Normally I don’t include spoilers in my reviews, because I write the reviews to give people an idea of why they would or wouldn’t want to watch the movie. In this case, my thoughts on the movie have a lot to do with the plot, theme and characters, so…
THERE ARE SPOILERS, BEWARE!
It has taken me some time to get all of my thoughts on this movie into a post. I am a huge Batman fan. Huge. Comic books, movies, video games, tv shows, I’ve seen it all. I have always loved Batman because even though he was human, he’s always stood shoulder to shoulder with gods. He’s the symbol of physical and mental (and financial) human perfection. So, when I say that I wanted to love this movie, believe that I was ready to fan-boy out for it. I went to the Batman Movie Marathon at my local theater and enjoyed seeing the earlier Nolan-Batman movies again on the big screen. I enjoyed spending my time in between the movies correcting the people who said things like: “Nolan said there would be lots of Batmen in this one”, or “in the comics Bane is friends with Poison Ivy”. Please never let me hear you say that again, you’re confusing the Schumacher Batman & Robin with the comics and I can’t just stand here and let you do that. Maybe watching the new movie right after The Dark Knight was a horrible idea. That movie still stands as the best Batman movie ever, in my opinion. While I didn’t love The Dark Knight Rises, there were plenty of parts I liked, enough to make me want to see it again.
Let’s start with what I did like: the characters. Not just how they were written for this movie, but as they relate to their comic book counter parts. Nolan did another great job of taking fantasy characters, and sculpting them into nearly believable reality. Bane is a great example. Sure, they could have had him on an “experimental drug” and CGI’d him into a big cartoon monster. Instead they just took a massive Tom Hardy and had him be so much more than masked muscle. In fact I feel like we only ever noticed how huge he was, when we were directed to by well placed camera angles, or shots of him without much of a shirt on. In the comic books, Bane was the perfect anti-Batman, born in a prison (see what they did there), he was both a strategic mastermind as well as a powerhouse. He wore down Batman mentally and physically before finally breaking his back over his knee. An iconic scene we were allowed to witness in the The Dark Knight Returns.
Marion Cotillard’s Talia was another dead-on adaptation from the comic books. She was correct parts intelligent and deadly. She pulled the strings in the background, only revealing herself for what she was, when she stepped up and stabbed her enemy in the back. If you’ll remember, this is Ra’s Al Ghul’s advice in Batman Begins.
I remember an interview after Batman Begins came out, in which Christopher Nolan swears he would never have a Robin in his Batman movies. I believe there was a similar statement from Christian Bale, somewhere along the lines of never wanting to be in a Batman movie with a Robin. Well, I am glad they changed their minds. Joseph Gordon Levitt did a wonderful job as Jon Blake. A lot of people have called him an amalgam of the Robins from the comic books, I don’t totally see that. Dick Grayson (the original Robin) was a Gotham City Police Officer for a while after he grew up. Tim Drake (third Robin) was the Robin that figured out who Batman was, all on his own, when he was only a kid. For this movie, whatever his name was, he was the perfect sidekick for Batman. He helped out when he could and he helped Batman gain some perspective. At the end, he even “re-discovered” the Batcave, allowing for a chance to tell new stories with a new Batman (Newsarama talks about that more here). They did such a good job of making me believe that Jon Blake was Batman’s sidekick, when we find out that his real first name is Robin, it’s as though Nolan is sitting beside me at the theater, poking me in the side saying: “He’s Robin, get it? Get it? Do ya get it?”
Yes I got it, we all got it.
I’m so glad that he didn’t do the same thing with Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle. Another nearly “purrfect” adaptation. Nolan made her a sympathetic character in the same way the comic books portray her. A thief who reluctantly does the right thing. Even when she’s trying to be a greedy burglar, Catwoman is often committing crimes to help someone. In the case of the movie she’s trying for a clean slate, not a completely altruistic goal, but in the end she comes through and proves she’s not just in it for the money. Anne Hathaway also proves she wasn’t just thrown into this movie for star power, but because she can play a believable Batman/Bruce Wayne love interest. Maybe if her life isn’t completely straightened out, we could get her in a proper Catwoman spin-off movie. Speaking of characters with depth, Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon is second only to Batman when it comes to character development. Just as we’ve seen Bruce Wayne grow into the man he was meant to become, so have we seen James Gordon rise from Sargent to Leiutenant, then finally Commissioner. Gordon has always been us, the reader, the audience, the viewer. We’re just normal people, we want to do what is right, but we don’t have the power or the means, just the will. When we discover that he is upset with living the lie about what has really happened with Harvey Dent and Batman, it just solidifies his humanity. Who wouldn’t be unhappy with the circumstances? However, by the end of the movie he no longer seems to be weighed down with that guilt. It is as though when Bane read his speech aloud to Gotham City, he no longer felt burdened by it. Which is all fine and good, but I don’t think it offered the same kind of closure for the audience.
Batman. Christian Bale turns in his last performance as Bruce Wayne, and I just wasn’t feeling it. Batman is not a quitter. Of course, if what is best for Gotham City is to not have a Batman, then he would step down. But, the comic book Bruce Wayne would never stop training, never stop preparing for that day when his city might need him once again. He also wouldn’t need to be convinced when it was time to come back. In the comic books, Bruce Wayne (almost) always knows what is best for Gotham. That’s one of the biggest differences between the comic and Nolan-movie versions of Batman. In the movies, Bruce was always striving for a world that didn’t need him anymore. He has to be, it makes him more human, and makes way for a happy ending that he will never get in the continuous world of the comic books.
Finally, let’s look at where I really had trouble loving this movie. It is based in a time that is extremely similar to our current time. The economy is so bad, even Wayne Enterprises is losing money. Police Commissioner Gordon (and all of Gotham City) is living a lie, but they trek forward in content ignorance. Yet underneath this happiness, there is such discontent, that a man is able to raise an army of poor and disenfranchised, (dare I say blue-collar?) with promises of a city they control. Not run by greedy corporations, “Wallstreet” or politics; that they feel do not represent them. Hitting a little close to home yet? Sound a little like a certain crowd that wanted to “occupy” something? When this man’s plan finally comes together, the horribly mistreated rich, corporate heads, and other establishment figures are saved by Batman.
Whose side am I supposed to be on? Just to make sure that we know who the bad guy is, Nolan gives Bane a nuclear ‘weapon’. Also, try not to think about the fact that the bomb is made out of an idealist, renewable, free energy source that would put Big Oil and Coal out of business. In the end, the status quo is retained, Batman rides off into the sunset AND gets the girl. Maybe that ending made you forget that Batman just spent two hours appearing to champion the wrong people. I am not saying let’s get a militia together, or that I hate rich people, or trying to be too political in anyway. Maybe, Nolan is being much more tongue-in-cheek than we realized. Maybe, his opinion is justice doesn’t care about poverty: if you stole because your family was starving. Maybe he’s saying that justice is black and white.
I’ve been told by many people to “lighten up”. But the themes still sit wrong with me. This movie wasn’t written in a vacuum. Christopher Nolan is aware of the political and economic climate. This moved may have worked better in the 1980′s and early 1990′s when change was not talked about, asked for, and protested in the name of, on a daily basis.
I plan on seeing the movie again, sometime this week. The fight scenes delivered and I loved hearing Bane’s crazy, almost comical voice. Maybe, after another viewing I can not take some things so seriously. This is just a movie, after all. Do you think I’m overreacting? Reading way too much into it? Or do you agree? Let me know in the comments below (or hit me up on Twitter), I’d really love to discuss this, especially if I missed something that would help me enjoy this movie more, the next time I view it.