Monday, July 23, 2012

Four Questions Raised by The Dark Knight Rises (and why they don't really matter)

 IMPORTANT SPOILER NOTE: This entire piece is predicated on readers having seen The Dark Knight Rises, because it spoils practically all the major plot points including twists involving characters and the end of the film. If you've seen the film or have no desire to see The Dark Knight Rises but are curious, please continue. If you haven't seen the film and plan to, please wait. I'll still be here when you get back.

 I was not aware that as a member of the online reviewing community that I was supposed to hate Christopher Nolan and everything he makes. Whoops. As someone who enjoyed Following, Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception (only Insomnia doesn't really do anything for me), I guess I failed the "Christopher Nolan is overrated and he's a sloppy filmmaker and I hate him and he sucks and people who like him are slobbering fanboys etc" demographic. My bad guys, I didn't get the memo.

 From the negative reviews of The Dark Knight Rises, I can tell that people who didn't like the movie REALLY didn't like it, but I have to say that I once again disagree with you. I don't think it's a consistent a film as The Dark Knight, but I found it engaging, emotionally fulfilling, and a fitting closer to Nolan's version of Batman. Whether or not it reflects your particular interpretation of what Batman should be, I think that the film succeeds in closing the larger story Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer were trying to tell using Bruce Wayne.

  That said, I can understand that some of the negative reactions to The Dark Knight Rises (and Christopher Nolan's filmmaking style in general) are based in legitimate complaints about logic lapses, continuity gaffes, and plot holes. I totally get why people are pulling their hair out that the majority of audiences don't seem bothered by these problems when they could (and should) derail most movies. Rather than providing an expanded thesis for why it doesn't matter to The Dark Knight Rises, my central argument is this: certain logical inconsistencies are forgivable in a film that succeeds thematically and emotionally. Also, I'm going to point you in the direction of Red Letter Media's Half in the Bag. Their review of the film succinctly covers why The Dark Knight Rises overcomes normally crippling problems, even if I get why many online critics can't abide by that.

 So here are four perfectly fair questions raised by scenes in The Dark Knight Rises that don't have answers to speak of, and why most people never even think twice about them. I'm going to try to explain what the problems are resulting from the questions, how the film doesn't acknowledge them, and why they are ultimately irrelevant to the success of The Dark Knight Rises. They aren't the only issues that could be raised, but they are four tied directly to the way Nolan constructs the story I imagine infuriates some viewers.

 1. Why does the chase scene following the Stock Exchange hostage crisis turn from day to night in eight minutes?

 The Problem: So Bane and his mercenaries attack the New York Gotham City Stock Exchange* and initiate a program using Bruce Wayne's fingerprints to make a series of bad trades, bankrupting Wayne Enterprises. As the police surround the stock exchange, it's clearly daylight outside, and at best could be argued to be dusk. Unless Gotham's stock exchange closes later than the New York Stock Exchange (4pm) or the sun sets earlier in October (identified during the Gotham Knights football game that happens shortly thereafter), it's hard to argue that Gotham City went from daylight to pitch black in the 8 minutes it takes to run the program executing the trades.

 Why It Doesn't Matter: Nolan gets away with this lapse in continuity and editing because most of the chase scene between the police and motorcyclists happens in a tunnel, thus allowing Batman to sneak up on the cyclists with the Batpod using his power shortage device introduced earlier in the film. In fact, two policemen (a veteran and a rookie) are surprised that the lights go out, and the older cop sees Batman and tells his partner, "Son, you're in for a show tonight!"

 Because Batman is so associated with darkness and the subsequent GCPD police chase of Batman (allowing Bane to escape) is more dynamic at night than in daylight, it's acceptable in visual terms to cheat the sunset during the tunnel sequence so that when Batman emerges from the other side, the news footage Selina Kyle and Jim Gordon see (separately) is at night. The image of the lone Batpod on the highway pursued by red and blue lights is a more lasting image.

 The sequence culminates with Batman appearing to be trapped in a dark tunnel downtown, where acting Commissioner Foley and John Blake believe they have him trapped. The dark alleyway disguises the Bat, Wayne's new vehicle, allowing for the surprise reveal that transitions from the chase to Batman's rescue of Selina Kyle from Daggett's thugs (including Bane). So the transitional lapse, while noticeable, is forgivable because it provides a more dynamic and exciting chase sequence in short order.

 2. Why does Bane drop everything he's doing in the midst of an elaborate plan to ruin Gotham city to fly halfway around the world to drop Bruce Wayne in the prison he grew up in?

 The Problem: After Bane cracks Batman's mask, breaks his back, and then walks away, Selina Kyle leaves the sewers and the camera fades to black. It fades in on Blake seeing Kyle try to skip town and he catches her at the airport. After unsuccessfully trying to convince her the police could protect her from Bane, Blake admits he was looking for Bruce Wayne, and when he asks if Bane killed him, Selina responds "I'm not sure."

 The film then cuts to a series of images, partially blurred, of someone being carried over rocks in harsh sunlight, before Bruce Wayne wakes up in a prison cell with Bane leaning over him. Bane informs Wayne that he is "home" and that Bruce will suffer here, watching the mercenary manipulate Gotham City into destroying itself before he finishes Ra's al Ghul's mission from Batman Begins. But was it worth the effort to abandon overseeing the construction projects in the sewers to fly from Gotham City to India (where location shooting for the prison took place) just to drop off Bruce Wayne next to a TV screen? It's implied he's paying two of the prison elders (one of which is the doctor responsible for Bane wearing a mask) to keep Wayne alive, but was the effort necessary?

 Why It Doesn't Matter: Taking Wayne to the prison in the middle of a dastardly master plan seems like an impossible task, until you remember that before Wayne entered the sewers with Selina Kyle, Miranda Tate suggested they could "take my plane and fly anywhere," which Bruce replies to by saying "not tonight." That explains how Bane smuggled Bruce Wayne out of Gotham City and flew across the country. They "how" is less important than the "why" - Bane's punishment of Wayne is "more severe" because it mirrors his own exile, his own sense of loss and being unable to protect the people most important to him.

 It also removes Bruce Wayne completely from his comfort zone: not only has he been wiped out financially and lost Alfred's support (and presence), but now he finds himself physically incapacitated and spiritually broken. It also thematically ties into the opening of Batman Begins, where Bruce Wayne is introduced in another foreign prison, that time by choice. He was figuratively "rescued" from that "hell" by Ra's al Ghul, who invites him to the League of Shadows, so being exiled to another kind of "hell" by someone excommunicated by the League is dramatically appropriate. His ultimate escape from the hole is the final transformative act that brings Batman to the point where he's capable of overcoming Bane, so while it functions as a lapse in story structure, thematically the sidestep is appropriate and necessary to live up to the title The Dark Knight Rises.

 3. How does Bruce Wayne climb out of the prison well, and more importantly, how does a man with no money and no contacts get back into a heavily patrolled city with one entrance and frozen waterways without being noticed?

 The Problem: It's established early in The Dark Knight Rises that Bruce Wayne has been physically incapacitated from his activity in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. A visit to a doctor in Gotham Central Hospital (played by Reno 911's Thomas Lennon) ends with the information that Wayne has no cartilage in his knees, lingering shoulder damage, scar tissue, and minor brain damage from repeated concussions. The doctor indicates that he "cannot clear you to go Heli-skiing" before Wayne sneaks off to visit the injured Gordon. Wayne has to put on a knee brace that allows him to use his left leg without a cane, but there's not reason to believe that after Bane broke his back that they did not also remove the brace while stripping Wayne out of the batsuit.

 So you have Bruce Wayne with a protruding vertebrae, two knees without cartilage, and whatever additional damage from his fight with Bane (a visible opening on his forehead, broken nose, and bleeding lip), lying on his back in a prison at the bottom of a massive hole. The only way out is to climb up to a small walkway and then leap to another stone. If you miss, the rope holding you up does further damage to your back, not to mention the force with which you crash into the walls of the opening.

 After Wayne's back is adjusted - which I'm going to overlook to avoid making this section even longer, but let's say that it's dubious at best - and he hangs by rope for a week or so (long enough to go from five-o'clock shadow to scraggly beard) until he can walk, he immediately tries to scale the exit and fails. So he begins an intense exercise regiment, tries again, and fails. Only the third time, after he chooses to "fear death" and not use the rope, does he succeed. But how does a man with no cartilage in his knees pull off a combination of advanced rock climbing and leaping to escape?

 Moreover, when he escapes, how does he get from India (?) to Gotham City when it's been established he has no money and all of his friends are trapped under Bane's thumb. Furthermore, how does he even get INTO Gotham City when we only see one FEMA truck cross the bridge during the four months Wayne is imprisoned and there's no way to cross by water as the river is frozen over. It's established how difficult to cross the ice because Gotham citizens who choose "exile" over "death" in court (presided by the Scarecrow) are forced to venture out and face falling into the freezing waters. So the idea Wayne could cross that way is even more remote, yet he shows up to talk to Selina Kyle 23 hours before the nuclear bomb is about to detonate.

 Why It Doesn't Matter: This seems like an insurmountable problem, but the truth of the matter is that none of this is relevant to the narrative or the themes of The Dark Knight Rises. Escaping from the hole in the ground is a continuation of the "well" leitmotif from Batman Begins (complete with a flashback / dream of Thomas Wayne being lowered down to help young Bruce and asking "why do we fall?") and ties into to the title. Again, this is a film about the Dark Knight Rising, so it's emotionally satisfying to see Bruce Wayne save himself from his failure, even if the final moment before his leap includes a silly appearance by frightened bats swirling around him. Sure, he shouldn't be able to do it, but he does, and we as an audience cheer for the hero to overcome his lowest possible point.

 As to the "how" of Wayne getting back to Gotham City, I hate to say it, but it's not important. It's that he gets back, that he's able to forgive Selina and ask for her help, and that despite having the opportunity to escape, he returns to save his city from Bane. His appearance justifies the statement that he hasn't given Gotham "everything", "not yet." The logic of how he got there isn't as important thematically as being there, as being willing to sacrifice everything - including his own life - to protect the people of Gotham City.

 4. If Lucius Fox had more than one "Bat", then why didn't Bane find it while pillaging the Applied Sciences armory and use it against Batman when he returned?

 The Problem: So when Lucius Fox introduces the "Bat" to Bruce Wayne early in the film, he indicates that "yes, Mr. Wayne, it does come in black" and mentions that the auto-pilot doesn't work. He asks Bruce to work on the auto-pilot, and it becomes a running joke / plot point that it doesn't work, necessitating Batman to fly the bomb over the harbor and (presumably) being killed because he can't eject.

 But wait! At the end of the film, not only is there another "Bat" in the Applied Sciences armory - meaning that Fox didn't just paint the prototype black - and Fox is asking about what he could have done to fix the auto-pilot. So if there was another "Bat" in the armory, the same armory that Bane broke into and used to his own advantage throughout his occupation of Gotham City, how is it that no one ever found the other "Bat"? One can't even argue that they found it but couldn't fly it, because none of Bane's mercenaries would know how to use the Tumbler initially either (clearly they didn't know their Tumblers had Batpods or they might have used them in the final chase scene). Having another "Bat" would have removed Batman's aerial advantage and seriously complicated the final battle, so it might have benefited Bane to look a little harder.

 Why It Doesn't Matter:  Bane didn't find the second "Bat" because... well, I don't know. The psychological advantage of Batman having "superior air power" provides the audience two moments to be thrilled: 1) when Batman frees the GCPD from the sewers using the "Bat" and 2) when the "Bat" deactivates the cannon on a Tumbler as the GCPD are advancing on Town Hall, where Bane and the Blackgate inmates are waiting for a massive showdown. It also allows for the "Bat" to escape from missiles in a manner not dissimilar to Iron Man in The Avengers.Two "Bat"s would necessarily complicate the final chase scene, would remove Bane from his element as a ground-based brawler (who else would fly it?) and would be less interesting in the "beat the clock" detonation finale.

  Now, why introduce a second "Bat" at all?

 Okay, this is a bit trickier, because the reveal of the second "Bat" is tied into the final "twist" in The Dark Knight Rises. The scene only exists because we the audience need to know that Bruce Wayne DID fix the auto-pilot and therefore could have ejected before the bomb went off (despite the suggestive editing that made it look like he didn't). That way Bruce could theoretically have survived, replaced the Bat signal, amended his will so that Blake found the Bat-Cave, and the mansion would be a children's home (thematic tie-in to the beginning of the film). It holds up logically about as much as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle finding the exact cafe that Alfred went to in Italy and sitting at exactly the right table so that they would see each other. It's a dramatic device used entirely for the benefit of the audience, not for the internal logic of the film.

 I hope this helps explain why The Dark Knight Rises manages

 * This is a minor point, but it does speak to things that drive Nolan detractors crazy: no one in the production of The Dark Knight Rises makes any effort to disguise landmarks associated with New York City and Pittsburgh, PA, where filming partially took place. The Broad Street subway tunnel entrance is visible in a number of shots prior to and following the motorcycle escape by Bane, and the Saks Fifth Avenue is also on prominent display during the truck chase during the climax of the film. Meanwhile, no change was made to the sign on Heinz Field (digitally or otherwise), where the Pittsburgh Steelers play. The Steelers and former coach Bill Cowher appear as the Gotham Knights, and it's easy to pick out Ben Rothlisberger and other players during the National Anthem. Hines Ward appears to be playing himself during the kick-off return, as the name on his jersey hasn't changed. I guess it's possible that the crew thought comic book fans also didn't watch football, but this is an odd lapse of suspension of disbelief.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Impressive. I only saw one problem in movie that was of the Stock exchange scene as day converting into night via the tunnel. I am big fan of Nolan infact he is my favorite director but the things you said are correct I agree to all the things you mentioned but its a Comic so i guess we can give room for these things :) for audience.