WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES!
The Dark Knight Rises has been out for a week now and I've already seen it twice. I absolutely love it. It's getting generally good reviews (it's average rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 86%) but there have been a few dissenting voices on the the internet. Now, normally I have no problem with opinions that differ from my own and I'm always eager to hear views that challenge my way of thinking. But here's my problem. The majority of people complaining about The Dark Knight Rises are wrong. Objectively, categorically and absolutely wrong.
I've narrowed down most of the criticisms of the film that I've come across so far to four common complaints. I will now list those complaints and explain why those making them are wrong, wrong, wrong. I would like you to imagine that each complaint is being said in the voice of Droopy.
1) "I couldn't understand Bane's voice!"
I don't get this criticism at all. If anything I'd say that Bane's booming, theatrical voice is clearer than anybody else's in the film. In fact a friend of mine recently made a far more accurate criticism relating to Bane's voice, when he compared it to The Voice from Seinfeld. So is it over the top? Yes. Hammy? Perhaps. But difficult to hear? If you think so, perhaps this is the link for you.
For me, the over the top nature of Tom Hardy's performance as Bane is part of the film's appeal, and this leads us nicely to our next complaint....
2) "It's too realistic!"
I've seen a lot of people around the 'net complaining about director Christopher Nolan's decision to ground his Dark Knight trilogy in something resembling the real world. I often get the impression that fans who make this complaint feel that Nolan's toned down the more 'comic-booky' elements of the Batman myth to make it more palatable for a wider audience. They perhaps feel that Nolan is embarrassed by his source material and seeks to distance himself from it. I get the impression that this notion has put some fans on the defensive and led them to be more inclined to dislike the trilogy. It's certainly true that parts of the trilogy resemble a crime thriller more than a superhero movie. Indeed Nolan has cited Michael Mann's Heat as "sort of an inspiration" for his second Batman film, The Dark Knight. But I personally wouldn't go as far as to say that the films are "too realistic".
For a start, let's remember that at the core of each of the three films we have a man in a giant bat-suit. In the third film he has a flying car. It's not quite Mean Streets is it? And while there are parts that are grounded in 'reality', they're only there to make the more absurd parts more effective. For example, part of what makes The Dark Knight so brilliant for me is that you've got your average Hollywood cops 'n' robbers movie and then all of a sudden these two costumed nutjobs are plonked down right in the middle of it! Neither the cops nor the robbers know what to do or how to react in the face of Batman and the Joker. They don't understand them or their motives. This is because two comic book archetypes have just sprung straight off the page and into the 'real' world, and the 'real' world is changed because of it.
And what about The Dark Knight Rises and it's villain, Bane? As I mentioned earlier he is possibly the most campy and over the top villain of all three films. Even his evil scheme is straight out of a superhero comic or a Roger Moore Bond film. Holding a city hostage with a nuclear bomb that's going to blow up anyway? It's crazy! And his decision to keep Bruce Wayne alive in the Pit? What is that if not a variation on the old easily escapable death traps from the sixties Adam West TV series? I'm not criticising here, I loved all of this. But it's hardly "too realistic" is it?
I would argue then that Nolan's films don't feature realistic heroes and villains at all. They feature proper, genuine, bona fide, comic book super-heroes and super-villains and they're the better for it!
3) "It's too different from the comic!"
The Dark Knight Rises is a film that features scenes and themes that are inspired by or reminiscent of such classic comic tales as The Dark Knight Returns, The Cult, Vengeance of Bane, Knightfall, No Man's Land, and A Lonely Place of Dying, and yet there are still those who complain that it differs too much from the comic. One complaint I've heard far too much of is "Why didn't they just name Robin Dick Grayson instead of John Blake?" I find this complaint ridiculous to be honest. In the comic there have been four male Robins and I saw at least three of them reflected in the character of John Blake. Blake's father was killed by a gangster and he grew up in poverty, just like Jason Todd! Blake deduced Bruce Wayne's secret identity and earnestly believes that Gotham needs a Batman, just like Tim Drake! Blake showed himself to be more grounded and sociable than Wayne, and with his distaste for Gordon's compromise he may even be more inherently noble and heroic than Wayne, just like Dick Grayson! To me Dick Grayson has always been Bruce Wayne without the grumpiness and the hang ups. He's a natural leader and understands and gets on with people better than Wayne. These are the qualities that could possibly one day make Grayson a more effective Batman than Wayne. These are also qualities that were abundantly evident in John Blake throughout the film. When you have a character who embodies Robin in so many ways you have to ask yourself, seriously, what's in a name?
Another common complaint is "The Batman in the comics wouldn't give up like the movie Batman did!" Well yes, there's a certain interpretation of the character featured in certain comics that would never hang up his cape for good. For example, Frank Miller's grim, obsessed soldier version of Batman would never end his war on crime. Even The Dark Knight Returns, Miller's ending for the Batman legend, has a sequel. But Batman is over seventy years old and there are many versions of the character. What about the Batman of Earth Two, who retired to marry Catwoman and raise a daughter? It took the death of his wife, his own impending death from cancer and an unstoppable, magically powered foe to tempt him out of retirement. What about Batman #131 (1960), which features a retired Bruce Wayne who has married Kathy (Batwoman) Kane and left the crime-fighting to Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne Junior? What about Robin #7 (1994), in which Bruce Wayne is prepared to retire and leave the mantle of the Batman to Azrael, until he finds out that Azrael is a murdering psychopath? Given that all these different interpretations of Batman exist, couldn't we just allow Nolan to show us a version of Batman that would be driven to eight years of solitude by the death of the woman he loved? Couldn't we allow Nolan to provide us with at least one more universe where Batman can give up all the pain and struggle in order to marry Catwoman and have holidays in Florence for the rest of his life?
Can't we just let Batman have one more happy ending?
4) "It's too dark and depressing!"
No. It isn't. It really, really isn't. Granted, it's quite violent and a lot of people die, but personally I find the whole trilogy to be uplifting, optimistic and inspirational. It's basic message is, people (specifically the people of Gotham City) are inherently good and worth saving. In Batman Begins we meet Thomas Wayne, a man who believes in Gotham City. Thomas pours his fortune and his heart into the city and when he's killed the city gives up on itself and descends into poverty and crime. This continues until Thomas' son Bruce inspires the city to believe in itself again with his symbol, The Batman. Batman comes up against a variety of different people who try and convince him that Gotham isn't worth saving. Ra's Al Ghul, Bane and Talia believe that Gotham has forfeited its right to exist and must be wiped off the face of the Earth, but through all three films the people of Gotham continue to reward the Batman's faith in them. The second film contains one of the most explicit examples of this, when two boatloads of Gothamites defy the Joker and refuse to murder each other. At the end of the second film Batman and Gordon try to inspire the people of Gotham with a lie, Harvey Dent. But in the third film we see that the lie fails and it's the honest and pure symbol of the Batman that proves to be the most effective and enduring inspiration for the people of Gotham. Foley wants to bury his head in the sand but seeing Batman's symbol inspires him to heroically sacrifice his life. Catwoman can't understand why Batman continues to struggle for the people of Gotham; she tells him "You don't owe these people any more!" But Batman eventually inspires her to return to aid Gotham, which leads to Bane's ultimate defeat. And of course John Blake is inspired to continue Batman's heroic legacy.
One of the main messages of the trilogy then is that people are inherently good, they just need an inspiring symbol to point them in the right direction. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? Oh that's right! Marlon Brando's Jor-El in Superman:The Movie!
"They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son."And you're trying to tell me that this film is too dark and depressing?! You're trying to tell me that this film is ashamed of it's comic-book, super-hero roots?!
I'm sorry, but you're wrong. Just plain wrong.