The Dark Knight: Who Rises?

Jul 23, 2012

(Spoilers, spoilers, this post contains spoilers).

Some quick assorted Dark Knight Rises thoughts.  Looking back at some of my previous posts like this, my usual opening writing tic is 'I liked this film, but here's some things that were funny' - so in keeping with that tradition I liked this film, but here's some things that were funny.

People of Gotham

I think the biggest critique possible of the film is that its most thematically rich arena is the one most underused - the siege.  To begin with it's not clear why it's happening at all - the ticking timebomb lends urgency to the final sequence, but why on earth is there that five month delay? The real reason is that Bruce must be given realistic time to overcome his physical and spiritual injuries and return to save the day, but what’s the in-story explanation?

The obvious candidate is giving Gotham the chance to demonstrate it doesn’t deserve to be saved (a reprise of the boats from the previous film) - but this is undercut by the very little we see of Gotham’s citizenry. It’s never really clear how much of Bane’s mob at the end is imported or was recruited during the siege (it is implied that all along it’s been fed by the unseen problems of the city though - ‘jobs in the tunnels’ and all). We only have one character that buys into the revolution and that’s Selina Kyle’s sidekick, the closest we have to a class warrior is Selina Kyle herself, who quickly becomes disillusioned at the results of Bane’s world (could be some fun identity stuff in here, what’s a thief in a world without property?). Bane makes his deals with capitalists to move the pieces into place, but where’s his similar co-option of revolutionaries?

I am of course committing the classic critic mistake of demanding the film-maker make a completely different film than the one they chose to and it’s to the credit of the world building that you could fit a whole mini-series (one I’d love to see) in what takes place over 15 minutes or so - but as is, it’s hard to work out what Nolan’s actual take is here. It’s clear that Bane isn't really in the revolution game and he's using class conflict as the frayed thread that can be pulled to tear Gotham apart (he’s almost mocking in handing Gotham ‘back to the people’) but the film never really resolves if Gotham is in revolution or under occupation - and there’s a thematic muddle as a result. How does the film feel about Occupy? The trials for the wealthy? Is this about how revolutions can go wrong? It might be, but we lack revolutionaries and the only voices we hear are the ones we know to be disingenuous. Rise, as the crowd-sourced chorus repeatedly demands, but this isn’t a call to revolution, it's asking a great man to appear - for an individual to climb out of the pit. The people will ask for heroes, but they stay off the stage.

The Rise of Robin

Another way to look at the whole film is as a backstory for Robin (John Blake, rhymes with Tim Drake - hey!) - what led this young police officer to throw away his badge and take up the cape and cowl? Heroes in this mold are are faced on both sides by agents of order and agents of chaos and it’s the reasons they reject both that define them as characters - Why doesn’t Bruce just join the police, why is Buffy ill-suited for the Initiative?

In this light it’s worth looking at just how little John gets accomplished in this film. Finds Commissioner Gordon, cool, realises the masterplan to trap all the police underground (a plan that involves the police suddenly reversing their previous strategy at the exact same time as the football game, but anyway), cool but too late to do anything. Tries to break out the underground cops, that didn’t work out, captured and then freed by Batman who breaks them out more successfully - that’s ok because he has a new mission leading an exodus over the bridge, but that doesn’t work out either. I don’t think it’s inherently a bad thing that one of our main characters spends so much time running around not accomplishing anything because viewed right that’s part of his disenchantment. We see the final straw when the rigidity of the police following orders on the other side dooms the bus full of orphans to oblivion, but what happened to Blake in the Gotham anarchy that led to that moment? Again, that would have made an interesting story - but would have been at the expense of the one that was actually told.

Loose thoughts

  • Object that has been most unnecessarily shaped into a bat: darts. That has to make them less aerodynamic.
  • I wrote something a few years ago on Gotham as anarchy and Batman relationship with its institutions to describe different schools of realism, Joker section is a bit forced but the rest still vaguely holds.
  • I swear there’s a line from Catwoman that’s lifted from the Halle Berry movie, which I’m assuming is a little in-joke, or I made it up.
  • Also: does she, or anyone else, ever refer to her as Catwoman?
  • Speaking of in-jokes: killer crocs!
  • “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
  • Be interesting if there's ever an extended cut - I'm generally of the opinion the shorter cut is always the better film, but i'm curious to know what was left on the cutting room floor.
  • Did his name have to literally be 'Robin'? It was pretty obvious what was going on there even without that.
  • Cheap energy that dooms us all is starting to be a bit of a recurring theme in superhero films: this, Spiderman II, Avengers, any others?
  • You know if they took down some of those doors, they could probably make a walkway fairly easily. MacGyver wouldn't be stuck in there for long is all I'm saying.

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