The Dark Knight Rises Revisited

21 01 2013

Yes, it’s another not-at-all-timely movie post. The other night I watched The Dark Knight Rises for the second time, the first time I saw it since it opened in theaters. I really wanted to like it then, enough that I enjoyed watching it once. But its flaws were too much for a second viewing. I probably could have overlooked them all, if I wasn’t immediately tripped up by how wrong they got Batman.

Batman is supposed to be relentless. He is someone who draws strength from the tragedies of his past. He is committed to his personal crime-fighting mission beyond ordinary rationality. Yet, the movie begins by telling us he gave it all up — due to a broken heart — and has been idle for 8 years. Which incidentally means that the sum total of Batman’s career is the first two movies. If he only ever fought The Joker and Ras-al Ghul, he’s not much of a superhero.

Superheroes are not complicated characters. That’s a large part of their appeal. The name and the costume should give you all the vital information you need as an audience. Not all there is to know, but all you need to get on board. (This is why the show Heroes never worked– they eliminated hero names and costumes. That and the stupid stories.) Uncomplicated does not mean unsophisticated; superheroes can have rich inner lives, inhabit complex worlds, experience convoluted plots.  But, dear moviemakers, you have to stay true to the characters’ root elements. Do that, and you can have a whole thrilling ensemble of distinctive mythic beings, like The Avengers. Fail to do it, and you get Green Lantern, Spider-man 3, Daredevil, etc etc.

As a standalone action movie, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t bad. But The Dark Knight really raised the bar. It captured Batman and The Joker so well, it illuminated the whole superhero/supervillain dichotomy. To wit: a superhero turns weakness into strength. Within himself at minimum, within others when at his/her best. A Supervillain turns the strength of others into weakness. Watch it again and see how beautifully that basic conflict plays out. That’s what I’ll be doing. What third movie?

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