I’ve probably mentioned it before – THE DARK KNIGHT is one of my all time favorite movies. Beyond the incredible coolness factor, as a storyteller, I’m in awe of the deft pacing and character development. As the middle movie in a trilogy, it’s perfectly situated. So much groundwork was laid by a solid first movie. The second movie introduces a brilliant villain without really introducing him at all. There’s really no back-story or effort to show the villain before he was a villain. The Joker tells a few different stories to explain his mania, and you have no idea which, if any, of them are true. Brilliant in my opinion. It doesn’t matter which one is true, he’s here, he’s a big problem, and he’s ready to tangle with our protagonist (a grown man wearing a bat costume with issues of his own). So the story is protagonist vs. villain, with a sub-story about a hero who becomes a villain. But that’s basically it. The rest of it is window dressing and pretty much everything that happens in the movie is in service to these two story lines, which wonderfully wind together by the end. Again, brilliant.
So now, we have a third movie. I’m not here to bash it, because it’s a well-done movie and has a lot going for it. In fact, breaking it down into its various components, I liked all the parts very much. It’s just when you put them all together. ALL of them. So many of them. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES slipped into that dangerous territory of trying to do too much. There was a real sense of “this is our last one, we have to get it all done.” Now, again, please don’t start typing up your hate mail. If you loved the movie, I’m thrilled for you and a bit envious. And I have every intention of watching it again at home in the near future and seeing if a second viewing clears up some of issues I had with the movie. We must also remember, expectations were off the chart for this one, so it really started out at a disadvantage to begin with.
***************Spoiler Warning Begins***************
Firstly, there wasn’t much Batman. Just because it’s the third one and the groundwork has been laid twice now for this character doesn’t mean the audience doesn’t need to spend time reconnecting with the main character. I loved the idea that he’d been retired for years and had become a hermit. I think the movie should have focused on Batman’s reemergence and it did for a while, but then he was waylaid again and taken out of the story for a second reemergence. That diluted the first one for me. Then it turns out the main villain wasn’t the main villain at all. We spent a lot of time learning about Bane to find out in the end he wasn’t very important at all. Not only was he not the driving force behind what was happening, his apparent motivation for acting the way he did was little more than a cover story – the whole class warfare, Robin Hood thing. Villains need either deeply rooted motivation (like Ra’s al Ghul) or none at all (like the Joker). Bain’s motivation was too weak to keep him interesting. We were also secretly given Robin, which was very clever, but it was almost like he was staring in his own movie inside the movie. And he didn’t have any of the gadgets or mystique that makes Batman so cool. Catwoman, again, on her own was great, but there just wasn’t enough room in the jumble for her to mark her territory (just imagine how she would do that). When she made big decisions in the film, I didn’t feel like I understood her motivation well enough to judge if she was taking a big risk or just serving as a plot device.
So, what’s my point? Motivation. Motivation is so important to drawing a viewer (or reader) into the story. It gives resonance to the actions these fictional characters take. It gives weight to the consequences of those actions. It requires some space to develop. Ultimately, it results in the emotional response that every director and author is striving to invoke in his or her audience. For me, the expanded cast of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES didn’t have the space they needed to demonstrate that all-important motivation to a degree that would set the emotional dominoes falling. Maybe a second viewing will get me there. Looking forward to finding out.