What The Dark Knight Rises needs to do to be considered "great"

The Dark Knight Rises is the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which started with Batman Begins and was followed with The Dark Knight. When crafting a trilogy, there are certain elements of the story that must be addressed in the third movie to make the story a satisfying conclusion to the story developed in the previous two. I’ve outlined a few of them below in the context of The Dark Knight trilogy.

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By thewhitewizardrocks - 7/7/2012
The Dark Knight Rises is the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which started with Batman Begins and was followed with The Dark Knight. When crafting a trilogy, there are certain elements of the story that must be addressed in the third movie to make the story a satisfying conclusion to the story developed in the previous two. I’ve outlined a few of them below in the context of The Dark Knight trilogy.

It needs to provide a resolution to Bruce Wayne’s arc:

Here I’m talking about Bruce Wayne, the man without a mask. Bruce Wayne’s tortured past is what drives him to don the batsuit and fight to wipe out crime in Gotham city. However, Batman— the character Bruce creates to grapple with the guilt he feels for his parent’s death—does not offer any means towards absolution. Bruce creates Batman to save Gotham, to give himself purpose in a world that had given him nothing but pain, but what happens when that purpose is achieved? As far as I’m aware (correct me in the comments if I’m wrong!), in the comics, Batman never actually achieves his purpose of saving the ‘heart’ of Gotham. Yes, he may save them from individual threats, but I don’t think that he’s ever permanently achieved his goal. Which is fine in that continuity because we expect to see Batman fight villain after villain, time and time again. Here, we expect an end. Batman is a temporary fix to Bruce’s internal anguish—when he puts on the mask he feels a fleeting glimpse of freedom. He’s able to unleash his inner demons and feel a sort of emotional purification in his crime-fighting. But it’s all temporary. When the mask comes off, the demons settle back down and the guilt returns. Bruce needs to find a way to free himself of the guilt that created Batman if he hopes to hang up the cowl and live on. I think the movie has to address the issue of Bruce’s guilt and emotional pain if it is to provide a satisfactory end to the trilogy. After all, the guilt is what created Batman—it only makes sense that a resolution of that guilt is the only thing that can stop Bruce Wayne from wearing the mask and still be happy.

It needs to provide a conclusive end to the Batman mythos established in this reincarnation of the Batman universe:

A large portion of this has been addressed in the previous section. Narratively, Batman cannot exist if Bruce Wayne hopes to move forward with his life. Also, there is the issue of how the movie has been marketed and what expectations the audience brings into the theatre on July 20th.
The movie has been heavily marketed as “the end” and after hyping it up as such, they’re going to have to follow through. Batman needs to have an end that is emotionally satisfying to the audience and though they can go about it in different ways, one thing must happen—Batman must succeed in his quest to save Gotham. Even if he dies, his death must be redemptive in some way. Batman exists to save Gotham and at the end of the second movie, it seemed as if he had served that purpose. Batman and Gordon agreed to sacrifice the legend of Batman to preserve the integrity of Harvey Dent and galvanize the city into fighting to stop crime. But although the second movie satisfied the surface goals of Batman, it did not fulfill the emotional needs of the man under the mask. The second movie left off with a man who sacrificed his purpose and his identity [since wearing the costume frees Bruce of the playboy façade which he must maintain in interactions with virtually everyone] to save the city that he loved. The ending worked perfectly because it established Bruce Wayne as, above all else, completely selfless. To me, redemptive sacrifice has always been the most powerful form of catharsis and seeing The Dark Knight slowly swell to a crescendo and climax with the full weight of responsibility being taken on by Bruce Wayne was an extremely powerful moment—to date, the most powerful cinematic experience I’ve ever experienced. But regardless of how powerful that moment, or how well it wrapped up the themes and plots introduced in The Dark Knight, it still left Batman’s narrative arc in flux. We were unsure of what Bruce Wayne would do after he escaped from the police, what role Batman would play in the new Gotham city—we just knew that he had chosen to take responsibility for the crimes of Two-Face.
With The Dark Knight Rises, the filmmakers have the chance to end the Batman story of their universe definitively. And for the movie to be an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, they have to put the idea of Batman’s return after the end of the movie beyond reach.
The action scenes need to be greater in scale and better than the ones in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight:
These Batman movies are extremely story-centric, but the reason a lot of people go to the movies to watch Batman is because of the epic action scenes that a big-budget production usually has. With The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan faces the challenge of creating action scenes that top the movies that came before it. The Dark Knight had one of the most memorable chase sequences that I’ve ever seen with the Tumbler-Batpod transformation and the flipping 18-wheeler, but The Dark Knight Rises has to do even better. When the vast majority of people leave the theatre, I have a strong feeling that the discussion will be centered around whether the movie was as good as The Dark Knight was. Even if the story is better, The Dark Knight Rises has to exceed the standards set in The Dark Knight for people are not very forgiving when it comes to the sequels of their favorite movies. The prologue set the bar high, but it’s a standard that I think can be exceeded with the budget and creative team that Nolan has at his disposal.

All the subplots introduced in the movie must be completely resolved:

This goes back to the “finality” that I stressed in the first two points. If there’s a character or subplot that is introduced throughout the course of the movie, it has to be resolved. I think both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight succeeded in doing this (for the most part). Begins left some open strands with the escape of the inmates at Arkham, what happened to the League of Shadows, and the presence of the Joker card. The Dark Knight addressed the inmates and the Joker, but left the topic of the League of Shadows completely untouched and left the story of the Joker in the air. The Joker arc won’t be completed, but I’m not going to count that as an unfinished plot strand because I think the audience and the filmmakers have both realized the uniqueness of Ledger’s performance and decided to preserve the integrity of that performance by not having him reach some mysterious unheralded off- screen death. But that still leaves the League of Shadows. While it was plausible that the organization fell apart after Begins, knowing that they’ll probably reappear in TDKR demands that the organization’s story has a more conclusive end [this is assuming that they appear in the timeline of the movie, not just in flashbacks, which is a pretty big assumption to make, but one that I’m going to make anyway for the sake of argument]. Similarly, Catwoman’s arc is going to have to be resolved definitively, but since I have no clue where her story’s headed, I can’t begin to speculate on how it ends.

It should refer back to the original two movies both musically and thematically, just so we get more of a sense of continuity:

Using images or themes from previous movies is a great way to quickly draw up the requisite emotion or affect from the audience without being burdened with having to subject them to repeat exposition. For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, John Williams composed a theme called “Leaving Hogwarts” which was played as Harry boarded the Hogwarts Express back to the Dursley’s. In the Deathly Hallow’s Part 2, that same musical cue was used for the epilogue. The repetition of that theme forced a large portion of the audience (whom I assume are familiar with the first movie) to make an emotional and thematic connection with the end of the first movie. The music itself conveys a certain feeling, yes, but our previous experiences with that same piece of music and the significance which we subconsciously attach to that musical theme amplifies the effect the music has when we hear it again.
The same thing is true with visual images or story elements. With our favorite stories, we all wish that we could be immersed in that world for just a little bit longer, we all wish that there were new depths to the story that we had yet to explore, yet I think the vast majority of people recognize that the fictional worlds which they want to excavate are not theirs to excavate. We wait for the author or filmmaker—to whom I think most people think the world belongs—to come and lead us back into the world that enchanted us. Christopher Nolan succeeded in making two amazing movies ( in my opinion, but I think many would agree with it), but the two movies he made were more or less standalone. This is why I think the Dark Knight Rises has a very good chance at ending the stigma attached to third movies. There is no half-developed plot that the second movie has in order to set up a sequel. Although The Dark Knight ends with Batman fleeing, I think that it still has a strong sense of finality because the themes and character arcs that were introduced throughout the movie all run their course (the tragedy of Heath Ledger’s passing also all but eliminated any possibility of the Joker’s return in this universe). Batman Begins has a sense of finality too, but I’d argue that it was less so than in The Dark Knight. In Batman Begins, the League of Shadows is introduced in the opening act, destroyed only a few minutes later, and then reintroduced at the end of the movie only to have their leader killed. The organization has already been characterized as a group that perseveres even through the harshest conditions. It is like a worm—cut off its head and a new one simply grows. Looking back at the end of the first movie, I’m unsure as to what the fate of the League of Shadows was.
Which brings me back to my main point— even though both movies tried to act as standalone movies, there are still images, characters, music, and motifs that can be reintroduced in TDK. In fact, not only can they be reintroduced, but they should be. The repetition of parts of the last two movies will give the audience the feeling that this is truly a trilogy, not just three standalone movies whose common thread is just the presence of Batman in a hyper-realistic environment.

Of course, there are many more things that this movie will probably do, which, when we look back at it, will bring us to say, “THIS is what made the movie great”. But I think that if it fails to deliver on any of the above points, the movie will suffer for it. But initial reviews for the movie seem to be unbelievably positive, so I have faith that the movie will exceed the already exceedingly high expectations I have for it.
Batman is one of the most prolific fictional characters in the American public consciousness and his story is one that resonates with millions of people around the globe. For the first time, we’ve been given the opportunity to witness his story as a true story. Something with a beginning, middle, and end. And that is what makes this particular installment so exciting. We know it’s the end. We know that this Bruce Wayne, this Batman, this universe will never exist again. All these characters we care about— the characters that we see ourselves in; characters that represent some fundamental aspect of humanity, some long lost heroism that we seek to reclaim—are placed together on the stage one last time for a chance to end the story properly. And never in my life have I been so excited to watch a movie, listen to music, watch the drama unfold, and experience the end of the greatest superhero story that I’ve ever seen told.
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justified1 - 7/7/2012, 12:28 PM
From the trailers it looks like the action is going to be amped up quite a bit in TDKR. Just the fight with Bane seems to me to top anything in the previous two.

and from the tweets. it sound like this is going to be a better movie.

Joker: "Your crazy you know. I may have some small delutions but you, you actually think to can stop crime."

Batman: "What do you mean? I stop it every night."
justified1 - 7/7/2012, 12:29 PM
Christuffer - 7/7/2012, 1:00 PM
I remember one part in the game, "Batman Arkham Asylum" when the Scarecrow was using his gas to give Batman illusions. At the time, you have no idea that you're under the influence. Naturally, Batman experiences some vivid illusions of his parents. He is forced to confront his demons, and he feels like a scared child again.
You are spot on with this article. Besides it being a great movie and whatnot, it also needs to end that struggle. Just like at the end of LOTR: Return of the King. Batman [Frodo] needs to get on that boat and sail off to the Grey Havens to become immortal. He needs to fade into legend. So TDKR needs to have that finality.

In case anyone doesn't get the reference...
Go watch LOTR again. The Grey Havens is for immortals.
MitchConner - 7/7/2012, 1:01 PM
Nice/..WB would be stupid tO let it end though...I don't care how they market it...nice article though
NOLANITE - 7/7/2012, 1:16 PM
Too long of an editorial...im sure it's good and all but...

In simpler terms this movie has alot going for it and the hype build up is insane.

Have no fear if anyone could do it right..
Christuffer - 7/7/2012, 1:47 PM
thewhitewizardrocks - 7/7/2012, 9:09 PM
Thanks for all the comments guys!


A similar thing happens in Batman: The Animated Series in the episode where we're introduced to Scarecrow. Scarecrow is able to escape Batman the first time by using his usual method of fear gas. At that time, Bruce's greatest fear manifests itself in a hallucination of his father staring down disapprovingly at him and telling him that he's a disappointment. For the rest of the episode, Bruce grapples with that anxiety that he has failed to live up to his father's expectations.

At the end of the episode, Bruce meets Scarecrow again, and once again Scarecrow uses his fear gas to induce hallucinations of Bruce's father, but Bruce counters his father's accusations of failure with, "I am NOT a failure. I am Vengeance; I am the night; I am BATMAN!"

In that series, I think Bruce Wayne deals more with the issues of living up to his father's legacy, while in the Nolan universe, Bruce Wayne is defined by his guilt and sense of personal responsibility for the events surrounding his parents' death. So in the Animated Series, Bruce uses the figure of Batman to transcend feelings of inadequacy, while in The Dark Knight series, the existence of Batman seems to doom Bruce Wayne to live with a constant reminder of what he perceives to be his own inadequacies (namely, his inability to stop his parents' death).

I know your comment wasn't asking a question, but it made me think of a few things that I hadn't addressed in the article and I thought I'd share them here!
Marxman12 - 7/7/2012, 11:46 PM
Great editorial. I look forward to reading a review of TDKR from you in the coming weeks.
dellamorte1872 - 7/8/2012, 7:24 AM
what was key is they had to illustrate why BRUCE would have sincere and utter guilt for the way things went down in that alley
dellamorte1872 - 7/8/2012, 7:27 AM
and his need to right that mistake existentially
ItsATrap - 7/9/2012, 3:17 PM
nice editorial, really hit the nail on the head.
in regards to the music - i've been listening to those released clips of zimmer's score for the film, and it sounds like a number of the pieces composed for the film are very reminiscent of the music from Batman Begins and a few other touching on The Dark Knight, so i think that need will definitely be fulfilled

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