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July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises…With Old Men (Part 1)

Play me in, Reggie!

Ah, thank you.  I needed that.  Now, let’s talk about The Dark Knight Rises.

--So the movie opens with…

You know what?  No.  That format -- pretty much summarizing the whole movie and breaking down plot points -- isn’t going to work here.  TDKR is not a bad movie, and certainly doesn’t invite the amount of nitpicking that Prometheus did (mostly because between the two, the former is FAR more airtight; I guess the “Bullshit Detector” did his job).  So this time, I’m going to do something different: I’m going to split this thing into two parts -- one post now, and another one later.  You can expect things I liked and disliked in both, and I’ll let you agree/disagree at your leisure.  We’ll see how that goes in the long run, but for now it’s a format that may work better.

So with that said, let’s start with the backbone of any good story: SPOILERS!  Oh, wait, I mean CHARACTERS!  But seriously, spoilers.

Commissioner Jim Gordon

Easily my favorite character in this movie, the trilogy, or the Batman mythos in general.  Despite his lack of superpowers (or in this case, skills and resources) and his age growing steadily higher, he manages to prove himself time and time again.  He’s consistently someone the caped crusader can trust, consistently sticking his neck out for Gotham’s safety, and of course, consistently entertaining.  On that second note I have to wonder something about the Batman mythos: how often did Bats come out during the day?  Because in the animated series it seemed like he came out at night, and ONLY at night…so…does that mean that the crooks operated on the same schedule?  Or did Bruce just sleep in and let the police handle everything?  Well, whatever; even in the worst-case scenario, you can count on The Commish (as I called him back in the day).

And of course, The Commish is in top form here…well, until he gets shot.  But even then he manages to survive through some quick-thinking -- and even a bullet wound isn’t enough to keep him from acting as mission control for Blake (maybe as a nod to Oracle?).  Of course, my favorite part of the movie didn’t have anything to do with Batman; when the chips were down and the bat was out, it was Gordon who got out of bed, suited up, and started mobilizing -- with a swell of music, as I recall.  Oh Commish, why you so badass?

Really, just think about all the things Gordon accomplishes in this movie.  1) Acts as a pillar of justice and peace in the wake of Harvey Dent’s death, and helps ensure a bottomed-out crime rate in the backstory.  2) Explored the tunnels so he could find a missing congressman, discovering Bane’s hideout and traces of his plan.  3) Escapes a dangerous situation alive, albeit wounded.  4) Promotes Blake to act as his proxy.  5) Provides advice and information during his recovery, including giving vital intel to Bruce Wayne.  6) Recovers from a gunshot and a tumble through a network of water-pumping pipes.  7) Gets the hell out of bed and starts working toward taking Bane down.  8) Makes a stand against the Bane-sponsored court, choosing noble defiance to the end.  9) Cooperates with Batman, including taking part in a risky mission to attach a jamming device to the fusion core…one in the midst of being transported by enemy trucks. 10) Continues to be played by Gary Oldman, and continues to wear the most bitchin’ moustache in fiction.

More importantly, Gordon is one of several characters primed to give an answer to one of the movie’s thematic questions: “How do you obtain true justice?”  As a common man, Gordon has a much deeper understanding and connection to the people than Batman ever will (even if Batman doesn’t have superpowers, compared to the average Joe he might as well be Superman --  whether he’s wearing the cowl or donning a business suit).  As the commissioner, he has to act in the best interest of the people, protecting them by any means necessary…including lying and stricter police control.  It’s a decision that weighs heavily on him from the start of the movie to the end; you could argue that the actions he takes are just much for redemption as they are for Gotham’s peace.  He can only do what he can -- a fact that further makes him contemplative when it’s obvious that only Batman can save the day.

There are other things that make The Commish compelling, but I’ll get to that later.  For now, let’s move on to…

Alfred Pennyworth

Incidentally, I’m pretty sure Alfred is my brother’s favorite character -- which is strange, because Alfred only throws a couple of Tiger Shots in this movie…spoilers, by the way.      

Joking aside (we all know Alfred’s more like E. Honda anyway), the Bat’s butler turns in a surprisingly potent performance.  At the start, he’s more or less your standard snarky butler, who in light of Bruce Wayne’s reclusiveness has grown increasingly weary and wary of his young master.  The joking seems par for the course at first, but eventually it takes on a much grimmer context -- and eventually, it reaches a point where all the snark in the world isn’t enough to save Batman.

Now to be fair, I’ve heard some dissent as to how well Alfred’s been handled in this movie -- that is, whether his actions are too schmaltzy and campy, or whether they’re actually effective.  But in my case, I lean toward the latter; Alfred (and by extension Michael Caine) delivers some of the most emotional moments in the entire movie.  If you need proof that yes, this IS the last movie in the trilogy, you needn’t look any further. 

Bruce Wayne and Alfred go their separate ways.  And -- oh, hold on, I think I’ve got something in my eye.  What is that?  Oh, tears.  All right, moving on.

Alfred and Bruce were -- to my knowledge -- always together (with the exception being Batman Beyond for…well, obvious reasons).  To see the pair having a bit of a falling-out was almost like a signal of one’s childhood coming to a definite end; even so, it was a split-up born largely out of love.  Obviously Alfred wants Bruce to get his shit together and start living again, something that I MASSIVELY approve of.  But rather than just go back to being Batman and getting away with assault, he envisions a happier, more peaceful life for Bruce.  He hopes to see him in the sun, smiling and dining and enjoying life in a situation far removed from the grit of Gotham (and the grit of the movie itself).  But in his infinite wisdom, Bruce shoots that idea down and remains stuck in his ways -- and because of it, Alfred decides it’s time to bail.  I can’t do the scene(s) justice, so I’ll count on you reader(s) to see the movie and judge for yourselves…but for what it’s worth, I felt for Alfred.  It’s a shame that he ends up disappearing from the movie after that, but given what happens in Gotham shortly afterward I’d say he dodged a bullet.    Luckily he comes back near the end (in tears)…but thankfully, Mr. Pennyworth gets his own happy ending.

Could somebody do me a favor and give Michael Caine ALL OF THE OSCARS?

Lucius Fox

And just to round out the Old Man Trinity, we have Morgan Freeman playing God Bruce Wayne’s tech expert and company manager…makes me wonder why Brucie himself wouldn’t want to keep a tighter pulse on his affairs, but I suppose eccentric billionaires are going to do whatever they want on the grounds that a trampoline of money will cushion their fall. 

I never put too much stock into Fox before, but in TDKR his presence is much-appreciated.  He’s the tech guy of course, but he’s also useful for injecting the highest percentage of levity into an otherwise somber movie.  While there’s something admirable to be had in that alone, it almost feels like Fox/Freeman can’t help but wink at the audience.  “Yeah, I know you’re not Batman anymore” --insert aside glance here-- “but just in case I prepared a warehouse full of fantastic weaponry.”  Or “You’ve been in your manor for almost a decade, so” --insert snicker here-- “of course your company’s going to be in the can.”  He’s very calm during the proceedings, but there’s something undeniably sly about him.

And speaking of calm, it seems like there’s almost NOTHING that gets to this guy.  Company taken over by the bad guys?  We can fix that.  City overrun by terrorists and prisoners?  I’ll be all right.  Bomb about to explode and you have to diffuse it, but suddenly your efforts are overridden and there’s a giant screw-off wave of water heading for you?  Oh dear.  Fox is utterly unflappable, and I love him for that.

Well, that’ll about do it for Team Old Men.  Now let’s move on to some of the young’uns.  Starting with…

John Blake

Prior to the movie’s release, I didn’t watch a single trailer or read a single article online.  So when I saw a (spoiler-free) review of the movie the night before it came out, that was genuinely the first time I learned that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was in it.  Some may say that he’s the guy from Inception, but just as I’ll only recognize Will Smith as the Fresh Prince, I’ll only recognize JGL as Tommy Solomon from Third Rock from the Sun.  (So would that make Jim Gordon Dick Solomon?  Or maybe The Big Giant Head?)

I didn’t know what to expect of him in the movie -- least of all his role -- and it certainly didn’t help either of us when I forgot his character’s name a few minutes in and resorted to calling him “Tommy” for 90% of it.  And it definitely didn’t help that at times, he kind of looked like a squinty-eyed elf.  Seriously, is it just me or are his ears really, really pointy?

But to my surprise, Blake turned out to be a surprisingly strong character.  I’m not going to question JGL’s acting ability, because that’s out of my depth (and I don’t have a lot of good instruction on those matters); even so, he was an interesting, appealing, and entertaining character from start to finish...pointy ears aside.

As you know, I like characters that fulfill three conditions: they’re interesting, they affect the plot, and they develop.  Blake handily meets all three conditions in spite of not being the caped crusader of The Commish.  He’s a bit hot-headed at times, but he also shows some sound reasoning -- and of course, he’s just as dedicated to justice as Gordon; it’s on a different, more youth- and naiveté-based axis, but given his position as an orphan and the implications therein, you can’t blame him for taking a more direct approach.  As time passes, he shows himself (almost) as capable as The Commish, taking physical action in his stead and managing to be a key player in Batman’s “Time to Save the City” gambit.  At the same time, it’s established that he’s growing more and more disillusioned with the police’s way of doing things, and sees Batman’s vigilantism as a preferable avenue.  It climaxes near the movie’s end when protocol interferes with his desire to save the people -- or more specifically, the orphans; after getting barricaded, shot at, and having the only bridge out of town blown, Blake decides to call it quits…that is, until he finds a certain well-equipped cave.  John Blake…more like Tim Drake, am I right Christopher Nolan?  Eh?  Eh?  Wink wink nudge nudge sparkle sparkle?

It certainly helps Blake’s case that he makes marked motions towards saving Gotham, even before Bane takes over the city.  Investigations, fist fights, freeing trapped policemen from the tunnels under the city, saving orphans…all in a day’s work. 

Hmmm…maybe he IS more than just Tommy Solomon.


Miranda Tate/Talia al Ghul

Guess it’s time to switch gears now.

I want to start by admitting that when it came to the reveal that Tate was actually Ra’s daughter, I was legitimately surprised and impressed.  “Didn’t see that one coming” was my first thought, and “Whoa, I didn’t know she’d be in this move!” was the second.  And then the third was, “Wait…what?”  I’m a confessed lover and user (or abuser) of plot twists.  I try to be on the lookout for hints in the story that things aren’t always as they seem, and in my own works I leave little hints that do the same.  I have to give credit to Nolan and company for pulling off the twist, buuuuuuuuuuut…I still have problems with it.  Such as:

1) Bane suddenly gets demoted from main villain to walking target.  Bane isn’t my favorite villain in the trilogy or in general, but for what it’s worth he got the job done.  He was a foil to Batman/Bruce Wayne in plenty of ways, and there was plenty of bad blood between them.  Bane’s the one that breaks Batman’s back, so when Batman inevitably comes back to save the day, you know IT”S ON!  But it’s not really on with Talia until…what, the last twenty or thirty minutes of the movie?  Beating Bane and taking care of the bomb should have been it, more or less.  Adding Talia into the mix?  It just feels like a misstep to me, and doubly so in the sense that Bane gets wrecked by being gunned down by Catwoman.  It certainly doesn’t help that…

2) Miranda Tate =/= Talia al Ghul.  I have a hard time believing that the latter is actually the former, especially with so much time spent establishing Tate.  This is my reasoning: if Talia’s ultimate goal was to destroy Gotham City, why didn’t she do so as Miranda Tate instead of deciding to blow everything up with a bomb, including herself?  Tate takes control of Bruce Wayne’s company, and even beyond that hosts a charity ball to help the unfortunate; as a member of the upper class, couldn’t she have used that power to pick apart Gotham and its people?  Couldn’t she have ruined Bruce with subterfuge?  What was the point of setting up Daggett as a (completely ineffectual and destined-to-fail) villain if Bane and Tate could have worked together in secret from the outset?  It all leads me to believe…

3) We didn’t really need Talia.  Batman, Bane, Catwoman, The Commish, Blake, Fox, and a slew of other incidental characters -- that’s a pretty hefty group in itself.  But then, suddenly, there’s another villain you have to deal with?  Didn’t Cracked already establish that superhero movies start going downhill whenever there are three villains?  Why disrupt the balance?

Given that Talia was played by a villainess from Inception -- or WAS SHE?! -- I probably should have seen this coming.  (That shit-eating grin right there should have tipped me off as well.)  And to be fair, a second viewing would give me all the foreshadowing I ever needed.  But I still find the reveal to be incredibly irksome.  Bane’s origin story?  Never mind, that was actually Talia’s.  Except…if two people actually escaped from the pit, wouldn’t the prisoners have mentioned that?  (Or did they mention that?  I don’t think they did.)  The relationship between Batman and Bane?  That’s not nearly as important as the relationship between Batman and Talia…except…er…they don’t really get a chance to make that connection as much as Bats and Bane.  Doubly so when you remember that for so much of the movie, she was Miranda Tate with a slew of different motivations and characteristics -- though in retrospect, even then Tate didn’t have nearly as much of a presence as the other characters.  I mean…shit.  Just why?

And now we get into dicey territory.  See, there’s a certain trend that I noticed in terms of this movie: all the characters without powers, skills, tech, abilities, etc. are ones that I enjoyed.  All the characters that I know from the canon -- you know, the reason why I’m seeing the movie -- are ones that irritated me.

So let’s start with…

Selina Kyle/Catwoman

You there.  Yes, you in the back, pointing at me in disgust.  I see you there, don’t try to hide it.  I know you’re about to scream “You don’t like her!  Sexist!  She’s such a strong female character!”  I choose to respond to such a statement with a plate of sauerkraut to the face.  Strong female characters are important, and I certainly prefer them to the crying waifs you see so much of in other stories (and FF13’s Lightning -- but that goes without saying).  But there are two things people need to keep in mind: 1) Strong female characters, like any character regardless of gender, shouldn’t be immune to examination or criticism.  2) How you establish that strength can make or break your efforts.

Point 2 is what I take issue with here -- with Catwoman, Batman, and probably the movie as a whole.  How do you establish that Catwoman is a tough cookie?  Obviously, you show her being competent and confident.  Fair enough.  The problem that I have is this: all of the attempts to establish the Cat’s cred feel like sloppy shortcuts.   That’s not to say that the character herself is bad; Anne Hathaway certainly puts in an entertaining performance, and writing-wise she’s a joy to see on-screen.  But she feels misappropriated in the sense that she’s made out to be awesome by making everyone else stupider or weaker. 

Catwoman (as Selina Kyle) steals Bruce Wayne’s car once he comes out of his hidey-hole, swiping it from under his nose by claiming she was his wife to a valet.  Okay, question: if Bruce Wayne’s been a recluse for nearly a decade, why would he suddenly have a wife?  Wouldn’t there be a big stink in the tabloids if Wayne -- the infamous, wealthy businessman -- suddenly had a wife?

Prior to that, Bruce has a maid-clad Kyle right where he wants her -- with a bow and arrow in hand.  He even takes a shot at her…but in spite of that, she escapes anyway.  Question: why shoot a warning shot at her?  Why not hold your shot in position and have her back the hell up?  You have a strict code against killing, and that’s fine…but she doesn’t know that.  Don’t give her a chance to bamboozle you!

The same goes for a later scene when Catwoman has an upper-class scumbag right where she wants him -- and then a goon comes out and puts a gun to her head.  Catwoman spouts out some cheeky, cocksure dialogue, but I barely heard it over my own thoughts.  She’s gonna nail him in the crotch.  She’s gonna nail him in the crotch.  She’s gonna nail him in the crotch.  Lo and behold, a nutshot followed by a snarky quip about high heels.  Seriously?  Why would you get so close, dude?  You have a gun -- a weapon designed to kill at long range.  Why would you put yourself in such an obviously vulnerable position?

But the most excessive has to be when Kyle heads to jail as a safeguard (a male prison, because…because).  Someone reaches out for her, so her response is to do some bitchin’ damn cartwheel flip and breaks his arms.  Really?  I mean, really?   It’s like, “Yeah boys, I’m a tough lady.  I’m so tough that I find it necessary to bring physical harm to a man trapped behind three hundred pounds of barred steel as flashily as possible.”

To the movie’s credit, there were times when Catwoman established herself more feasibly.  The cell phone trick she used was pretty clever, as was pretending to be a hysterical victim when the SWAT team busted in (surprised no one tried to help her, but whatever).  Using guile is something admirable, more so than fancy karate moves in some cases.  This is one of those cases…but I’ll get to that in a little bit.  Let’s move on to the --

Wait, who was that blonde woman hanging out with Kyle?  Whatever happened to her?

Let’s move on to the next --

Cat puns?  Seriously?  Cat puns?  And why do I get the feeling that some of her dialogue was ripped from the 90s cartoon?  And can you lay off the snark for a --

No, no.  Forget.  Just forget it.  Let’s move on to the next character.


Heath Ledger’s Joker was a fantastic villain and his presence -- the character and most certainly the actor -- will forever be missed.  Now let’s all move on and discuss this like rational, unbiased admirers of fiction.

For the life of me, I cannot even begin to imagine what in the flying fuck they were thinking when they had Bane sound like that.  I mean, I suppose you could successfully argue that it was supposed to be the juxtaposition of a posh, cultured voice with a monstrous, grisly body…but they take it waaaaaaay too far in this movie.  Pro tip: if you’re trying to make your villain intimidating, don’t give him a voice that is either incomprehensible or hilarious.  I’m serious, I hated his voice; when Bane broke into his evil speech (as villains are wont to do) I very nearly burst into laughter.  Also, another pro tip: if you’re receiving complaints about how your villain sounds, maybe instead of editing it, you should make it so it’s not ridiculous and incomprehensible in the first place.

Next point.  Bane, I think, has the same problems as Catwoman, only more so.  Establishing Bane as a horrific villain (to some extent) comes by way of him killing his own henchmen left and right.  “You say that Gordon couldn’t have survived being shot and flung into the sewers?  You have presented a point that, while largely meaningless in the context of fiction, is a legitimate opinion in a realistic setting.  Therefore, you must die.”  “You over there -- you will perform one more task for me, and then you will die as well.”  “You will give your life, because it is for our -- and by ‘our’ I mean ‘my’ -- cause.”  Why does anybody work for this guy?  Why would anyone agree to ally themselves with Darth Vader doing a British accent that wouldn’t be out of place in Family Guy?

I also have to give props to Daggett for being the stupidest person ever to appear in a movie.  Giving Bane trouble over who’s in control of the operation…yes, arguing with someone who could carve an epitaph on your tombstone with your face is a fantastic idea.

To the movie’s credit, Bane isn’t an awful villain.  Not even close.  He has a personality and spirit to him (which, to my shock, is more in line with the comics that I ever would have guessed).  He’s an undeniable mover-and-shaker.  He breaks Batman’s back.  But even with all that in mind, I feel as if Bane is…well, kind of bland.  His plan and motivations confuse me.  He wants to wreck Gotham City.  Okay, how?  With his Wayne-powered army.  Okay, so do that.  Except…he doesn’t.  He also decides to trap the police underground, trap the people of Gotham in the town’s borders, and keep outsiders from interfering by way of a bomb.  A bomb that he’ll detonate if anyone shows up…but will also explode anyway, killing him and likely everyone else in the city.  And all this under the context of a revolution?  Bane, I’m not 100% sure you know what that means. 

What do you hope to change by effectively nuking everyone in town -- especially if you, the spirit of the revolution, go down with it?  Nobody in Gotham sees you as anything besides a terrorist; nobody outside Gotham sees you as anything besides a terrorist.  All you (and by extension Talia) are doing is making a very lethal, very bombastic statement: “Big bombs can kill, and society can break down without policemen and prisoners running through the streets.”  And then what?  What’s the game plan afterwards?  “I’ve fulfilled Ra’s al Ghul’s plan in the most circuitous method possible, so now I can sacrifice myself”?  Or is it “I’m going to break Gotham apart piece by piece, and the survivors and onlooking outsiders will learn from this sudden invasion and outburst of violence”?

There are probably a half-dozen problems with the bomb in its own right, so I’ll discuss that in the next post.  But let me keep the focus by reiterating that Bane is not a bad villain…I just think he’s a bland villain.  All these characters are telling us how tough and dangerous and seasoned Bane is -- and yes, he breaks Batman’s back, but I don’t feel like he’s as intimidating as he could have been.  More importantly, I never got the feeling that Bane was anything remarkable, even in spite of his largely-successful actions.  Maybe it’s just because I’ve played hundreds of games (dozens of which feature maniacal villains), but when Bane broke into his standard madman rant, I zoned out.  Not just because of the voice, either; it’s just white noise playing in the background while cooler, more important things happen.  Even if a villain is doing something fundamentally wrong, in a story it’s all right, even preferable, to agree with a few of the points they make.  It’s vital to be able to make some sort of connection -- admiration, fear, or revulsion, to name a few -- to the villain.  I never got that from Bane.  Ever.  He’s just another villain that needs a few dozen punches to the face from Batman.  Just a bad guy that has to be stopped.  Nothing awful, but nothing remarkable.  That might work in any other movie, but with the high-caliber talent here?  By a man who is slowly climbing the ranks to cinematic godhood?  It’s just..just…

Lemongrab, you wanna take this one?

Ah, yes…thank you.  I needed that.  And now, it’s time for the big one.  Hold on to your butts.

Bruce Wayne/Batman

Have you noticed a trend here?  Have you noticed that I started with a character that I absolutely loved and earned all my praise?  Have you noticed that my issues start cropping as I near the bottom of the post?

There’s a reason for that.  *deep breath*

So.  Let’s talk about Batman.

You know how I feel about Batman by now, I hope.  You know how I feel about grit.  You know how I feel about characters, and what they can do and should be.  You know my preferences, so you know that I have some very strong opinions.  But you also know that just because I have strong opinions, I try to be fair.  I try to give people the chance to impress and surprise me, even if their work isn’t my usual fare.  I’ll get nitpicky AFTER I give the product a view, or playthrough, or read.  And I gave Batman a chance.

You would think that the star character, the one superhero embedded in the public conscious more than ever in the past decade or so, would be the one to get the most care.  You would think that the one character these movies are built around would be the one put in the spotlight, with his shining qualities able to show off their magnificent luster thanks to said spotlight.  You would think that he would be the character with the lowest probability of being -- to quote Shakespeare -- fucked up.

And yet, somehow, they managed to make a billionaire martial artist vigilante who sounds like he swallowed a sandpaper shake completely and utterly boring.

I don’t think it was even fifteen minutes into the movie when I raised a hand in objection.  After the events of The Dark Knight -- you know, in which Bats decides to keep fighting for justice even if he’s an enemy of the people -- we start this movie with Bruce hanging up the cowl forever and becoming a recluse who hasn’t gotten over the death of Rachel.  The latter point I can forgive to some extent, but…seriously?  Hanging up the cowl forever?  Are you kidding me?  NOBODY believes that’s going to last, and the fact that you would start the movie in that mindset is just bonkers.  (I feel like this is a move done by superhero fiction before; Spider-Man 2, Batman Forever...hell, even Danny Phantom.) 

Next problem.  You’re not Batman anymore.  Fine.  But you’re still Bruce Wayne, right?  You know, kingpin of Wayne Enterprises?  You still have that life to go back to, right?  Except you decide to retreat to your manor for years and continue to stew over your dead love.  Okay, I’ll admit I’ve never been an eccentric billionaire, and I’m the last person you’d want to talk to about the effects of things like PTSD and depression.  But seeing this character just shut down is…is just jarring to me.  And then Bruce gets about four separate pick-me-up talks -- from Alfred, from Lucius Fox, from Blake, from The Commish -- each one telling him in different ways to get his shit together.  Couldn’t we have just started with Batman still in action?  That’d likely shave off an hour from the run time, and we all know the retirement’s only temporary; it’s just a matter of watching the sand pour out of the hourglass.

Next problem: Bruce Wayne tells Alfred to step off.  That’s a no-no, Brucie.

Next problem.  When Batman inevitably starts knocking about again, I couldn’t help but notice an irksome issue: there’s nobody to challenge Batman except Bane.  Okay, that’s not entirely fair; the greatest threat to Batman is Batman himself (and Catwoman to some extent), but hear me out.  Who else besides Bane is capable of outdoing Batman?  Who can put down the Bat besides the burliest bruiser straight outta Compton?  Goons rush him, goons get punched.  Goons shoot him, goons get punched.  Police try to catch him, police get bamboozled.  Even with a supposed leg brace and eight years slacking off, it takes an Argentine Backbreaker to teach him a lesson he won’t forget.  Batman is effectively invincible until it’s time for him to take a hit -- and because of that, it makes a striking number of his scuffles boring.  I didn’t feel any tension coming from his issues, which is strange considering how much more I felt for the strictly-normal characters like Gordon and Blake.  Maybe it’s because Batman essentially walks through an entire war without as much as a scuff on his suit.  The excuse that “he’s Batman” only goes so far.  Speaking of which…

Next problem.  Batman is a chronological anomaly.  Remember when I was wondering if Batman only did his crime-fighting at night?  I guess the movie felt the same way, because during his triumphant return it goes from daytime to nighttime pretty much instantly.  He’s also capable of going from a prison to Gotham in a matter of scenes (undetected, mind you, in a situation where the baddies are specifically on the lookout for anyone trying to get in the city), and deems it necessary to take time out of his schedule to tag a skyscraper with his insignia.  Seriously, how long did it take to rig that up -- and how long did it take to successfully have that connected to just the right spots on the ice?

Next problem.  Batman makes a “heroic sacrifice” because…why, exactly?  Admittedly, this is an issue I have with the trope itself, so I hope you’ll forgive me for being a bit critical.  But really, what was the point of having Bats take off with the bomb?  If it was established that he had autopilot installed, what’s the point of pretending he wasn’t going to make it out alive?  (And really, who here actually thought they’d kill off Batman?)  And wouldn’t it unravel the entirety of his character arc?  Well, I guess not, considering…

Next problem.  The ending unravels the entirety of Batman’s character arc.  Chalk this up to interpretation, but as I understand it the point of this movie was for Bruce/Batman to rediscover what it means to be a hero, and fight tooth-and-nail to save the people from challenges within and without.  Maybe that’s not the best interpretation given other themes, but I think my theory’s one that holds water.  Soooooo…if at the movie’s start he’s done being Batman, but over the course of the movie decides (twice!) he’s got to be Batman to fight for the people, and then at the end decides he’s done being Batman…what was the point of all that?  Why spend so much time going through these motions if it ends with Bruce in Italy?  

Given that Batman is established to be leagues above the GCPD, wouldn’t it be a safer bet for him to stay in town?  And again, why not use his influence as Bruce Wayne -- after rebuilding his company -- to do something meaningful?  You know, like rebuild the city that’s in ruins?  Even beyond that, with the knowledge that Gotham’s been terrorized by no less than five superhuman psychopaths, wouldn’t be a safer bet for you to take care of them?  See, this is why heroic sacrifices can be problematic -- because if they survive, the hero is at risk of stamping his story in the family jewels with a steel boot.  (And before you ask, yes, I consider the ending to be real instead of Alfred’s hallucination.  Just because the movie is by the guy who made The Movie That Popularized the  BWONG’ Sound (and Similar Effects) in Trailers doesn’t mean everything he creates has to have an “is it real or not?” ending.)

Next problem.  They’re STILL using that ridiculous voice for Batman.

Next problem.  Masked or not, recluse or not, rich or not, inmate or not, hero or not, Bruce Wayne/Batman bores me.  Even with his struggle in the prison and trying to get out of the pit, I didn’t feel compelled in the slightest.  Why I feel this way is hard for me to nail down, but I have a few ideas; he’s just a difficult character for me to get into and sympathize with.  Again, I don’t know what it’s like to have someone I love lost to me, and while I understand that it could royally screw up a person, that doesn’t necessarily make for a compelling character.  (In fact, you’d think that losing someone so important to him would make Batman want to fight even harder to clean up Gotham, as a parallel to the loss of his parents.)   

But beyond that, I’m having a hard time coming up with anything substantial about Bruce/Bats that entertained me; there were entertaining ideas engraved into and surrounding him, but character-wise, I’m drawing a blank.  As Bruce Wayne, he’s snarky and cocksure -- hallmarks of gritty protagonists -- but also deeply scarred and world-weary.  As Batman he’s…well, Batman.  I’m not saying he has to be smiles and sunshine, but in this instance I felt like there wasn’t much to him besides the expected fare: making threats, spouting one-liners, letting fly some heroism-born nuggets of wisdom, and growling at baddies in that dumbass voice.  And that’s it.  There’s nothing there that exceeds my expectations or inspires wonder; it’s just Batman moving from point-to-point, punching bad guys, driving quickly in various vehicles, and disposing of bombs.  Which finally leads me to…

The big problem.  All the components of the movie that should make Batman compelling SHOULD work, but they don’t; they’re all components that work in theory.  His withdrawal from society is something that works in theory, but in practice -- in light of it being done before, and keeping the superhero from being a superhero -- it doesn’t add much.  His ability to handle every situation works in theory, but in practice it cheapens the efforts of characters that are far more interesting (ad are arguably more important to the plot than the Dark Knight himself).  His story arc of donning the cowl once more and rising to the occasion is one that works in theory, but in practice is one that almost feels like filler, and very nearly approaches being invalidated by the ending.  Batman himself is a character that should work in theory, but in practice he’s less of a character and more of an event.  Batman is a character that does things, and has things done to him, but all of that happens without anything approaching a personal connection.  And that, my friends, is kind of depressing.

TDKR has some great characters, and some great moments from those characters and the circumstances around them.  But at the same time, it has some flaws that I just can’t ignore -- flaws that come from its other characters, of all things.  And from Batman, most of all.  In terms of net worth, the positive numbers from the “normals” gets dipped below my tolerance threshold by the “abnormal” -- Talia, Catwoman, Bane, and Batman drag down a movie that’s ostensibly supposed to give them all their time to shine.  Are silly voices and token attempts at establishing badassery enough to sink the movie?  No.  But when I go in expecting greatness, go through it with a sense of apathy, and come out disappointed from a movie that had every reason to fire on all cylinders, I can’t help but be a little betrayed. 

Man, this is depressing.  I’m going to sign off now on this little project.  Tune in next time when things get even dicier, and I sort out my views on the movie once and for all.

(All this negativity can’t be good for me…)

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