“We like to talk big, vampires do. ‘I’m going to destroy the world.’ It’s just tough guy talk. Struttin’ around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got dog racing, Manchester United, and you’ve got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here. But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real passion for destruction. Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Piccadilly. Farewell, Leicester bloody Square. You know what I’m saying?”
-Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Becoming, Part 2,” Season 2, Episode 22
This speech and scene are a favorite of mine from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, partly because “Happy Meals with legs” is a phrase I wish I’d written myself and partly because Whedon craftily points out the ridiculousness of believing in villain after villain who says he wants to end the world while also asking his audience to believe in a villain who says he wants to end the world. If you have watched all the episodes leading to this moment, you’re invested in it. Spike comes into this show as someone as evil as we’ve met, but, by this point, Whedon and company have slowly tricked the audience into relating to him. It’s because he’s witty and charming and has that fantastic British accent, but it’s also because Spike loves his (undead) life. He loves his girlfriend. He likes to hang out and have a few drinks. Who doesn’t? This is a villain I believe in.
I mention all this because while I enjoyed watching The Dark Knight Rises, I couldn’t take Bane seriously. I had a hard time understanding his dialog at times (particularly that football game scene, which was pivotal), which took me out of the movie when I was struggling to just kind of keep up with the plot. I don’t think we can blame Hardy for this: as Brandon and Jeffrey have pointed out, he was menacing. That mask that made him hard to understand is also creepy as hell. The art direction throughout this series is outstanding and compensates for weaknesses in the writing and overall vision. In the end, though, and even with the twisty spoilery plot development there toward the end, I did not believe that this man would kill himself along with everyone in Gotham. I didn’t see what was in it for him, I didn’t think any of the rationales he provided (that I could understand) had weight, and I never felt worried that things were going to end badly.
In making another point, Brandon brings up the scene where the police charge into a crowd of anarchists on the street. This is a moment when the film lost me. Brandon likens it to scenes in other films, and isn’t it a scene in countless films? It’s a visual cliche, like some moron standing on the top of a hill throwing his hand in the air shouting “Freedom!” or “Sparta!” or “Victory!” or whatever. And oh my gosh, can we be done with extended scenes in which everyone has a big fight that destroys New York City (as it is or thinly veiled)? I felt this way watching The Avengers, too. I was with that movie until we got to the big showdown in the city, and then I was like, Ho, hum, like I haven’t seen this five million freaking times. In The Dark Knight Rises, I wondered yet again what good it is to save a city by knocking down all its buildings and bridges and killing goodness knows how many innocent bystanders in the process.
To me, the most emotionally charged moment in TDKR, when I really felt worried, was when the goons caught Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Blake in the alley. Blake had taken a risk to do something quietly good, and he was so alone there and in a type of danger I believed–the kind people face all the time in this world, facing down someone who means them harm. I thought he might die. I continue to love that Gordon-Levitt. He and Hathaway anchored this movie for me.
I am, as you guys know, a Nolan fan, but I’ve struggled to like this series. I thought Batman Begins was boring, so the callback to that in this film didn’t work for me at all, as I barely even remember the plot. Watching TDKR, I realized, too, that what I truly enjoyed about The Dark Knight was Heath Ledger’s Joker. I don’t remember the plot of that movie anymore, really, either, but what I do remember is believing that the Joker was deeply mentally disturbed and capable of doing just about anything. That’s how you craft a villain. I think there’s a lot that’s worthwhile in this movie and this series, in some of the issues it explores, but I wish it had relied less on cliche, which is crazy hard to do when you’re dealing with superheroes, but then there’s Watchmen (more the book than the film, which was fine but not great).
But, okay, so we all rely on cliches, and if there wasn’t something to this film, I would not have written this much about it. I’ll take mediocre Nolan over excellent Michael Bay every time. There is an attempt to say something here, and it explores some issues effectively: ends and means, the long-term toll of violence (on the perpetrator as well as the victim), the nature of heroism, and what the heck should we all be doing with our lives.
Regarding the twists and the ending–HERE COME THE SPOILERS–I thought Bruce Wayne’s final moment was both kind of a cop out and completely comforting. I think him going out in that explosion might have been a more authentic ending for that character, but, as I think Jeffrey said, I like thinking that healing is possible. The other final-moment twists with Blake and Miranda were unnecessary and showy. At least it didn’t turn out to be the plants behind everything.