A Review of The Dark Knight Rises (No Spoilers)

The latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, is an enjoyable end to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy that isn’t nearly as good, or bold, as the second movie in the series, The Dark Knight, but does compare favorably to Batman Begins. The dark tone set in the previous movies continues in the latest one to good effect, but at times the over-the-top seriousness makes the movie feel ponderous and inflated by a sense of undeserved self-importance. 

All of the actors turn in solid performances, but the surprising show-stealer is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. I have seen Miss Hathaway in previous movies and never before considered her a major talent. In The Dark Knight Rises Hathaway delivers a pitch-perfect blend of snarky attitude and deadly seriousness with just enough feline qualities to capture the essence of Catwoman without appearing campy. She tiptoes on the fine line between being Batman’s ally/love interest and his adversary without slipping into being a caricature. Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman sets a high standard for any future actresses that take on this role.  

The central threat in the movie is mediocre and can be summed up as ‘its time to destroy Gotham, again’.  Apparently the city has suffered enough terrorist attacks that when a stadium blows up the people there know that etiquette requires that instead of running screaming for safety they should wait patiently for the villain (Bane) to come out and make a dramatic speech. This is but one example of utterly unrealistic responses from the nameless throng that could be replaced by animatronic robots or computer generated people.

Speaking of unrealistic moments in the movie, Bane’s master plan could have been thwarted by a single reasonable failsafe on the fusion reactor (a.k.a. the movie’s MacGuffin) or by a police force that doesn’t behave like migrating lemmings. Once Bane has the reactor and disposed of the entire police force (with three noteworthy exceptions), he decides to wait months before detonating his nuclear bomb. The only reason for Bane to wait so long is so all the characters (and especially Batman) have time to prepare for the movie’s climax; an extended action sequence that relies heavily on defying the strictures of time and space along with the laws of physics, engineering, anatomy/medicine, other applied sciences, and common sense. If you turn off your brain you can enjoy the rollercoaster ride while it lasts, but if you think about what is supposedly happening you’ll realize it makes no freakin’ sense. This ruptures the suspension-of-disbelief, draining away tension and leaving behind floundering melodrama.

The Dark Knight Rises appears to be a movie written with the idea that certain scenes must occur and that adjoining scenes aren’t very important. The important moments are done exceptionally well, while the rest of the movie meanders and forces characters to do whatever is required to get them in their right places for the next crucial scene.  The result is that most characters hit certain notes perfectly while sounding flat and unrealistic the rest of the time. In this way the movie is like a partially baked cake; the finished parts are delicious and the underdone parts aren’t appealing.

As a movie by itself, The Dark Knight Rises is good but not great. When taken as a whole this trilogy of Batman movies is exceptional and satisfying. The Dark Knight Rises accomplishes its most important task: it completes the character arc for Bruce Wayne started in Batman Begins in a manner that feels correct. The moment that matters most, the last we see of Bruce Wayne, is specifically contrived to supply a needed denouement for the character that doesn’t revolt the senses. An acceptable ending that isn’t exceptional, an accomplishment many movie series fail at. (See The Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies for examples of such failures.) The Dark Knight Rises is well worth watching, as long as your expectations aren’t too high.

Antagonist: A Closer Look At Demiurge

A while back I wrote abut the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain in my story, Gods Among Men. Today I will delve deeper into the role of antagonist and how my character, Demiurge, fills that role.

The antagonist is fundamentally a reactive character. It is the protagonist that initiates the action and drives the plot. The antagonist reacts to what the protagonist does. It is common for the antagonist to either be the hero or villain of the story, but Demiurge is neither.

Once, a very long time ago, Demiurge was a great hero. That was before he was killed in his war with The False Gods. In the final battle he was utterly destroyed, yet continued to exist. He is now a grotesque aberration, neither dead nor alive. He has no choice in this. The one thing he fundamentally cannot change is himself.

Demiurge’s current relationship to most people is similar to our relationship with insects. If an insect annoys us we either make it go away or kill it. If an insect is doing something interesting we might watch it for awhile, but likely not interfere. Otherwise, we ignore insects. Few insects occupy our thoughts for more than a moment and all are soon forgotten.

It is this attitude that keep Demiurge from being hero or villain, antihero or antivillain. The mundane world means too little for him to either save or destroy it. He has no interest in causing harm, and makes no effort to stop tragedy.

Damon Roth, my protagonist, is another matter. Damon Roth at one point has something Demiurge does care about, and proceeds to play a shell game with it so Demiurge can’t find it. What is it that Damon has that Demiurge wants? My MacGuffin, the satchel I wrote about in a previous post.

Damon Roth puts Demiurge in a unique position. Demiurge wants the satchel more than anything else in the whole of creation. He cannot ignore Damon like he does others. Nor can Demiurge kill him. Damon has arranged that if he dies Demiurge will never find the satchel. This allows Damon Roth to lure Demiurge into a battle of wits and wills, subtle manipulations and opaque strategies. A game of chess with everyone else as pawns to be used or discarded as the situation demands. A contest both know can only end in the destruction of one of them.

What does Damon Roth want from Demiurge? Demiurge is the God Among Men, and that is what Damon Roth needs to become if he is to save all life on the planet. The only way Damon can do this is to destroy Demiurge and steal his immense power, knowledge, and memories.

What Damon needs to accomplish this goal is in the satchel. He must have the satchel and be near a distracted Demiurge in order to succeed. He dare not let Demiurge near the satchel until he can guarantee these conditions.

The other character’s in the story revolve around these two figures and their cosmic conflict. They follow one or the other for a variety of reasons. Their individual fates depend on which one is ultimately triumphant.

A MacGuffin Is Not Something On McDonald’s Menu.

Alfred Hitchcock described the MacGuffin as an object around which the plot revolves, something the characters care about but which the audience doesn’t. The characters fight for the MacGuffin, betray each other for it, steal for it, kill for it, die for it. It is the One Ring, the Maltese Falcon, the secret plans vital to defeating the Nazi’s, the valuable necklace someone risks prison to acquire.

In my previous post I told of how I first started thinking about my major story, Gods Among Men.

One day I was having a daydream in which I envisioned a dwarf, dressed in armor, carrying a war-axe, creeping through an overgrown forest. Any player of role-playing games can see where this goes. The dwarf is part of a diverse party, there are monsters nearby and a fierce battle ensues. The party’s wizard is isolated, trapped by an Orc warrior, with no hope of escaping. In desperation he reaches into his satchel and…pulls out a .44 Magnum Revolver and shoots the Orc.

Nothing now remains of that original daydream except for the wizard’s satchel. Not the dwarf, orc, wizard, or gun, just the satchel that the gun came from.

Why the satchel? Without going into details of my plot and mythology or the strange path I took in developing both, making the satchel magical made other problems easier to solve. Giving it special properties with well-defined behaviors made plot twists possible that would have been difficult otherwise. The more important and powerful I made the satchel the easier it became for me to write the story.

Of course, once the satchel became a powerful magical item, it became valuable to the characters. Who has it at any given moment becomes important. If the hero loses the satchel, or the wrong person seizes it, that event creates dramatic tension.

Over many years that satchel became the focus of much of the action in Gods Among Men, became the glue that tied the various plot threads together. It went from a minor detail of a daydream to the item characters fight for, betray each other for, steal for, kill for, and die for.

That satchel became my MacGuffin.