1. I actually thought there was a consistent theme throughout the movie, not one that’s new to the series, but one that’s extended in interesting ways: “You either die the hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The theme of Batman creating his worst adversaries is taken to the extreme with Talia, the disturbed orphan responsible for creating an even more disturbed orphan. The Dent Act is supposedly Gotham’s solution to its crime problem but rather than reforming the city’s criminals, it heightens their anger and resentment in a way that plays right into Bane’s plot (between that and the long desert prison sequence, it’s easy to read a critique of our criminal justice system’s expanding jails and indefinite detention policies). Every system, every institution, every movement ends up corrupted and failing. The film argues we need heroes like Batman to fight for what is right, but that those heroes’ victories are inherently connected with further tragedies and they will inevitably create more wrong. Between the many thought-provoking variations on this theme and the improvements made in action, editing, and having a final act that doesn’t fall off the rails, I personally think TDKR is the best overall of the series (though TDK has the best individual scenes and the most interesting individual character).

    1. To me, the theme only carries through to the filmmakers themselves. All efforts on this film seem divested, almost a perversion of their previous work.

      I like the idea of Gotham’s criminals resenting their treatment (whence Arkham?), but the only criminals that Nolan shows us are the benevolent ones at the bottom of the pit. We never see Gotham’s imprisoned and embittered except as a mob after they’re freed. Even Crane shows up out of nowhere without mention of his imprisonment. At least “Begins” gave us a shot of him straight-jacketed in a dingy cell. Were it suggested that had been his condition for the past 8 years, we might even empathize. Nolan shows no evidence of it. Instead it’s a simple kangaroo court.

      What do you see as the improvements in action? “Batman fights in daylight” seems well on its way toward eternal mockery. He looks like a bad cosplayer in both fights with Bane.

      The third act feels like Nolan bailing up a bunch of loose ends like twine, regardless how inappropriate their resolutions. Pennyworth, Fox, hell, Gordon or Blake: none of them contribute differently to the third act than the second. They all do little to nothing while Batman is away, but there exists no significant barrier to action before he appears again. There needs to be a turn, and for most, it does not happen. “Oh, Batman’s here. Okay, let’s act.” Wait, what? We were waiting?

      The existing turns tend to occur within a single scene, often a single line, no lead-in or setup. Catwoman decides during the first instance of looting, “Nuts to everything I said.” Her lack of imagination boggles the mind. She is the one that uses the word “storm”, she does. When hissing in Wayne’s ear, she must be picturing…I know not what. Foley has his change of heart after a single dressing down by Gordon who evidently drove off his own family. Foley’s family loses him for his troubles, proving him apparently correct from the get-go.

      Hathaway’s great, but Kyle’s confused. Gordon-Leavitt’s good but superfluous. It’s all just inert. They make the motions for little reason beyond, “Well, now things need to happen. Have them make a direct, thematic statement then do nothing for an hour and a half then they’ll act on what they said at the start. It’ll imbue purpose because it’s cyclical.” Except that’s not how that works. An argument needs development to reach its conclusion. Stating it, ignoring it, then restating and acting on it may provide some catharsis, but it does not represent a cogent thought or a dramatic arc.

      If you have the time, please elaborate a little more because I honestly struggle to find positives in the film. I’d like to read more from someone that it moved.

      1. The fistfights still look like two guys in costumes who can’t actually move, yeah. All of the OTHER action scenes in the movie were really good, though. Batman flying around in the bat. The sheer scale of the two police force fights. I used to think Chris Nolan wasn’t that good at action, but now I think he’s not very good at fist fights.

      2. I thought the fights set during the day look no better or worse than the cast of THE AVENGERS fighting during the day. All pretty ridiculous but fun.

  2. Sorry to hear you didn’t like my film, Hulk. Let BatCritic try to explain what you missed. My trilogy is unique in that — unlike Star Wars or Lord of the Rings — my films as a whole do not reveal their true intentions until the final installment. I think my friend Nolan meant it this way. We always knew Lord of the Rings was about friendship and integrity, and we trusted our protagonists and their worldviews to guide us through the dangers of Middle Earth’s darkest hours. We know the rebels in Star Wars ultimately hope to defeat the Empire. We get these universal themes of confidence, will power, and faith in all these films. They are present in the first movie, the second film, and finally the third and literally play on repeat stressing the same thematic point to us in dynamic, fun, and fresh fashions that avoid redundancy. Each of these trilogies introduce, maintain, and pay tribute to (in that order) their respective themes while having one overriding plot goal — to overthrow the Empire, or to destroy the ring.

    How strange then is it to see a trilogy that feels so united, yet does none of the above. Batman Begins introduced me to the overriding theme of fear, and demands I overcome my fear in order to become Batman. I forced my parents out into a dark alley after being scared by an opera featuring bats similar to those I’d seen after falling down a well. I blamed myself for my parents’ deaths. The two emotions — fear and guilt — were knotted in my psychosis, and I ventured out to vanquish fear (i.e. my guilt) in order to become Batman, a symbolic hero that would inspire people to take back Gotham from the criminal and corrupt. Abandoning fear, I defeated Ra’s al Ghul and saved Gotham — but not before Gordon warned me of escalation, to which a fearlessly replied – “we got it.”

    The Dark Knight is largely about Gordon’s warning — escalation. It is also a study on denial, which is a self-fulfilling escalation of its own. One who is in denial must continually reinforce that denial as evidence to the contrary grows larger and larger. Trust me, I know. At the start of the film, I’d failed to inspire Gotham as Batman (at least not in the way I hoped), and I’d become ever the more reliant on Batman as a mask to hide from my fear and guilt. As Batman was created to overcome fear (his guilt), I was absorbed in its shell. When meeting those dressed like Batman, I rejected the help I supposedly wanted to garner, and refused to acknowledge my limitations (despite Alfred’s warning) as I faced off against a chaotic madman that turned Gotham on its head. Initially, when Gordon mentioned the Joker, I pish-poshed him away so I could get at the mob. I refused to fear the mob, seeing them as simple criminals. I even refused to fear the Joker, and my inability to take any of them as real threats had grave consequences for the city. Not taking Joker seriously and going after him first, being so hellbent on the mob and spitting in their faces, I found myself in a moral tug-of-war that nearly destroyed Gotham. How many times in The Dark Knight am I so focused on the mob, that I don’t give myself a chance to understand the Joker. Hell, I even tell Alfred that Joker is just a common thug — simple, easily understood, driven by a single want. I’m not scared of him. This cost me the woman I loved and put Gotham in terrible peril. Also notice how I was repeatedly asked to unmask, and refused to — as unmasking and relinquishing Batman would rob me of the shell that protected me from fear, and would force me to face the fear (i.e. guilt) surrounding my parents’ deaths. In the end, I took the fall for the consequences of my denial and total failure to stop Joker. I had to destroy any hope I had at escaping Batman and becoming an inspirational symbol for Gotham, as I had originally intended.

    Now, The Dark Knight Rises. Here I’m a shut-in, lamenting the tragedies of my past, drowning in the loss of loved ones, waiting and wishing for something bad to happen so I can rush back to Gotham’s aid and prove my worth. I wanted to be Batman again, because Batman helped me fight the hurt and the fear and the pain. But Batman was gone, and I was unable to move in life. I was a man surrounded by guilt and fear, and thus frozen and crippled unable to move out of fear. So I overcompensate, use my arrogance to tell Alfred there’s nothing for me in Gotham. Alfred tried to shake me out of it, not understanding the root cause. I am forever running away and hiding from the guilt concerning my parents’ deaths. But Alfred was right about one thing? I’d rather die than face that fear and guilt. But then Catwoman gave me an alcoholic’s excuse to have a drink, and I was back in the game, hunting after Bane. Eager to prove I’ve got nothing to fear, I rushes headlong into a fight with Bane despite Alfred warning that the city doesn’t need my body. This is key, as I repeatedly downplayed Bane (as I did the Joker), and reduced victory to a matter of brawn versus brawn. If Bane is more powerful, I would simply fight harder. It’s simple. And when Alfred doubted me, when he didn’t buy all my overcompensating arrogance, I resented him for not enabling it all. I was a man chomping at the bit to escape the same guilt and fear that I’d avoided and been in denial all my life. And with Bane, here was a miracle offered to save myself and get back in the game.

    Then Bane broke me.

    He stripped me of the physicality that I thought ensured victory. Having destroyed my body, Bane promised to destroy the only thing I had left: my spirit. Now this is not the same arc played twice; that betrays a simplistic and erroneous understand of basic storytelling. My friend Nolan is a complicated storyteller, and he likes to twists and break rules and then rebuild them again. The first act of my story here establishes and demonstrates a hero’s fatal flaw (I was arrogant, refused to know his limits, all because I denied fear). I make decisions based on this flaw and suffer as a result. In act two, I am punished until such time as I see the error of my Act One ways and change. Also, a lot is being made of me essentially having a limp in my step in the first act. This was Nolan just doing his physical manifestation of my mental state, a person crippled by both his crusade and his guilt/fear. That’s all. I wasn’t broken at the start of this film. Maybe in my heart, but not really in my body. And the irony of the story lies in what you are complaining about Hulk, a truly unique underdog story where the hero summons himself, thinks he’s got it, and then is SLAPPED down hard. This is unique and good storytelling using tried-and-true devices and I’m thankful Nolan gave me that treatment.

    Now, lucky for Gotham, they never needed my body. But my spirit? Bane’s got something there, and this is Act Two as I must now see the consequences of my Act One flaws. The stakes are higher than ever as Bane makes good on what Joker only promised and throws my Batman-less Gotham into a No Man’s Land, offering false hope for the sake of torturing me as I lied crippled in some anonymous pit (a pit similar to the one where I first found my fear of bats; the same fear that would lead to my parents’ deaths). Now, during Act Two, the hero learns his way and so I do while down in the pit. And here is the great turn and twist of the trilogy: Batman Begins was wrong. I was wrong. My parents were wrong. Ra’s was wrong. I had to learn to embrace fear, not overcome it. If I was to become a true beacon of hope in Gotham, I must acknowledge that as there is no despair without hope, there is no hope without fear. I emerged from the well as one who is able to cope with fear, with guilt, and rise above it all.

    When I climb out of the cave, I learn to let go of the fear born of my parents’ deaths and the accompanying guilt. When I made that jump without the rope, it’s not like fear vanished. I simply dealt with it, channeled it into something greater so I could make the leap. I’d been channeling pain and anger to escape my fear and guilt, becoming Batman. That was my problem. That was why I was so addicted. I could never make the leap beyond Batman. The bats break out of the well wall as a second chance to christen me as the true symbol of hope I hoped to become. Returning to Gotham, I carefully enter my final battle, full-well fearing it may be my last. Although scared, I summon my will, I rally my allies, and I face the man who broke me and my city. And I like to think that his act of self-sacrifice and bravery finally inspired Catwoman — a selfish criminal — to become a force for good, thereby proving The Joker wrong. I redeemed Catwoman, as Joker corrupted Dent, and I restored thematic balance to the trilogy by proving my power as an inspirational symbol of hope. Having done this, I realized that Gotham needs the most powerful symbol — a martyr. I kills Batman for Gotham’s sake, offering him to Gotham as a symbol, making Batman more than just a man or body, but a legend – as Ra’s once told him he could become.

    The Dark Knight Rises is about me letting go and moving on from Batman, getting to a place where I don’t need a shell to hide from my fear as I’ve embraced it. Rachel was wrong in The Dark Knight Rises. Although the cost was heavy, the day came where I no longer needed Batman. Instead of having an on-the-nose ending where I discussed this, Nolan in typical fashion leaves a series of breadcrumbs for audiences to piece together over repeated viewings. In this way, my entire trilogy can be seen as a 3 act epic. The first film is the first act, where I set out to become a symbol of hope for Gotham. To do so, I made the decision to overcome fear and become The Batman, believing this is the right choice (and we the audience do as well). The second act, The Dark Knight, explores the consequences of my 1st Act decision in the form of escalation.

    Like any second act, we see the series of consequences and negatives that result from me making the decision to become Batman. Refusing to acknowledge my limits, I face a mob that unleashes a mad dog on the city. Like most second acts, this is the dynamic meat of the story. At the end of this act, we answer the question the first act proposes: can I become a symbol of hope for Gotham to rally behind? The answer: no. And I was left in the place where all hope is lost, running from the police, a symbol of corruption and homicide.

    The third act begins in The Dark Knight Rises, with I finally suffer the sum of the consequences of my wrong-reasoning — yet I am offered a chance to learn from these and grow toward the theme and complete my journey. In my desperate last attempt to be the Batman I thought I needed to be, I am broken by Bane and Gotham is nearly destroyed. I realize the totality of all three films, where I’d gone wrong. And in the trilogy’s climax, I finally embrace fear and becomes a true symbol of hope for Gotham, inspiring criminals to do good and trusting my allies to help take back Gotham.

    The ultimate goal of The Dark Knight trilogy is not a plot goal that is external. It is strict internal character. Whereas The Lord of the Rings is about Frodo finding and executing the bravery to destroy the ring and save Middle Earth, and Star Wars about Luke facing his destiny and defeating the empire, The Dark Knight trilogy boils down to one character goal: letting go of guilt. Whereas the other trilogies have characters growing so they may succeeded at facing plot obstacles, The Dark Knight trilogy has a character facing plot obstacles so that he may eventually grow. The growth is complicated and a winding road, as is real life. It’s not simply that Frodo gets bravery and must repeatedly show how brave he is and how long he can endure before saving Middle Earth. It’s not Luke just having his faith tested in resisting the Dark Side over and over so he can overthrow the Empire. I had a far more complicated journey, and its one that challenges audiences to follow.

    Sure, are any of my three films flawless? No. But for whatever reason, people are putting more effort in tearing this film down than they are in putting it together and figuring out the film’s place in telling the whole story of Batman. It feels as though there was a rabid base of bloggers online chomping at the chance to bite into this movie, looking for any trickle of blood to sniff out and then devour the film. As is expected, the film has flaws and so each one has been seized and unraveled with an energy better spent (as many did with Inception) in approaching Nolan’s work on its terms, figuring out what it had to say.

    The entire politics of the film are a red herring, same as Banes revolutionary spirit to the city. To try and make them potent and front-and-center would be disingenuous and ham-handed. And lacking a political dimension, like TDK did, does not mean the film didn’t have a theme. It just had one more character and narrative based, and less political. Also, I personally think people read way too much into my journey’s political implications, and find themselves made disappointed by themselves when they find them “incomplete.” I put that in quotes as they are only incomplete to someone who feels they should have been there. I think all Nolan does with these ‘political’ elements like terrorism, economics, etc. is put some familiar controversies and conflicts into the backgrounds of otherwise fantastic films. Economics and Occupy Wall Street is nothing new, and rewatching Begins, it’s no surprise Nolan returned to them. Begins has just as many references to politics and class discontent as TDKR. It made sense that Nolan chose some of that to inject into my final outing. The politics of these films are texture, not themes – your disappoint with that has NOTHING to do with the quality of the film.

    In a way, Nolan’s trilogy almost pulls a trick on the audiences, never really letting us know what is right and what is wrong in the film’s morality. In many ways, you know just as much as I do throughout the entire series, as we trust the structure of the whole film to tell us that that which was wrong was righted by each film’s end. Not so, you and I both learn in The Dark Knight Rises, and in this way it really is a true ending to a life story — not just the last chapter that tells us who won and who lost.

    And Hulk, quite frankly, I’m disappointed in your recent reviews. They’ve felt sloppy and more handmaidens to Devin’s thoughts on a film than your own. This one especially, as it seemed to offer up criticism after criticism with no concrete examples, cycling back in on circles that showed that you simply didn’t respond to the movie rather than the movie having failed you in some grand way. You went in expecting The Dark Knight, you went in expecting to lose your Batman virginity in the same way that The Dark Knight’s uniqueness made you lose it, and you forgot you can only lose your virginity once.

    1. The movie isn’t as profound as you explain it to be.

      People aren’t expecting it to be like The Dark Knight, they’re expecting it to be better. Unfortunately, it isn’t. The movie is sloppily written, badly edited and poorly paced. Plain and simple, it’s entertaining but it’s not that good.

  3. Hulk smash.

    The film plays as a repudiation not only of the character’s archetypal underpinnings but of the specific goals of the two previous films. Nolan puts the previous two on blast for pretty much the entire, everlasting run time of “The Dark Knight Begins Again…and Again…and Again…” It is a shame because I liked the first two, but this one left me ill at ease the entire time: fidgeting, looking at my watch, rolling my eyes. Not a problem with the first two.

    Last Friday, I had a discussion with someone who has not seen the film, and the person kept pushing for more, but I did not want to spoil specifics. He suggested that perhaps they just tried too hard, and I responded:

    It’s not that they try too hard. Honestly, it’s like they threw together the script over a weekend. There is no narrative throughline, nothing carrying from scene to scene. Each scene is a setting and dialogue unto itself. Assort random characters, spout exposition, cut, print, next. I thought maybe it would just be the beginning, but the entire film plays like that, even the final battle.

    The characters speak and act like nothing in the comics or even the previous two films. They speak about events and characters of which they could not have the slightest knowledge. No one has any particular motivation for the actions they take. Most of their actions directly contradict their archetypes and stated ethos. It all seems perfunctory and confounding. Fan service and baiting, both at the same time.

    And the endings…oh, Jesus, the endings… …just… … …just don’t…

    In discussion with a fellow disappointed viewer:

    Actually, part of the reason I like “The Dark Knight” less than most was that they dropped their efforts to establish Gotham with “The Narrows” and gothic decay and strategically-placed fog machines for…Chicago. (This really hurt it back-to-back with “Begins” during the marathon.) I love Chicago, and it works well-enough for the “The Dark Knight”, but the further deterioration to clearly Pittsburgh-for-New York just drove me up a wall. As you say, Gotham is every place and no place. It is a key distinction between the two comic universes (DC and Marvel) to say nothing of movie history and contemporary literature. Building a city that feels right is trickier than portraying a city that [evinces] an immediate, visceral reaction.

    The moment Gordon’s wife left him (really?) for Cleveland (Really?), I was very worried. I might have warmed to Bruce quitting Batman (REALLY?), but Alfred leaving his service (nope) pretty much cut me loose from the film:

    “Batman Begins”: “You haven’t given up on me?” “Never!”

    “The Dark Knight Rises”: “I’ve given up on me.” “Me and Rachel too. Later, bitches. I’m off to Europe.”

    The movie certainly played like a great big “Fuck you” not only to the character but to all the work Nolan put in on the first two. Nothing tracks to any point of this movie. Not canon, not Nolan-verse. It’s a (bad) Bond movie where 007 occasionally wears dominator gear.

    Honestly, I hope Hulk has time to sink teeth into problems of theme, tone, and–yes–execution.

    I’m rather startled at all the technical exaltation Nolan’s getting for this one. Coverage has always been Nolan’s scourge (for the love of Christ, employ a second unit), but this film struggled with establishing entire sequences. Poor mise-en-scene, confusing masters. When the two armies suddenly appear in a single shot at opposite sides of a single street then run at each other whilst screaming and firing…God, everybody just die. Nolan’s camera implies it, and as a viewer, I had to agree. All the characters, all of them, apparently want and richly deserve death.

    On a sidenote, I’m rather surpised Hulk didn’t have some similar issues with “The Prestige” (I find it most indicative of how distant Nolan can be), but still–Hulk smash.

    Also, completely unrelated (except totally related) and knowing that it’s unfair to judge anything based on a teaser, but come on, “Man of Steel”–don’t even put it out there, not unless your goal is to prove that the studio learned none of the object lessons from the previous iteration. Nobody watched “Superman Returns” thinking, “Gee, I wish this movie moved slower and was steeped in more allegory.”

  4. Nice review Hulk. I hope you go even more in depth when you have more time. Speaking of time, I wonder how this thing will play ina decade or two.

    I’ve been hitting up these trilogies for over a decade now, curious as to what makes the best quality part 3. I’m still convinced movies work better in twos, but this movie tested a theory for me: should part 3 go conservatively gonzo, telling a story outside expected norms for a series? I think this movie proved the theory viable. I’d love to find out what Nolan would have done with a living Ledger, though.

    In the vacuum of Batman flicks, I think it’s good. The Dark Knight feels definitive, though. In the vacuum of trilogies, good work. As a film, it’s got interesting imagery. Strangely, the imagery of the film evokes Akira more than Metropolis (the motorcycles, Batman’s EMP gun, a diagonal elevator to the reactor, nuclear bomb imagery, the stadium). If I were to describe the film, I’d say, ‘Akira meets A Tale of Two Cities by way of Batman.’ But I never found the movie inspiring. The Hero Returns is such a staple superhero story because it inspires so well (even The Incredibles uses it). When Batman came back, I
    wasn’t really moved.

    On the issue of the context, the politics of this
    movie feel like the messy propaganda of rich
    men that are scared of poor people. And this
    movie would be a good place to put that
    propaganda. We may be able to dig out another
    meaning, but the surface where most viewers
    dwell feels closer to that message, much as
    Hulk’s Fight Club piece emphasized the
    conflicting messages of that movie. I think it’s
    disingenuous for the film makers to compare themselves to Lang, Dickens or Otomo AND say the movie doesn’t have political or philosophical significance.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. Great article, Hulk.

  5. There are more problems than I can name with the film, but the saddest: boy, is this Batman movie ashamed to show Batman. And why wouldn’t it be? He looks ridiculous in that rubber suit, and he sounds ridiculous with that absurd voice. There was a palpable feeling in the theater whenever Batman was onscreen in his duds; people seemed to be holding their breath, aware that the whole thing could dissolve into being completely laughable.

    1. I’m gonna repeat a comment I made above. He looked no more ridiculous than THE AVENGERS did. Or any superhero in broad daylight, for that matter.

      1. Stop repeating this idiotic comment I some pathetic attempt to defend an obvious misstep. The Avengers isn’t the movie trying to be all dark an deathly serious. Ridiculous costumes hurt it far less than in these movies, where everything hinges on us taking it seriously. Just let go of your goddamn bias. These movies are flawed. Get the hell over it.


        COOL? COOL.

  6. You cannot truly live unless you appreciate your life. You can’t appreciate your life if you don’t value your life. You can’t value your life until you fear your own death. So the fear of death gives us the strength to live a meaningful life.

    How is that theme not constant through out the entire film? Its in practically every scene.

    1. IIRC, Bruce couldn’t make the leap until he removed the rope, until he didn’t fear death.

      “You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.” “Not everything… not yet….”

      These are wildly inconsistent with fear of death.

      Also, riding to his apparent death strapped to a nuke (can’t help but flash back to Slim Pickens) then allowing everyone to believe him dead…

      If we fear death then we engage in life, we do not drop every semblance of it we’ve ever known to live in the hinterlands with a stranger who looks good in pleather. (Or you know, maybe we do, but we’re not here to judge others’ kinkiness, just their willingness to fake their own deaths.)

      1. No, you’re backwards. He did fear death. The rope made it impossible for him to die so there wasn’t fear, he needed to remove the rope to be truly afraid of dying while making the leap. It’s pretty clearly explained in the film.

      2. Then the filmmakers have it backward. We don’t wear safety harnesses when we don’t fear death. We wear harnesses when we worry that we might fall and kill ourselves. We take them off when we know that we can look death in the face and laugh. Any acrobat who operates without a net gets sold as “death defying”. He defies death; he does not fear it.

        Furthermore, the two lines indicate that he fears not, that he is willing to die. (Even though he only allows everyone that he knows and loves to think he’s dead. Seriously, this Wayne is even less moral than his comic counterpart.) Mr. Henry’s reading interests me, but the text directly contradicts it.


      4. Ha! I like the literal take.

        Wayne: “Why?! Why can’t I make it?”

        Prison sage: “The rope–it is too short…*mutters* dumbass American.”

        In either reading, those bats emerge the moment he sticks the landing. He’s facing down his fear, harnessing it, not copping to it.

      5. @Panache
        No, see, you don’t understand. With the harness, you don’t fear death anymore, it TAKES AWAY the fear of death. You don’t have to commit wholly and completely to the jump because there’s no fear of death – because you know you won’t die if you fall. It turns “I hope I can reach that ledge, but I don’t have to because I can try again if I miss” into “I absolutely must reach that ledge because if I don’t then I will die”. Taking the harness off doesn’t mean he no longer has any fear, it means he has the confidence and determination to make the jump DESPITE his fear. In fact, thanks to the fact that human beings release adrenaline when confronted with the fear of death, he is able to make the jump BECAUSE of his fear.


      7. @thewizardninja
        How’s it going? I hope you come to play! The originator appears to be a one-off, and @Asinus must have gotten bored. I cannot speak for them, but the thing I like most about our Hulk is his careful maintenance of a civil back and forth. Any response is greatly appreciated! Anyway, without further ado–

        Actually, I understand fully. I comprehend the point perfectly well. I disagree strongly, and I argue that human nature and natural instinct side with me. Even if the filmmakers intend this (I argue they do not, and I cited further textual examples above), then they get it wrong. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of human motivation.

        A crude harness does not remove the fear of death. If it does that, why doesn’t every prisoner jump for a chance at freedom all day, every day? “Hello and welcome to the pit of despair. Behold our climbing wall and weep. Full and unconditional pardon to all who dare a consequence-free leap into the void.” Were that the case, I’d jump every other hour or so, regardless where my freedom lay. Even at a commercial climbing wall, we sign waivers for when our funzies and good times turn tragic and hemorrhagy.

        Bane even alludes to the many climbing deaths. If the harness saves jumpers, did those jumpers die after they took it off? So much for the jolt of adrenaline. How are Wayne’s predecessors, presumably with fewer broken backs among them, failing miserably where the child succeeded? I hesitate to reduce it to a dichotomy, but either removing the rope emboldens a jumper or its very use indicates an active, crippling fear.

        They show the mortal danger of the leap when Wayne falls, cracks his head, and gets knocked the fuck out. Blackouts may be (hilariously) overused as a dramatic crutch, but despite anything the NFL may say, we do not readily get up and walk off brain injuries. If we get knocked out, we are perilously close to death, and if we remain unconscious, even for a few minutes, our odds of revival dwindle rapidly. As with Wayne, the harness allows the possibility of a second chance, but it certainly does not guarantee it, nor does it remove the fear of death. Said fear dictates its use, otherwise no one would bother with it.

        A harness is an indicator of a mindset: “Oh Christ, I don’t want to die here today. This could easily kill me. Hey, look: harness!” When we actively fear the ultimate consequence, we do not forego readily available protection.

        Just imagine, “Look, I worry about the death threats too, but really, you Secret Service agents can go on home now. I’ll see you back in DC; Alabama loves me.”

        Or for say, a common frat boy, “Listen, you just haven’t lived until you’ve rawdogged a syphilitic AIDS patient.”

        This is not how our monkey brains work. We employ safety measures when we fear for our lives, especially when said fear is patently valid. We drop the protections when we fear no longer. When the specter of death is overcome by the banality of experience, then we drop the safety net, undo the harness, and proceed to the thrill and amazement of others who still fear that which for us is now quotidian.

        If upon landing, Wayne had a flashback to Rachel’s death or a hallucination of Gotham’s demise, then the reading would hold more weight. Instead, he sticks the landing and is immediately beset by bats, another elemental fear that he overcomes and uses to his advantage.

        Of course, mileage varies. Frankly, the text is contradictory bordering on incoherent (one reason I do not care for the film; it denigrates the previous two). It comes down to whether we take the word of the prison sage or Thomas Wayne. I argue that making the leap and standing amongst the bats reaffirms Thomas’s wisdom. As he lays dying, his final message to his adolescent son is, “Bruce, don’t be afraid.” He looks upon death and sees nothing to fear and ensures that his son knows it. In “Begins”, Bruce overcomes his fear when he returns to the cave and stands among the bats; in “Rises” he overcomes it when he leaps and stands among the bats. It is direct and apparent, and that sage is as bullshit as his buddy’s spinal-mending, voodoo rope.

        Still, by a comfortable margin, Hulk’s take is my favorite–

        PRISON SAGE: The ledge–it is twenty feet. The rope–it is fifteen. It ain’t a bungee cord, young master.

  7. While I agree with your criticisms of TDKR as a stand-alone movie, I think it is quite unfair for you to critique it like that. TDKR is ultimately the conclusion to a trilogy. Although it could work on its own, it really is meant as a third act. I recently wrote a piece on why this actually makes TDKR, so, if you will allow me…


    Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy each are among the best superhero movies, if not simply the best movies, ever made. Of these three, The Dark Knight generally stands out as the most preferred. However, I would argue The Dark Knight Rises is a superior Batman film. The reason The Dark Knight Rises is the top of my (exceptionally close) list is that it acts a culmination of the entire Batman saga, of every thread Nolan started. As good as The Dark Knight was, as good as Batman Begins was, nothing can top the sense of closure The Dark Knight Rises brings to the series. The Dark Knight Rises properly develops the idea of escalation, properly addresses the problem with superheroes, and properly concludes the theme of Batman as an icon.


    At the very end of Batman Begins, Gordon asks about escalation. “We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics; we start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds; and you are wearing a mask and jumping off rooftops.” The Dark Knight further develops this theme to its natural next step by bringing in someone who represents the polar opposite of Batman; an ultimate force of chaos contrasting with Batman’s force of order. Batman has shifted the balance by destroying the mob, and the Joker is created in opposition. Their battle has a monumental cost: Gotham is saved, but Batman is forced into exile, and the peace he and Gordon manufacture is based on a terrible lie. Eight years later, that lie comes crashing down and Batman’s decision to fight the League of Shadows returns to haunt him. By killing their leader, the League of Shadows is taken over by a more evil, more radical, more powerful foe. Gotham was prevented from dying at a time when it was barely alive. Now, it is threatened with destruction when it is at its prime. The city’s initial fall would have been viewed as a tragedy, but one people could recover from (as Gotham was already widely considered a lost cause at the time). Instead, the world gets to watch as “its greatest city” is annihilated. Batman’s existence has consequences, and that theme is prevalent throughout the films. The Dark Knight Rises represents the final step (the League of Shadows is effectively broken up, but Gotham has been pushed back to the brink). Order will be restored, but it will be an order built by the people, instead of by Batman (as it was in The Dark Knight). Batman is passing responsibility back to people (additionally shown by passing the mantle onto Blake, who is one of the people). This brings me to my next point…

    Civic Responsibility (The Superman Problem)

    One (very fair) complaint about Superman (and characters like him) is that he represents a god who can do anything and everything. Why should cops bother stopping a robbery when Superman could do it in half a second? Why bother building homes for the homeless when Superman can create a mansion in under a minute? We see this mindset mirrored in reality. The economy is bad? It is the President’s fault, not our actions as consumers and stockholders; no, the President is solely to blame. This responsibility is magnified a thousand fold by gods like Superman, but it also is easily attributed to Batman. Batman, for all intents and purposes, takes down the entire mob by himself: he gives evidence to the lawyers, he catches the criminals, he instills fear into the criminals, he counter-blackmails corrupt judges, he forces the law to start acting responsibly, he inspires the police, he tracks criminals down for the cops… The police may make the arrests, but Batman does essentially everything else. When the League of Shadows attacks, the cops are virtually powerless (the only cop who is not, James Gordon, is not because Batman gave him power). Batman effectively saves the entire city singlehandedly. Even in The Dark Knight, Batman is the one who figures out where the Joker is, the one who figures out what his plans are, the one who stops the Joker, the one who stops Two-Face… in fact, the police only end up making it more difficult for him. This creates a system of utter dependence on Gotham’s god figure. “Why bother trying to fix the city ourselves? Batman will do it for us. We just need to make the prosecutions and throw the criminals into jail.” Batman’s apparent turn to evil partially shocks the city into self-reliance, but only barely. Batman has already down all the heavy lifting; all the city needs to do is finish up a few sheets of paperwork. They pass a law that is tough on crime and the problem is solved. That is why the city needs Dent as their hero: he is not a god figure. He is one of the people. Unfortunately, he emerged as a hero too late. The city discovered they can act for themselves, but there is nothing for them to do. As a result, they coast on by for years. Bane arrives, and without Batman the city is powerless to stop him; it is only when Batman returns that they actually have a chance. However, for five months Gotham is forced to realize they are on their own. Yes, Batman saves the day in the end, but they have experienced what happens when he is not there to save them. There is no way they will go back to acting passively? Batman returns to save the day, sure, but he “dies”. The city knows it is on its own (or thinks it is, at least until Blake takes up the mantle) and knows it has to start doing things for itself; after all, Batman will not always be there to save them. The city finally understands Batman is fallible and there is always the possibility he will not be able to help them. What will happen if he fails in the future? Will the city lie down and die or will it be prepared to fight? Batman has ensured the latter. Thus, Nolan effectively addresses the “Superman Problem”, something that has never been done in comics or movies.

    The Batman Icon

    The Dark Knight Rises brings the idea of the Batman icon to its logical finish (an idea all but completely dropped in The Dark Knight). Batman Begins is loaded with quotations about the Batman icon. “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely.” “As a man, I am flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed, but, as a symbol… as a symbol, I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” However, in Batman Begins, Bruce and Batman are one as the same. Batman is designed to operate independently of Bruce, but Batman Begins does not touch on that. In fact, at the end, Rachel states that Batman is Bruce’s true identity. Bruce has become the symbol; essentially, without Bruce, there is no Batman. In The Dark Knight, the idea of progression is touched upon. The movie highlights the fact Bruce does not (or does not seem to) want to be Batman forever, but The Dark Knight is not so much about passing on the mantle as it is about removing the need for a Batman at all (somewhat contradicting the earlier idea Batman is supposed to be everlasting). That is not to say it is not a fair point to address. Batman was designed as the ultimate force against crime. When there is no more crime, there is no more Batman. That is what Batman’s aspirations have always been. The Dark Knight Rises, however, shows that the world still needs Batman. Although it examines Bruce Wayne very thoroughly, it also examines Batman. For the first time, it analyses the two separately. Bruce exists outside of Batman. While Bruce Wayne is Batman, Batman does not have to be Bruce Wayne. Rachel was right: Bruce and Batman are one and the same. However, Batman is not the same as Bruce. It is like the square/rectangle distinction: just because a square is a rectangle does not mean a rectangle is a square. Bruce possessed the qualities that Batman must have, but Batman does not need to be Bruce. “A hero can be anyone.” It does not matter who Batman is. The whole idea was Batman existed as a symbol, independently of Bruce, independently of the wearer of the mantle. Anyone could be Batman, and Batman could be anyone. The Dark Knight Rises deals with that idea. We come full circle back to Batman Begins. “It is not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” In Batman Begins, this is an argument for Bruce becoming Batman, as Bruce is defined by Batman, but The Dark Knight Rises shows how this also refers to Batman. Batman is not defined by the person who takes up the mantle; he is defined by his actions. By treating Batman and Bruce Wayne separately, we are able to truly see the core of the two characters/ideas. The Dark Knight Rises elevates Batman beyond the mortal realm. It addresses Batman as something eternal, indestructible. That is the true triumph of The Dark Knight Rises.

    As a side note, The Dark Knight Rises also masterfully covers what makes Bruce Batman. It shows his drive, his utter desire to save the city he calls home. However, it also shows the existential toll that desire takes on a person and how it can be blinding. By merging his identity with Batman, Bruce begins to act as if he is indestructible, as if he is also above the mortal realm. He is not, though, and Bruce pays the price for his arrogance. He is forced to come to terms with his own mortality. He is forced to realize that, while Batman is eternal, he (Bruce) is not. That realization sparks his split from Batman. It allows him to go on to live his own life, as Alfred always wanted, as his parents certainly would have wanted. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce stops being a slave to Gotham. He now sees it is not his responsibility to always save Gotham: it is the city’s responsibility to save itself. He has given Gotham the tools, now Gotham has to use them. See how we come back to the idea of civil responsibility? It is all connected. That is the beauty of the Batman films and that is the beauty of The Dark Knight Rises.

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