Despite my sadness at the Aurora shootings and a little bit of anxiety about copycats, I went with a friend to see the 9:30pm “Dark Knight Rises” last night.
Warning: Massive Spoiler Alerts.
The movie held my attention and adeptly concluded the trilogy of Bat-movies. It’s compelling, well-shot, well acted and even has a vestigial theme that ties it to the Occupy movements of the last year.
But it’s not a superhero movie, it’s not fun, and the end wimps out.
It isn’t a superhero movie. You could remove Batman from this story and replace him with any vigilante and it wouldn’t structurally make a lot of difference until the last 20 minutes of the movie when we discover that Miranda Tate is really Talia al Ghul, and that everything happening in #3 is a recapitulation of what went on in #1… so the Batman part of the movie is only important because of another movie.
This was disappointing to me in a similar way to how “Return of the Jedi” disappointed me because we suddenly had another “Star Wars” movie where the end was all about destroying the Death Star. What, again?
It’s not fun. None of Christopher Nolan’s movies are fun. Comparing “Dark Knight Rises” to “The Avengers” is like comparing “Schindler’s List” to “When Harry Met Sally.”
And it’s fair to say that at the core of the character Batman isn’t fun– he’s a dark, possessed, driven, unsmiling psycho. But while Bruce Wayne / Batman is rarely fun, that doesn’t mean that the story — the movie — can’t be fun, or even have lighter moments. But there are no lighter moments. No smiles, no laughs, just one grim scene after another. “Macbeth” with the Porter scene and a bunch of classic stage business is like “Duck Soup” compared to “Dark Knight Rises.”
This latest Batman movie emotionally reminds me of Ang Lee’s 2003 “Hulk,” which also wasn’t any fun. “Amazing Spider-Man” had a million problems and wasn’t as good a movie as either “Dark Knight Rises” or the first Raimi “Spider-Man,” but at least there were a couple of laughs. Sheesh.
The end wimps out because (and here’s the other big spoiler) after we see Batman nobly sacrifice himself by flying the nuclear bomb out over Gotham Bay to save the city, after we see the funeral where Alfred breaks down, after we see the dedication of the Batman statue in City Hall, and after we see the guy who is to become the next Batman find the Batcave and all the toys… that’s when the movie should end.
Or, if Nolan wanted to pull another “Inception” he could have ended on an ambiguous note.
But he didn’t. He gave Bruce Wayne a happy ending. It turns out that the auto-pilot did work and it was an unoccupied plane that blew up with the bomb. We learn this when Alfred, on holiday in Italy, sees Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) sitting at another table in the same cafe (a piece of business that pays off an earlier passage).
Bruce and Selina, we understand, have figured it out. They’ve escaped Gotham, restarted their lives under different names, and they’ve moved on. Bruce has conquered his demons and is living a fully integrated life for the first time since his parents were gunned down in front of him when he was 10. Selina has escaped her demons, too. They’re happy. Alfred and Bruce make eye contact, nod at each other, and Alfred leaves the cafe happy that his foster son has found happiness.
Yuck. What a depressingly, unbelievably sunny epilogue to a dark, turbulent movie. It’s unconvincing both within the trilogy and for Batman in general, and it feels like the sort of thing a movie studio would cram down a director’s throat: “we can’t kill Batman… how will we sell all those t-shirts?”
Back to the “Inception” comparison, Nolan could have conveyed to the viewers that Alfred might be seeing Bruce and Selina in reality or that he might be having a daydream… that still would have been frustrating, but at least it would have been truer to the ambiguities of the character.
I’m not sorry I saw it, but I’m not itching to see it again, as I was with “Avengers.”