Not Guilty: The Dark Knight Rises

In Not Guilty, we look at movies that the general consensus tells us that we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should embrace -- "guilty pleasures" we don't feel guilty about. This time around, we take on the film many felt ended Christopher Nolan's tenure in Gotham on a sour note: The Dark Knight Rises.

You’re probably asking yourself how The Dark Knight Rises is making an appearance in a Not Guilty column, given its big box-office take and Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Well, allow me to briefly explain. Almost every trilogy suffers from what I like to call a “Feeble Threequel.” It’s when the third installment in the trilogy doesn’t live up to the previous two, and is considered the weakest link in an otherwise strong chain. For many Bat-fans, TDKR fits that bill perfectly ... but this only partially explains how TDKR landed on the Not Guilty list.

The real inspiration stems from a post-comic-con chat over beers with a few of my Blastr brethren. I boldly declared that TDKR may be my favorite in the trilogy, and was promptly told by them that (1) I was crazy, and (2) I will never live that opinion down. To be fair to them (not that they deserve it after ganging up on me), they're not alone in their lack of appreciation for The Dark Knight Rises. Almost immediately after the movie came out, fans and reviewers expressed their disapproval. Some even rank TDKR as the worst of Nolan's movies. That’s fine, because I stand by my statement. And now that I have a few less beers in me, I can layout exactly why I said what I said and explain why TDKR is not another Feeble Threequel.

Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman was purrfect (sorry)

There’s rarely been a time when a casting for any comic book character hasn’t been met with a considerable amount of fan backlash, and this was no exception. Admittedly, I semi-subscribe to the Hathahate, although I won’t base my decision to see a movie on whether she’s in it. That being said, she rocked it as Catwoman, which is not an easy character to pull off. While the Cat is sultry and seductive, she’s also vulnerable. She toes the line between villainess and antihero, ultimately basing her decision on whatever helps her survive. Catwoman’s never so much looking to watch the world burn like Joker or bring the elite of Gotham to their knees like Bane and Talia al Ghul; she’s just trying to make sure she lands on her feet no matter who’s in charge. Hathaway brings the multifaceted feline femme fatale to life perfectly in a way very few others have pulled off, so much so that, were you to take her Catwoman and drop it in Tim Burton’s Batman or the iconic and campy TV show from the '60s, she would still work. Considering the vastly different tones in that group, it’s really a testament to Hathaway’s acting chops and her interpretation as Catwoman that she'd be able to pull off such a trick.

Tom Hardy gave us the villain we deserved

Tom Hardy faced two considerable challenges with Bane. First, the last time the villain made his way to the silver screen, the character looked like an S&M-obsessed WWE wrestler. He was a mindless henchman, reduced to a grunting brute that could barely construct a simple sentence in mildly coherent English ... so the public perception of the character was already kind of in the crapper. The second challenge was living up to the incredibly high bar set by Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. I think he succeeded, creating one of the best on-screen Batman villains in the process, and all with most of his face covered up.

Hardy’s Bane was physically imposing without being comically so, and was every bit the intelligent and calculating villain fans knew Bane to be. He was truly a threat to Batman in every possible way, each move he made, punch he threw, and word he spoke a deliberate and calculated evil. While he may not have surpassed Ledger’s Joker, he came damn close to tying his performance, in my opinion.

But neither Catwoman nor Bane is the biggest grievance fans have had with the film. Mention the movie in mixed fan company, and there's one chorus you'll hear more than any other: "WHAT ABOUT THE PLOT HOLES???"

About those plot holes

Some of the biggest complaints about TDKR are plot holes. Some of them, quite honestly, are in the same vein as plot holes that, if one really wanted to nitpick, can be found in just about any other superhero movie. Superheroes are always pulling off inexplicable and improbable feats with little reasoning, the only explanation being that they managed to do the impossible because they're superheroes. The viewer has to decide how much disbelief they are willing to suspend for the sake of being entertained. That being said, are there legitimate plot holes in TDKR? Absolutely. Are they as detrimental to the movie as people try to make them out to be? Not even close.

It’s easy to line up the suspects: How did Bane know where R&D was located? How did Bruce’s broken back heal so quickly, and essentially from the equivalent of a chiropractic adjustment? Why did all of Gotham City's PD go underground? How did a newly healed Bruce get back to Gotham with no money or ID, and make it back into the city despite its being blocked off? How did he manage to survive that nuclear bomb going off, even if The Bat was on autopilot?

First off, anyone can find out anything if they have the right resources. If Bruce is capable of doing so, let’s assume Bane would be able to employ similar methods. They are, after all, both cut from the same cloth. As for the broken back -- odds are Bruce suffered either a compression fracture or fractured vertebra from Bane’s infamous backbreaker move. The heal time for such an injury can be as little as 8-12 weeks if it doesn’t require surgery (which Bruce’s obviously didn’t) and would involve bed rest, pain meds and physical therapy. For argument's sake, considering Bruce’s overall level of athleticism and physical strength, let’s assume he would be a relatively fast healer.

When Bane blows up the stadium and lures the GCPD into the sewers, almost 3,000 of them take the bait. Gotham City has a population of 12 million people. If NYC, with a population of 8 million and change, has a police force of 34,000 cops, it's safe to say Gotham would too. So no, not all of Gotham PD got trapped underground. However, as the priest that runs the orphange cautions Blake, they (the bad guys) are hunting down cops, so it's very likely the majority of police have gone into hiding.

As for how Bruce Wayne, one of the most famous and richest businessmen in the world, managed to get back into Gotham city undetected? Well, because he’s Bruce Wayne, one of the most famous and richest billionaires in the world. His name alone avails him of endless resources and connections that people who aren’t Bruce Wayne couldn’t even fathom. Wayne Enterprises is the eighth largest international conglomerate in the world and, in addition to primarily being a military defense contractor, has numerous subsidiaries, including Wayne Shipping, Wayne Aerospace, Wayne Aviation and Wayne Airlines. So odds are highly in Bruce’s favor that getting places isn’t really an issue for him. Ever. Add to it whatever connections he has to the underworld thanks to the League of Shadows, and once again, this is a man who will get things done.

Perhaps one of the biggest plot holes involves the end, when Batman flies off into the sunset and the nuclear bomb detonates, presumably killing the Caped Crusader. We later find out that Bruce had fixed the autopilot (which was pretty obviously foreshadowed) and is chilling on the Italian Riveria with Selena Kyle. But just how did Bruce survive that blast?

Remember when Bane forced Dr. Pavel to turn the fusion reactor into a 4-megatron nuclear bomb? In reality, controlled fusion isn't something science has figured out yet. Nuclear scientist Keith Bradley notes some key differences between real life and the movie, like how fusion is far more stable than it's made out to be in the film, and the odds of turning it into a deadly weapon would be almost impossible.

While everyone is arguing about how Bruce could have survived the blast, keep in mind that this is a superhero movie and fiction, which both rely far more on movie magic and make-believe than they do science. Moviegoers are becoming far too expectant of storytellers to be science majors, or for our entertainment to align with reality. This wasn't a documentary or a movie inspired by a true story. It's a comic book character. And however great a filmaker Christopher Nolan may be, this is still a story about an orphan billionarie playboy who dresses like a bat and takes on villains in outfits even crazier than his. That very premise alone should dictate how factual things may be.

Will the real Bruce Wayne please stand up?

Essentially TDKR isn’t so much a Batman movie; it’s a Bruce Wayne movie. We only see Batman twice on screen. The rest of the time, we watch as Bruce loses everything he has, every reason he has, to continue not only to be Batman, but to go on living. Everything that was essentially responsible for making him “super” is gone: no money, no Alfred, none of Lucius Fox’s magnificent creations. The Dark Knight Rises reminds us that, underneath it all, Batman is just a man who does what he does because of the greater good, that, when government fails to step up, when terrorists threaten to destroy everything, all it takes is the will of man to rise up and fight against evil.

Perhaps another reason I genuinuely love this movie is that, while it is make-believe, it's still telling a story that is relatable to the world we live in today. Bane and Talia al Ghul are essentially terrorists whose ideology drives them to attack and destroy a city and its culture solely because they are against everything it stands for. Though their tactics and methods are exaggerated for the purpose of telling a story, they are still connected to the real world. Major cities get attacked and sometimes fall. Entire populations get taken hostage, kept as prisoners, or worse, by evil masked men who enforce their belief system through terror and false hope. But evil like that is never sustainable.

The Dark Knight Rises is hardly a Feeble Threequel. It brings the trilogy full circle. Where we first found a troubled Gotham full of crime and corruption, we now see a city united and a police department that fights for it. The idea of Batman evolved from a masked vigilante into a symbol of hope for everyone, empowering people to believe that good is possible. Most of all, TDKR gives Bruce Wayne closure in a way he never has received. He gets to finally be the son he believed his father would have wanted him to be, the hero his city needed him to be, and the man he is meant to be. He fulfills what he feels is his final act as the Dark Knight and is truly able to come out from behind the cowl and pass the torch. Bruce Wayne finally gets the happily-ever-after Alfred has always wanted for him and he has always deserved.

Do you think The Dark Knight Rises gets a bad rap among fans, or is it really Nolan's weakest link? Let us know in the comments!

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