Here it is, the epic conclusion to my Failures of The Dark Knight Trilogy. Part Two continued to look at issues with some of the characters, but this time we take a larger view of the series as a whole. For a more positive look at the trilogy, read my Successes of The Dark Knight Trilogy.
Be warned, in this entry I find problems with The Dark Knight!
Gadgets Over Fists
Batman gains respect from fans and fellow super heroes alike because of his ability to go one-on-one with most anybody without the aid of gadgets. In The Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman relies heavily on the use of technology and various weapons to gain an advantage over ordinary humans. While this makes some sense in the scope of a realistic setting, it also downplays Bruce’s physical prowess.
There are some decent fights throughout the trilogy, but nothing that really stands out. The fights against Bane are by far the most physical and well-choreographed of the trilogy. However, there is barely any fighting in TDK, mostly just against the SWAT team in the finale, and most of Batman Begins has Bruce hiding in the shadows and snatching up goons. Often, this Batman uses knockout darts, trip wires, and snares to take out his foes. It offers up some cool technology to look at, but undercuts his abilities.
So many jump cuts. Christopher Nolan often relies on a slightly disconnected sense of storytelling, and this only gets stronger as he continues to make films. Consider Batman Begins; the film jumps back and forth between two timelines as we see Bruce’s past and current struggles, but the story as a whole is cohesive. Now think about The Dark Knight. The story still clearly moves from scene to scene, but there are some strange gaps. What happened to The Joker after Batman leapt out after Rachel? Why is Batman suddenly standing on top of that tower? What happened to Coleman Reese? Did Sal Maroni die in that car crash? How many people did Two-Face actually kill? Where did Batman shoot The Joker with his scallops? Is Two-Face actually dead?
Often, it seems as if Nolan decided that the story needed to move forward and simply placed the next big moment in the following scene.
TDKR also suffers from this syndrome. It’s possible that Nolan’s Inception played a role in this, as that film heavily relied on jump cuts. While it is excusable in a movie in which time, space, and actions are loosely defined within a dream state, it becomes confusing when applied to what is supposed to be real life. Again, numerous questions are raised, simply because there is no establishing shot or clarifying line of dialogue. How long has Bane been in Gotham? Why is Batman standing on top of that other tower? How long was Bruce out of Gotham? When did Bruce get back to Gotham? Why are Gotham’s streets completely barren? Where was Catwoman during 40 minutes of this film?
Once again, Nolan chooses to frequently tell the audience that something has happened, rather than put it on display. Altogether, these cuts are jarring on the first view and are never given a complete explanation, even after repeated viewings. The information simply is not there.
Stronger as Individual Movies Than as a Trilogy
Batman Begins is a great origin story to a character that never actually had his origin shown in a live action film before. By the end of the film, Batman is out in the world and ready to defend Gotham. If they never made another Batman movie, this could have easily stood on its own, allowing viewers to attach it in their minds to the previous Tim Burton films or continuing the story in comic book format. The Dark Knight gives us an installment in the continuing adventures of Batman through an Empire Strikes Back-like entry into the story that tests our hero in new ways. The Dark Knight Rises provides the conclusion to Batman’s story and seeks to provide closure to these films as a whole.
Unfortunately, when taken as a whole, the sum is not greater than its parts. Rather than feel like one long epic story arc, the films feel somewhat disconnected, despite carrying over some of the consequences of one into another. Additionally, their escalating nature begins to violate the very laws of the series.
The Dark Knight barely references Batman Begins, only acknowledging that film’s events by having Bruce living in a penthouse and not Wayne Manor. The League of Shadows is never talked about by anyone. Additionally, The Narrows is never spoken of, despite its huge significance in the first film, and Arkham Asylum is only briefly mentioned.
In The Dark Knight Rises, The Joker is never mentioned. Not even referenced. I understand that they were trying to respect Heath Ledger’s performance, but the complete absence of The Joker is glaring. Why would the man responsible for Harvey Dent’s fall from grace, Batman’s life-altering actions, and near-destruction of the city not be discussed? Since Rachel’s death is the reason for Bruce retiring and Rachel was killed by The Joker, why isn’t he a factor? By forcibly lessening the impact of The Joker, it diminishes the meaning of The Dark Knight and the ideas presented by the series’ greatest villain. Remember when The Joker said that he and Batman were destined to “do this forever?” He was wrong.
Also, TDKR brings back The League of Shadows from Batman Begins, meaning that these assassins and Ra’s al Ghul’s goals are featured more prominently than any other villain. This, in turn, makes TDK the odd one out. Its only real impact is to make Bruce retire for eight years and eventually turn the people of Gotham on the police.
Morality also shifts between each film. Batman Begins has us side with a man who uses his childhood trauma to break the law and help a city. TDK has us question Batman’s actions and the moral dilemmas of each character. TDKR makes good and evil a black and white situation. Either a character is wholly good or pure evil, and anyone in between ends up completely embracing one side or the other.
Additionally, many of the developments in TDKR clearly violate the real world rules set by the series. Yes, these boundaries were pushed by the microwave emitter in Batman Begins and The Joker’s outlandishly successful plan in The Dark Knight, but they were still mostly within the bound of reason. In TDKR, Bruce is healed by a leg brace that he doesn’t need when he returns, heals from a broken back with makeshift chiropractic work, and survives a nuclear blast by gliding over the ocean. Bane can punch holes out of stone columns, planes can be snatched up in mid-air and made to look like a common crash, and the Batpod can roll on its side for hundreds of feet. Also, the idea of a giant nuclear bomb and the struggle to get it out of the city on time is rather over-the-top and almost videogame-like.
In fact, I saw a version of it in the Adam West-led Batman: The Movie!
When taken by itself, the movie plays by its own rules. Put it in the context of the trilogy, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.
And that’s the end of my extra-long rant about this trilogy. I promise, I’m done complaining about The Dark Knight Rises!