Inside: The Dark Knight Rises
If you haven't made it to the theater yet, check my spoiler-free review here. Else, read on.
An Alternate Take
StegToDiffer does a fair job highlighting some of the perceived faults of The Dark Knight Rises. If you want an alternate take on the film, definitely check his hub.
The Dark Knight Rises was an epic movie, no argument. But even as an epic movie, some things just didn't feel right. Wayne was old and injured, Alfred and Fox were nearly absent, Robin didn't do (at least, didn't succeed at) much of anything, Bane went borderline gimmicky and conquered Gotham with a nuclear bomb, and Talia neatly summarized the entire plot as revenge for her father's death, even though she really hated her father. Wow. That's a lot of...questionable elements. And that's not everything.
Sure, it was a great film, truly great. But, was it what we were expecting? Well, no, not really.
The Joker Strikes Back
Most viewers expected a second The Dark Knight, which didn't seem too unreasonable. We wanted the unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object, the psychotic, cerebral villain testing the limits of the hero while allies betrayed each other, and the hero to sacrifice himself for his cause, defeating the villain. Basically, we wanted the The Joker Strikes Back.
But, that's a problem, 'cause the Joker, as Nolan imagined, died with Heath Ledger. Ledger, who had nearly twenty years and a drastically different direction, created an amazing Joker, surpassing Nicholson's performance (though comparisons are moot). So, a replacement wouldn't have the mental distancing from Ledger nor the setting/directive distinction, since it's still Nolan's Gotham, thus beckoning disaster. Even if you think otherwise, Nolan himself rejected the idea of a replacement.
Which leads to our second problem: Nolan wanted to finalize his vision of Batman. Batman, however, is an icon of comic books, which are designed to continue indefinitely. Plus, Batman's driven to always fight crime, even when he's clearly unable. So, how could Nolan end a series that is built to extend itself? Well, he could've outright killed Batman, which I was championing, but he didn't. Instead, Wayne simply retires (twice, if you're technical).
So, Nolan couldn't give us our The Dark Knight, Part 2 and wanted to give us something we didn't want, a "final" Batman. So, it really shouldn't surprise us that so much of this film jolted our expectations and seemed off. But that doesn't mean Nolan failed. Quit the contrary, he gave us the film we needed, not the one we wanted.
Fear to Anger, Anger to Hate, Hate to....
Most people say that Batman Begins focused on fear. Wayne's fear "caused" the death of his parents, so he "learned to bury [his] guilt with anger." Then, he turned that anger upon the criminals of Gotham, using fear "against those who would prey upon the fearful."
Then, with The Dark Knight, which most people say focused on chaos, Wayne crossed the Joker, who challenged Wayne's anger, even murdering his only love just to convince Wayne to break his rule and murder someone. Although the Joker failed, Wayne's hatred had already begun. Only, without the Batman, without a focus, Wayne had nowhere to direct it...except at himself.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Wayne has become a recluse, hiding from the world. A conversation with Tate reveals the source of Wayne's isolation: his failure to help Gotham (and his fear of hurting Gotham). Most importantly, Alfred begs Wayne to put Batman aside, saying "I'm not afraid you will fail. I'm afraid you want to." Wayne's reached such a point of hatred for himself, for his failing to save Rachel Dawes, for Gotham spurning him, for his failing with the WayneTech reactor, that he has nothing left but suffering, so much suffering that even the thought of a brutal death "in the line of duty" seems a glimmer of hope.
The Hero We Need
Most people say that The Dark Knight Rises doesn't have a focus, but it does. Alfred tells the audience directly, when recounting his days in the cafe, during Wayne's first disappearance: "I hoped," he said. Bane says it indirectly: "There can be no true despair without hope," he said. And then, at the end, after Batman's death, Bruce Wayne's death, Alfred returns to the cafe; he sees Bruce Wayne sitting across Selina Kyle, he sees what he had always hoped to see -- Bruce Wayne, happy.
Hope is the focus of The Dark Knight Rises. Even through the despair, through Wayne's weakened state, Robin's failures, Gordon's lies, Kyle's betrayal, Bane's near-farcical danger, and Tate's petty, brutal vengeance, there is still hope, hope that not only will the hero find victory in the battle but will also find victory for himself long after the battle. These "glitches" are necessary because they show just how desperate the heroes are, which makes their hope are the more critical.
Remember the end of The Dark Knight, and Gordon's famous words. "He's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the hero we need right now." With those words, Batman became Gotham's public enemy number one. But with The Dark Knight Rises, Gotham erects a statue in his honor, symbolizing more than a passing adoration for a dead hero because, suddenly, Batman isn't the hero we deserve anymore, he is the hero we need. The one we all need. The one who doesn't lose hope. The one who survives after the battle.