In Defense of The Dark Knight Rises…

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises has become a controversial subject for some fans. It shouldn't be.

It has been eight years since The Dark Knight Trilogy ended to generally wide acclaim in 2012. Despite not living up to the shadow cast by the previous entry (or Heath Ledger), The Dark Knight Rises still impressively stood at that time as the most ambitious superhero movie ever attempted, as well as a juggernaut hit that earned $1 billion worldwide, an 88-percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an eclectic slew of praises from voices as diverse as Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson.

So, it might seem a bit silly that the editorial staff at Den of Geek feels obligated to come to this blockbuster’s “defense.” Yet in the intervening two years, it has earned a reputation in some internet circles as not only being a disappointment, but a failure mentioned in the same breath as Spider-Man 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Now in the wake of an approaching, second shiny Batman reboot in its wake, this retroactive backlash seems ever pronounced. Ergo, we at Den of Geek, ever so humbly, would like to offer our defense of the film…

Dark Knight Rises - Batman versus Bane

Mustn’t Be Afraid to Dream a Little Bigger, Darling

When considering Nolan’s most recent films, including The Dark Knight Rises, I am taken back to a quote he wrote for the enigmatic Nikola Tesla in The Prestige: “You’re familiar with the phrase ‘man’s reach exceeds his grasp?’ It’s a lie. Man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.” And never did Nolan grasp further in the superhero form than with Rises. While the third film lacks the sophistication of its sinister forbearer, it’s still more creative and awe-inspiring in scope than the polished but formulaic Batman Begins (also a terrific film) or any of its contemporaries. Rises dreams bigger, daring to find an apocalyptic scenario so absurd that it could only be in a comic book movie, but so bold that it never should have been. When a U.S. general has to say, “Get the president on the phone,” you know it’s not the typical Batman movie (nor the generic alien invasion fantasies he later became party to).

Many mistook the film’s story as a political message, when in fact Nolan just tapped on the third pressure point of social collapse anxieties. In Begins, it came in the familiar guise of a bearded man from a cave that wanted to tear American cities apart through fear, the second time it was the lone incomprehensible gunman who wants to watch the world burn, but in Rises it is a faux-populist and militaristic takeover—something Americans would never dream of for obvious reasons, but which is in our news every day in those other parts of the world. Using gaudy superhero costumes as an excuse to look into that realm of darkness, Nolan creates a Dickensian epic with Bane as a modern day Robespierre, and unlike many other genre villains, his presence has a real world insidiousness that repels instead of earning infatuated Tumblr pages. Perhaps more so sincei n recent years, a populist liar who uses the same language has risen to power.

Ad – content continues below

This is all the more remarkable when coupled in a film that dares to challenge its fans as much as its hero: what if Bruce Wayne could outgrow his pains and leave his demons behind? What if in his older age, the relatively adolescent concept of avenging childhood traumas (or superheroism) becomes a physical and psychological danger to our hero’s health? It is a paradox played with genuine humanity by Christian Bale, who, outside of Hugh Jackman or Christopher Reeve, might offer the most authentic nobility to one of these masked characters. It’s ultimate narrative direction is unheard of in a superhero story on film or page, and that level of audacity, plus a deliciously scene-stealing Anne Hathaway performance as Catwoman, is why The Dark Knight Rises lives up to its name. – David

Dark Knight Rises - Catwoman

The Patron Saint of Latter-Day Batman Mythology

The Dark Knight Rises may not be Christopher Nolan’s best movie. It may not even be his best Batman movie. But it is handily my favorite Batman movie by simple virtue of its swing for the fences, all hands on deck approach to latter-day Bat-mythology.

Batman Begins drew heavily on the O’Neil/Adams era from the ’70s, and even more heavily on the timeless Batman: Year One. The Dark Knight wove its paranoid web around a Joker who was very much the sinister bastard of his first appearance in 1940s Batman #1. But The Dark Knight Rises? This is the very best of mid-’90s Batman comic book excess, distilled into a genuine feature film.

Who else would have the balls to tell the “Bane breaks Batman’s back” story, one of the formative moments in “if we do this, we’re gonna’ sell so many foil variant covers” comic book history? Look for the “abandon all hope ye who enter Gotham” of “No Man’s Land” intertwined with sideways origins for Catwoman and Nightwing, and not-so-sneaky callbacks to The Dark Knight Returns. There’s even a hint of the paranoid future awaiting Bruce in Batman Beyond.

The Dark Knight Rises does nothing that its Marvel counterparts aren’t routinely applauded for. It streamlines characters and stories with decades of convoluted history into one large popcorn-sized, easily-digestible snack. So I’m not sure what the problem is. Either The Dark Knight Rises isn’t enough of a superhero movie…or it’s too much of one? Please. – Mike

The Dark Knight Rises - Behind the Scene

It Happened, He ‘Killed’ the Batman

I want to discuss the ending of the film. For all its fancy action sequences, branching plot threads, and ridiculous character portrayals (glances at Tom Hardy‘s brilliantly absurd inflection of “YOUR PUNISHMENT MUST BE MORE SEVERE”), it’s really the ending that gets me. I imagine Nolan sitting down with the WB execs over some tea — maybe some cakes — and proposing his plan for a final Batman film. Was it always the studio’s intention to release a trilogy? Ah, I bet not. My guess is that they planned to franchise Nolan’s Batman up the wazoo. So when Nolan presented his plan to kill/retire the Batman, perhaps already in writing the first drafts of the screenplay, the room must’ve grown a little quiet.

Ad – content continues below

read more: How Batman & Robin Helped Bring About the Superhero Renaissance

But is the Batman really dead? Does Nolan suggest things at the end of his movies that are a bit more than ambiguous? Yes, for all we know, Bruce is probably having pasta with Selina right now while Alfred rolls his eyes. That’s not really the point, though.

It’s the risk that’s so wonderful, a promise fulfilled in three movies worth of a concept that tied the entire trilogy together: the Batman is an idea and he can never die. It takes a village to build a Batman, one that includes Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Even in the opening scenes of the film, when the Batman is nowhere to be seen, he still lingers over a city that can never forget. The fires of his vengeance still rise from the shadows.

Nolan blows the Batman up at the end of his trilogy because it doesn’t really matter. The director has presented a legend rather than a man. Isn’t that the whole point of the character? – John

Jim Gordon in The Dark Knight Rises

Emotional Connections Are A Marker In Time 

Despite being antsy about seeing the follow up to The Dark Knight for the better part of four years, I chose to forgo the midnight screening of TDKR. I was flying across the pond to London the next day and I wanted to be fresh for my travels, so I figured Batman could wait a few hours. Before heading over to the airport, I wanted to catch the earliest possible matinee. So when I woke up in the morning, I ran down the stairs like a boy at Christmas.

Ad – content continues below

I was going to have my own A Very Batman Christmas in July—“a cool party” in the words of Mr. Freeze—to be enjoyed, alone, in a mostly empty theater. That theater ended up feeling like the loneliest place in the world before the previews even rolled, as I learned of the unthinkable act of terror at a midnight screening of the film in Aurora, Colorado, which turned the theater—America’s pop culture sanctuary, “my home” as Christopher Nolan called it—into a war zone. It became almost impossible for me to focus on the themes of terror Nolan limned in the masked Bane without running through a theater exit strategy in my head.

There will come a time—and maybe it has already come—when the tragedy in Aurora is an afterthought to the TDKR viewing experience. Anyone who was aware of the theater shootings and chose to go see the final chapter of Nolan’s trilogy was likely a little on edge at first, and a little sick to their stomachs over the horror that occurred in a similar setting just hours earlier. By the end of the film, at least for me, Nolan’s idealism won out. I was proud that fear didn’t keep me away.

read more: Ending Batman: Why His Conclusion is more Interesting Than His Beginning

In the final sequence, Nolan shows the monument to Batman as a symbol and hides in plain sight the half-built World Trade Center, glowing in the background ready to retake the New York—Gotham, for his sake—skyline. With that image, Gotham is crawling out of the darkness. Evil can only hold you down in its depths for so long before you pull yourself out, or someone offers you a hand up. It’s a theme that has resonated throughout all of Nolan’s Batman films, but it meant a little more at that moment in time. – Chris