Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Dark Knight Rises": A superhero trilogy that didn't choke

"'The Dark Knight Rises' fulfills its destiny as an epic a conclusion to Nolan's Batman universe..."

Comic characters possess a particular quality unique to literature. Malleability. Like the stories of the Greek Gods, or Arthurian knights, or Aboriginal animal tales, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are archetypes, icons whose stories can be told again and again in different ways while keeping the heart of the character intact. Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer understand this. Creators like Burton and Schumacher lost, or never understood, the idea that you can mold a Batman story however you like as long as you stick to certain core traits.

  • Batman does not murder.
  • Batman is a detective. 
  • Batman uses gadgets.
  • Batman wears a costume with the theme of a bat. 
  • Batman has a deep, psychological aversion to using guns. 
  • Bruce Wayne is a human being dealing with the death of his parents. 
As long as you stick with these themes you can create a seemingly endless array of stories, like "Gotham by Gaslight" (set in 1889, Batman's origin is tied to Jack the Ripper) or "The Doom That Came to Gotham" (set in the 1920s pitting Batman against Lovecraft-inspired monsters) while still feeling like a Batman story. Mounting rocket launchers onto Batman's vehicles is fine--he's well known for using explosives to deal with obstacles. Firing those rockets at human beings (like the Joker in the 1989 Burton "Batman") or mounting heavy machine guns on the batmobile makes fans shake their heads.

Throughout the series, Goyer and Nolan twist the Batman mythos while keeping the core of the character intact. In the comics, Bruce Wayne didn't meet Ra's al Ghul until well into his career as Batman. He did, however, train with the detective/manhunter Henri Ducard, who Ra's poses as in the first film.

The same techniques are used in "The Dark Knight Rises" to bring the best superhero trilogy in movie history to a close. The legend of Bane's origin stays intact, while twisting it to the needs of the story. Characters from the first two films return, if briefly, to present the audience with a feeling of continuity. Classic comic imagery, like Bane's confrontation with Batman in "Knightfall", are used without being overdramatized. Though the movie has some arguable flaws (Bane's plan to break Bruce Wayne, physically and psychologically, is overly complex), I had very few issues with the story or characters (see Spoilers below).

The two biggest surprises of the film were Nolan's handling of Rogue's Gallery classics, Bane and Catwoman.

Bane is presented as he always should have been--a highly educated antagonist who also happens to be physically superior to Batman in many ways. I had some disappointment that a version of Bane's venom wasn't used in the film (see comments), that Bane wasn't South American and that Santa Prisca was set somewhere in the Middle East, but I understood why Nolan made the changes he did for the story.

For Catwoman, Nolan pulls from the grittiest of her comic origins (Batman: Year One) to bring the best movie interpretation of our favorite femme fatale to the screen. Anne Hathaway gained my respect pulling off this role. In one scene she flips from combat-savvy expert thief to terrified bystander in a breath.

Final Verdict

"The Dark Knight Rises" fulfills its destiny as an epic a conclusion to Nolan's Batman universe and though a part of me yearns for more, the conclusion of this arc frees Mr. Nolan and Mr. Goyer for other projects (writing and producing 2013's "The Man of Steel" for example). Here's hoping this dynamic duo can bring the DC movie universe the level of respect its animated universe has earned for decades.

(Highlight to read)

I'm not sure why Nolan, after handling every character with such respect and aplomb, chose to make this version of "Robin" not one of the original three. Dick had become a cop in the Nightwing comics, so that would have worked nicely. Having Joseph Gordon-Levitt's last name be Drake, instead of Blake, would have led into him being Tim, who, in the comics, had deduced Batman's secret identity as well. I was expecting his first name to be Terry, though, making his adoption of the mantle after Bruce's retirement fit into the widely loved Batman Beyond franchise. As Dick Grayson and Tim Drake are two of my favorite DC characters, it would have left me with an even higher admiration of the trilogy.

Another issue I had is a common one: I missed several lines because of Bane's Vader'esque mask and Bale's stage voice (which didn't bother me in the first two as much as it did other people). I love the Bane/Ras/Talia twist as it exists in the Nolan-verse. I would have wanted Talia to be more of an ass-kicker and she had always been on the fence about her father's goals, but her devotion needed to be clear for this story.

My one writer-related issue was with the end. When Selina asks if he is going to autopilot the bomb over the ocean he says "There isn't an autopilot." The only people present were Gordon and Selina. Since Bruce was going to hook up with Selina later and let Gordon know he was alive by repairing the bat-signal, the only people to convince that there wasn't an autopilot was the audience. Minor, maybe, but a bit of an emotional cheat.

Apologies for the Highlight Spoilers. Having an issue getting a proper spoiler box to show up. Will keep working on it.

1 comment:

  1. Venom in the Nolan-verse:

    A derivative of the blue flower powder from the first film. Small doses give an analgesic effect that helps Bane keep his pain under control, with the unfortunate side effect of Bane having to face his fears on a minute-by-minute basis. A man who is constantly faced with his deepest fears either collapses or deals, and the one who deals would be a brutal creature to face.