Did the Dark Knight rise to the expectations? Where could Nolan have taken The Batman trilogy?
"Don't be afraid Bruce." With these words, Thomas Wayne instills his final lesson in his only son. A young Bruce survives, almost miraculously, the assault that would define the rest of his life. But his happiness perishes along with his parents. In Batman Begins, this scene is essentially where Batman actually begins.
"It's not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me" "Sometimes the truth isn't good enough" "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain" How can these concepts have made The Dark Knight Rises an Epic Conclusion?
Therefore, where Nolan rears Bruce is in the same beginnings where Kane reared him some 70 years ago. And although decades old, the oath Bruce takes has not lost its strength. Nolan, therefore, wisely keeps this most basic element of the Batman's origin in the first of his Batman films. But just as it goes with any artist in his respective art form, deviation from the pattern is essential if the artist is ever to establish his own uniqueness. Yes, like a spin to a dance routine, Nolan must spin the story. Batman Begins was great, but only in comparison to the sort of superhero movies we, the audience, were being forced to eat at around that time (Catwoman, Spider Man 2, Elektra, Fantastic Four, Hellboy). Add the fact that Schumacher's Batman strayed far from Burton's. Batman Forever and its descendent, Batman and Robin, in all honesty, changed Batman from the Dark Knight into the Colorful Knight. So when the trailer for Begins debuted, it reminded us of 1989 all over again and we screamed "awesome!" However, in retrospect, Begins had more potential than it did fulfillment. What do we mean?
Since Bruce loses his father, Ghul, in a sense, becomes his father. This relationship, if given further depth, would have set the stage perfectly for Rises. What gives birth to Batman is the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, but even more specifically, the death of his father. His father, after all, is given more emphasis than his mother. Scenes of Thomas’ stethoscope, the pearl he purchases Bruce’s mother, his mentoring "why do we fall Bruce?" all demonstrate this. In fact, the only line Martha Wayne ever utters is short, just before she is gunned down outside of the Oprah theatre. Bruce's father, therefore, is made the real root of his pain and drive. So when Ghul offers Bruce a purpose for his pain and an action for his drive, he begins feeding on Ghul's philosophies with the same eagerness as young Bruce did upon his real father's guidance. Although Ghul has many other disciples, he crowns Bruce with the title "my greatest student." When Bruce returns to Gotham, he realizes that he has to become "more than just a man" in order to accomplish his purpose, an idea instilled in him by Ghul. So the concept of a symbol comes up. This symbol eventually becomes twofold. It is to be a symbol of hope to the good people and fear to the bad people. We may recall Wayne at one point saying: "I'm going to show THE PEOPLE OF GOTHAM that the city doesn't belong to the criminals and the corrupt… I can't do this as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m just flesh and blood. I can be ignored or destroyed. But as a symbol... as a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting." At this point, the symbol isn’t clear. But at a later point in time he says: "Bats frighten me. It's time MY ENEMIES shared my dread." By this time, the symbol had been chosen: the bat. Perfect set up. In the end, Ghul dies when Bruce realizes that not saving someone is not the same as killing someone, although it has the same effect at the end of the film. Batman keeps his integrity by sticking to his most prized belief: no killing. But the ending of Begins disappoints to a degree. "Water evaporizer mechanism" is a childish answer to a mature question: "how can we put Gotham in danger so Batman can save it?"
Now Knight. In comes the Joker. No origins, no joke. Although he laughs, he has a serious reason for his actions. Knight gives free rein to the Joker. Or perhaps we should say free reign. His philosophy overwhelms the audience. Are Gothamites evil at their core? For that matter, are humans evil at their core? This deep issue is pertinent to the story because not only is it interesting, it’s Biblical. This issue divides Batman and Joker, even the audience. Joker is out to prove his point. Although the Joker denies having it ("I'm a dog chasing cars"), his antics, and even dialogue at times, demonstrate it ("I'll show you. When the chips are down these civilized people, they'll eat each other."). Batman is no longer the star in the film; The Joker is. And this is ok because it creates wonderful potential for a great trilogy. The superhero will be the main character in the trilogy, not necessarily the main character in every movie. The Dark Knight, therefore, is an amazing film on its own. It is spectacular. Begins and Rises are only great. The ending to Knight is perfect. Although it attempts to satisfy us with the lesson "sometimes the truth isn't good enough," we do not accept it. The truth should be good enough, in as much as all superhero movies champion the concept of honesty. In fact, in Knight the symbol Bruce Wayne sets out to define for Gotham becomes the complete reversal of what he intends in Begins. “It’s not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me” clashes with ‘what I did not do (murder Harvey) is what defines me although it’s not who I am.’ Instead of the bat becoming a symbol of fear to the criminals and hope to the Gothamites, it becomes a symbol of fear to the Gothamites (Batman being responsible for Harvey's murder) and hope to the criminals (Batman is on the run from the police). This is a great set up for Rises. But Rises must reverse this thought.
Rises begins with great potential! We recall, according to Rachel Dawes in Begins, Bruce's “real face” is the Batman mask, “the one criminals now fear,” but his Bruce face is only a mask, that is, a false one. Now, this topic reemerges in Rises. "No one cared who I was until I put on the mask." Bane not only wears a mask, he is SUSTAINED by one. Therefore, he cannot remove it. It is, in a sense, his true face. “It would be extremely painful… for you.” Bruce, on the other hand, has removed his mask, for good it seems. He no longer continues as Batman; at least for the better part of eight years. While in Knight, Nolan touches on profound social issues (are people good only under good circumstances), Rises seems to shy from such depth. Joker’s biggest accomplishment was turning Harvey Dent into Two-Face. Harvey Dent was made the perfect standard by which to measure Gothamites. Dent’s fall, in a sense, proves that all Gothamites ARE evil. “The Joker won.” They are only civilized when the chips are UP. Rises has to prove the Joker to be completely wrong. At the same time it has to show us that the truth IS good enough, in effect, allowing Bruce to learn this as the conclusion to this trilogy progresses. All the while, too, what Ghul is most known for in the comics, namely, his immortality, must be highlighted in order to mark Nolan’s Ghul to be every bit as faithful to the comic as it is deviant from it. Bane's motive for evil, even Bruce's relationship with Bane, must be highlighted in Rises as well. In Begins, we sense that the League of Shadows is not only a group of vigilantes, but a cult! Yes, they are a religion. And religion, as we know, ties well with the concept of immortality since it is based on the idea that gods and even those who die are in some form of immortality. When Ghul dies, he never ceases being the leader of the League of Shadows. He still continues to be its driving force, in effect, its GOD! If Nolan is to keep Batman's universe in reality, however, the audience must believe in THE TRUTH, that is, Ghul is not a real god. So the concept of truth versus lie reemerges easily. The League is blinded by their religious fervor and loyalty to Bane and Ghul. They are driven by their false cult beliefs into committing acts of terrorism against Gotham. Bane’s connection with a mask ties in well with the anonymity of who is good and who is bad, at his core. Who really is a terrorist? So Bane wears two masks: his literal one that prevents us from seeing his physical face and his figurative one that keeps his cult believing that his actions are good. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Removing the mask from Bane, both his literal and perhaps figurative mask, would give us a solid conclusion. To accomplish this, Ghul's false godship must be exposed in conjunction with the false idea that Bane is a righteous person. Ras has become the SYMBOL of the League of Shadows for good. But the symbol of the bat must overwhelm the symbol of the Ras! Yes, Batman, in a sense, has to defeat, not only Bane, but both Ghul and Joker in Rises. But this will not be accomplished on the plains of fist-to-fist combat. This must be accomplished with the actions Batman takes (what he does to define himself) that will bring satisfying conclusions to the previous two films which may include fist-to-fist combats along the way. Yes, the resolution will come from the trilogy’s story itself. What makes Joker an amazing villain is his motive. It's not the cliche revenge motive. Joker was out to prove his claim that every Gothamite is as bad as him. Bane must also follow suit. He must not be driven by revenge or some else’s revenge or his love for a girl that represents innocence to him (sorry Talia). Bane must be driven by competition. Since Bruce was Ghul's "greatest student," Bane, as Ghul's own son, must feel as if Bruce stole his father. Ahhh. Do we see the connection? Bruce's loses his father to Ghul (indirectly) and this drives him to save Gotham. Bane loses his father to Bruce, both physically and psychologically (Ras’"favorite student/son”), and this would drive him to prove he is the better than Bruce. As far as whether Gothamites will be good or evil will depend on whether Bruce proves to be the symbol of not only hope and fear, as in Begins, but the symbol of righteousness to Gotham. Will Gotham recognize the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, as a "knight in shining armor" who crusades against evil and inspires hope for Gotham? This will defeat the Joker. And the truth IS good enough. So the opening scene in Rises is perfect! He seems to command his people like a cult, telling his disciple to stay on the plane because "they expect one of us in the wreckage." "The fire rises" is the first philosophical viewpoint from Bane introduced early in the film, and even earlier in Warner’s advertising campaign. Because no one knows what it means, Nolan can take it anywhere he wants to at this point. The Fire should stand for Ras Al Ghul as well as Ghul’s will. The Fire Rising should represent Ghul’s rising to immortality and to accomplish his will as a god. To break the League, Batman must prove that The Fire does NOT Rise, that is, Ghul is not a god but that The Dark Knight Rises, yes, the bat, or the batman, must emerge as the symbol for good so long as he lives........or dies? Yes, remember, in Begins, Bruce says that as a symbol he can become "everlasting." But as a human he is "flesh and blood" and can be "destroyed." And in Knight, Dent says "you either DIE A HERO, or live long enough till you see yourself become the villain." Both Begins and Knight beg for the Dark Knight to die as a martyr, yes, to RISE as an eternal symbol. But in order for Bane to prove his point, he needs publicity. The scenario is perfect. It was the Joker's challenge that made Knight interesting. It should be Bane's challenge that does the same. Since Joker wanted to prove that all good people are bad, Bane should want to prove that Batman himself (the League of Shadows) is bad. So the dialogue would become political in nature. Which candidate will the audience choose: Batman or Bane? In fact, the opening scene, with Bane's disciple ready to die for the cause of "good" on the plane was a perfect set up for this. Who really is a terrorist? Too bad Nolan's trilogy fell just inches short of grand.
But we did love it. :)
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