Why I think The Dark Knight Rises received mixed reactions
I give my take on why The Dark Knight Rises received mixed reactions...and no, there are not 99 of them.
Editorial: My thoughts on why there was a divided reaction to The Dark Knight Rises
Back in 2008, The Dark Knight was released into theaters and changed our entire view of the “comic book superhero film.” Whether you loved it or hated it (judging by its 1 billion dollar total gross most of you loved it) it changed what we collectively thought was possible to achieve in a “superhero universe.” Yes, the dark, gritty, hyper-realistic world Christopher Nolan created was an easier task to achieve simply because the world of Batman is somewhat realistic, if you chose to omit certain aspects (Clayface, Poison Ivy, Ra’s Al Gul’s immortality). Regardless, Mr. Nolan and his team gave a desperately needed sense of justice to the often-times deep moral ambiguity found in the source material. Batman, like many other comic book superheroes, rides the line between hero and vigilante; which is one of the reasons why his story arcs aren’t just the same old “beat the bad guy, save the girl” scenario repeated. Batman has thrived as a character for a long time now, and Christopher Nolan tapped into the reasons why and made them mainstream. Now, you’re the outcast if you didn’t go to see The Avengers and/or the Dark Knight Rises in theaters. At long last, it is cool to be a nerd.
Upon watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight again for the umpteenth times both before and after going to see Rises, I feel like I know why the general reaction among audiences has been somewhat mixed. The Dark Knight was massive. It broke box office records, earned massive critical acclaim, and was the first comic book superhero film to be considered by many if not most in Hollywood as a shoe-in for a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. It is widely believed that TDK is solely responsible for the addition of five more nominations in the Best Picture category at the Oscars. Hugh Jackman questioned why it wasn’t nominated in his opening musical performance at that year’s Oscars ceremony. It was THAT BIG.
So, why haven’t we heard any buzz of a possible Best Picture nomination for Rises? Why, on the same thread of comments below a TDKR-centric article am I seeing just as many negative comments as positive ones? Here are my thoughts (and no, there are not 99 of them):
Lack of Ledger: If we’re all being honest with ourselves, we (at least the vast majority of us) can admit that there was a Joker-sized hole in the villain role in Rises. Heath Ledger worked wonders with the villainous clown prince of crime and even earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He brought something new and fresh to a character that’s been around for ages, and the comic book community is ever thankful for it. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Hardy is an amazing actor. My issue with Bane wasn’t Tom Hardy’s acting; but rather a clusterf*ck of what I consider to be “not-so-great” stylistic choices. In my opinion, Bane should not sound like someone doing an odd version of a Sean Connery impression. Bane’s physicality in his fight scenes was there, but his proper (and awesome) origin story was absent. Joker told the audience his origin stories, which is one of the reasons why the real origin did not need to be shown to us. Also, it is difficult, as many other characters have proven in the past (Green Goblin anyone?), to portray emotion and depth of character with a mask covering your mouth. Unless you have a perfect voice behind the mask (James Earl Jones as Darth Vader), it is really difficult to avoid coming off as kind of…goofy.
Eight years is too long!!!: Yes, I do realize that the reason for the extended period of peace in Gotham was a direct result of the “Harvey Dent Act” that was derived from the final events of The Dark Knight, but why would you want to distance a story so much from what made it truly successful in the first place? At the end of TDK, Batman was left in a tough spot. He committed the most heroic of acts: self-sacrifice. He took a bullet, then took all the blame for the Harvey Dent murders, and; instead of riding off into the sunset, he rode off into the night. This ending gave me sort of an Empire Strikes Back feeling, with the heroes doing the best they could to thwart the bad guys, but ultimately still coming up somewhat short. Why gloss over all the impending dramatic aftermath by setting Rises eight years in the future? Was there really no Batman-worthy crime AT ALL in Gotham for eight consecutive years? After Joker managed to squeeze himself out of the GCPD’s grasp so many times, was he quiet and unthreatening forever after the events of TDK? The thought of Bruce Wayne giving up on being Batman for eight years just didn’t feel right for the character. I think many fans felt like there was so much story left to tell regarding the years of the Batman in his prime, and felt that it was much too soon to jump to a Milleresque “Dark Knight Returns,” older Batman vibe.
Bruce hates being Batman!?!: There is both a story arc and a movie about Spider-man wanting to give up on being Spider-man. Superman 2 explored the same concept. Both of these plotlines were resolved with the heroes not only maintaining their superhero identities, but with both characters realizing that they need to be a superhero just as much as the world needs them. In the comics, how often does Batman hate being Batman? In the beginning of TDK, Bruce Wayne was basically looking for a replacement. It wasn’t a replacement Batman he was looking for, but rather a normal, well-to-do civil servant that was both incorruptible and unafraid. Queue Harvey Dent. After Bruce witnesses Harvey as Two Face at the film’s end, he realizes that Batman is Gotham’s true savior; because he is the only one that can be. As Batman puts it: “I am whatever Gotham needs me to be.” Batman knew that he was the only one that could take responsibility for the Dent murders because he is not just a person, but a symbol; and a symbol cannot be killed or altered. Bruce knew he needed to be Batman.
By the end of Rises, we find out that Bruce is finally doing what he wanted to do since the beginning of TDK. He faked his own death so he could move to a different part of the world with his new love, and stop being Batman. In the Nolan Batman movieverse, Bruce Wayne (for the foreseeable future at least), is no longer AND will never again be Batman. It was strongly implied that John “Robin” Blake would take over as the new Batman. I don’t know about any of you other Batman fans out there, but I never want to see Batman cease to be Batman. After Rises’ credits rolled, my immediate thought was: if the League of Shadows tried to destroy Gotham twice, and the unrelated Joker also terrorized this city, what would make anyone think some other evildoer wouldn’t try the same thing again? Since when does any truly great superhero permanently abandon his or her city to pursue their happiness? Part of being a superhero, or any hero for that matter, is selflessness. Just look at real life heroes: police officers, fireman, marines, the random civilians that ran into two massive death-traps to help others on 9/11. These are people that put what makes themselves happy to the side each and every day and instead, focus their time and energy on helping others. They are true heroes. Watching Bruce (who got back into Batman-level shape in a matter of months and was therefore still in that level of physical prowess at the film’s end) sit at that café at the end of Rises was a disappointment. He was fully capable of still being the hero Gotham needs and deserves, but chose to please himself instead.
Now, take a second and imagine this: The Dark Knight Rises is released as the first Christopher Nolan-directed Batman film. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight do not exist. With this hypothetical set of circumstances (and without Bruce retiring at the end), Rises is much more pleasing. Therefore, I’m not trying to say that it was an overall bad film. What I am saying is this: I think Bruce’s sentiment of not wanting to be Batman anymore was more of a sentiment of Christopher Nolan’s than that of the fictional protagonist. I think the reason behind all of the “The Legend Ends” promotions and the retirement of the character at the film’s end was not to be true to the character, but was a way for Nolan to end his involvement with the character and to simultaneously justify it thematically. There is no doubt that the man is hugely talented, and capable of blowing audiences’ minds with stories other than those involving a comic book character. I think he was ready to hang up the cape and cowl for good, and he did; but forced Bruce to do the same.
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