Monday, July 23, 2012

The few blemishes in The Dark Knight Rises

Like most of you, I saw The Dark Knight Rises this weekend.  Fair warning, this blog post will contain a few spoilers, so if you don't want them blown for you, back out now.  Now I'm going to babble for a bit before getting to the point so you won't accidentally see any spoilers immediately below.

As a Batman fan, I came away very satisfied.  I'm not sure I can give enough praise to Christopher Nolan and the entire creative team (including writers Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer) for what they accomplished here.  This is the first time that any superhero film series managed to get three solid entries, let alone with the same filmmaker at the helm.  The Christopher Reeve Superman films have a 50-50 batting average, with most fans agreeing that the previous Batman series was about equally successful.  The X-Men films peaked with X2, though First Class was rather good.  Iron Man stumbled with its second entry, so even if Iron Man III is as good as the first, it still won't equal what Nolan achieved here.

The closes that any superhero series has come to this was when Sam Raimi directed three Spider-Man movies - but the consensus is that the third movie is best forgotten.

This might be the first time that a particular comic book adaptation was allowed to end on its own terms, rather than being brought to an end because of either shortcomings at the box office or an inability to get a project together in time to satisfy the deadline on an option on the rights. I really liked how Nolan's films all form one large story and aren't just a largely episodic series (like James Bond, for instance.) 

One of TDKR's strengths is how it pulls together threads from the previous films and weaves them into something that really feels like a conclusion.  Nolan truly tells a complete story here, and in a weird way that actually makes it easier to view this as a finished interpretation and welcome the inevitable rebooting of the Batman series.  Considering the wide range of interpretation that the Batman mythos have gone through over 70+ years, it probably would be smart for the next creative team to go in an entirely different direction.

So when I get into the issues that bugged me, it's important to remember that these are very small in the overal picture, so without any further ado...

What exactly did the Dent Act do?  As I understand it, the Dent Act is credited with allowing Gotham to clean up the streets, presumably by somehow giving the authorities the ability to lock up members of organized crime indefinitely.  The script is pretty vague on what the Dent Act is, but we do understand that it was ratified legally, presumably by the voters.  Martyring Dent was a big motivator, which is why no one is eager for the truth to come out that Dent went nuts and killed several people in the earlier film.

There's a lot with this that doesn't make sense.  First, the public was told that Batman was responsible for killing Harvey Dent - so I don't quite know how that translates to the voters drawing a straight line from Harvey's murder to tougher measures against organized crime.  Whatever those vague measures may be.

Second, from some dialogue at the beginning of the picture, we understand that the Dent Act is hugely popular.  People are thrilled that it's kept the streets safe.  If the truth about Harvey Dent were to come out now, it's not like the Dent Act immediately disappears.  Sure, people might be pissed at the deception, but since the law's on the books and has had a positive effect, I don't think Gotham City voters would decide, "Well, guess that's the end of that. Better dump this law just to remain morally consistent."

I could probably dig into this further, but the point has probably been made.  Bottom line: The Dent Act feels like a lot of hand-waving and half-explanations.

How does John Blake figure out Bruce is Batman?  So Blake recounts how he met Bruce Wayne years ago when Wayne made a visit to his orphanage.  He intuited that Bruce was hiding a big secret.  Blake says he'd learned to put on a false face to hid his own pain and he recognized that same mask on Bruce.  And THAT is how he knew Bruce was Batman.

Say what?

I don't see how Blake makes that leap.  At best, he should be able to figure out that Bruce hides a lot of pain at being an orphan, but he already knew Bruce was an orphan.  How does spotting someone else putting on a lot of bravado lead to "Ah-HA! This guy likes to put on body armor and beat criminals to a pulp!"

Blake figures out the truth only because the movie NEEDS him to know the truth, logic be damned.

Bane's origin misdirection - I'll be brief because this is one detail that I need to watch closely on a second viewing.  For a time, we're led to believe that Bane's movie origin correlates to his comic book one - that he was born in prison and never saw the sun until he escaped.  Late in the film, we learn that's not true.  There was a child born and raised in prison, but that's actually a different character.  Bane was merely the "protector" for that child.

So if Bane was just another prisoner, why does he claim "I was born in darkness."  Why does he seem to imply he didn't see light until he was an adult?  Yes, it's possible he's speaking metaphorically, but that feels like it bit too much of a writing cheat.

There are a couple other little moments, but to me, those were the most glaring.  As I said, I enjoyed the film, but it annoys me when there are these pieces that don't fit.


  1. Interesting take. I really enjoyed "The Dark Knight Rises" but, dear God, did Nolan pull a MAJOR punch at the end. To avoid spoilers, I won't say, but I'm pretty sure you can guess. We both know how this movie was *supposed* to end, and then Nolan goes ahead and throws a shot in as if to say "oh! Nope! Not quite!"

    Somewhat surprisingly, I don't have a problem with the first point--I just read "Patriot Act" for "Dent Act," and I'm assuming it's something that eliminates privacy and civil liberties, but drives the crime rate down.

    Re: The second point--I have the opposite problem, memorably noted in a recent cracked video, which is not how does John Blake know, but how does everyone else *not* know? Come on--anyone in Gotham who makes a list of "probable suspects of Batman" is going to put Bruce Wayne right at the top of the list. Fabulously wealthy, very personal reason to fight crime, in excellent shape, and someone from Wayne enterprises said he knew who Batman was on TV.

    Cracked video, in case you haven't seen it:

    1. Yeah, but in terms of the Patriot Act, if we were to learn that the events that motivated the Patriot Act were based on some grand deception, it wouldn't change the fact that the Patriot Act was on the books now. They seemed to imply that the integrity of the Dent Act needed to be protected at all costs, but I don't buy that finding out Dent was a killer would undo that.

      From an in-universe perspective, your second point is pretty well-founded. At the very least, people should wonder if Wayne was funding Batman. I might have gone with it if they'd actually had Blake's explanation draw on some of that.

      And if they'd done that AND called Blake "Tim Drake," I'd have come away VERY happy indeed.

  2. Just a quick fan rationalization: "Born in darkness and didn't see the light until I was grown" (or whatever the line is) could be a reference to how much Ra's and the League of Shadows changed Bane's life. It's not THAT much of a writing cheat when you consider how often Bane speaks in grandiose metaphors.

    Actually, he might even be referring to how Talia changed his life -- it's implied he was a "bad" person, a criminal, before she came along and inspired good in him. Since Talia is his love, his sister and his motivation, I don't think it's a cheat for him to refer to her in those poetic terms.

    1. It makes sense as a metaphor, but Bane said this during the fight where Batman shuts the lights off to gain advantage and Bane proves that he can see in the dark by defeating Batman in that very fight, thus making the statement very real and not just metaphorical.

  3. What I've found with all three Nolan Bat-movies thus far is that there are plot holes and leaps of logic in each, but the overall quality of the film means I'm willing to overlook them.

    This isn't as tightly plotted a movie as 'Inception', for example - we're certainly not in the 'enthusiasm over logic' sensibilities of Damon Lindelof or Kurtman/Orci (hmm, both JJ Abrams alumni? Coincidence OR SOMETHING MORE SINISTER) - but overall what we have largely are niggles rather than deal-breakers.

    Okay so that John Blake thing was something of a leap and that's the main sticking point for a lot of people (and no doubt will feature heavily in some 20-paragraph scathing breakdown reviews of Letterboxd), but it raises an interesting writer-y question:

    How many holes in a story are audiences willing to overlook? And how does the overall quality of the finished product affect the audience's tolerance for those few things that don't fit?

  4. I think the fact that Wayne would be top of the list of suspects actually works in Nolan's favor here. It's so obvious to *us* that when someone does figure it out, we don't think "Hmm, that was a leap of logic" but "At last, someone's made the obvious deduction!" Which is a nice screenwriting cheat we could all learn from...

  5. Unless my memory is worse than ever, it's fairly explicitly stated in the script, and in Bane's mumbling dialogue, that the Dent Act allows criminals and/or suspects to be locked up indefinitely without trial or proper procedures. I'm not an American but it sounds to me like kind of a cross between the Patriot Act and RICO.

  6. Saw it a second time last night and loved it. I don't have much of a problem with any of the blemishes after seeing it again. But after the first time I did wonder about Blake figuring it out.

    I agree that it could have used just a bit more explaining. I buy everything he said. But I think it would have been complete if he were to just mention the timeline with Bruce leaving Gotham after Joe Chill was killed and then Bruce coming back and the correlation with Batman's first appearance. They could have even used the word "correlation" here and tied it to Gordan making him a detective and Selina talking to Bruce about how she can't escape her past.

    I'm not sure how you resolve the Bane point. The only thing I've got is that even though it was someone else who escaped it could still hold that Bane was born there, grew up there, and only got out once someone pulled him out. Having been a kid who grew up there would explain why he would connect with the other child and protect it.

    The Dent Act was mainly about denying parole to suspects. Remember back in The Dark Knight when Dent had basically the whole mob arrested at once. The mayor complained that it was a farce because they would all make parole and be back on the street. Now with the Dent Act, presumably the higher ups couldn't make parole and conjure up a way to escape prosecution or just flee the city. They would have to sit in prison and be forced to have their case brought before the court. Whereas before, the bosses like Marone were back on the street shortly after that arrest in TDK.

    Having said that, I agree that it doesn't seem like it would matter too much if the people knew the truth. But I guess we're supposed to buy the fact that people rallied around Dent and really took to him as the big hero.

  7. funny. i had a long list of issues, and the ones you mentioned weren't even in there. but i did think it was crazy how joseph gordon levitt figured it out so easily, and then they'd have us believe that gordon didn't figure it out until the every end...and he's supposed to the old grizzled, wise cop. ha!

  8. The big thing I didn't like about the movie is that Bane essentially created an "Escape from New York" type of situation without any real timetable, or apparent endgame. Without any police force, and a populace with nothing to lose, Gotham would have torn itself apart in like three days, hired goons, or no hired goons.

    There would have been people swimming en masse to escape the city.

    Instead we're treated to a city where the good people just stay indoors, and that's that.

    Flash forward, DAY 82, and nothing's changed. Bane's henchmen are still driving the nukemobile around town with the Bat-tanks, and nothing really makes sense, especially if Bane and that chick from Inception were going to commit suicide and nuke the city anyway. So are they really going to go 80-90 days just so Bruce Wayne can suffer in prison while watching the nightly news.

    Another question, why did the prison still exist? Who was running the prison?

    Lastly, why didn't we see anyone from Arkham Asylum making a cameo aside from Scarecrow? The absence of the Joker amidst such a long an protracted siege, just seemed weird. You would have thought that the first people freed by Bane would have been the crazies at the Asylum.

    Yes, I know the Joker was left out specifically out of respect to Heath Ledger, but they could have had someone do the voice of the Joker and shoot the back of his head while still in Arkham, watching the TV, or something.

  9. There were some great scenes in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Especially the motorcycle hunt, when Batman comes back from wherever he was hiding. The Bat was really cool and he had some great one-liners. But on the whole, the movie didn't work for me and there are four main reasons:

    1. The personal relationships didn't work.

    The opening stunt was a cool effect, but the scene took way too long, since I didn't care for those people at all.

    The conflicts where not believable, especially the one with Alfred. They were rushed through to get them out of the way.

    The same goes with Blake. He found out Wayne is Batman. So what? What are the implications on the story right now?

    The kiss with Catwoman felt forced.

    The story cheat with Bane telling Batman he was born in the darkness.

    Talia's reveal came out of nowhere - it was CLAIMED, not developed. They did show the scar on her neck, but it was only a glimpse and didn't work in the context of a romantic scene.

    Bane reading Gordon's letter in public. Bo-hoo. He's such a bad boy. What are the repercussions of him reading the letter RIGHT NOW? The world of Gotham was already crumbling, it didn't really change much at this point, also since the people didn't have to believe anything what he said.

    2. They tried to make it "too epic"!

    The time span of the movie is enormous and the story falls apart because of it. Bruce Wayne becoming Batman again, being broken by Bane and then becoming Batman AGAIN only to escape the prison and to defeat Bane. It was just too much and therefore unbelievable.

    3. Too many clichés.

    The ticking bomb that can be hurdled away just in time, the prostitute with a heart of gold, the neck breaking brute, the bad guy taking too much time to explain the plan, the villains and the good guys dressed in uniforms so they can be easily identified and a ridiculous death "with a last statement" - just to name a few.

    On a minor note, there were also some technical mistakes in the movie that I noticed during the projection:

    - The strange editing, especially in the first few scenes. The cuts seemed arbitrary and I couldn't get a feel for the rythm at all. On the other hand, the scenes in the end felt just overtly long.
    - The sound design was off more than once (Bane's voice permeating everything was probably done because of his ridiculous Gipsy accent - nice idea, but hard to understand otherwise).
    - The flat score (appearantly James Newton Howard declined the offer to work with Hans Zimmer after Zimmer did the score for Nolan's Inception on his own).
    - Color shifts between brown and green during different shots of a scene.

    It's still an OK movie, and I'd give it 6/10 points. Now my hope lies with THE MAN OF STEEL. :)

  10. OK. There are guns and bikes and tanks and all the technology from the 37th century at work. To avoid spoiler, when it is revealed that it's not Bane but someone else pulling the strings, that person, the 'biggest villain of the biggest superhero epic conclusion' - takes Batman by surprise. And how? Not with a gun or a missile. But a sweet little knife!! And this Batman's nemesis actually expects that tall guy in the thick armor to be killed with a knife!! Naturally (and conveniently), Batman carries on with his take-the-bomb-outside-the-city act after the 'knife attack'. Knife?!

  11. I am a huge Batman fan and, indirectly, Christopher Nolan. (to an extent)

    However, Nolan seems to have a pattern of ignoring inconvenient truths in his scripts, sometimes truths he established himself! Like in 'Inception' when he shows us a person under the serum fall out of their chair and "wake up". This is his established line of security, yet when the van rolls down the hill everyone inside it manages to conveniently stay in their lower dream. Ruined Inception.

    In TDKR there are some major issues along these lines.

    1. Bane's Voice - Come On!!! He sounded like Goldmember!! For a director who has clearly gone out of his way to direct Christian Bale to be as gruff and intimidating with his "Batman Voice" as possible, over the course of three films, it seems like a HUGE gaffe to have Bane sound like Goldmember.

    Seriously, every time he spoke I laughed out loud. Another reviewer compared it to Stewart Patrick doing a Scooby Doo impression. That screams intimidation!

    2. The Dent/Patriot Act Discussion - I think what they were going for on this was the same conclusion that would be drawn about the Patriot act if it was ever learned that 9/11 was an inside job, executed just to enact such a law.

    3. The "ending". Seriously?!! Maybe 5 or more years ago that ending might have passed as just slightly cliche, but in a world where everyone knows EXACTLY what and how powerful a Tsunami is, that ending is the cheapest cop out ever for a franchise even remotely close to this good.

    A. The Tsunami that would have resulted from the "resolution" would have caused FAR more damage to the the entire eastern sea board than the original issue.

    B. It doesn't matter if you fixed the auto pilot - you don't have to just get the bomb 6 miles away, you have to then get yourself 6 miles away from the new location. Out over the middle of the water- the eject button is going to do you any favors.

    C. Considering all the CGI work that was done to the actual shooting city (Chicago) to cloak it in a look of Gotham in the first two Batman's (adding buildings, monorail structures, logos, etc) The third one is an embarrassment.

    They did nothing to "dress up" NYC other then spend 50 bucks to have someone CGI a Wayne Enterprises logo on the side of an existing building. They literally used fly bys, city shots and skylines exactly how they are in NYC. All that did was take me entirely out of the story.

    Its a good movie, but considering the standard that was set, it was a terrible copout in regards to so many simple details.

    Oh and in regards to the Aurora Shooting, either he had access to the film prior or someone else told him when to walk into that theater. I am sorry to bring this up, but it seems like an awfully big coincidence that he walked into that theater when he did. It was reported the shooting started 25 minutes into the film. I started to time that out and got lost in the story until a ridiculously loud and extensive shoot out erupted. I looked down at my watch and guess what - The first shots of that scene were fired 25 minutes in.

    There is no way in a packed dark theater you would have realized it was off the screen until you were either hit or splattered on...

    That's not kosher to talk about though...