I wrote this over a year ago and I found it today while scanning through my drafts here. Wow. I did have a raucous debate with a fellow comic book fan and it led to me taking another look at a sequel that divided Batman fans. I wouldn’t look too hard at the writing. It’s back in the pre-sharpened Buffa days but please enjoy it. It is full and long and goes to the end and back.
After a spirited healthy debate with a quality comic book fan and film fan on Twitter today, I wanted to retrace my thoughts about the Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s sensational trilogy of films about Batman. While doing this, I will answer a lingering question in the film world. Is Dark Knight Rises Oscar worthy in the main categories and months later, what is the effect of Nolan’s film?
First, this movie isn’t perfect. There are plot holes and certain threads that don’t completely work, and any film fan can tell you that the length of the film is felt. Bane isn’t as great of a villain as The Joker, but that was impossible. That’s the best way to describe this conclusion. It wasn’t as memorable or superb as The Dark Knight, arguably the best comic book interpretation ever put on film, but that doesn’t mean DKR wasn’t great. In my opinion, it was. The story was great because it wrapped up the three films in a satisfying and morally ambiguous manner, spinning a scene from Batman Begins and weaving it into the storyline of the final film, bookending the tales. When you watch all three films, the moral of Nolan’s story either hits or it doesn’t. Like any great film series, the take will be debated for decades. Did Nolan do enough to capture the heart of comic book and film fans? In my humble opinion, he did. I have reasons for that. I will lay them out here in detail. The film was a blend of realism and fantasy. If you go into this movie wanting to know why Batman didn’t pull out the tubes in Bane’s face in the first fight or why didn’t happen, you are clearly nitpicking. No one can win there. It is indeed a movie. An interpretation that gains credible status by staging things in reality. In the end, the fight for Batman was one made up of symbolism. Watch this scene first before reading on. It wraps the trilogy together quite well.
1.) Remember that Batman isn’t a superhero. He is one man, flawed, human, breakable, fallable and far from perfect. He isn’t chemically engineered like Captain America or carry a beast inside him like the Hulk. He is a rich man who uses his intelligence and money for good and creates a suit of armor to protect him and puts together gadgets to help him outsmart and outlast bad people. He makes a choice, as the moral of the story points to, to fight crime and stop the kind of people who kill innocents, like his parents. In DKR, Batman ran into a physically and mentally strong opponent in Bane who was connected to Wayne through their past experiences. A perfect villain for Batman to tangle with. In the end, Bruce didn’t defeat Bane by himself but with help from reformed criminal Selena Kyle and John Blake.
2.) One of the best things about Nolan’s Batman is that we saw the physical toll this crime fighting took on Wayne’s body. We saw the bruises, the age factor, the price of all those fights, jumps, crashes and beatings. At the beginning of the third film, he was using a cane, out of shape, didn’t have any cartilage in his knee and was a physical wreck. One of my favorite scenes comes when the doctor tells him all the damage his body has taken. Batman didn’t have regenerative powers or a super chemical agent to make him big and strong. He had practice, smarts and the attitude to see things through. This takes a toll.
3.) That is also why Batman had to get out in the end. One man can’t do that forever. Remember the scene from Batman Begins with Alfred on the plane when he picks up Wayne from the mountains and Bruce tells his older father figure his plan. He can’t do this forever. It’s physically impossible. He only wants to serve as a symbol to others around him that you can fight back against corruption, evil and the obstacles we all face…IF you have the right tools. In the end, after he saves the city and leaves Blake the coordinates of his liar, he passes on his tools and retires because he saved the city and inspired a person(maybe more to come) to rise up and be a hero. Blake was similar to Bruce, was an orphan and respected him. He will be a good replacement. Also, to the ones whining about Batman going away, listen to your words. He is gone, but not dead. Nolan made a nice ode to future filmmakers by keeping Bruce alive and inserting Blake into the story as Robin(I hope not) or Nightwing. He didn’t tarnish anything.
4.)Batman isn’t a coward. He brought down the Joker and he brings down Bane with the help of his friends. He stopped three serious villains in his time and knows his body can’t handle this kind of damage forever. He has to get out. That was the original plan. If he keeps on fighting crime and growing older, he will either need Steve Rogers booster or something to keep his body young. He will slow down and be defeated. That’s the greatness of Batman that Nolan understands and plunges himself into. Batman is vulnerable and human.
5.)I had no problem with Bane’s voice. Same for Bale’s Batman. It’s just actors doing their things and making the character their own. If you miss a line, keep watching. That’s why motion pictures are visual pleasures in the end. Tom Hardy disappeared into the role of Bane and made him more than roided up terrorist. He was witty, intimidating and a bit of a philosopher. He doesn’t see Batman as the main adversary but doesn’t plan on letting the caped crusader get in his way. Hardy plays the role like a smart monster menace and shows an unexpected layer at the climax of the film when his true intentions and motives are laid out by the surprise twist reveal of Marion Cotillard’s mole turning out to be Ra’ Al Ghul’s daughter looking to finish her father’s work. Nolan makes sure that every bad guy has a plan, a means to an end and something that connects him with Batman. Ra’ Al taught Bruce but forced him to make a choice in what kind of “law” Bruce would dish out. The Joker challenged Bruce to break one of his own rules, which was him killing the Joker and doing something he swore not to do. The Joker brought chaos and guilt into Wayne’s world, hanging murders on his conscience and turning Harvey Dent’s clean uncovered justice into a mangled dark killer. Bane brought back the ideals of the league of shadows and brought the fight to Bruce’s door step, revealing the coverup between Gordon and Batman over Dent’s real demise. Every villain challenges Batman. Nolan blended real world threats, insecurities and morals into a comic book adaptation. That didn’t stop with DKR. It continued and helped finish the story.
6.)Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Cotillard are great but the film belongs in my opinion to Bale, Hardy and Michael Caine, who was heartbreakingly good as Alfred, the trusted and father figure type to Wayne. Bale and Caine’s scenes carried a more sinister and challenging vibe than the previous films. Alfred saw something wrong in Batman’s motives and didn’t think he was ready, and Caine put on firm display a wonderful array of emotions that cements him as the one and only Alfred in this dark world. Nolan put together a cast but maintained relationships. The bond between Wayne and Alfred tightened to the point of breaking and the fight between him and Bane never weakened. Two men from different worlds, carved under the same philosophy who made different choices. CHOICE. The basis of everything Nolan is doing with Batman.
7.) Is Dark Knight Rises Oscar worthy? In some senses, yes, but in the general picture, I don’t think so. Will it score a nomination for best picture? Yes, but only because the Academy lamed it up and stretched the list to 10 films. Dark Knight Rises is a great film and finale, but it isn’t as powerful or long lasting as many other films this year. It is probably one of my favorite movies of the year but not OSCAR worthy. Christian Bale stands out in the cast because his character is put through the ringer and experiences every level of emotion and action. Bruce is broken, put back together, broken again and rises up. DKR is the classic Rocky story. The direction and writing are great but won’t squeeze into the top 5. Caine’s work speaks of Oscar tones because he is so convincing as Alfred and his work stays with you but it won’t make the cut. Hardy’s villain is perfect for this level of drama inside a comic book hero film, but isn’t award worthy. As a whole, the trilogy is fantastic. The Oscar worthy film of the franchise is easily The Dark Knight. On every level, action and drama along with bringing to life a truly memorable villain and realistically sinister story, the second film in Nolan’s series was flawless and deserved a Best Picture nomination. Dark Knight Rises getting one would be a makeup attempt. A small time life time achievement award.
8.)The ending is solid and leaves the Batman story open while bringing together its original motive. Bane getting taken out by Kyle cements her redemption and marks her as another soul that Batman turned from a career criminal into a hero. Without her, Batman is killed by Bane. The bomb destroys Gotham. Goodnight and good luck. Kyle helps save the day by coming back. Batman takes out the bomb and in turn fakes his own death, escaping the tortured life of a hero and passing the mantle on to another. John Blake coming into the bat cave at the end as we see Wayne in safe harbor with Kyle and locking eyes with Alfred is a sign of change. Batman is checking out and Blake is clocking in. In the comic book world, it’s treason. In Nolan’s world, it’s realism sticking to fantasy and fierce imaginative skills. Nolan knows how hero is fragile and only human, and is telling us one man can’t do this forever. It’s a good ending. Did I need the Robin reference? No. I don’t like the character, but Gordon-Levitt makes a far better one than Chris O’Donnell. Don’t forget about Blake dropping the badge and going to the cave. He knows the police are corrupt so he takes Batman’s influence and goes above the law.
9.)What happens next with Batman? Another director comes in around 2015, casts the film and Warner Bros. releases a film in 2016. It will happen. The most important thing is who handles it and how they go about it. The main goal is not to tarnish what Nolan and company accomplished here. Find a worthy crew and produce a thought provoking film that doesn’t go as deep and serious and dark as Nolan did here, but captures the mythology of the character. It isn’t an easy task. Good luck creators.
10.)In the end, I am reducing my vote from a 5/5 to a 4/5 for one firm reason and other smaller ones. Dark Knight Rises doesn’t leave the same kind of imprint on me as Argo, Lincoln, End of Watch, Searching for Sugar Man, Rust and Bone, or Killer Joe. It’s a great film that strives to be a masterpiece but doesn’t gell together as well as its predecessor and runs a little long while feeling a little rushed at the end. Nolan produced a satisfying and hugely successful finale while falling short of pure greatness. The Dark Knight Rises is a very good film, but not one I can associate with Oscar. When it is announced as a nominee, I won’t blast the voters but only quietly disagree. Batman Begins lit the match in the franchise and set the tables. The Dark Knight smashed all expectations and was one of the best films of all time. The Dark Knight Rises wrapped things up in fine fashion. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy deserves acclaim from critics and fans alike. His accomplishments here will never be forgotten and will reverberate through Hollywood’s future productions for years to come.
First hint of that effect??? The Man of Steel.
Thanks for reading this Dose of Buffa and come back for more,
Film-Addict Staff Writer and Co-creator
Here is my full review from July of the film.