The Problem With The Dark Knight Rises

I saw The Dark Knight Rises early, thanks to a corporate morale event. We even got free popcorn. I was excited to see the movie, but also to knock out a 800-word review that evening, sharing my enthusiasm for the franchise and gloating about having seen the film two days before you.

That review was not written, alas. My pervasive laziness shares 80% of the blame, as it doesn’t in all things. But I also didn’t want to be the killjoy. Nor did I particularly want to receive death threats. Because, honestly, I found the movie a little dull.

In the months since the release of TDKR it has become fashionable to grouse about the film — search Google for “dark knight rises” “plot holes” and you get somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 results. And so, now that I have ample cover, I will slink out of the shadows and explain my disappointment.

First, though, let me establish credentials. I am not only a huge fan of Batman (I was an avid reader of the comic books in my prime), and also of Christopher Nolan (Memento is in my top ten films of all time). Thus, Batman Begins seemed like a dream come true, a perfect marriage of these twin enthusiasm, and with The Scarecrow, my favorite Batman villain, as bridesmaid. And like everyone I thought The Dark Knight was off-the-charts great.

And let me state for the record that, despite everything I’m about to say, I think The Dark Knight Rises is good. It’s a good film. I liked it. Mostly.

But the film has a problem. And the problem ain’t plot holes. I mean, The Avengers has plot holes the size of Galactus and is still fantastic.

No, the problem with The Dark Knight Rises is that it doesn’t contain any goddamned Batman.

Here’s the thing. In the DC Universe, Batman holds his own against the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman. In fact, it is generally acknowledged that Batman could beat anyone in fight, given sufficient time to prepare, despite having no powers whatsoever.

He is able to do this because he possesses the following qualities, approximately zero of which are on display in The Dark Knight Rises:

  • He is in peak physical condition: The difference between a contestant on The Biggest Loser and Michael Phelps is negligible when stacked up against, say, Superman, so this is the least of the attributes that make Batman Batman. But it’s worth mentioning. In TDKR, Batman starts out hobbled and later gets his back all busted, but, really, no big deal. I give it a pass.
  • He is monomaniacal in his fight against crime: When TDKR opens, Batman has been retired for a long stretch of time. To be fair, (a) The Dark Knight Returns — Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel — opened the same way, and (b) TDKR explained that Gotham had been relatively crime-free during Batman’s absence (another egregious variation from canon, but whatever). Even so, Bruce Wayne’s (clinical) obsession with fighting crime is central to the character.
  • He is the World’s Greatest Detective (yes, all capitalized like that): Batman didn’t premiere in “Detective Comics” for nothing. TDKR pretty much only had one mystery — the identity of the person in the pit — and Batman not only failed to solve it, he didn’t even realize it existed.
  • He is a master strategist: This ability, along with the aforementioned skill at detection, is what enables him to not only serve on the Justice League of America, but often lead it: while everyone else is running around punching things, he’s figuring shit out and issuing orders. Alas, there’s no evidence of this talent in TDKR where, even after having five months in a hole to plan, Batman spends his time in Gotham reacting to one crisis after another.
  • He is a world-class inventor: In the comics, Bruce Wayne is essentially Tony Stark sans the drinking problem or ability to get laid. Which is to say, he makes his own gadgets. In the film (as I recall), all the hardware was made by either Lucius Fox or acquired by Wayne Industries; in fact, Batman doesn’t even know about the stuff until he gets a tour of the toybox. Worse, it wasn’t even as if Bruce Wayne alone could drive the stuff; he hands the Batcycle over to Catwoman, and she’s doing 180 turns in a matter of moments. When the main mode of fighting the bad guys is a bunch of technology that anyone can use, who needs the Caped Crusader at all?
  • He is fabulously wealthy: Okay, he was still fabulously wealthy in TDKR. Ima give you that one.

I liked The Dark Knight Rises, I really did. It was a good Christopher Nolan film. I’d just kinda been hoping for some Batman.

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9 comments.

  1. IIRC he spends 2/3 of the movie flat broke.

  2. The “world class inventor” and “Bruce Wayne alone could drive the stuff” bits border on superpowers, and the whole idea is that his only superpower is being crazy prepared (more in evidence in TDKR than the prior two films), so I’m fine seeing him get some help there. He upgraded the Bat..copter? ‘s autopilot software long before — presumably even before being sent to the pit — and didn’t tell anybody, specifically so he could use it to fake his own death and leave his legacy to Robin. Meanwhile, he was grooming Robin pretty much from the moment they met, without most people noticing. That’s pretty master strategist-y to me.

  3. And the structure of the movie is weird; Batman belongs in Gotham, not some emo pit.

  4. This is exactly the problem I had with the movie — the opening premise is that Batman stopped being Batman. Not only that, but he’d stopped being Batman because he was depressed. Not only depressed, but depressed about … not being able to follow through with his plan to stop being Batman (drop the cape and cowl and traipse off with Rachael).

    I know that there is a necessity to do some reinvention of heroes’ storylines for the sake of adapting them to movies but I really don’t know if there’s ever been a super hero movie that so fundamentally undermined the defining elements of a hero’s mythology like this one. Even Superman “Creepy Messianic Stalker and Deadbeat Dad” Returns didn’t rub me the wrong way like this.

    Lord, I am a huge nerd.

  5. It was dull. That was its greatest crime.

  6. I share you convictions sir. I was somewhat annoyed at the lack of strategy and brainpower use. I mean he comes face to face with Bane, the man who broke his back and his first move is to punch him in the face? No emp batarang, no flip over his head and kick him in the back? Nope. Just punch him. In fact Bane from the movie acts a lot more like Batman from the comics, and Batman (from the movie) acts a lot like Bane from the comics.

    It’s a fun watch, but not what I had hoped for.

  7. Good work. NOW DESTROY PROMETHEUS.

  8. “I mean he comes face to face with Bane, the man who broke his back and his first move is to punch him in the face?”

    Wasn’t that the first move that actually harmed Bane? And that is your complaint? He could punch him in the gut and kick him in the back all day, but it wasn’t until he hit Bane’s face that any damage was done. I think the point *is* that it was the same fight as before, except this time Batman had grown from his time in the pit, now stronger mentally and physically.

    Regarding “the opening premise is that Batman stopped being Batman.” Yes! That was also the closing of the last film. Gotham didn’t need the hero Batman. Its people needed to band together and praise the idea of legal justice (Harvey Dent Day) over vigilantism. How does this go against the series? It’s a huge and surely difficult choice for Wayne to put aside his pride and retire the cowl to watch the city take care of itself. We find out crime had sunk, meaning the move worked, too. And who wouldn’t be a *teensy bit* depressed after saving Gotham, but knowing that you couldn’t help the city by showing your face (err, cowl) until true danger showed up.

    None of these decisions seem anti-Batman. They might not be *your* Batman, but most have a place in the series.

  9. I didn’t like how his “strategy” for fighting Bane and his army at the end was to just run full bore into the teeth of so many machine guns. Where’s the thought process in that?

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