Why The Dark Knight Rises failed
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ didn’t succeed like ‘The Dark Knight’ did, most everyone agrees — but why?
Failed! Of course, failure is a relative term — the movie has already made over a billion dollars worldwide. But it’s not so simple — adjusted for inflation, the movie made less than The Dark Knight or even the first modern Batman movie (via BoxOfficeMojo). Additionally, the movie hasn’t recieved anything close to the same level of enthusiasm or critical favor the previous two Nolan movies received. And although most people leave the movie with a feeling of “that was fun,” the previous movie was more along the lines of “that was awesome.”
A bit of a difference.
So with that in mind, how could the movie have exceeded its expectations and truly succeeded past the seemingly insurmountable shadow of its predecessor? A few ways. As you might imagine, there are extreme levels of SPOILERS to follow.
Why did The Dark Knight succeed and The Dark Knight Rises fail? Four reasons:
It may seem silly to talk about stakes when in TDKR an entire city was in danger of being blown to bits, leading to terrible upheaval in the world. But we all knew that wasn’t going to happen. The other problem was the lack of consequences for anyone we cared about — all of the main characters survived. Imagine how much more the movie would have hit home about sacrifice and futility if Lucius Fox or Commissioner Gordon either died performing a vital role in saving the city, or died despite trying to save the city. Imagine Alfred dying due to Bruce ignoring his surrogate father’s advice — leaving him truly without family.
Now, I get why Bruce Wayne survived — in my interpretation of the movie, the point is that Bruce learned that a fear of death was holding him in place, in a sort of sociopathic holding pattern that kept Batman a part of him. He truly feared to be alive, to be happy. The arc of the trilogy, compressed aspects perhaps in this last one, was about Bruce’s realization that although Batman might be necessary, he didn’t need to die as Batman.
But there was a lack of tension in TDKR — conclusions seemed forgone, and only bad guys and extras died. In TDK, there was a real possibility that a group of people might murder another group — there was an odd personal connection there. Here, it’s just random people we barely care about.
The Dark Knight kept getting crazier as the movie went on, with layers upon layers as the Joker kept getting away with more. Every plan of the Joker had a chance to fail, and he had many chances to “win” — but despite it all, he kept going until the final moments. And although the Joker didn’t win completely, he still won.
In TDKR, the escalation goes like this: brazen attack on the stock exchange, the stadium and city is attacked, months of nothing important, finale. The aspects of Batman that get escalated are bat-cycle to bat-plane to bat-man. Not exactly that exciting — the movie builds in a slow, dramatic manner, which is fine in some ways, but we don’t get increasingly invested as the movie continues, wondering what will happen next.
We know Batman will confront Bane, we know he will eventually escape. Even the parts in Gotham that focus on Blake and Gordon seem truncated and dry at times — their investigations start to heat up, then it’s already over.
3) Real loss
Part of this is sadly tied to the real world death of Heath Ledger — people wanted to see one of the last roles he’d ever play, especially with the ridiculous level of hype associated with the movie. His acting was some of the finest work of a villain in film history, and certainly the best among the superhero movies. I’m not about to suggest that that studio killed him to stimulate box office numbers, nor would I suggest that they should’ve tried it for the third movie. It would’ve seemed too obvious in that case, certainly.
But there’s also a big aspect of The Dark Knight that something has been lost or changed forever. Important characters have died, representing vital parts of Gotham and Bruce himself. In TDKR, nothing has been lost at all.
After the second movie ended, audiences could only speculate madly about what might go next — so many possible choices. But after this one, it seems kind of obvious. Blake becomes the next hero — whatever he calls himself — and Bruce disappears. But in some ways, that’s a failure too.
And then there are the specific issues with The Dark Knight Rises that seem like they could have been easily fixed. I think the storyline itself is fine, and I like most of the characters. But….
- Selina Kyle seems like she’s in a different comic book movie. More acrobatic than is realistic. I would’ve preferred to see a harder, more brutal style of combat that I think would also make more sense for someone of her background and build. I thought the little scene in the men’s prison was amusing, but the manner in which she broke the groping man’s hands made no sense. That could’ve been easily changed to something more realistic and still been funny and true to her character. I mean… she leaped backwards out a window!
- Deputy Commissioner Foley’s arc is totally flat and boring. His change from cowardly bureaucrat to dead “hero” was uninspired and pointless. An unnecessary character that doesn’t get the proper sort of consequences — I would’ve preferred to see him die in the sewers.
- The football scene was ruined by marketing. It was the first teaser released, and it ruined the tension of the scene. From speaking to people who didn’t see the first teaser, they appreciate the scene a great deal more than most.
- Blake’s explanation of how he knew Bruce Wayne was Batman didn’t really make sense. He “saw it in his eyes”? Come on. I actually would’ve preferred to see Blake slowly realizing it over the course of the first act. “How could I have missed it?” Etc.
- The bomb should’ve been explained a bit better. There were a few references to it being a “neutron bomb”, which theoretically wouldn’t have fallout or radiation, just a big kaboom. But that aspect wasn’t addressed at all, which makes it seem like the bomb would have some pretty serious problems down the road. Something that could’ve been easily talked about but would’ve prevented scoffing at the “plot hole”.
- Talia’s death was a bit ludicrous. Nothing against Marion Cotillard’s acting, which I thought was fantastic overall, but her death scene seemed like a fake death scene. Either it was intentionally bad (in which case, they should’ve returned to see her gone immediately after Batman files away) or it wasn’t (in which case it was just done badly).
- “Robin” – you know, I was actually okay with this. What a lot of people don’t understand is that most people don’t know Robin’s real name. Sure, you may know about Dick or Tim or Samantha or whoever — but most people don’t. But everyone’s heard of Robin.
- And I know I may get some disagreement for this one:The city should’ve been partially destroyed. Nothing against a feel good ending, but Gotham didn’t deserve it, even if Bruce Wayne did.