Welcome to the Waiver Wire’s EVERY BATMAN EVER MARATHON. In the weeks leading up to the release of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ I will be watching and analyzing every feature film based on the Caped Crusader. The Batman film franchise is an old one with roots stretching all the way back to film serials produced in the 40′s. The first feature film came about in 1966 and our love affair with The World’s Greatest Detective has continued on ever since. Check back every Wednesday for the newest installments and I encourage you to join in and do the marathon with me. Here’s the schedule (click on the date for past installments):
Intro: 5/23; Batman (1966): 5/30; Batman (1989): 6/6; Batman Returns (1992): 6/13; Batman Forever (1995): 6/20; Batman & Robin (1997): 6/27; Batman Begins (2005): 7/4; The Dark Knight (2008): 7/11; Recap/Rankings: 7/18; The Dark Knight Rises (2012): 7/25
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
This is going to be a little different from the usual entries in this marathon. I’ve only seen the movie once (in IMAX, a great choice) and I’ve only had a short time to reflect on the film. As a result, a lot of my analysis is based on the visceral experience of watching the film in theaters, the buildup of expectations and my memories of what I saw. Still, I’ll do my best to reconcile my expectations, my love of Batman, and unbiased film criticism while breaking down a movie I really enjoyed (despite some major flaws), The Dark Knight Rises.
THE THINGS I LOVED: My biggest surprise was Anne Hathaway’s take on Catwoman (who is only ever referred to as Selina Kyle). She was sexy, sardonic, efficient and unpredictable, everything you want out of the character. Early in the film she is posing as a shy maid and when Bruce confronts her you can visibly see her shed the character and become Catwoman. It’s a pretty great moment of acting. She was a source of humor, nailed the action scenes and contributed to the great back and forth between our two black clad heroes. I daresay she stole the movie.
I loved the epic scope of the film (although it also led to one of my biggest criticisms). This was a big, sweeping conclusion to Batman’s tale that took Bruce to a satisfying catharsis. Nolan wisely focused on some of the thematic elements of Batman Begins bringing things full circle. That film was all about fear, The Dark Knight was about chaos, and this was about the collision of the two. In short, I felt that this film was an excellent continuation of the Bruce Wayne’s story.
Alfred was hardly in the film but he was crucial to the story and themes in a really effective way. He cut to the core of Bruce and gave voice to some of the ideas about the character that Nolan wanted to wrap up. That is, how much does Bruce need Batman? Is there a difference between him and the costume? The cemetery scene near the end showed us why Michael Caine is such a great actor and served the story in an understated way.
The action was superb. This was Nolan’s most accomplished Batman film in terms of action. The opening set piece is a plane heist that seems impossible to have filmed. I’m still in awe that Nolan was able to put it on screen and IMAX made it even better. Then there are Batman and Bane’s two epic brawls. The first is a testament to Tom Hardy’s physical performance. I really enjoyed his take on the character and his overwhelming physicality was key to selling the threat he provided. He beats the ever loving shit out of the Caped Crusader and that first fight was almost hard to watch because of how certain you were that Batman couldn’t win. The second fight was equally epic and was highlighted by the moment where, in desperate rage, Bane unleashes a flurry of punches into Batman before being knocked through a wall. Nolan’s team has always excelled at fight choreography but finally Batman was given a foe worthy of it.
THE THINGS I LIKED: I liked that this film, like Batman Begins, embraced the superhero elements of the character in a way that The Dark Knight didn’t. In the end I’m okay with watching Batman save Gotham from a ticking time bomb. Many expected Nolan to kill Batman but when it seemed like he had, I felt a sudden emptiness. It wasn’t the catharsis I desired from a final installment even though I thought it would be before the film. I was happy to see Batman survive through trickery because, well he’s a goddamn superhero. Nolan has always kept things grounded but he didn’t shy away from the source material and that worked for me.
I liked John Blake and his interesting role in the film. He served as a sort of alternative to Batman during the hero’s absence and I’m starting to think that was a crafty move by Nolan. If Batman is a symbol (one Bruce Wayne, the man, can’t continue to be) it makes sense that the film slowly built up the kind of person who can embody that continual ideal of Batman. I thought the reveal that his name is “Robin” was a bit too cheesy but I can live with it. The name doesn’t spoil the idea of him taking up the mantel. (Nerd Aside: They could have easily made his name Dick Grayson, Tim Drake or Jason Todd.)
I liked the Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard) twist. I didn’t love it because it was a bit too sudden and, as a result, she felt underdeveloped. The thing I did like about it was its role in bringing the films full circle. It signaled the end of Bruce Wayne’s time as Gotham’s protector. Too much had happened and he was unable to separate the concept of himself and the mask he wore. His actions in the first film led to a revenge plot that nearly destroyed his city. Again, it wasn’t perfectly handled but I’m all about things coming full circle and this was instrumental in bringing us back to the first film.
The humor was also a plus for me. Batman Begins had some fun humor in it but that sly penchant for funny lines was all but absent from The Dark Knight. This film had a bit more levity, despite being quite dark throughout and it helped establish a tone which was unique from its legendary predecessor.
THE PROBLEMS: It might sound a little crazy to say that a movie clocking in at two hours and forty five minutes needed to be longer but I think the film’s biggest problem was that it needed to be longer. The emotional weight of the story was reduced by the rapid pace of the film. Major events like Bruce losing his fortune, the public reaction to Bane’s master plan and Alfred’s leaving Wayne Manor didn’t get a chance to set in and mean as much because the movie was in a frantic rush to keep the story moving. I think the film could have stood to have another 15-20 minutes. Nolan could have used that time to further develop Cotillard’s character, Bane’s motivations and the way Bane’s plot affected the average people of Gotham.
The rich vs. poor, “Occupy Gotham” angle that Nolan was playing off of felt reductive because we didn’t get a chance to explore how anyone outside of our main characters felt about Bane’s message of liberation, the Harvey Dent reveal or any of it. Nolan’s thematic intentions were right but he wasn’t able to totally follow through on them like he did in The Dark Knight.
The ending is more problematic to discuss because so much of the reaction to it has to do with expectations and factors outside of the film. I personally enjoyed the ending so I’ll delve into more in the next section. Speaking of which…
THE VERDICT: First things first, see this film in IMAX. Nolan filmed over an hour of the film in the luscious format and it’s gorgeous on screen. The film’s big set pieces are made even better. Second things…second, this is, at the very least, a great summer blockbuster that’s well worth your money.
But does it live up the unimaginable hype? My vote is mostly yes. It is a thousand steps above typical summer fare and while it’s not as thematically complete as The Dark Knight, it is anything but dumbed down. The film is still wrestling with big questions about fear, chaos and power. Beyond that it serves as an excellent Batman film that delves even more deeply into Bruce Wayne’s psyche and the film’s action builds towards a visceral finale. The ending has been divisive for numerous reasons but a large part of that is the simple fact that it was a happy ending. After The Dark Knight’s dark, brilliant ending, many suspected Nolan would kill Batman in his final film. Hell, I expected it. And the thing is, Nolan was in a unique position to do whatever he wanted. He had a guaranteed billion dollar hit on his hands and was concluding a trilogy. But he didn’t go that way. He gave Batman a happy ending. Was it a cop out?
For me it came down to the moment Batman flew off into the distance to sacrifice himself. When the bomb went off I didn’t feel anything resembling catharsis. Instead I felt this crushing emptiness because Bruce needed to move on from everything and start a new life. Alfred said as much earlier in the film. Bruce’s arc in this film wasn’t “Bruce is doomed to die as Batman and never find peace.” Instead it was the story of Bruce learning that his time as Batman had to end because he needed to outgrow and leave the symbol he created. It’s why the inclusion of “Robin” was such a slick move. It allows Batman to stay important and function as an undying symbol while bringing our actual protagonist (Bruce) to a satisfying conclusion.
Following a classic is never easy and some are going to be disappointed with Nolan’s decision to keep with tradition of trilogies and end the final move on a happy note. Others will have an issue with the relatively short time Batman is actually on screen, I’m still on the fence about it and I’m sure my feelings will evolve. Ultimately, I found myself loving every minute of watching this film and it’s mostly held up to my retrospective analysis. The Dark Knight Rises is the final film in what I believe to be the greatest film trilogy ever made.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this marathon as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Batman is an enduring character and it’s been a pleasure covering all the different ways his story has been adapted to film.