Why The Dark Knight Doesn’t Quite Rise to the Challenge

This is the third time I have attempted to begin writing this review. They say the third time’s a charm, though! Unless, of course, it’s in regards to the third part of a Batman trilogy. In a last ditch effort to not simply diverge on a diatribe that would make Two-Face seem sapient, I’m going to break this review down into parts. I’ll warn you now that this review will contain more spoilers than there are prostitutes in Old Town (plenty!), so look away if you wish to remain unsullied.

And here we go-

Batman/Bruce Wayne:

What the fuck, Bruce? Where do I even begin?

I worked at Silver Snail Comics for five years, and every day I went to work I made it my personal mission to prove that Batman was- hands down, without a shadow of a doubt- the BEST comic book hero out there. Five years of hard work were very nearly diminished within the first five minutes of this film.

Are you CRYING, Bruce? Oh, your knees hurt? You didn’t think to tack on an order for knee pads while you were shipping in high-tech Kevlar jockstraps from Japan? MAN UP.

My willing suspension of disbelief simply refuses to extend to the lengths that would be required for me to believe that Batman would find himself hung up on Katie Holmes’ vapid interpretation of Rachel Dawes for nearly a decade. Maggie Gyllenhaal brought incredible depth to a character that had been written for the sole purpose of dying in order to advance the plot of the men (oh, Nolan), but I still could not find it within myself to believe that any man would spiral into a depression so all-encompassing that for eight years he would not manage to function socially as a result of losing a woman he had known on and off for two years and had kissed twice. Seriously. She hit him as often as they kissed.  What is this, Spider-Man? Stop crying; rub some Tiger Balm on those joints and GET OUT THERE.

Don’t get me wrong, there are few things I love in this world more than Christian Bale with a beard, but I love Batman even more than I love his slightly ginger facial hair and I was simply not willing to accept the fact that he’d spent the past eight years hobbling around his manor with a scowl, exhibiting virtually no interest in anything- including the company his father left him- besides tree-hugging and archery.

I actually applauded when Selina Kyle kicked his cane out from beneath him because by that point I was so sick and tired of his moping.

Now it’s time for a story.

When I was a child I was inspired by the acrobatics of The Animated Series’ Catwoman to learn gymnastics. I quit my actual classes when my instructor forced me down into the splits (I winced even writing that), and learned, through a process of trial and (painful) error, how to do everything she could do. I could walk on my hands, cartwheel, back flip, and was once so flexible that I could lie flat on my front and watch TV with my legs bent over my shoulders so that my feet were flat on the ground on either side of my head.

My point is this: If I tried any of that shit today I would probably die.

After ten years of presumably doing nothing besides pissing money away and weeping over a framed photo of Rachel, all Bruce Wayne needs is a knee brace and he can not only operate the Batpod but outwit and overcome numerous members of The League of Shadows? He’s not out of practise at all? No? Okay. Sure. You know what? I’ll take it. It’s a movie. One of my favourite shots was of Batman walking in bad-ass slow-motion up to the fallen member of the motorcycle gang, his cape whipping around his muscular calves, and that wouldn’t have been possible without his robo-tech Forrest Gump knee brace, so, fine.

With that being said, the fight that took place between Batman and Bane was one of the least dramatic or impactful fights I have ever seen on the big screen. The commercials for “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo” roused a more emotional response out of me. Although his physicality clearly did not suffer as a result the eight-year hiatus, his mind evidently took a turn for the worst. When I- a member of the audience- am thinking a step ahead of The Batman– something is very wrong.

Did Batman, “The World’s Greatest Detective” truly not clue into the fact that Bane appeared to be wearing some kind of breathing apparatus? HIT HIM IN THE FACE. No? Another kidney shot? Are those sharp, pointy devices on your gauntlet gloves there for decoration? COME ON. At one point I thought, ohohoho, surely he’s about to disconnect a few of those tubes and Bane is going to fly into a panic-driven-blind-rage and shit will get REAL but…no. Nothing happened.

In the end Bane didn’t even “break the bat”, he just dislocated a disc. It was like watching a “Dancing With the Stars” move gone horribly wrong, not an incredible fight between two worthy contenders.

Speaking of dancing, let’s take a moment to discuss the horizontal tango.

First of all, I get it. Marion Cotillard is stunning. However, when you expect us to believe that Bruce Wayne lost the woman he loved so much that he was willing to sacrifice his life-long relationship with Alfred for the sake of her mere memory, it seems extremely forced and out of place when he’s literally making out with a busty French woman on top of her portrait a few hours later.

When did those two even hit it off?! There was no sense of a relationship budding between the pair, no sense of there being any sort of internal conflict warring within Talia. So…why did they have sex? If, unlike the comics, where the character of Talia Al Ghul is multi-faceted and interesting, she had no romantic interest in Bruce Wayne, why would she have felt compelled to allow him to have sex with her? To establish the trust required for him to hand her control of the atomic bomb in the basement of his warehouse? She could not have made herself seem worthy by showcasing the merits of her mind and outwitting him? She had to have sex with a man we can only assume she despised? The man that she believed to be responsible for the untimely death of her beloved father? The father she is willing to blow up an entire city for? As a woman who loves comics (and my Dad!), I felt resentful of that choice. It not only diminished the plot concerning Bruce’s heartbreak over the loss of his one true love, but it diminished Talia as a character entirely.

At this point in time I’m wracking my brain attempting to come up with something- anything I liked as far as Batman’s arc in this story went, but it’s hard. It’s really hard. The elements that I enjoyed are all entirely thanks to Christian Bale and his incredible ability as an actor. I still believe he is one of the only actors working today capable of successfully playing all three elements of The Batman. Batman, Bruce, and Bruce Wayne the playboy. I loved his humour in this, and I wish he had had a better story to tell.

Bane:

Oh, Bane.

When casting was initially announced, I was angry that the role of Bane, a villain from South America, had been fulfilled by a white, British guy. I still find that unsavory, but at least Tom Hardy is talented. Does that fact justify yet another role being handed to a white guy? Hardly, but I could write another six pages on that topic alone, so, we’ll move on.

There’s currently a picture of Bane floating around on Facebook, captioned: STILL MORE FACIAL EXPRESSIONS THAN KRISTEN STEWART- and it’s true. It’s impressive how much Tom Hardy managed to emote despite the contraption he was forced to wear. Not that it’s hard to emote more than Kristen Stewart, but still.

His voice is another issue, but I’m not going to waste any time nit-picking. My Dad thinks it sounded like a bad Sean Connery, I thought it was “a lovely, lovely voice“. It did, in a way, make him one of the most unintentionally charming villains I’ve ever encountered, and in the end I felt that was a disservice. I was never scared of Bane. Not once. I will admit I squirmed in my seat when he dropped his hand down on Daggett’s shoulder and drawled- “Do you feel in charge?”- but then what happened next happened off-screen. Perhaps watching “Game of Thrones” has ruined me in some twisted way, but…I’d like to see some violence! I want to be afraid of the villain! I want to see at least one example of his famed ferocity- but all he did was choke people- which I don’t feel is a good choice when your villain breathes like Darth Vader.

I could have liked the story between Talia and Bane, but the relationship between them also severely lacked development. Sure, we got back-story, but that felt like an effort to distract the fans that had never picked up a comic from the fact that R’as Al Ghul had a daughter instead of a son. The only moment that existed between them was weakened by their lack of a connection. Also he was crying. I’m pretty sure at one point I said aloud in the theatre-

“Is he crying?”

“No!”

Yeah. That’s what happens when his morphine muzzle is disconnected. He blubbers like a child with a scraped knee.  It took me five seconds to come up with the winning strategy it took Batman five months in a Lazarus Pit to formulate. Yeah, The Batman. His contingency plan was ultimately to fist-fight Bane again, but this time aim a bit higher.

Really?

Really.

He got beefed up on banana chips and the occasional sip of water, and made it back to Gotham in time to go toe-to-toe with Bane again. I thought that we would finally be delivered with an incredible fight when Batman disconnected one of those tubes, but no, Bane reacted the way I do when I stub my toe.

Bane’s master plan (Talia’s master plan?), on the other hand, was just as feckless. Turn Gotham into an above ground Lazarus Pit? Watch people struggle and climb over one another, seeking the light at the end of the tunnel that in reality was only the approaching train? I get it, but…why? What was the point? Was it really worth keeping Gotham on the map for a few months so that a jury of bad guys could force rich people to take part in mock trials? Your master plan involves a few cases of hypothermia and a big bang? By biding their time, Bane and Talia only provided Batman with a window of opportunity. How he got back to Gotham City without a penny to his name is beyond me, but again- it’s a movie and he’s Batman, so I’m willing to overlook that.

Catwoman/Selina Kyle:

I’m still not willing to overlook those fucking shoes.

For a man who spent two films justifying how and why a man could believably become The Batman, Nolan and his team sure as hell did not approach the ladies with the same careful consideration.

Before I begin, I want to make one thing very clear: I think Anne Hathaway is a wonderful actress and person. I want to be her best friend because she’s probably the kind of person that puts a lot of thought into birthday gifts. Any and all issues I have with the way Catwoman was depicted in this film have to do with the plot and the writing. Oh, and the costume design.

I don’t even know where to begin.

The costume? Why not.

As many people have already pointed out, being kicked hurts. It hurts! It doesn’t matter what kind of shoes the person is wearing, so that attempted justification of her chosen footwear was utterly preposterous. When you graduate from one karate class to another you’re presented with a belt, not shoes. There’s no “black stiletto” level for a reason. Heels aside, has anyone here ever worn a pair of shoes that extend up past the kneecap? Anyone? If I were to ask you- “What profession would require a woman to invest in a pair of thigh-high stiletto boots?”- would the answer- “Cat burglar!”- spring to mind? No?

I could go on, but I’ll refrain, because at this point in time I think we’ve all come to a mutual wink-wink-nudge-nudge understanding that that costume was made with the male fans in mind. Unlike Batman, her suit was not designed to provoke fear; it was not designed to be convenient or even remotely sensible. It was not designed with anything besides sexual provocation in mind, and that is the difference between the men and the women in this Superhero world. If you think I’m being histrionic about the way women are depicted in film (and in comics), and how impactful that is on our society as a whole, look at the difference between the questions Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway were asked in interviews regarding the film. He’s asked interesting, thought-provoking questions, while she’s asked about her diet, and what she had to do in order to fit into that catsuit– as if it were made prior to her being cast, and she had to adjust herself to fit the garment, instead of it being the other way around.

I don’t know about you guys, but I tie my hair back when I’m vacuuming- nevermind engaging in hand-to-hand combat with armed assassins.

Despite all of that, however, my main issue with the suit was the fact that it even existed.

It looked like another one of Lucius Fox’s creations. It was slick, high-tech, and extremely baffling as a result. How did she manage to put together such an elaborate, expensive costume complete with gadgets while Holly was still forced to swindle and turn tricks in the stairwell? Whenever the backstory of Selina Kyle watching over the younger girls in Old Town is utilized, her costume is generally homemade and functional. That backstory is one of the best, and one of my personal favourites, and if you’re going to use it you had better do it justice. Perhaps if she wasn’t stock-piling her money on the off-chance that she’d need to fly first-class out of Gotham on a whim, her friends would no longer be forced to risk their personal safety working the streets for the sake of a few dollars. I’m certain that plot was added so that we too would be willing to wag our fingers and forgive her the way Batman did after she betrayed him (twice), but it wound up having quite the opposite effect in the end, as Holly and the other girls in Old Town were never mentioned again. When Catwoman proposed they find a way off the island, she was speaking to Batman. She never once asked him how he got on the island, and if he could get the girls off in the same way. They were never spared a second thought.

Unless she required an unwitting accomplice to bring an envelope to armed and dangerous thugs, of course.

Like Talia (who I will get to in a minute), Catwoman is an anti-hero, and as multi-faceted and interesting as Batman himself. Attempting to include them both in a single film turned out to be a grievous error, as you cannot introduce both Selina Kyle and Talia Al Ghul in the final act and expect to do them justice. Neither of them wound up having a believable relationship with either Bruce Wayne or Batman, and- as wry as Catwoman may have been- neither wound up playing the parts of characters that you wound up caring a great deal for. I was never rooting for Catwoman, or even remotely invested in her storyline. Her only endeavour in this film was entirely self-motivated, and harebrained at that. A magic eraser? Really?

Perhaps if she had opted for more sensible footwear, and had made an effort to conceal her hair every once in awhile, she wouldn’t have wound up with a record thicker than the heel of her shoe. Just a thought.

With all that being said, there were some wonderful moments. Screaming in the bar in order to avoid suspicion? Great! Kicking the cane? Amazing. Breaking the perverted prisoner’s wrists? Yeah! She even made a dick joke! As wonderful as those wonderful moments were, they made me sad in the end, because watching this film made me realize how important a role Catwoman could have played in this trilogy, but instead we were forced to endure two films worth of Vicki Vale 2.0. because Nolan felt he required a woman to kill.

Yet again.

Talia Al Ghul:

What a waste.

I know, I know, this film was a contract obligation and not the intended conclusion, but just imagine for a moment how sweet it would have been if Miranda Tate had been introduced in the second film. Imagine if they had taken the time to truly develop the relationship between Bruce and Miranda- to explore the underlying push and pull Talia experiences every time she is forced to decide between Bruce and her father.

Imagine actually giving a fuck when she literally stabbed him in the back?

It is honestly kind of mind-boggling how effectively they belittled one of the most interesting characters in the Batman Universe. She was operating like a suicide bomber the entire time- willing to die on behalf of the beliefs of another person. She operated utterly without remorse, or a sense of there being anything beyond her sense of righteous indignation. That kind of black and white portrayal of good and bad is best left for “My Little Pony” cartoons, not the grey scope of the Batman Universe.

And that’s…about…it.

I have nothing more to say about Talia because besides having sex with Bruce Wayne and attempting to blow up some orphans she contributed little else to this film- and that is a damn shame, considering this is a character that has been featured in stories since the early 1970s.

I’m not sure who has less of a chance of survival. Women in Nolan films, or Sean Bean in…anything.

She’s the mother of his child, by the way, and one of the most important characters in the Batman Universe, having saved his life or helped him in dire circumstances numerous times, but would you have any inkling of that depth after watching this film? No. Now on the other hand, consider everything the audience now knows about Harvey Dent, Two-Face, and The Joker having seen The Dark Knight. It is certainly possible to portray characters accurately and provide them with depth over the course of a single film, but instead of providing Talia with any actual character development, she only revealed layers by removing her clothes. The only time Talia had a moment to tell us about herself, she had a knife between Batman’s ribs and she was talking about Bane, telling us his story once again. Yes, the henchman had more screen-time and backstory than either of the two main women involved.

Ten minutes later she was dead (sorry, Damion!), and at the end of the film on both occasions that I saw it, I heard men referring to her as a bitch as we exited the theatre.

Officer “Blake”/Robin:

I can’t.

I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I even loved him in this role; however, I don’t feel that the whole “Robin” shtick at the end was called for.

Officer Blake? Why not just call him Officer Drake and be done with it? We get it! We got it!

You know what; I don’t even want to talk about Robin. I’m just going to pretend it didn’t happen, the same way I’m now pretending that the ending was in reality a Nolan twist, and Alfred was only seeing what he wanted to see. Nope, Bruce Wayne was not sitting there in a pink shirt and Selina Kyle was not sitting opposite him in an ugly dress wearing his mother’s pearls and the hair style I favoured at age four. Didn’t that necklace get broken, by the way? Did eight-year-old Bruce Wayne really clamber around his parent’s bodies collecting scattered pearls?

In the end, watching this film felt like watching your favourite musician in concert, and realizing that they were lip-synching because they had lost their voice but still felt obligated to perform. On the one hand I appreciate the effort, but on the other, it is simply not the same calibre.

At least there was a dick joke (and I’m not talking about Robin).