For obvious reasons, it’s taken me awhile to gather my thoughts on this movie. Halfway through our midnight showing – at around 2AM – Luke’s mom called, and he nearly had a heart attack thinking something had happened to a family member. Nope: she was just checking to make sure we weren’t in Aurora. Over the next 24 hours, we received countless texts and calls from people asking the same thing.
I don’t want to rehash that horrible night; I’ve been processing it and discussing it in painful detail with everyone I know all weekend. I don’t want to give James Holmes any more airtime than he’s already gotten. It’ll just raise my blood pressure to unhealthy levels again. Every time I think about him I get furious.
Instead, I’d like to point out a few of the many acts of heroism that defined this tragedy, since they are so often overlooked:
- Three men who died taking bullets to protect their girlfriends.
- A teenager who ran back to help a mother save her two daughters.
- A police officer who took six victims to the hospital in his patrol car because there weren’t enough ambulances at the time.
- The countless people who tried to re-enter the theater to help evacuate other victims.
- The emergency responders whose quick work saved the lives of many critically injured victims.
The list goes on. These are the people who have something in common with the spirit of Batman; not James Holmes.
SPOILERS to follow, so if you haven’t seen it yet, run along and do something else on the Internet but DON’T CONTINUE.
I have a bit of a personal attachment to this series. (Hey, stop laughing. I know it’s an understatement.) I remember when Chris Nolan was first announced as director back in 2003. I was one of many fans actively campaigning for Christian Bale to be cast over Jake Gyllenhaal and other potentials. Are you comprehending my geekery yet? When I first met Luke, Batman Begins was one of the initial subjects we bonded over. (It went something like this: “Oh hey, you like Batman? Did you see Batman Begins this summer?” “I saw it six times.” “I saw it five.”)
Unsurprisingly, I was all over The Dark Knight when it came out. Despite being thrilled with it and seeing it almost as many times as Begins, I realized over time that I didn’t love it in the same way I did its predecessor. It’s easy enough to pinpoint why: the focus had shifted from Bruce himself to Gotham City as a whole. In TDK, Nolan was telling a bigger story about a city, its people, and its heroes (Harvey and Batman), and how the Joker infiltrated/infected all of that. Which was great, and so well done. But the downside was that Bruce hardly had any character moments – and after getting to know him so well in Begins, that just felt odd. His grief over Rachel and his friendship with Harvey weren’t established thoroughly enough for me to buy into them on anything but an intellectual level. Quite simply, I was divorced from my POV character, and that affected how I felt about the rest of the movie.
The Dark Knight Rises fixes that for me. It’s a better balance of both stories, drawing me back into Bruce’s personal drama while still fostering a strong investment in Gotham’s plight. I absolutely loved how defeated Bruce was at the beginning. He was ripe for a beatdown from Bane, both physically and psychologically. As the old man in the prison pointed out, he had lost his fear – even of death – and without it he had no real fight left in him. Because, as Begins showed us, fear is ultimately what made (and still makes) Batman: he weaponizes his fear and uses it against his enemies. That’s the whole reason for the costume in the first place.
But even regaining that healthy fear isn’t enough. Even when Bruce moves past it to reclaim his anger, the anger isn’t enough to help him “make the jump” – he needs to tap into something bigger, stronger, purer. Something Batman has never operated on before. He needs to find peace.
That’s possibly what I love most about this movie: the fact that it lets Bruce win. He finally conquers his inner demons in a way that the comics never let him. (Understandably: by their nature, comic book stories must be perpetual; they can never conclude.) He gets to have the happy ending that Alfred always envisioned for him.
Now, don’t get me wrong: this whole ordeal weirded me out SIGNIFICANTLY at first. Because the Batman I know never lets himself have a happy ending. That’s the way it’s always been. In my traditional canon, old-Bruce is the bitter, isolated old man portrayed in Batman Beyond – who’s driven away everyone close to him, lost his one confidant (Alfred) due to the sheer passage of time, and is closer to the edge of the abyss than ever. (Until Terry McGinnis comes along and shakes up his world, of course.)
But in Nolan’s world, conclusions are not only possible: they’re inevitable. So Bruce gets one, in fine fashion. He gets a life. He moves on. Strange, but it somehow works, despite being so out-of-place for a comic book hero. It’s oddly moving for just that reason. It was the last thing I expected.
Other things I loved:
→ The truth comes out. One of my problems with The Dark Knight was how the ending implied that hiding the truth (about Harvey’s death, about Rachel choosing Harvey) was better for everyone – that if a lie makes things easier, it should be protected. While I understand how the characters arrived at that conclusion, I think it’s the pretty much the shoddiest philosophy ever, so I was hoping Nolan wouldn’t go into the sequel acting like it was some smart, enlightened decision. Thank God, he didn’t. Bane uses the Harvey Dent cover-up to his advantage, and when Alfred finally tells Bruce about Rachel, I was inwardly cheering, even if I hated the rift that it caused between my two favorite Batman characters. (When the doorbell rings the very next day and Bruce’s first hopeful reaction is “Alfred?” – perfect moment.)
→ Liam Neeson’s cameo as Ra’s al Ghul. Great nod to comic fans with the whole “I always told you I was immortal” bit, only for him to fade away as a figment of Bruce’s addled mind. Brilliant!
→ Anne Hathaway. She rocked Catwoman, flat out. She lit up every scene she was in – fantastic delivery and so much spark. The banter between her and Bats felt right. Nolan and Emma Thomas are pros at curveball casting. I’m so glad they went with Anne and not one of the obvious fan-sponsored choices.
→ The way Gordon learns Batman’s identity. All of the Begins callbacks in this movie could have easily become perfunctory, but instead, they added subtle weight and heft in all the right places.
→ Joseph Gordon-Levitt. With Gordon still trying to come to terms with the fallout of Harvey’s death, the weight of his own lies, and his newly estranged family – as well as a mostly-absent Batman – the story really needed a strong idealist to carry the torch forward and remind everyone what they’re fighting for. John Blake was that character, and I loved him. The identity “reveal” and passing of the mantle at the end may be unconventional and upsetting to some people, but I get it in context of thematics. In Nolan’s world, Bruce successfully used Batman to face and conquer his fear and his anger. By the end of the film, he’s moved on. John Blake hasn’t. He still has his own demons to fight. Him finding the cave gives a nice cyclical nature to Batman as a legend and a symbol, separate from the man behind the mask. Again, it reminded me of Batman Beyond, when Bruce tells Terry: “It’s not Batman that makes you worthwhile. It’s the other way around.”
Things I wasn’t overly fond of:
→ Bane. Weirdly, he was my least favorite thing about the film. At the end, the revelation of his history with Talia – and his all too visible heartbreak – redeems him a bit and even gives him a reason to be so full of devil-may-care bluster for the majority of the movie. But I still found him the least compelling villain of the trilogy. Maybe he’ll grow on me…
→ Talia. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marion Cotillard, and I love Talia al Ghul as a character. But she was underdeveloped for the sake of protecting the twist. I wanted more glimpses of her real personality and drive.
Overall, I’m happy with the film, and the trilogy as a whole is a crazy-huge achievement. Since I don’t think Warner Bros. will make a Batman movie without Bruce Wayne, I’m not worried about how the John Blake element will play out in the future. This is the end of Nolan’s story, and my hope is that future films will completely divorce themselves from his take on the character altogether. Not because I don’t love it, but because some of the more fantastical Rogue’s Gallery members deserve a proper big screen portrayal, and many of them simply wouldn’t be as rich through the lens of Nolan’s pragmatism.
Like: Mr. Freeze! You have no idea how much I’m dying for a tale like Heart of Ice to make it to the big screen, expanded and played out in all its deco-noir beauty. Not just to erase Arnold’s godawful funnyman portrayal in Batman and Robin (though Lord knows that’s reason enough) – it’s just time for some more sympathetic Batvillains to get the spotlight. (You still killed Two-Face too soon, Nolan. *shakes fist*)