In true Tork of the Town fashion, I’m now two weeks late to getting around to this film, but better late than never. And after my worries that it would flop after the greatness that was The Dark Knight, it alleviated my worries…mostly. I can’t say this film tops, or even matches, The Dark Knight, but it sure came close. LIke the previous films, the direction was great, the writing was fantastic, and the acting excellent, except for the Batman growl, I’ll never be comfortable with that. I also have to commend Christopher Nolan for finally getting good female characters into the plot, played by brilliant actresses. Let’s face it, Rachel Dawes was a terrible character and neither Katie Holmes nor Maggie Gyllenhal brought anything of value to the table. Here we had the Marion Cotillard being her usual brilliant self as Talia al Ghul, and Anne Hathaway doing a great job playing a more realistic Catwoman. Though, Nolan should have probably spent more time building the relationship between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman in order to make the ending more believable, which brings me to the other issue I had with the film. The ending was a bit disappointing, but we’ll get to that later. Every review probably already has the generic pros and cons of the film, so I want to stray away from that a bit and focus on just the particulars I found interesting.
Anyone who reads the Batman comics learns one thing very quickly about the villains; their all a mirror of Batman; each one reflects how Bruce Wayne could have turned out if something about his upbringing was only a little different than it was. My love for this film, and the series in general, is how well they were able to keep up the idea of the mirror. There be spoilers below, this be the last warning if you don’t want anything spoiled (though IMDB’s cast list already ruins enough).
Now that I got that out of the way, let’s get down to it. The story of Bane that we have by the end of the film is that he was a prisoner of the world’s worst prison, and was horribly injured during his attempt to help Talia al Ghul escape as a child. The injuries along with the shoddy repair job by the prison doctor, forced Bane to wear a mask to keep the pain at bay. He’s eventually freed by the League of Shadows, and subsequently cast out of the league. Like Bruce Wayne, his past is dark and full of horror. Like Bruce Wayne, these horrors are what made him a stronger and harder man, and like Bruce Wayne, he was trained by the best, both physically and mentally. He is Batman’s equal, maybe even a superior in some ways. He matches Batman in both strength and intelligence, and has resources behind him that, though much different, match the resources that Bruce Wayne provides for Batman. Most importantly, they both had someone who they loved, who helped fuel their reason to fight. For Bruce it was the love he had for the parents he lost, then replaced by the love he had for Rachel and his need to protect her and the city. For Bane, it was the love he had for the child he saved who in turn would save him from the same pit of dispair. But Bane, unlike Batman, was led astray because of his love, granted we don’t know who he was and what he was before he ended up in that prison, but the life of hardship that he endured, and the decision to embrace the corrupt teachings of the League of Shadows, so that he may remain with the person he loved, made him a powerful villain. Though Bruce had a hard life growing up, he still had morally good guardians watching over him, whether they were his parents or his butler. And though Bruce delved into the world of darkness to make himself stronger, he was only a visitor. Bane puts it best when he says that he was born into the world of darkness, and that the shadows betrayed Batman because they belonged to Bane. It’s these differences that create the mirror to Batman; Bane is strong, smart, and determined. But the experiences have made him Batman’s opposite, and show what Batman could have been if Bruce stayed with the League.
Talia al Ghul
The next villain, the true mastermind behind the events of DKR is Talia al Ghul, who went by the name Miranda (people who might have checked IMDB early on would have had this spoiled as they had her listed as both characters, they’ve fixed it since then at least). Her character’s history from the movie, is basically Bane’s actual history form the comics. I don’t know why they decided to change her story line and switch it with Bane’s. The revealing of her character at the end of the movie was interesting enough, and it took everything away from Bane’s character to know that she was the one who escaped the pit, and not Bane. Whatever, what’s done is done I guess. But, based on Talia’s movie history, we again see a character that is mirrored to Batman and shows what he could have been. Talia is born in the prison that Bane was in, where her mother is serving a life sentence for Talia’s father. Like Bruce, she experiences the loss of her parents (her mother is killed in prison and she doesn’t meet her father till later). During the time she remains in prison she is raised by someone who cares for her, same as Bruce, though where he got a morally good and loving guardian, Alfred, she had Bane, someone who has done something bad enough to end up in that prison in the first place. When she finally gets out of prison, she reunites with her father, Ra’s al Ghul (and it’s pronounced Raish not Ras, one of the more annoying things about the trilogy for me), who is now the head of the League of Shadows and trains her as a member of the League. Her father then dies as a result of Batman’s actions. This of course is the greatest irony as Ra’s al Ghul’s death was due to the actions of a man who lost his parents to the actions of Ra’s al Ghul’s League (Bruce’s parents were killed by a mugger, who was poor and disenfranchised due to the Depression that was occurring, which was created by the League in an effort to destroy the city). Though she’s not as physically capable as Batman, she shows tactical superiority to him, and was much better at hiding her true identity than Batman (seriously, who didn’t know that Bruce was Batman by the end of the film). Her intellect more than compensates for what she may lack physically, and again we see that she is a mirror to what Batman could have been. Like Bruce, she is avenging her father’s death, but unlike Bruce her morals came from men who never taught her that killing was wrong, so while Batman tries to bring criminals to justice in an effort to avenge the death of his parents, she seeks to complete her father’s mission while getting personal vengeance against Bruce (first she takes Bruce’s money via Bane’s trip to the Stock Exchange, then she gets Bruce to give her his seat on the Board of his company, and then she tries to take his life). And again, she resembles of Bruce would have become if he ended up leading the League as Ra’s originally intended.
Even though he wasn’t a major villain in this movie, the Scarecrow is worth mentioning as he has managed to find his way into all three films. With Scarecrow, we see Batman’s mirror in his use of fear and his dispelling of justice. The former is technically more about Batman Begins than Dark Knight Rises, but Scarecrow, like Batman, uses fear to achieve his goals. The difference of course being that Scarecrow used fear for personal gain, while Batman used fear for both personal and societal gain. Now, in the third movie, we also saw Scarecrow acting as a Judge, dishing out sentences to everyone that Bane’s gang rounded up as enemies. Batman of course also considers himself an officer of justice, but unlike Scarecrow did not consider everyone who wronged him automatically guilty, and did not sentence everyone to a painful death. Scarecrow is the aspect of Batman taken to the extreme, he shows us what using fear for your advantage can lead to, and how strict justice can lead to injustice.
Homage to Comics
I’ve read a decent amount of the Batman comics and it brought me so much pleasure to see little references pop up here and there; these are the few that stuck out the most for me.
You’re in for a show kid
The first comic book reference I spotted popped up when Batman finally made his reappearance in Gotham. The cops are chasing down Bane’s gang from the Stock Exchange incident, when all the lights start to black out, and something zooms by a cop car. The rookie is completely clueless to what happened, but the veteran cop just relaxes and tells the rookie to enjoy the show as we then see Batman with his batpod. Though the events are different from the comic, the little snippet of dialogue, came almost word for word from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. In both stories, Batman just made a grand appearance after spending a significant amount of time secluded from his “work.” As the grand appearance is made, a rookie and a veteran are chasing criminals in a cop car and the veteran told the rookie that they were “in for a show.” It’s a great moment for the obvious reason that no matter what people thought of the Batman at that point, there were still those who remembered him for who he really was, and still supported him, while the rookies struggle between being in awe of the legend, and their duty to stop vigilantes.
I Will Break You
This might be one of the most famous moments in Batman/Bane history. In the Batman story “Knightfall” Batman ends up in a fight with Bane, who breaks Batman’s back as he tells Batman that he will break him, which is precisely what we saw happen in DKR. Bane and Batman finally meet and begin their first battle against each other, and Bane knocks him around like a rag doll. This all culminates with Bane telling Batman that he will break him then, just like in the comic, he lifts batman over his head throws Batman down onto his knee, breaking Batman’s back. It was such a truly epic moment in the comics, and it makes me so happy that they were able to implement it in the movie in such a great way.
Gangs Ruling the City
This wasn’t an exact reference to anything in particular, but paralleled closely with “No Man’s Land” and one of the chapters of Dark Knight Rises. In both stories we have cataclysmic events that lead to a dystopian society led by various gangs. We then see Batman lead a personal army to reclaim the city. In No Man’s Land Batman works with Gordon to systemically take back the city from the various villains who have claimed ownership of different areas of Gotham. In Dark Knight Returns Batman brings together an army of Batman followers to take back the city from the gangs who were rampaging through it.
As promised, here’s my issue with the ending. This movie, and the previous films, showed us that Bruce would give everything to protect his city, including his life. We were also presented with the “smoking gun” as Wayne complains to Fox about the lack of autopilot in The Bat. So, when Batman sacrifices himself at the end to save the city it’s a bittersweet and appropriate ending. We also see his legacy live on with Blake, whose real name is Robin, who gets access to the Batcave, thus showing that Batman truly was more than a person, he was an idea that would live on long after Bruce. I twas an ending I could accept. Then things took a turn and we find out that Bruce survived, and left with Selina to be together. I don’t buy it, Bruce will always be Batman, it’s a part of him that he will never be able to get rid of. In many previous works we know that Bruce’s subconscious refers to him as Batman not Bruce. So I don’t buy that Bruce would be able to throw in the towel like that. Granted, they gave us a second smoking gun with Alfred’s story about how he always hoped he would see Bruce in that cafe in Florence with a woman, and they would just nod at each other. But this is just such a cop out to me. Out of fear that the ending would be too dark, they gave us an ending that cheapened the work overall. It’s a shame too, because the movie otherwise really hit it out of the ball park.
I loved the movie, I really did. The villains once again were presented in a realistic way, while keeping faith with the comics. The story was fantastic, and in some ways on an even grander scale than what we had with The Dark Knight. Most importantly, it left me nostalgic for what I still consider to be one of the greatest Batman works, and shows, of all time, Batman: The Animated Series. So, I’ll leave you with one of the greatest show intros of all time.