Is The Dark Knight Rises the movie we deserved instead of the movie we needed?
[Note: This article contains major spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises]
One of many iconic lines uttered throughout the nine hour, three part trilogy that is Christopher Nolan’s Batman legend comes when Commissioner Gordon tells his son that Batman is the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs. Rather, what Gotham needs in the closing moments of The Dark Knight is for Batman to take the blame for Harvey Dent’s death, to allow his memory as the protector of a plagued city to persevere, even at the cost of its true hero’s reputation.
In The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final installment in Nolan’s Batman saga, there is an inherent obligation to provide closure. We begin eight years into Gotham’s future, a place where crime has been curtailed under the Harvey Dent Act, and Batman has vanished, leaving only a housebound Bruce Wayne to suffer the indignity of Howard Hughes references. Bane enters the fray, a masked warrior hellbent on Gotham’s demise. His presence, along with some cajoling from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, forces Wayne to once again don his mask.
The expectations for this film were stifling. Coming off the heels of a movie so respected that its Best Picture snub forced the Academy Awards to reconsider its nomination process, The Dark Knight Rises had fanboys and critics alike dabbing at the drool in the corner of their mouths. Myriad speculations began the second a new casting choice was even rumored: Robin Williams as Dr. Hugo Strange, JGL as a character from one page of a Batman coloring book and so forth.
Clearly separated at birth.
As I wrote here in December, “The culture of The Dark Knight Rises, really all of Nolan’s Batman series, is unparalleled…Have we crossed the threshold where we are so rabid for a movie franchise that we’re willing to spoil it for ourselves?” The answer seemed unmistakably to be yes.
And on many counts, we nailed it.
Everyone thought Marion Cotillard was Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter. The potential for JGL to be revealed as Robin was frequently noted. We knew there’d be a Catwoman, and a Batcopter, and that Michael Caine would probably cry at some point. We stockpiled our predications like supplies in a storm cellar, and then when the twisters finally came, we ran downstairs and couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a turkey dinner waiting for us. Many negative and lukewarm reviews of Rises have surfaced in the days since its release. For many, it was unsatisfying, a letdown from the mastery of Dark Knight and nuance of Inception. I find this rather comical, given Rises is exactly what anyone who spent the last year trying to debunk every facet of its being knew it would be.
Michael Caine cries after learning he may have to make Journey 3 now that Batman is over.
I went into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises wanting a film that carried enough of its own plot to be enjoyable without its two predecessors. Furthermore, I wanted my theories to be proven correct. We all do this, from watching shows like Breaking Bad to reading mystery novels. We pit ourselves against the content’s creator and attempt to match wits. Christopher Nolan went heads up against every Batman fan with a Fandango confirmation number last week. Some he beat, others called it all before Commissioner Gordon could finish his opening eulogy.
What we needed were twenty million different versions of The Dark Knight Rises: one in which Batman dies; another with the Joker cameo delusional diehards hoped Ledger may have filmed before he passed. Others wanted Memento type twists, while some craved the Wayne’s World Mega Happy Ending treatment. This was what we needed. Some hoped for the reveal of a surprise villain, while a few perhaps held out that Harvey Dent wasn’t all-the-way dead. There were contingents eager for a real romantic interest in the wake of fleeting passions for Rachel Dawes, yet others were in favor of simply killing The Batman. This was what we each needed.
Harvey Dent: he’s super dead.
What we deserved was Christopher Nolan’s vision for his third film. We deserved to see it as he wished it to be. After all, shouldn’t making Memento, The Dark Knight and Inception afford you some creative freedom? Now because we deserved whatever film Nolan chose to offer us does not mean we must enjoy it. The Harry Knowles of the world are welcome to their bitter disappointment, so long as they don’t steep it in the hot waters of how the movie ‘should’ve been’. We are all-too-willing to heap piles of hype onto everything with a budget and a halfway decent cast and then act appalled when things don’t congeal into something perfect. I am no Dark Knight Rises apologist, but I don’t think I speak only for myself when I say: didn’t we see this backlash coming?
In the closing moments of The Dark Knight Rises, Batman tells Commissioner Gordon that it doesn’t take a cape and gadgets to be a hero.
“A hero can be anyone,” he says, “even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended.”
In a lot of ways, this poignant exchange reflects the way in Nolan ends his Batman saga. The ending isn’t remarkable in a twisty way (Bruce Wayne is Keyser Söze!) or a violent way (RIP every character in The Departed), but it’s fitting. For all the enigmas, mind puzzles and “didn’t see it comings” in the Nolanverse, perhaps the most fitting shock he could think to offer us was simply to have Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle smooching in Paris, Alfred looking on with a thimble of booze, Blake taking up the mantle to protect Gotham and Commissioner Gordon finally being able to catch-up on some paperwork. You know, something simple and reassuring, to let us know the world hasn’t ended.
Whatever coat Christopher Nolan chose to place on our shoulders, it’s the one we deserve to wear. Eventually, we may also find it fits our needs quite nicely.