I rewatched the dark knight trilogy. Let’s see how it held up over time and how my opinions changed.

Preface

One unfair assessment I have with superhero movies is that I look at the climactic narrative structure and assume it’ll follow that same formula. It is unfair because this is what works, and is usually employed, but unfortunately I’ve grown tired of the (often) linear storytelling.

Take Black Panther (which I saw recently). When T’Challa was fighting Killmonger I had realized 2 things. Killmonger was going to win and T’Challa would come back and win in about ~45 mins. It is a reason why I dislike watching (most) of the Marvel movies not because they are inherently “bad” movies but they are fairly predictable. If we look at the case where T’Challa beats Killmonger in that first fight, where does the plot go? Their lives go back to normal as before. The tension from the climax of the story is as relevant as the denouement. Very few films stray from this formula because at a simple level it keeps an audience engaged, and makes for coherent and simple plots.

I may be in the minority but I want to be constantly amazed.

Batman Begins

This movie is better than I initially remember. Although it is the lowest rated of the three, I think it is better than The Dark Knight Rises. It does carry expositional filler such as “batman’s origins” which needed to be included but many of those aspects were handled quickly.

Ra’s Al Ghoul

I think he is an underrated villain. The beginning scenes of Bruce training with Ra’s al Ghoul are probably my favourite combat scenes in the film. He is a mentor to Bruce as he learns about combat, agility, and principles that go beyond fighting. The ability to exert your will, the ideaology of true justice against criminals.

The League of Shadows is initially seen as acting as a moral good against crime, but we learn later that it extends beyond that. In their eyes the rich could not save the poor as the poor could not do to themselves, so everyone must be equalized.

Ducard: That impossible anger strangling the grief, until the memory of your loved ones is just poison in your veins. And one day, you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed, so you’d be spared your pain.

Bruce’s visible pain of hearing those words and Ra’s al Ghoul’s sorrow in his voice expresses the sadness in this scene. Him and Bruce both share the loss of loved ones and the inability to save them. Their training and their will are results of the vengeance they aspire to never lose their loved ones again.

Ducard: Your anger gives you great power, but if you let it, it will destroy you, as it almost did me.

This echoes the Nietzsche quote:

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster . . . when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss also gazes into you”

It states that we should fear becoming what we ultimately fear the most, the monsters and turmoil we face. In a way Bruce’s moral code to not kill is that line of divisiveness that says he will not become a monster. (despite the harrowing circumstances of following that rule)

Scarecrow

Scarecrow makes sense with the movie’s theme of “fear”. He is a weak villain stylistically and literally in the film, which paves way for Ra’s al Ghoul as the semi-twist and more competent villain of the movie.

Duality of Perception

I would argue the first half of the movie is better than the second. Personal favourite moments are Ra’s al Ghoul training and Bruce’s first return to Gotham. Specifically in moments where Bruce has to juggle identities of Bruce Wayne billionaire and Batman. He has to struggle with trying to be a symbol acting against crime and risking his life, and covering it up by throwing away his noble reputation as Bruce Wayne.

The scene where he leaves the hotel and runs into Rachel is heartbreaking. As this mismatch in perception shows a conflict in who he is (Bruce Wayne) and what he is (Batman, who is meant to be a symbol MORE than just a person).

Bruce Wayne : Rachel, all- all this, it- it’s not me, inside, I am, I am more.

Rachel Dawes : Bruce, deep down you may still be that great kid you used to be, but it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”

The camera pans out as Bruce stands there expressionless as Rachel walks off.

We won…but at what cost

On the topic of heartbreaking moments the ending is bittersweet with stopping Ra’s al Ghoul being the only real “victory”. The ending “victory” has the narrows being decimated, the monorail transit was destroyed, and Crane was running free, inmates of Arkham still loose, and prosecutions of the crime families halted. On top of this Rachel then tells Bruce they can’t be together. It isn’t bad that the ending was unsatisfying for Bruce, if anything it is more realistic.

On the smoldering ashes of Wayne Manor

Rachel Dawes : I never stopped thinking about you. About us. And when I heard you were back, I… I started to hope.

Rachel Dawes : Then I found out about your mask.

Bruce Wayne : Batman’s just a symbol, Rachel.

Rachel Dawes : [Rachel touches Bruce’s face] No, no, this… is your mask. Your real face is the one that criminals now fear. The man I loved - the man who vanished - he never came back at all. But maybe he’s still out there, somewhere. Maybe some day, when Gotham no longer needs Batman, I’ll see him again.

This ending sets up The Dark Knight pretty well as Bruce’s sole motivation is putting down the mask since Rachel said: “when Gotham no longer needs Batman” he can be with Rachel. We know this is eventually false both literally (Dent or Rachel) and realistically (Rachel’s letter).

The Dark Knight

This is maybe my favourite movie alongside Watchmen. There is a lot of good things to say. I think two themes are prevalent in the film. The themes of “truth and lies” and “darkness and light” are probably discussed and explored many times before. There are even theories that the Joker himself IS the hero of The Dark Knight.[1]

The Joker

Heath Ledger’s performance in the Dark Knight is marveled with good reason. I don’t need to go over how good the sinister comedic villain’s performance. The Joker and Batman classically are two diametrically opposed figures. Two faces on the same coin. (Excuse the two-face reference) They both hold steadfast to their ideals and figuratively completed each other. Batman continues to fight crime on his terms while Joker is literally the metaphor for the “bandit in Burma” that stole precious jewels for fun, not even for profit.

Two-Face and the Dark (K)Night

Aaron Eckhart doesn’t get enough credit for his role in the movie. Two-face (although short-lived) is as compelling as a villain as Dent was as a hero. Dent is the most relatable character in The Dark Knight due to his natural charisma, ability to achieve his goals, and his overall morality to do good. His ambition and tenacity to achieve his means are lauded when seen as a do-gooder but terrifying as a villain.

This slowly changes as the Joker’s plan unfold we see the incorruptible “White Knight” who is Dent become more and more corrupted as his passion for justice is morphed into a vendetta against crime akin to Bruce before he became Batman in Batman Begins.

Joker “locked” in the MCU

Joker: Does it depress you, commissioner? To know just how alone you really are?

The scenes involving the Joker locked in the MCU show contrast between being physically locked up, but actually has power over everyone else once it is realized that Dent never made it home. As Dent gets in the car and the camera pans to Ramirez there is an uneasy feeling in her face with what is about to happen.

The Interrogation

A lot of the interrogation scene is cut and dry or said already but it does reiterate some points I thought about.

Batman and Joker intertwined ambitions. Their destined to have conflict due to Batman’s moral code and Joker’s lack of morals.

This did bother me because the Joker was right that society was selfish for their own benefit in this circumstance. Although he wasn’t entirely right that people are all inherently selfish you can’t ignore that he said this:

And less than 20 minutes ago in the movie:

People were ready to throw Batman under the bus because they were scared. Dent does say that they shouldn’t give into the terrorist’s demands as a the last bastion of preserving society’s honour, but the crowd caves in to the Joker’s demands. (resulting in Dent saying he is Batman) This is (slightly) redeemed when the two boats refuse to play the Joker’s game showing that people are not corrupted and morality can trump the terrorist.

“Gotham Needs You”

I think this is the most compelling scene in the entire film. You would think with Joker’s capture the film would wrap up at around the 1 hour and 30 minute mark. But it doesn’t. If anything things only got worse once the Joker was captured. Dent was turned to Two-face, Rachel is gone, and the Joker is loose. You feel Bruce’s sadness because he couldn’t save Rachel and he couldn’t save Dent.

Rachel’s letter is read as the last words from her.

Dear Bruce.

I need to be honest and clear.

I'm going to marry Harvey Dent. I love him, and I want to spend the rest of my life with him.

When I told you that if Gotham no longer needed Batman we could be together, I meant it.

But now I'm sure the day won't come when *you* no longer need Batman.

I hope it does; and if it does I will be there, but as your friend.

I'm sorry to let you down.

If you lose your faith in me, please keep your faith in people.

Love, now and always, Rachel.

An Inspiration

This is compounded with one of the earliest interactions in the film where Batman stops the Scarecrow and stops “Batman” imitators. He truly wanted to inspire good among the people but was consistently misconstrued.

Rachel didn’t believe in Bruce or Batman

I think a separate section needs to be dedicated to Rachel. If we’re being 100% honest here and taking both Batman Begins ending and the events of The Dark Knight, Rachel really didn’t seem like she was going to wait for Bruce. I don’t think she really believed in what Batman stood for (considering she was an assistant district attorney and wanted the law handled officially).

Sure, she recognized Batman’s positive effect on crime in Gotham and that people are worth saving but I think it is a lie when Alfred tells Bruce “Rachel believed in what you stood for” (at least 100% stood for). If she truly believed in what Bruce and Batman she probably would have waited for him. But she realized realistically crime would never truly be gone, Batman was probably never going to end, and Bruce would be delusional as Batman forever, realizing the true flaw in the “using batman as a symbol to end crime”. She decided that she should spend her time with someone fighting crime within the bounds of the laws and didn’t go out at night dressed as a bat. For her this was not a complex decision of who to choose.

It is hard not to choose Dent’s much simpler personality over Bruce’s complicated personality. Bruce had to juggle both Batman and Bruce Wayne. At Harvey Dent’s fundraiser the reason why Rachel didn’t say yes to Dent when he asked her to marry her was probably due to the suddenness of it.

Bruce’s heartbreak is even moreso because from a dramatic irony standpoint of the audience he knows Rachel is gone, but we know that even if she was there she would not have chosen him. If she was still alive he would probably be in more pain knowing the truth rather than currently how he is living out the thoughts she would have waited for him.

Alfred is right that in this moment Gotham truly needs him. Dent is gone, Joker is loose, and the city is in panic. The only one with the resources and capabilities to take down the Joker is Batman.

Burning of Rachel’s Letter

I’ve flipped back and forth whether or not the burning of Rachel’s letter was just movie fantasizing on symbolism of Bruce never reading Rachel’s letter but I think it is warranted.

Bruce was in incredible pain after losing Rachel. He had felt his motivation to retire Batman was gone. Alfred thought in burning the letter Bruce would not have to know that Rachel chose Dent over him, and ultimately that may have saved Gotham. If Bruce gave up due to losing Rachel, the Joker and Dent may not have been stopped in the end.

The Dark Knight Rises

This movie is meme gold but lackluster in other areas. Bane is decent as a villain as is Talia but I think the movie is just decent.

Rising… A lot of Rising

The most common allusion that is literally in the movie title. Whether it be Bruce rising out of the shadows of his past, Bane rising out of the shadows as a villain, the poor of Gotham rising up against the rich in Bane’s “revolution”, Bruce rising from the Lazarus pit after 5 months, or Batman rising to the occasion at the end piloting the bomb out of Gotham. There is a lot of rising going on in the movie as a whole. I’ve never read it personally but the movie takes a lot of nods to “A Tale of Two Cities”.

Moving On

The big theme of Bruce is to move on from his past. He spent 7 years in hiding since the date of Dent’s death. A lot of good came from Batman taking the blame for Dent but it also complicated things. With Batman being gone but Rachel also being gone Bruce found no meaning to continue. Even once Alfred told Bruce that Rachel chose Dent over him, he refused to believe it. Bruce at this point was unable to move past the fact he was unable to save Rachel.

The Shackles of Structure

This scene in particular is frustrating to watch. Everyone believes what they are doing is “right” based on the information they hold. The army refuses to move people out of Gotham on that bridge because their information is that the bomb will blow up on evacuation. Blake knows it is decaying by time and Bane’s “triggerman” is a bluff. In his attempt to save a bus of children the army blow the bridge, thinking what they are doing is saving them, but in reality Blake and the audience know they are literally dooming them.

Blake’s choice to quit the police and do things on his own terms as Robin showcases that the shackles of structure did get in the way when trying to do impactful good.

Hope and Despair

The time Bruce is in the Lazarus pit is actually longer than it seems. Only on my late watching did I realize the bomb’s decay of 5 months occurred while the police were underground and Bruce was gone. For movie theatric purposes Bruce gets his act together to coincide with pretty much the last day.

The Mask, Batman as a Symbol

In the end it is reiterated that batman is not a “person”. He is a symbol of hope that did what was necessary when Gotham needed it. (Saving Gotham 3 times in all movies, making difficult decisions, taking the blame of things he did not do, etc.)

Ending Thoughts

I think all movies are great. I probably took waaaaay too long writing this but it was fun exploring one of my favourite superhero movies.