Debriefing #4: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathan and Christopher Nolan
Runtime: 2 hours and 44 minutes

Batman has not been seen for eight years, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse and the death of Harvey Dent has triggered an age of peace in Gotham. But a new threat looms on the horizon, a threat known as Bane (Tom Hardy). When a master thief known as Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway)  triggers Bruce Wayne’s emergence from hiding, he’s also teased back into detective work that triggers his path to donning the cape and cowl one more time.

WARNING: We dive into spoilers without warning, so it’s best if you read this after you’ve seen the film.

James: I’m not a fan of the first two Nolan Batman films. I don’t think they’re bad films, I just don’t like their interpretation of Batman. My core problem has always been that I think Batman is too vengeful and that his relationships with the villains are far too spiteful so I’m bringing that baggage into this film. What are your thoughts on the first two films?

Edgar: To sum up my own opinion on the first and second films is a tricky matter. On the whole I enjoy them a great deal, although I distance myself from those who claim, quite loudly at times, that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (and presumably Rises as well) consist of the ‘definitive’ interpretation of the Batman That may be true with regards to on-screen versions, but having now delved into the comic book world of the character, I don’t think Nolan’s version even comes close to what some writers and artists have come up with over the years. The greatest strength of the films is their depiction of who Bruce Wayne is and why he does what he does. That the films get right down pat. The main weaknesses is that they are too insistent on being as real as possible, which is something that I have always had a few issues with. I think Batman needs to be a bit flamboyant, but Nolan’s films want to reject that.

J: I love how much Bruce Wayne comes into his own as an active force in the city of Gotham in this film. Seeing how he uses Wayne Enterprises as well as his relationships in order to try to save the city, instead of Batman, as the first resort is one of the things I loved about this film. It’s a reminder that Wayne has considerable power and should also be a factor in trying to make the city a better place. In fact, Bruce Wayne gets way more screentime in this film than Batman.

E: You’re correct about the amount of screen time, although I believe our opinions will diverge on how that screen time is used to present Bruce Wayne. I feel that Rises presents Bruce Wayne as someone who is broken and needs to rebuild himself to finally at long last accomplish what he set out to do before I suppose retiring. This is done primarily through the Batman, much like in the first two movies (even though we see less of Batman in this one). You bring up the point about Bruce Wayne himself being a force for Gotham. Other than with the, I don’t even remember what they call it, clean energy nuclear reactor, where did that play out for you?

J: I think his relationship with Selina Kyle and his attempt to bring her on board his crusade, as Bruce Wayne, not Batman, is one part of that. Also, just showing up in the real world again, which as one of the stock-broker’s puts it brings an element of change. And he does keep Wayne Enterprises out of Daggett’s hands, even though you can argue that doesn’t end up making a real difference.

E: No, I don’t think it ends up making a real difference at all because Daggett was not the threat, Bane was, and he still got his hands on the company! I’m not sure how strong that argument is…Also, with regards to Catwoman, I’m under the impression that he is trying to woo her onto his side because he is the Batman, because he knows what it means to dress up in a funky costume and take on another persona. True enough, at first Selina Kyle does not know Bruce is Batman, so in that sense what you’re saying makes sense, but it takes two to tango, and I think Bruce is behaving on behalf of his alter ego.

J: He certainly is, but I’m saying his role as Bruce Wayne is given more legitimacy and agency in this film whereas in the past he was just a playboy who just went out and made a scene for appearances. Now he’s doing something, and it is with the motives of The Batman, but it’s through his role as Bruce Wayne, which I thought added a lot more to the character.

E: Okay, that’s a fair point. In the first two films, Bruce Wayne, in the public eye, is a much more passive figure. He is keeping up with the image people have of him whereas his true work is done when he dresses up. In Rises, the character of Bruce Wayne seems to have more significance as a public figure, as the heir to Wayne Enterprises, etc. I get what you’re saying. On a similar note, what did you think of Bruce’s arc in the film, from recluse, to hero, to destroyed hero, only to, as those surprisingly gentle prison inmates chanted, rise again?

J: It works, I think it’s the most interesting and fulfilling character arc in the trilogy, but sometimes I think it was too drawn out, especially on the front end. This might just speak to the pacing of the entire film and the fact that there are a number of arcs and a handful of new characters, but especially towards the end of the film it feels like it’s taking forever for him to rise. I do like the buildup and then failure, and that it takes him three times, but in conjunction with the rest of the film it feels like everything grinds to a halt so we can watch this play out.

E: I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’d be willing to argue that it’s my least favourite portion not just of this third film, but of the entire trilogy. Not only does it take too long, it’s painfully predictable. Seriously, why does he have to go through that 3 times? Once he fails the first time, you just know it’s going to require another 2 attempts before Bruce ever returns to Gotham. I felt that entire section brings to film to a standstill. Also, while having scenes take place outside of Gotham in Begins and Dark Knight seemed to open up the world, here is felt so bizarre, incongruous with the rest of the world. Where did this prison come from anyways?
J: Well, I did a little research, not much because I know we’re going to delve into this eventually, but I believe that the prison is part of Bane’s origins in the comics. So I think it’s Nolan’s nod to the comic fans, although, honestly, I feel like most of the nods to the comics in this film actually constrain and restrict the film. I like that the opening has that The Dark Knight Returns vibe, but after a while it feels like it’s bringing the film down instead of allowing Nolan to tell a cohesive story. I feel like this film is a menagerie of The Dark Knight Returns, Bane and the Gotham under siege storylines and while they all happen together, they never felt like a cohesive whole.

E: Heh, I think they do and they don’t. Just to quickly tackle the prison plot point, I got a little head start and read a bit of Knightfall, the book where Bane makes his appearance, and I think his origin is far more interesting in the comic, not to mention that Bruce isn’t sent to a prison following his injury. Anyways, as far as the meshing of different storylines is concerned, I do like how the picture opens, with Bruce Wayne secluded away from the world, a broken man. I know a lot of people don’t like that, but I do. It hits home the point that Bruce believes he failed as Batman, which he kind of did when both Rachel and Harvey died in the previous film. What I don’t understand is why the League of Shadows is still intent on destroying Gotham. I’ll let you give your thoughts on that first.

J: Thank you for saying that because I felt like it’s the glaring problem in the film and I was wondering if I was the only one who noticed it. The whole first act of the film reinforces how Dent’s deaths allowed the politicians and the police to start a movement to clean up the streets, to the point that it seems like everything in Gotham is under control. And now the League of Shadows decides to destroy it. Why? Their whole agenda is to wipe out the evil in the world, so why attack Gotham when it is at its cleanest? I suppose one could argue Bane is really after exposing the corruption within the political system that allows for this decorum of control, but I think that’s exactly the kind of thing the League of Shadows would be promoting. I get that Bane is supposed to be a radical and kicked out of the League, but I still don’t get the logic of his plan, the film kinda gives an answer that involves a big twist at the end of the film, but it still doesn’t make sense to me.

E: But James, it’s for revenge! Batman betrayed the League of Shadows. And now Bane will fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny!!!! No, it’s silly, and because of that the entire premise of why the villains exist at all in this film is petty. I mean, you wrote about the League wanting to squash evil in the world and expose corruption. Hell, there are a lot of cities that are worse off than gotham. There are other countries that are worse off than Gotham! Why are they so fixated on Gotham is absolutely beyond me. this is in addition to the fact that the script explicitly mentions, more than once, in the first half hour or so that Gotham is in ‘peace time.’ Okay, so buzz off, League of Shadows. Having said that, what do you make of Catwoman?

J: Hathaway is amazing. Probably my favorite performance in the film. I think Catwoman is my favorite part of this film and I was extremely skeptical when I heard she was in the film. I love how she’s able to be sexy without being eye candy. It’s more about the way she carries herself and the confidence, not about putting her in a skimpy costume. I also love how she’s able to play with people. The one scene where she trades the fingerprints is possibly my favorite scene in the movie. She’s fantastic. And I love how her relationship with Batman plays out. She’s a criminal and he should just arrest her, but finally Nolan teases out what I love about Batman: he tries to coax out the good in her and believes she can be given a second chance.

E: We’re on the same page again. I adore Catwoman and I believe this just might be the most interesting on screen interpretation of the character. Her functionality within the plot (even though I’ve said I think the presence of the League is silly) works really well, and, my goodness, Anne Hathaway, what a performance. She is not someone I’ve never liked that much, which might speak to the projects she chooses, but she is wonderful here. Her charisma is fantastic, and for someone who I felt has rarely given great performances, her character gives great performances in the film, the highlight being the scene you mention where she trades the fingerprints. Wow, I did not see someone that cool coming. Amazing. What did you make of the way the film used her in the climax, when she opts to help Batman in his mega battle against the League?

J: I think it works because even those she passes off as a loner who’s only out for herself. The best uses of Catwoman show that when Batman or someone else really does need her she’ll come through for them. Also, within the constraints of the film she’s trapped with everyone else so I think it also ends up benefiting her as well.

E: Not exactly, Batman lends her the Batpod (?) so she can create an opening in a specific tunnel. He has given her the choice of just leaving afterwards, so it isn’t fair to say that she is completely trapped. Batman fanboy nitpick time, how the hell does Catwoman know how to expertly handle the Batpod, which looks like the most difficult bike of all time to master?

J: I dunno. Cuz’ it’s cool! Who wants logic when we can have Michael Bayesque action? The entire physics of the opening action set-piece are the most utterly ridiculous thing, but it looks cool. In fact, I think a lot of the action moments in the film were rather dull. Maybe it’s just coming off the coattails of Inception and The Dark Knight which had some great action scenes, but in this I thought the action was passable at best, and, in some cases, overdone.

E: Well, not a whole lot is going to top what Nolan gave us in Inception… However, I had a very different reaction with regards to the action set pieces. I thought they were all quite exciting. Now, were any, save the opening, as elaborate or as audacious as what we saw in The Dark Knight and Inception? No, and in some cases it isn’t even close, but I think Nolan has at this stage in his career understood how to film an action set piece, meaning that everything looked so incredibly good that I just along for the ride. I liked how you pointed out how preposterous the physics are in some or all of these action scenes because that’s where I think Nolan and his crew get it right. None of this probably makes any sense, but so long as it can come across as just believable enough, it’ll work.

J: But I think this is where the strains for a “realistic” and “believable” Batman shatter. There are moment in this film where the comic book origins shine through. Bane is such an utterly ridiculous sight to look at and when he and Batman are fighting in broad daylight it reminds you how fantastically silly this all is. Nolan plays it so straight that I think it ends up being painfully bad in parts, especially the entire big battle at the end with the fallen cop. It’s too much for Nolan’s gritty, realistic world.

E: I get what you’re saying, in particular with the fallen cop. I believe was Nolan overstretching himself, wanting to input as many characters as possible, trying to give everyone an arc even not every single supporting player really needed one. So far as the daylight Bane/Batman contest in concerned, from a visual standpoint, I really didn’t mind it as much as you. Again, it comes back to that balance of ridicule and ‘realism.’ The visual of them standing toe to toe in broad daylight on the snowy streets of downtown Gotham possessed enough comic book flair to make me happy. Speaking of Bane/Batman contests, there are not one but two in this film. What did you make of them?

J: They suck. And that’s the nice version of how I feel about them. I don’t know why superhero movies think that they can have action conclusions that are essentially bar room brawls, but they keep doing them and I’m going to keep saying they’re boring to watch. The first one had a bit of Bane’s banter to make it a bit more interesting, but in terms of watch it, I feel like it’s a waste of the film medium. Here you have two characters who are supposed to be masterminds in their own ways and their plan is simply to punch each other until someone breaks? Really?

E: Okay, the difference between those two fights is that in the first one, Batman is caught off guard if you will. He has only so many avenues to attack Bane from, not to mention that the villain comes from the same school as he does, the League, so I think that in that instance, the brawl aspect works fine. It also highlights how, not sure how to phrase this exactly, ‘easily’ Bane dispatches Batman. He doesn’t require flexing his muscles very much. He is younger, in his prime, whereas Bruce hasn’t been in the cowl for several years, and while he can take out cronies easily enough, when it comes to Bane, the latter can just beat him to a pulp old school style. It’s more the second battle I have issues with. The common complaint, one I tend to agree with, is that since the mano-mano fight failed Batman the first time, why try that again? That’s seems silly to me.

J: Yes, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think why it will work better the second time. He does learn to punch him in the face because the mask is supposed to keep all the pain back, but he should have done that in the first place. It would be like facing Mr. Freeze and going: I’m totally not going to hit the dome on his head that is clearly the weakest point on his body. And to top it all off Catwoman just shows up and shoots him, which Batman doesn’t call out at all! There goes the no guns rule.

E: In fairness, Catwoman takes the opportunity to scoff at that rule one more time when she does blow Bane away. Second, there is the matter of the bomb that needs defusing, so maybe Batman just thought ‘To hell with it. I’m not going to lecture this b**** when the entire city needs saving!’

J: It is more of a nitpicky thing, I just think it’s funny how they bring up the whole no guns rule and then Batman gives Catwoman friggin’ rockets to go around and shoot things with.

E:LOL. Good point. There is one character I think we should discuss at least a little bit, that being John Blake.

J: Played by JoGo! I was just about to bring him up. I like his character a lot. I think he adds a dimension to the variety of people we see in the city. He’s a young cop, still idealistic, and is a fan of Batman. I think the film sets up an interesting arc to how he becomes disillusioned with Gordon, who is one of his heroes, and with the police force itself. I’m not sure if I buy his entire transformation, I feel like there’s maybe one scene missing where he feels the shackles of the institutions, but, in general, I like him a lot and I like the conclusion of where things might go with his character.

E: John Blake is one of those characters for which the writing does not have to do too much, it’s mostly in the performance, and I think JoGoLev (ha!) is excellent. He’s right behind Hathaway for best performance in the film. I love his honesty, his idealism, just loved all of that. Sort of like the qualities of another famous Batman comic book character…. As far as him quitting the force, I agree there is a scene (or two) missing. Yeah, there are hints dropped here and there, but I didn’t even think all of them fell into place. I mean, he scolds Gordon for lying to the people, yet is a fan of the Batman, who is a freaking vigilante and, HELLO, is friends with Gordon. That was a terrible scene.

J: Actually, I thought the scene where he goes to Bruce and is like you’re totally Batman and here’s how I know was way worse. At least make up something like how he saw Batman on the rooftop as a kid when he was passing out in Batman Begins and how he pulled off the mask or something. The whole orphan bonding is silly. Still, a testament to Gordon-Levitt’s skill that he gives a fantastic performance out of both of those scenes.

E: That’s one of those scenes in the film that I enjoyed a great deal, but again, was it mostly Gordon-Levitt’s and Bale’s performances that made it happen for me? Think about it for, maybe 3 seconds and one realizes that’s a far fetched way to discover who the Batman is (and after all these years, Commissioner Gordon still hasn’t a clue!), but the actors are so good in that scene! A few spoilers maybe?

J: I feel like we’ve already spoiled a few thing so we should discuss Miranda Tate. She’s set up as a new member of the Wayne Enterprises board who is pushing for the clean energy technology but it turns out that she’s actually Talia al Ghul! It almost works. If you watch it again, you see how she gets into position to sabotage things, like telling Gordon the wrong truck to follow and flooding the reactor room, but it feels like her character isn’t done full justice, thrown in just to add another kink to it all instead of really developing the story.

E: Yeah, when it happened the first time I saw the film, I didn’t see it coming at all. My reaction was very ‘Oh, wow, that’s a surprise’, but much like other aspects to the story, when you stop to ponder on them for a couple minutes, the conclusion is more like ‘eh, whatever.’ You’re right about her character, the real one, Talia Al Ghul, not being done justice. After all, suddenly Marion Cotillard is playing a completely different character from Miranda Tate, but we know next to nothing except that she’s pissed Bruce killed daddy. For a film that I feel had quite the epic feel, it kind of ends on a whimper. It also plays too fast and loose with what I can accept or not in these movies. Seriously, I know she’s League of Shadows and all, but to completely change her identity and take over Wayne Enterprises pseudo-legitimately? Pshhh, please….

J: It is a very League of Shadows thing to do, but I do agree it seems far-fetched. It does bring in Batman Begins into the story more, but I’m not sure if the film needs it. I had a suspicion she would be in here, if only because if you’re casting Cotillard in a film and she’s getting lots of screentime it would seem like you’re revealing a major Batman character, much in the same way that we find out Blake’s given name is Robin. I guess that’s something that bugs me about the trilogy is it doesn’t seem like Nolan did anything new, he just looked at a lot of comics and made a hodgepodge of Batman stories and characters. To be fair, that’s something that can be said of most live-action Batman movies, that they’re constrained by comic book history instead of trying to tell their own unique stories.

E: It doesn’t exactly help that I didn’t find her alias, MIranda Tate, terribly interesting to begin with. The love angle with Bruce is just a throw away thing. As far as your ‘hodgepodge’ statement, we’re going to disagree somewhat. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, for all their issues, are far more structurally sound in my opinion. It is really is with Rises that the script doesn’t seem as sharp of all sudden, like the Nolan brothers (they both wrote the script) want to cover too much ground, which is so typical of third parts in a trilogy. I’d like to see a trilogy end on a low key note one of these days, but that’s probably wishful thinking. So, Blake is Robin. Any thoughts?

J: Nightwing trilogy! He could become Batman, but I can already hear the fan backlash of putting someone besides Bruce Wayne in the cape. I think it’s something Nolan has suggested throughout the trilogy, that Batman is a symbol, not a specific man, but I can just see the booing at Comic-Con if they announce Robin will be the new Batman. I’d be cool with it, but I’m almost sure DC will wuss out and make it Nightwing, which is cool. If it does end up being Robin as Batman, I’ll be surprised.

E: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a superhero film sounds pretty neat to me. It appears safe to say that Nolan wouldn’t be involved. At this stage, I doubt he’s keen on making more of these. I’m hearing and reading a lot of negative feedback about the Robin revelation at the end. I thought it was pretty cool. Blake does not have to really be  Robin as a man in a costume. His steadfastness in the face of danger, his kindness, his honesty, his desire to assist Bruce Wayne…he ‘was’ Robin all along. I thought that was a really neat touch, especially after Nolan had claimed that there was to be no Robin in his films. As far as future projects are concerned, I don’t really care. If they milk this cow even more, maybe a fresh start with a new face under the cowl (Levitt) could be fun.

J: I think Nolan could come alongside as a producer, like he’s doing for Man of Steel, but I doubt he’ll direct or write another Batman film. I’m almost certain Warner Brothers will do something with Batman in the next five years because how popular Batman is right now. I hope they continue with with Levitte instead of rebooting because I think people are going to get really sick of reboots really fast.

E: Most likely. Hmm, have we tackled all relevant issues. I can’t say there is anything I’m dying to talk about. Maybe a little nod to my boy, the Zimmerman, whose music I love. Constant brass?  Almost overbearing? Yup, and I like that, but that’s just me.

J: Not a brass fan. Zimmer’s music works well in the films but I couldn’t see myself listening to it outside the film. Also, I don’t think this one was nearly as electronically manipulated as The Dark Knight, which I wasn’t particularly keen on, even though it works in the film.

E: You might right about that. I actually bought the Rises album and have listened to it. Pretty solid. Again, it’s the sort of rousing, brass heavy action score I like, so I’m always going to be a sucker for that stuff. Anything else?

J: I’m surprised how harsh we were on this film. I do really like parts of it, I think it’s simultaneously the best and worst in the trilogy, if that makes sense. When it works, it’s astounding, when it doesn’t work, it’s terrible. With a more compelling villain, or at least a better written version of Bane, and editing some of the ancillary elements I think this film would be a lot stronger. Like most of Nolan’s films, I admire the ambition, but I find the execution severely lacking.

E: I’m kinder to Nolan than you are, in that case. I believe his execution to be typically quite solid, with Rises being one of his few films with which I have plenty of issues. I know I’m buying it on baby Blu-ray, and I know I’ll be watching again in the future, but I can see myself, years down the road, still groaning at the same scenes because I dislike them so much.


2 responses to “Debriefing #4: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

  1. but his name isn’t really robin which is is kind of stupid, its either dick Grayson, Jason Todd or Tim drake if i am correct.

    • That is part of the gag, if you will. Every Batman fan knows that, in the comics and the films, Robin’s real name is not Robin. In Dark Knight Risese, the name is used as a homage of sorts. This new character is not THE Robin, but behaves like him in almost every way, and even knows Batman’s true identity. It is a way of saluting the traditional Robin without actually using him.

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