Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why I'm Actually Kind of Excited to See "The Dark Knight Rises"

Like many comic book fans, the more I learned about "The Dark Knight Rises", the more skeptical I became. Bane looked wrong, Catwoman looked wrong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was showing up as a character that never existed in any Batman story ever, and it just kept feeling... wrong.

But now I've sort of come to terms with it to the point where I'm actually kind of excited to see the movie again. How did I manage this? I'm basically going to go into the movie accepting that it's not going to be a Batman movie.

Obviously, it IS a Batman movie, but at a certain point I realized that Nolan was less interested in making another Batman movie and more interested in making a film that happens to have a few characters that share names with characters from the Batman mythos.

After "The Dark Knight", everyone was clamoring for Nolan to make another, but Nolan initially resisted. He told us that he would only come back if he felt like he had something that would live up to its legacy, and even then he would only come back after he had a chance to do something else.

So he goes off and does "Inception", which cements him in the public consciousness, and then he jumps into "The Dark Knight Rises", immediately starting a speculation thunderstorm about what got Nolan to come back.

More than likely, money and public expectations probably acted as a primary motivator, but what I think really got Nolan excited was the idea of ending the series.

After the jump contains possible SPOILERS.

While it hasn't been explicitly stated or revealed in any official capacity, I think it's fairly obvious that TDKR is going to be the movie where Batman dies. Frankly, it's the only way the movie will stand on its own and it will make it easy for Warner Bros. to reboot the franchise without confusing audiences; they'll know that the new Batman movies are in a different universe because the other Batman died at the end. It will also be a pretty ballsy move. Not many movies will kill of the main character and I can't think of any superhero movies that have done it. It could be even cooler if in the end Catwoman takes up the mantle as the Dark Knight (hence "Dark Knight Rises") but that might be wishful thinking on my part. Nolan's never been known for making women anything other than devices for the plot. Even his strongest female character, Ariadne, primarily existed so that we could get exposition dumps and a deuteragonist to play off of Leonardo DiCaprio's character. I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm just not holding out a lot of hope that Nolan will make Catwoman anything other than a foil for Batman who will sneak off into the sunset when it's all over.

Anyway, back on track. If this movie is dealing with the end of Batman, Nolan got the opportunity to take a look at "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" and really examine what his movies were "about" and what he had left to say in order to bring it all to a close. Creatively, I can see that being a strong motivator for him.

But this means that Nolan was attracted to the project in order to finish telling HIS story, not to adapt someone ELSE'S story. Granted, the story seems to take elements from "Knightfall" and other similar story arcs, but I think Nolan had his own idea for what he wanted to do and the writers found elements from the comics that could do what Nolan was looking for. "I need a guy to throw Gotham into chaos and kill Batman." "There's this character called Bane..." "Cool, do that, but he should be from the League of Shadows to tie it into the first movie. I also need a character who's more like Batman but doesn't have the same strict moral code." "We could go with... I dunno, Azrael? He ties into a Bane storyline..." "Nah, too Jesus-y." "How about Catwoman? She's kind of an antihero." "That could work. But she needs to be an assassin too." "...Why?" "Because otherwise we'd have to give her superpowers."

I'm not so sure that the very blatant changes to Bane and Catwoman were made for nefarious reasons. By making them members of an organization already established in canon, it allows Nolan to focus purely on resolution rather than introducing new plot elements. We know who the League of Shadows are and it saves us from having to dwell too much on character backstory. Also Nolan has a tendency to pick actors that he likes versus actors that fit the characters, allowing the actors to develop their own interpretation of the characters, so that's probably why we got a white guy as Bane. So yes, Bane is now no longer Latino and Catwoman is no longer the thrill-seeking spitfire she once was, but  that's because these characters aren't trying to be Bane and Catwoman. Nolan doesn't want to make a movie that brings these characters to life in a way that's true to the comics. He wants these characters to serve his vision first and offer references to the source material only when he can fit it in without distracting from anything.

Obviously, there had always been a degree of separation regarding the other Nolan Batman movies. However, it's worth noting that "Batman Begins" was more or less a direct adaptation of "Batman: Year One". It threw in extra elements involving the League of Shadows and Scarecrow, but the part that Nolan sank his teeth into was Batman coming into the city, building a reputation, and taking on organized crime. So when "The Dark Knight" came along, it was no big surprise that this movie was also about Batman taking on organized crime. The movie also included the Joker, but this interpretation was much more unique and served the overall themes of the story. Still, he felt close enough to the original Joker and he was performed spectacularly enough that we didn't mind the subtle variations to his character.

Still, with "The Dark Knight" it was pretty clear that Nolan wasn't interested in building an everlasting franchise. He was telling a story about Batman cleaning up Gotham.

But with "The Dark Knight Rises", Nolan gave himself a lot of opportunities by deciding to bring the series to an end. Unlike with the comic books or the TV series, Nolan could tell a story that no one else had ever told. What if Batman actually COULD clean up Gotham? What if he was truly no longer needed? That story has never really been told before because obviously if Batman succeeded in cleaning up Gotham, there would be no more Batman.

To make matters more interesting, the recent political climate has brought a lot of the movie series' themes into question. The problems with class warfare, poverty, crime, politics, all of these things have never been more firmly in the public consciousness within my lifetime. It really does feel like the nation is ready to tear itself apart, just like Joker implied in TDK. Also in "Batman Begins", the League of Shadows brought Gotham on the brink of destruction by letting the crazy people loose and causing them all to hallucinate and destroy each other in fear. But in TDKR, it feels like Bane is attempting a combination of the master plans of the two previous movies: let the prisoners loose and use their hatred for one another to destroy everything.

One thing we know about TDKR is that after Dent dies, the city passes a law that says that you can be denied parole simply for being associated with organized crime. This means that the prison is likely filled with pissed off criminals and possibly even political prisoners.

While this sort of tactic probably does greatly reduce the crime rate in Gotham, it's also pretty clear that it adversely affects the impoverished, who generally resort to crime out of desperation. This asks the question, "Does a city get better just because you get rid of crime, or is crime just a symptom of a bigger problem?"

I don't know about you guys, but these are all really interesting and deep questions about social and political issues that I think Christopher Nolan can bring a lot of depth and nuance to.

It's just not really what you'd expect or maybe even want from a Batman movie.

When it comes to comic book movies, we've kind of gotten over the whole gritty realism thing that became popular for a while. Marvel proved with "The Avengers" that you can be colorful and simple and still be really successful and entertaining. So now we kind of look at "The Dark Knight Rises" and think that it falls short because it's not shaping up to be a very good comic book adaptation.

Maybe this shouldn't have been a comic book adaptation. I'm not sure. I suppose I'll find out when I actually see it. But I do get the feeling like Nolan could have told a similar story with completely new characters that wouldn't have the baggage of being representations of existing characters. I mean, "Inception" was successful without needing to involve Batman.

The characters that have the names "Bane" and "Catwoman" seem like perfectly interesting characters, they just aren't Bane and Catwoman and by calling them that, it gets in the way.

But I guess I understand. Fans would have been more upset if the movie had NO supervillains, and frankly, making it a Batman movie raises some potentially interesting questions about just how noble Batman's strategy for fighting crime in Gotham really is, not just in the Nolan-verse, but in all universes. Not only is his crusade ultimately futile, but perhaps it's not even addressing the real issues with Gotham.

So I'm not expecting "The Dark Knight Rises" to be a good Batman movie. I'm expecting it to be a really good movie.

Obviously, if it turns out to be a mediocre movie on top of being a poor Batman movie, there's no saving it, but I doubt Nolan would have bothered to come back just to make a mediocre movie.

We'll find out for sure in about a month, but I'm kind of excited for it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly on this one. I haven't followed the hype for the movie at all, besides seeing the trailers, but I've been really excited for the movie the whole time. The way I see it, these movies are a crime drama that happens to be about Batman. Sure there were some "supernatural" elements in the first one with the fear flower, but other than that the series has actively gone out of its way to avoid weird comic book shit. Changing the villain backstories and motivations to fit that motif has worked well so far: Ra's al Ghul isn't some immortal lich assassin, he's just a plain old assassin, and while that changes the way his character works, it makes sense in the universe.

    Because of the lack of the supernatural, to have Bane be intimidating as a villain without Venom you have to pretty drastically play up the mastermind aspect of his character. I think they've done a brilliant job of that right out the gate by making his design sort of evocative of Hannibal Lecter: the audience knows right out the gate what kind of villain Bane is going to be. You have to remember, not only have the movies so far been good, they've also been really accessible to the public. You can go into these movies knowing no more about Batman other than "dead parents, blah blah, I am vengeance, I am the night" and instantly know what's going on. If they went into Bane's full backstory, as per the original comics, it might bog down the movie, so it seems a wise choice to tie him into the League of Shadows. As for why he's not Hispanic? Who the hell knows, but it's not a dealbreaker for me.

    As for Catwoman, I dunno yet, although it's pretty hard to fuck up Catwoman harder than this: