Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie... even though Batman is barely in it.

But that's the way all the Christopher Nolan Batman movies have been. Even though they're allegedly about Batman, Batman himself makes relatively few appearances. The movies are more about Bruce Wayne than Batman. That's okay, I suppose. Bruce Wayne has always been developed remarkably well in the Nolan movies and TDKR is no exception. But all I really care about is seeing Batman in action.

DC understands this. In the comics, Batman is almost always in full costume. When he's fighting bad guys, he's Batman. When he's studying at the Bat-computer, he's Batman (or, at least in full Bat-suit without the cowl on). The costume is integral to Batman's coolness and idiosyncrasy. The more pages in a comic that feature Batman, the more comics DC sells. Bruce Wayne is usually treated as an afterthought, a necessary evil for Batman to interact in the real world as a relatively normal shmoe. But that never lasts for long; as soon as he can, he gets right back into his Bat-suit.

That's because, as David Carradine said about Superman in Kill Bill, the Bruce Wayne persona is the mask. Bruce is really Batman... that's what his personal tragedies and training has turned him into, that's how he is most comfortable. It's important to the character for him to be Batman and not Bruce Wayne.

Unfortunately, TDKR has painfully few scenes featuring Batman in full costume. I can think of just two off the top of my head (although the second was the extended climax of the movie). So, fanboys expecting a bat-tastic adventure full of Bat-gadgets and all sorts of other Batman-ness need apply elsewhere. And the fact that he so infrequently wears the Bat-suit changes the character dynamic. It's not necessarily bad, and the Batman concept is big enough to still be interesting when it's reimagined this way, but it's certainly a different take.

Still, the movie is legitimately awesome regardless of how you may feel about the ratio of Batman to Bruce Wayne screen time. The action is loud and crazy, relying on (what seem to be) physical on-set special effects that add to the realism of the action rather than the fakey CG of other superhero movies. In fact, there are a few such effects that were so impressive that I wondered how they could possibly be realized without CG.

The plot is nuanced and complex, even though it borderlines absurdity as a mystery third villain muddies the plot and characters inexplicably flit between countries in an "origin of Bane" sub-plot that is entirely unnecessary. But, Nolan did a great job linking TDKR with the first movie to bookend the series. Bane is a great villain, menacingly awesome unlike the awful and forgettable version of the character in Batman and Robin. I even liked Anne Hathaway's Catwoman, despite my distaste for Catwoman in general.

There's a fantastic side story with John Blake that rivals and sometimes overshadows the Bruce Wayne storyline. Unfortunately since this is likely the last Christopher Nolan Batman movie, we probably won't see what happens to the character despite the enticing teaser at the end.

But you know what? I'm totally cool with this being the last Nolan Batman movie. The crazy dark Nolan Batman is all fine and good, but Batman needs to be rebooted into something less depressingly deep. Whatever happened to the Batman of my childhood? A Batman who acknowledges that he's born from tragedy but rises above it and fights crime because he wants to and not because he has to? A Batman who everybody loves as a hero? A Batman who just wears the freaking costume?

There was a scene in TDKR in which everyone thinks all is lost. Blake tells a busload of kids, "This is it!" And Batman emerges through the clouds as a kid exclaims, "No, it's Batman!" That's what I want more of: Batman, the unmistakable hero from my childhood. But the Nolan Batman is often so busy dealing with his own personal issues that he has trouble being a hero at all.

Batman gives up the cowl in this movie (which isn't really a spoiler because it's in the movie description on Rotten Tomatoes). But the Batman from my childhood would never give up the cowl. You know why? Because he's psychologically unable to. He has devoted his entire life to this Batman thing and it's permanently ingrained into his psyche. He's unable to resist it. Batman giving up the cowl is like Michelangelo giving up the brush, Steve Jobs giving up entrepreneurship, or Captain Picard giving up command.

Savvy Star Trek nerds would say, "But in The Inner Light, Picard did give up command!" But that episode just proves my point. Picard was forced to give up command of the Enterprise and live the life of another man. He experienced everything that a family can give him, all the love and affection... and as soon as he got back on the Enterprise, he was back to being captain. He never even tried to build a family after that. The command of a starship is the driving force of his life, it's inescapable for him. Similarly, Batman willingly giving up the cowl wouldn't happen. It can't happen.

And that's why the character needs a reboot. Don't get me wrong, the Nolan Batman series has been an incredible ride and I really enjoy all the movies. But this just isn't my Batman.

DISCLAIMER: All items reviewed on Dork Dimension were purchased by the reviewer unless otherwise noted. The opinions expressed on Dork Dimension are solely those of the author and are presented for entertainment purposes only.