The Obligatory Dark Knight Rises Post

Great movie. As I get older, I have a harder and harder time appreciating four-color rock-em-sock-em fests like The Avengers (which I liked, before you yell at me) and for me the Nolan Batman run has been one where the superhero story has been upgraded to feel like it’s by adults, for adults. It doesn’t ignore the reality of what Batman is — it keeps the creepy bits where “rich dude dresses up like vigilante to defend city from psychopathic terrorists and criminals” fairly well intact. It doesn’t look away from that discomfort.

As every story is a lesson to other storytellers, let’s peel away the Bat Nipples and look deeper into what I think worked about the film, and a little bit into what maybe didn’t work so well.

Some very mild general spoilers below. (Can’t promise the comments are a safe zone, though.)

Getting The Bat Right

Batman’s a hard dude to get right.

You gotta balance the vigilante with the billionaire. You have to keep his past in the front windshield while still not focusing so heavily on it that it becomes mawkish and obvious. You have to acknowledge his heroism while also acknowledging (at least a wee bit) his derangement. You have to see how he walks a line between psycho-conservative and radical liberal. You need to find the human in the suit.

This film does all that. Somehow juggling it all in a film where, surprisingly, Batman is not getting the majority of screen-time. This isn’t a movie about Batman, not really. It’s a movie about Gotham.

Be advised: I now really want to write Batman. So, somebody make that happen.

Batman Not About Batman

Most Batman stories give you too much Batman. And any time they spend time on other characters, hey, you just want to get back to Bats. Not here. TDKR goes long periods without ever visiting Mister Wayne, and this is a feature, not a bug. The film is populated with an incredibly strong supporting cast — not just in terms of acting but in writing (and more on that in a moment). By focusing on the characters orbiting Batman and by taking a long hard look at a city under siege, you start to get Batman. Batman is made stronger by those who carry him up — both narratively in the plot and metaphorically as a character.

Further, it ensures that when you do see Wayne/Batman, you’re so geeked out you’re doing the equivalent of the pee-pee dance inside your head. By limiting Batman, the strength of the character shines through.

He’s more potent that way.

And never overwhelms.

Complex Character

Good characters have alarming moments of weakness. Bad characters have troubling moments of nobility. Some characters vacillate so you don’t really know where to pin them — good, bad, selfish, assholes, not assholes, and so forth. It’s a wonderful tango — the script doesn’t give us four-color comic book characters. The script lets each character possess a million colors apiece — and just as many shades of gray.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is this film’s winner, by the way. He is its throughline.

Start The Story Late

The story doesn’t spend a lot of time getting you up to speed. A lot has changed since we last visited Gotham and the story isn’t interested in playing catch-up: in fact, it leaps forward with some things being big question marks in the hopes and trust (correctly placed) that the audience will play detective and stay invested. It works. As such, what could be a very boggy beginning is as lean as it could possibly be.

Earned Distrust

I don’t want to trust my storytellers. I want a storyteller to show me that I can’t trust him. You can’t trust Nolan and that’s fucking phenomenal. I want him to do things to the character and the storyworld — and, by proxy, to me the poor little quivering audience member gnawing his fingernails down to the bloody quick — that aren’t right. I basically want all my storytellers to be Verbal Kint from The Usual Suspects.

Every Hit Hurts

In this kind of movie, characters need to feel pain. Not merely physical, but the pain of unkept emotions, of betrayals, of lost love and all of that. Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman only works if that pain is palpable — and we feel it in every twist of the film and every bone-shattering Bane punch.

Twists That Work

The film gets a bit twisty now and again. And every twist works. Why? Because Nolan isn’t just trolling us — he sets up each twist with a good two or three beats before hand so when it comes, you think, “Oh, see, he’s been showing me this the whole time, and I either didn’t get why, or he did some other misdirecting voodoo and I stopped thinking about it.” This is the man that made The Prestige, after all.

Some folks wanted The Riddler in this film.

Nolan is the Riddler in this film.

Overtold, On The Nose

If I had to be honest, while the front of the film is as lean as it probably could be, it still suffers from a characters overtelling the story — not so much to catch us up but to tell us their feelings on plot events.

It feels on-the-nose at times, like they’re mouthpieces for certain beliefs or otherwise want to be oh so very earnest, and it feels stilted and stunted. That goes away over time, but the front of the film is heavy with it.

The Sound Mix

Holy shitty sound mix, Batman.

I saw it in IMAX — which is to say, “IMAX” in quotations because it’s kinda half-a-dick IMAX — and the sound was a deep bass crotch-punch. Impactful! But muddy. And it meant Bane often sounded like this:

“VAAASH WASH SHA SHATMAN ECKONING WAH SHA VASHHHH”

He talks like he has poop in his mouth.

I probably missed about 25% of what that dude said.

I lost dialogue from other characters, too — any character speaking at a low, deep register was in danger of saying words that became naught but a thunder rumble to my ears.

These are top-shelf theaters and I still get better sound at home. And not for a ton of money, either.

So?

I liked it.

Really great movie.

I have a very strong visceral (meaning positive) reaction to the second film, and wasn’t a huge fan of the first one, but this one ties all three together into a single storyline. And while I maybe enjoyed the second one more, this one might actually be the better story. Not sure yet. More ruminating needed.

OH! And I would totally watch a Nolan-made Catwoman movie with Hathaway in the role.

Hathaway, as a sidenote, is my ideal Miriam Black, for those who have read Blackbirds.

(Though Lizzy Caplan is sometimes Miriam now, too.)

(This is really apropos of nothing so I’ll shut up.)

32 comments

  • I liked it a lot, It did a great job of tying up the story.

    I thought TDK was a better film though, It’s able to stand more on its own. Where TDKR needs the two films before it.

  • I will agree that this movie felt more like Batman, without actually putting me over Batman’s shoulder every minute. As a character, he is as much a theme as a centerpiece, and here we watch the world of Batman (literally and figuratively) show us the impact the character has — creating this big reinforcing cycle of character-to-world-to-supporting-character-to-world-to-character so that even though we go for big chunks of time following characters previously thought secondary or mundane or tangential, they are all cogs in the big Batman “vibe” machine (sadly, not a sexual device….yet).

    And I didn’t care that Bane mumbled, dude was big and menacing and what I could translate, made an impact. It worked for me.

    As someone who is HUGE into the mythos of Batman (and regularly talks about it as examples of good characters and storytelling) this movie, and this trilogy were big successes and satisfying experiences.

    john

    PS Editing Batman is on my bucket list.

  • I saw all three movies back-to-back-to-back, and the experience was different because of it. All three movies hit different notes. I thought the first was a good set-up movie (and very comic book-ey). The second was a showcase of “what do you do when going far enough to beat the bad guy is too far?” (And Ledger was amazing). The third, on the heels of the first two, felt very different. It was about the culmination of what Batman has been fighting for, and the city joining in that fight. It was a super-satisfying story, but the second was a better movie experience.

    Also, Gordon-Levitt was *definitely* the through-line (and a damn, damn good one, at that), and Bane was muddy in my theater, too. I kind of hated what they did with his voice. It didn’t seem to match his character. It was annoying at best, and jarring at worst.

    Still, great trilogy. I’m hoping that the potential set-up at the end pays off in a later series of movies. Like I said, Gordon-Levitt was excellent.

  • Despite the lack of screen-time he was given, Alfred was a brilliant point in the film. Whenever he showed up you couldn’t help but feel bad for him, having to stand by and watch as Wayne deteriorated. The scene at the graves was tear-jerking. The only problem was his story at the cafe; once he’d mentioned that, I felt that it was a strong contender for the ending.

    The sound was decent when I saw it, and aside from the occasional word Bane’s voice was surprisingly clear compared to the prologue they released beforehand. I thought Hardy did a great job with what he had, it couldn’t have been easy with the mask on the whole time, I’m just wondering what you thought of Bane from a well-written villain perspective Chuck?

    • @Damian —

      Actually (and before I saw this film), I’d already written up a “25 things” list on antagonists. Have to take a new look at it after seeing this.

      Bane is in many ways great as an antagonist — I knew he was working when I actually got tense during the scenes where Batman was confronting him. He had a similar zealousness I fear in, say, terrorists.

      And by the end he’s made… human, if in a twisted way.

      So, on paper, he’s a stronger antagonist than The Joker. But — but! — Ledger brought SO MUCH to the Joker role that I still liked him more even if, academically, he’s a weaker villain with zero motivation.

      — c.

  • It seems like every single review points out how difficult it is to understand Bane. You would think that whoever was in charge of sound editing would avoid going that direction.

    In any case though, I need to watch this movie.

  • Definitely agree there, the first fight down in the sewers was downright painful to watch. It was just the level of disregard he seemed to have for Batman when he was fighting him; ‘Ah, I remember’ as if he’d completely forgotten Batman was lying there bloodied and beaten.

    There was I think a greater sense of reality with him as well, even in Nolan’s universe, which made him feel more dangerous. There was the sense of terrorism, and my girlfriend mentioned she felt a slight mirroring of Hitler in the grandiose speeches he made.

    That was the thing, by the end of it you knew exactly why he was the way he was, with a motivation you can relate to. I still think the hospital scene with The Joker in TDK made a twisted sort of sense, and at least gave some consideration into why The Joker was the Joker.

    Bane’s definitely a close match to The Joker in the one liner’s department though.

  • It was a great movie, but my least favorite of the three.

    Why? Bane. The revelation at the end ruined him for me. I found his motivation (that which he was challenging Batman on) to be incredibly weak. Maybe his hypocrisy was intended as a feature, but it cheapened his impact as an antagonist for me.

    That said, Blake was awesome. Selina Kyle was great… and the usual suspects in the trilogy did a bang-up job. I was particularly fond of Crane’s role in this one.

    Thinking about it, the Scarecrow’s arc really provides an interesting through-line for Gotham villainy for the entire trilogy.

  • Ack! Now I REALLY can’t wait to see it. Had plans to go this weekend but it fell through.
    I have always loved the moral ambiguity and slight creepiness of Batman as a hero If you haven’t seen the comic reboot of Batman yet, I highly recommend, I think they nailed this). Same with John Constantine, some of the characters in the new Justice League Dark, and even the rebooted Green Arrow to an extent (it’s the reason the hubs is partial to DC/Vertigo and I adore DC/Vertigo and Image as opposed to Marvel — though I did enjoy the Iron Man movies and the Avengers movie). It’s so much more fun when you’re not quite sure you should be trusting your hero. Would love to develop the skill to write main character of this ilk.

    @ Chuck: You would write a killer Batman. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to write Batman. JL Dark would be fun too. Sure you have much more of a shot than I do but a girl can dream… :-)

  • That’s interesting with the sound editing. I watched it on a regular screen (because I’m rather cheap), not IMAX, and Bane’s voice was clear for say 98% of his dialogue. Something with the IMAX must’ve thrown it off (either the cut or at the theater). I actually really liked how Tom Hardy did the voice/how it sounded.

    I really liked this movie. I agree that this movie probably has a stronger set of antagonists, but I think the second one still edge’s it out for me too because Ledger was just so vibrant as the Joker. All in all I really liked how Nolan wrapped it up. And I loved the music soundtrack.

  • Great review. I think you really hit the critical points. I just saw the movie this morning and it’s been sinking in, and seeming better and better, ever since. At the time, I found the middle a bit boggy. Too much Bruce Wayne lying prone and angsty. Too many characters who didn’t need the screen time (really, Foley? He did nothing, to be sure). But it’s one of those things you appreciate the more you think about it. JGL was phenomenal, the final reveal was as non-cheesy as possible, and even the predictable bits felt satisfying instead of dull. Another Nolan classic.

    I could hear Bane pretty well on IMAX, but I couldn’t understand why he sounded like a kindly old British gentleman. Very weird.

    C.J.
    cjlistro.blogspot.com

  • “The script lets each character possess a million colors apiece — and just as many shades of gray.”

    …thus making it even better than the (merely) 50 Shades of Grey.

  • Saw it. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t see it in IMAX, so possibly I got a better sound experience? Regardless, I could understand Bane 90% of the time and decipher the rest about a minute later.

    Bane was not at all what I expected. Amiably evil describes him, I think. Yes he’s ruthless and he kills people, but his dialogue is all so… weirdly kind, naive in a way, like he’s trying to understand how real people tick and he’s being solicitous about it. At least until he kills you. I thought his dialogue was weakest when he was talking about giving Gotham back to the people… which I guess works, since even he doesn’t really believe it.

    But when Batman talked about him being excommunicated… yeah. Bane can be plenty vicious.

    And Anne Hathaway is Catwoman from now on, as far as I’m concerned. Halle who?

  • I think the sound might’ve been peculiar to your theater. I saw it in IMAX and had no trouble understanding anything. Maybe your venue had less than adequate acoustic treatment–which would totally account for rumbly-muddy-bassy bullshit that you mentioned.

  • I’m with you on the audio.
    I don’t know about you, Chuck, but I’m getting old. Of course I love movies like this, but I generally have to wait for DVD so I can watch them with subtitles. I swear to God they mix the sound so that you can’t hear what they are saying, and then the music swells–
    That shit pisses me off. I gave up. DVDs and Netflix-most of their movies have subtitles.

    I was hoping for a better power-up for all of this knowledge and experience I have gained in life…
    Being hard of hearing is less of a prize than you might think. I should have saved earlier in the game.

  • What I loved about this movie (not that I loved the movie, but what I did love), was that this movie explores the consequences of what happened in the previous films. I like that you mention how ridiculous the idea of a billionaire dressing as a bat is, because I felt the other movies didn’t explore what would actually happen as well as this one did.

    If I could have named this film anything else, it probably would have been Batman: Repercussions, because that is exactly what it is.

  • ChuckWendig: “Ledger brought SO MUCH to the Joker role that I still liked him more even if, academically, he’s a weaker villain with zero motivation.”

    I felt The Joker’s motives were clear in The Dark Knight, just not until after the movie ends.

    Basically, everyone is obsessed with structure. Batman has certain rules. He respects the rule of law, working with the police when he can, but also runs completely counter to it, violating peoples’ civil rights (what he did to Lau had to have been a violation of multiple international peace treaties, and brutalizing Joker was not only illegal, but pointless.).

    Then there’s the military industrial complex, the corrupt police force, tainted criminal attorneys. Everyone is so obsessed with rules, in fact, that they don’t mind doing absolutely horrendous things even when they are simply following the rules. The Joker wants to tear down their structure, showing how fragile their system is. He’s not trying to convince anyone else, mind you, or even show the public the truth. Every battle he engages with is 1 on 1. He’s right, and you’re wrong. All he wants is to win.

    What really got me was at the end, when he’s been caught the last time and is hanging upside down. He could not be happier. Even though he lost the battle, he won the larger battle of corrupting Harvey Dent. The laughter, the glee. It’s clear what his goal is right there and, more importantly, that he had achieved it.

  • My general feeling when watching the movie was “This is great! A great way to end the series!” (even if some parts felt like too much of a stretch)

    Then I digested the whole thing and some elements felt weak.

    On the plus side, Catwoman was pretty much spot on. Blake was definitely the inspiring character we needed throughout the movie. I almost feared at one point that he was the kid in Batman Begins (which wouldn’t have made much sense), but they thankfully avoided that route.

    The returning cast was, as ever, brilliant.

    I even loved Bane’s ability at being an eloquent, manipulative, triple-crossing brute. Then again, most characters in the trilogy who aren’t “normal” seem to be eloquent, maniplulative, triple-crossing folks.

    But there are a few pacing issues. Yes, we are dropped in the middle of the story and the movie lasts almost three hours, but it feels shorter as an extension of how rushed the whole affair sometimes feels like. The ending was something of a stretch because of some contradictory dialog, and I wish they’d set up Blake (SOMETHING OF A SPOILER ALERT, DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED) without revealing his full name.

    There’s the other glaring issue of this man who was seemingly out of the whole crime fighting business for EIGHT YEARS and they want us to believe he could just…jump back in the action in a few days? Sure, he had to motorised braces to assist, but there’s only so much they can do in terms of assistance, but we can’t expect him to be at peak form after eight years of not fighting.

    Unless, of course, he kept in shape (which he apparently didn’t)

    The list doesn’t go on that much, but considering this is a Nolan movie, you’d have thought some of these details would have jumped at him. Or maybe they did and the outline made enough sense to ignore them.

    That said, I do like how we get to see Bruce Wayne evolve as a character in this one. It IS a nice ending to the trilogy, but I can’t help but feel that it could have been a bit ‘more’.

  • SPOIIILLEERRRSSSS AHEAD:

    So, I loved the movie. Great spectacle, some great ideas, and some great action. Really had a good time with it… Except for one thing… Throughout the movie, Batman talks about his no guns rule. And in previous movies, he’s talked about his no kill rules.

    Yet, in the final climax Batman is in his plane shooting machine guns and his rockets at everything that moved. It’s so blatant, I feel like I may have missed something. I’m pretty sure he even kills the driver of the truck. It goes against everything set up in the series.

    That said, I may have missed a key line that explains it. It is ‘war” as Batman explains earlier. Has he reached his “anything goes” breaking point? Or is it just a script oversight?

  • I had almost no trouble understanding Bane. There were perhaps 3 or 4 lines total that I missed–but that often happens with other actors as well if they’re whispering or whatever.

    And maybe it’s just me, but I feel Bane’s voice and face mask thingy harkened back to Darth Vader, which is fitting because Bane was as brutal, as ruthless, and as physically imposing as Darth Vader. He was fantastic.

    I loved the contrast between Ledger’s chaotic evil Joker (nerd terms!) and Banes meticulous over-planning of everything. From the very beginning of the movie “It is not time yet for fear, Doctor. Fear comes later” you get a sense that this guy is not one to leave things to chance.

    Also, I totally should have seen one of the revelations at the end coming. I’m familiar enough with the comics that I knew it going in, and I got so wrapped up in the movie that I completely forgot and the reveal surprised me anyway. …er…that’s as specific as I know to get into it without delving into spoilers.

    Also: I join the ranks of those who would love to see you write a Batman.

  • Since here we won’t have it until friday I am waiting with mad expectation to watch this conclusion. A friend of mine already had withdrawal effects and he hasn’t seen it.

    The question “Why does it has to end?” Because all good things end. Well we will see it soon enough.

  • @Chuck,

    Regarding Joker as a weak antagonist. You’re looking at him wrong, by which I mean you’re treating him as a character. Joker isn’t a character. He’s pure metaphor. You need to see him as an answer to the question Batman poses by existing (personified chaos to the Batman’s personified law & order). As a character he’s just a crazy guy with no motivation. As a symbolic villain he’s a focal point for the powerlessness that good people feel when confronted with senseless violence. Joker as an antagonist is more akin to a Man vs. Nature story than a ‘villain’.

    Can’t speak to Bane, haven’t seen the film yet, however anything will be preferable to the ‘roided up Mexican wrestler he is in the source material.

    • @Iain —

      I don’t disagree, and generally, I love the Joker — though, because of this, he ends up being someone that you either get Very Right or Totally Wrong. Not a lot of middle ground on the quality of Joker stories.

      — c.

  • Have to agree with the terrible sound, in our theater at least. While I could hear Bane clearly enough, there were moments when the effects rumbled so low, it muted everything out. Post production sound mixing is right up there with illuminating manuscripts when it comes to dedication and precision. I hate thinking of all that work getting wrecked because someone OD’s the bass in the theater.

  • “I don’t want to trust my storytellers. I want a storyteller to show me that I can’t trust him.”

    Everything I want as a reader, and everything I want to achieve as an author, in two succinct sentences. Thank you, sir.

  • @Iain, @Chuck

    Nolan’s Joker is all metaphor and chaos. The Dini/Timm/Whatever voiced by Hamill Joker of Batman:the Animiated Series and following shows, is very much a character, and a wonderfully pathetic one. Grant Morrison’s Joker is…well…a meta-character, but then Grant has written a couple of series about turning Batman into a meta-character as well.

    What’s most interesting to me though about the whole piece, is that when I was a teenager I had no time for super-heroes, but I find that I enjoy them more and more over time. Which is why I suspect that at the end of the day I’ll prefer The Avengers, which among other things seriously considers the question “Can we still do superheroes despite our generally cynical nature?” It just answeres the question with a yes.

  • I loved the apocalyptic feel of the film. It was amazing to see the city crumble, and the bare bones of Gotham made an awesome setting.
    I loved Joseph Gordon Levitt. He has so much heart.
    Anytime Catwoman and Batman were together, I was engaged. They had excellent chemistry.
    Out of everything, my first critique would be the film didn’t have enough heart. It was hard for me to care about Bruce Wayne when he didn’t care about himself. The theme of the film seemed to be ‘when you don’t care about life, you’ll have to start fearing death, and then . . . you’ll start caring about life again.’
    I loved the ice walking scenes. So tense! And I loved your points about how each character was so round and alive and real, full of good and bad and redemption.
    *spoilers*
    I was taken out of the story by unbelievable or unexplained details.
    It drove me crazy in the climax scene when Batman was stabbed by _______ and then he just sat there and listened to _____ tell the loooong backstory as he sat there groaning. But then, when Catwoman saved him he just jumped up and went and saved the world again. And I’m lost as to how Bane and his cronies got those motorcycles in the Wall Street building and busted out of the double doors. And in the first scene, I can’t understand how Bane could inject an IV into a vein on the first try and pump blood seamlessly into a dead body.
    As a writer, it just makes me be more aware of questionable or unbelievable details in my story . . . I don’t want them to distract from the great, overall big picture. Because there were so many cool things about tDKR.

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