces. Bane’s forces were armed with Heckler & Koch G36 rifles – fully automatic assault rifles – and most of the GCPD who arrived at this point were regular cops – not even SWAT – armed with handguns. Yet at this point, because Nolan couldn’t afford to show what would’ve been the Batman-equivalent of Black Hawk Down and the Battle of Mogadishu (modern mass urban warfare), what had promised to be one of the most intense – and possibly the most tragic – battles in the Dark Knight trilogy effectively became an exercise in suicidal stupidity as Bane’s forces – outgunning the GCPD in every way – charged into a fistfight to…give the GCPD a fighting chance? The scene that bothered me the most, in fact, was when Talia al-Ghul drove by in a tank and ordered her underling to machine-gun everyone following a scene where you see a police officer alive. The next cut shows he’s immediately dead on the ground. That seemed…entirely too unnecessary. The kind of off-screen, bloodless violence worked in The Dark Knight specifically because the Joker was about horror, and fear is not necessarily inspired by what you can see as much as what you can’t see. Bane, however, was about violence…which Nolan then refused to show. Also poignant was the fact that the bloodless violence diminished the effect of Bane’s “revolution”, which channeled the horror of the French revolution; we’re treated to scenes of kangaroo courts and the rich being dragged out into the streets, but Gotham doesn’t actually look terribly worse – just terribly deserted – in the aftermath of the revolution. What could’ve been a particularly memorable and terrifying situation in Gotham was neutered by the directing style that aimed for a PG-13 rating, something that is honestly puzzling when you are trying to go for a semi-realistic depiction of a serious terrorist takeover and a revolution. The story could’ve worked, but Nolan’s style just did not work with it.
  • Bane’s revolution felt like it was a great falling anvil of polarized American politics. Okay, The Dark Knight Rises happens to be one of those movies being released on election year, so perhaps it’s not entirely their fault. But throughout the movie, it was as if people kept pounding into me the idea of vengeance against the fat, opulent, corrupt rich by the downtrodden masses, something that was a lot more anarchist and socialist than what would’ve been expected by a Batman film. As early as Harvey Dent Day, the rich were shown to be scheming, amoral, corrupt sociopaths, while Selina Kyle went so far as to threaten Bruce Wayne that (and I’m paraphrasing), “A storm is coming, and you’ll be wondering how you managed to hold onto so much while leaving so little for the rest of us.” Then when Bane’s revolution came along, it invoked – deliberately or otherwise – the feeling of the French Revolution: Chaos and anarchy, kangaroo courts of the rich, impromptu executions…a feeling that was neutered by the aforementioned problems with Nolan’s directing style, but still particularly poignant as Selina’s accomplice remarks that things used to belong to the rich, but now it’s everyone’s. I appreciate that Nolan – at least on the surface – seemed to make both sides look equally bad, with the rich being fine with funding terrorism so long as it supported them, and the poor being fine with killing the rich (off-screen) once they had their chance. But it felt like a strangely enforced divide between leftist and rightist politics being pounded into me with a massive hammer…and on election year, no less.
  • Miranda Tate was totally unnecessary. And everyone already covered it, so I’ll try to be short: The betrayal doesn’t mean anything to the audience because Bruce started becoming romantically involved with her with virtually little lead-up or warning. No explanation is given as to why he had any reason to be romantically attached. It would’ve helped if Tate had been present since Batman Begins, or even The Dark Knight, but this was not the case; she was a woman who had shown up suddenly, suddenly got into a one-night fling with Bruce, and whom Batman was suddenly determined on saving. I didn’t feel the emotional connection there. Whereas I’m more intrigued by what could’ve been the elaboration of a romance between Bruce and Selina, especially with her discovery that Bruce – being part of the socioeconomic elite who has supposedly be exploiting people like her and everyone else – has in fact “given everything” to stand up for the little guy. I felt that one had a whole lot more chemistry than Miranda Tate.

That said, I was actually quite happy with Anne Hathaway’s portrayal as Catwoman. For once, she doesn’t seem like a hypersexualized femme fatale (which I loathe with a passion), and Nolan has allowed her to stand out and be capable in her own right. It didn’t amount to “throw the girl a cookie” token effort that gave her a chance to shine and then shafted her for the rest of the movie. Almost every time she appeared on screen with Batman, she was holding her own against armed assailants, and the final chase scene actually felt like a coordinated joint-assault by Batman and Catwoman as opposed to “Batman does all the awesome work while Catwoman just kind of follows along and pretends she’s actually doing something”. Her situation actually also resonates a bit with some of my social views, what with her being forced into crime by her economic situation, and being unable to get out of it simply because of how the system works. It’s a believable version of Catwoman, and finally one that gives her any shred of dignity (and quite a bit) instead of being some weird, eccentric, hypersexualized symbol.

Random detail that also made me a little pleased inside: When Bane is stopped by security guards at the stock exchange, the first thing he does is smash a female security guard’s face in with his helmet. He doesn’t take her hostage, he doesn’t put on kiddy gloves to deal with her; he incapacitated her just as quickly and brutally as he does any other person in the movie. And I was quite pleased at this display of gender equality in cinema.

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