On Reactions to The Dark Knight Rises’ Ending (obviously spoilery)
I saw The Dark Knight Rises this weekend. It was, to me, the weakest of its trilogy, but still pretty damn great. I don’t see the need to write up a whole review, but I have Opinions on its ending, and even moreso on the way people are reacting to its ending. So, uh, spoilers.
I didn’t love the “Bruce Wayne gets to retire” ending to Dark Knight Rises. Neither did I hate it, and I’m withholding final judgment until I’ve gotten a chance to watch all three movies back to back (although I know the first two pretty damn well by now). But, in the moment, I wasn’t so terribly pleased with the resolution. It didn’t quite fit with the way I generally prefer my superheroes, especially those who are pushed forward by a deep-set pathological urge. It was well-done, but it wasn’t what I wanted from the movie.
What it was, however, was much, much better than Batman’s death would’ve been. Because that would have been lazy. (I think.)
I haven’t been surprised to see people complain about the ending, but I have been surprised by those who seemed to think that it was tacked on, or that at least the movie would’ve been much better if Batman had died at the end. Maybe that would’ve worked for a different film, but in this one, it would have necessitated pretty much rewriting everything in order to fit the rest of what was up there on the screen.
Look, The Dark Knight Rises was a movie in which just about every scene with Bruce in it (and many without) had someone (sometimes Bruce himself) portentously mention that he was chasing death, that if he continued to fight Bane he would die, that his life was all he could give Gotham, that he just needed to live long enough to save Gotham, and so on and so on. The number of times someone looked very serious and we felt the weight of their words regarding Bruce Wayne’s impending death (unless, you know, he turned back now, whenever “now” was) was very high. And that was fine! It was great at setting up tension! But after a few of those times there was a little voice in my head going, “They really better not kill him off, because they’re broadcasting the shit out of that and it would be a boring, obvious choice.”[*]
Not all stories need to be full of twists and turns and surprises, of course. Your classic tragedy makes it very clear that the protagonist is gonna get it bad by the end, and a lot of great stories have been built around how inept and helpless we are before the huge and terrible fate that bears down upon us.
But, besides the fact that this is Batman, who makes his own fate,[**] it would’ve just been a clumsy choice in the film as written. A lot of dialogue would need to be taken out or changed to downgrade to “foreshadowing” from the current “Very Clear and Ominous Thematic Point.” By then, we’d basically be talking about a different movie.
Also, the “older hero dies to pass the torch to a younger one” is just so damn over-played that it’s lost most of its power unless done in an especially different and fascinating way. The different and fascinating way that this movie handled it, was to have that older character not actually die. So, again, it would be a different movie. Or a clumsy version of this one.
Obviously an opinion is a personal thing, and I certainly don’t think less of anyone for seeing it differently than I do,[***] but I’ve been genuinely surprised by a reaction that I just don’t get. To me, a resolution so clearly broadcast in this kind of movie would have been hacky. If the ending actually was tacked on, it’s a better movie for it.
* Naturally, the chances of DC letting even Nolan do that were slim. But the movie was intense enough that, in the heat of the moment, it could make one wonder.
** That’s kind of the whole point of the character. Not to mention that even in Nolan’s intensely dark Batman films, the payoff largely comes from setting up an impossible and scary situation so that our hero can, you know, hero his way out of it. There are great superhero sacrifice stories, but Batman’s sacrifice is a longer, more drawn-out, arguably more tragic one than just dying in an explosion.
*** Hell, I love the AV Club folks! I was taken aback by their seeming universal agreement on that viewpoint, but I didn’t flip out with nerdrage and vow to never give their website another page-view or anything.