While the failures of The Dark Knight Trilogy are at times frustrating to me, I find them to be a great topic of discussion, rather than a subject of blind fanboy hatred. Last time, I discussed Bruce’s eight year retirement and his lack of preparation. In this installment, we focus on poor detective skills, a short career, and Talia al Ghul.
Barely a Detective
In Batman’s nearly-75-year-long career, the character has been consistently defined as a detective. Yes, he’s also a super hero and a peerless martial artist, but his detective work informs both his character and the types of stories his writers tell. Don’t believe me? He debuted in i #27 — the evidence is right there in the title. While no live action version of the character has ever done this quite right (Batman: The Animated Series always did a great job with the detective work), The Dark Knight Trilogy really drops the ball here.
Let’s count the number of times that Batman does some form of detective work in these movies. He looks into some windows in the narrows and tracks Scarecrow’s drugs in Batman Begins. He collects evidence from a murder scene and confusingly matches up the bullet for finger prints in The Dark Knight. Done. Two times. And when it comes to scientific research and development, Lucius does almost all of the work for him.
The rest of Batman’s screen time is usually spent on him blasting through buildings with a vehicle or hitting dudes in the face with his elbows (I call that style of fighting “Batmanning”). Again, this lack of detective work makes the Caped Crusader a woefully underprepared hero. Also, it removes a major part of the character.
Batman’s villains are the most like real life criminals out of any superhero’s rogue’s gallery. They pull heists, they go on killing sprees linked to real life psychoses, and they commit crimes using real weapons. Mostly. As such, Batman puts his detective skills to work to determine their motive, their location, and their next move. Without it, he would be zipping back and forth across the city until he stumbled upon a criminal or until the police did his job for him and located the villain. And that kind of happens in these movies.
Batman’s Laughably Short Career
Consider the timeline of The Dark Knight Trilogy. Between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, approximately one year has passed, although it is not made explicitly clear. Now jump ahead eight years to The Dark Knight Rises, wherein Batman comes back for about two nights, gets destroyed by Bane, is out for another five months, and comes back for one more glorious day. Add it up and this is a Batman that patrolled the streets of Gotham for at most one and a half years over the span of nine!
When you think about it, this Batman shouldn’t have the kind of impact on society that they illustrate within the films. Think back to eight years ago in your life. What if there was a man that dressed up like a bat, beat up some criminals, and disappeared. Sure, he saved your city twice, but wouldn’t your memory of him fade, rather than turn him into a legend? Yes, he ends up blowing himself up to save the city once again, but as a citizen, you only know about a couple of incidents. So instead of making some giant statue of him or making crude chalk drawings of his symbol, you most likely give him some respect and move on.
Within his short career, Nolan’s Batman had some victories, but they were relatively few and far between. Batman strapped Falcone to a spotlight, made Scarecrow go crazier, crushed Ra’s al Ghul in a train, locked up The Joker in a padded cell (forever!), pushed Harvey Dent off a building, let Catwoman kill Bane, and blew himself up over the Gotham River. Not a bad record, but miniscule in comparison to the comics. And in choosing to end his career, he puts Gotham in the hands of a complete novice and at the mercy of any other super criminal that comes to wreak havoc. Yes, Bruce gets closure that he will never find in the comics, but in the context of his career, it’s not exactly well earned.
The Talia al Ghul Reveal
The reveal of Marion Cotillard’s secret identity as Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul has so many problems that it weakens TDKR as a whole. First, a couple positives. Putting Talia in helps tie the film to Batman Begins and makes the trilogy seem more cohesive. Plus, it gives the film a chance to bring back Liam Neeson in a cameo as Ra’s, and that’s always welcome. Now let’s tear this thing apart.
First, it wasn’t that surprising. Nolan keeps forcing this unknown character down the throats of the audience, telling us about her history with Bruce (show don’t tell, Nolan) and making Bruce care about her far more than the audience. So why is she made out to be so important? How about the idea that some citizen is the triggerman for the nuclear bomb? It’s certainly not going to be a character we haven’t seen before, and it won’t be Gordon, Alfred, Lucius, Catwoman, or Blake. That really only leaves the one character that’s been made unnaturally important in it all.
Second, forcing a twist and “surprise” reveal into the movie forces TDKR to have a worse narrative structure than it could have without it. Much of the film revolves around setting up the audience for a twist, rather than creating stronger relationships between characters and making Talia a better villain. Rather than seeing Talia as a strong female villain who can take control of Bane, we are only told how great she is, followed quickly by seeing her drive a truck off a cliff and die an ignominious death. The chance for dramatic irony would have given the audience more to invest in instead of a twist.
Also, Talia’s previous actions often make no sense in light of her true villainy. Why not just blow up the bomb when she first gained access to it? Why not kill Bruce after she slept with him? Why put herself in danger of being killed by Scarecrow and counting on Bruce to suddenly appear and save her?
Finally, her sudden rise to prominence as the true villain completely takes the air out of Bane. Rather than being some mastermind who has both brains and brawn, he’s more like a lovesick puppy who breaks backs for someone else. Yes, Bane is still intimidating when rewatching the movie, but everything is in a new and lesser context. Plus, once Bane is shown to be a lackey, Nolan chooses to suddenly and poorly kill him off in favor of having Batman chase after Talia.
That’s it for this installment. Click here for my final entry. Don’t worry, this part three won’t be nearly as long and bloated as The Dark Knight Rises. Zing!