The Dark Knight Rises

the-dark-knight-rises-Today I dust off another of the old [previously lost] reviews. I believe I first published this way back in January of 2013. It is funny to me what the internet archive chooses to preserve versus what it chooses to discard. I would love to have back my review of Dr. Strangelove or The Conversation. Instead, I get Batman 3. Maybe it is all symbolic of the price paid for that dramatic insouciance I am always going on about.

If only I could be the hero screenwriting deserves :)

1. Can “we see” the description? Are the images clear and appropriate? (10 points)

Part A) There is something about the way Mr. Nolan writes that really appeals to me. His syntax is clean and his images are well drawn, of course, but the overall effect is more than the sum of his talent for writing. Someday I will have to sit down and spend a lot of time analyzing why a Nolan script reads so well but, for now, I will just acknowledge my debt to him. It is the highest compliment one writer can give to another, I think.

I try to write like he writes.

10 out of 10 points.

2. Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Basically, do I have to hire THIS writer in order to get her/his original take on things? Are the rest of the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to be original? (worth 10 points)

It always feels strange to me to rate the originality of a writer who is working with a wide body of source material from which to draw inspiration. Still, the talent for writing and story design on display in The Dark Knight Rises is undeniable and easily seen.

8 out of 10 points.

3. Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character. (each part worth 10 points)

Part A) I remember when I reviewed Inception, I marveled at how packed it was with exposition for a story that still managed to work extraordinarily well. After reading TDKR, I am beginning to wonder if exposition isn’t an area Nolan just struggles with as a writer. This script is also littered with the stuff; this time, however, it doesn’t work as well. A few examples to demonstrate the point, the first is from page 9:

MAYOR (O.S)
He can tell you about the bad old
days, when the criminals and
corrupt ran this town with such a
tight grasp that people put their
faith in a murderous thug in a mask
and a cape. A thug who showed his
true nature when he betrayed the
trust of this great man – (Turns to
picture of Dent.) And murdered him
in cold blood.

from page 31:

BLAKE
He doesn’t know or care who you
are. (Off look.) But we’ve met
before. When I was a kid. At the
orphanage. See, my mom died when I
was small. Car accident, I don’t
really remember it. But a couple of
years later my dad was shot over a
gambling debt. I remember that just
fine. (Looks at Wayne.) Not a lot
of people who what it feels like,
do they? To be angry. In your
bones. People understand, foster
parents understand. For a while.
Then they expect the angry kid to
do what he knows he can never do.
To move on. To forget.

Next there is the central Story Metaphor which begins on pg. 47 with Alfred and involves the prison from which a man may rise. Each time this metaphor is expounded upon, it is in the form of exposition. I won’t quote this in extended form because it would make the review overlong. I will say, though, that from its inception to its climax– when Bruce Wayne makes the jump– everything about this piece of the story is served up as exposition.

Moving on to page 60:

anne_hathaway_catwoman_dark_knight_rises-1280x1024CATWOMAN
The program. The ’Clean Slate’.

DAGGETT
Oh, yeah – the ultimate tool for a
master thief with a record. I don’t
have it.

In general, all the things we learn about the pasts of Blake, Selina, Bane, Miranda, and the prison come from the dialogue in the form of exposition. We could argue that Mr. Nolan faced a difficult task in this script– there was, in other words, a lot of information to get through. However, and in opposition to the usual feel of the script, these exposition scenes feel forced and read poorly.

0 out of 10 points.

Part B) The subtext in this script was sort of a mixed bag for me. I thought the father/son dynamic between Alfred and Bruce Wayne worked and was somewhat poignant. The strength in these lines is found in their details– exactly what we would expect from good subtext. When Alfred says, on page 16:

ALFRED
Perhaps you should learn to make
your own bed, then.

We know that what Alfred is really saying with this slight rebuke is, ‘wake up and engage with the world. Quit living life as a dead man.’

Other times the characters struck me as having no depth to them at all. I guess the best way to answer this question, then, is to divide the script into successful and unsuccessful characters. The ones that are successful are the ones whose dialogue is rich in subtext.

Successful Characters:

1. Bane
2. Selina
3. Gordon
4. Bruce Wayne/Batman
5. Alfred

Unsuccessful Characters:

1. Blake
2. Miranda
3. Foley

There are also a few characters who were mostly neutral for me, like Fox and Daggett.

Let’s pick Selina from these lists because my reading of the script casts her as the most important character in this story.

Nolan makes her a Judas type, which means, she’s going to be awfully hard to root for. Of course, Nolan doesn’t require us to just root for Selina, he requires us to allow our hero (whom she has betrayed) to fall in love with her at the end. We can’t just tolerate Selina we have to like ker. And how can you possibly like a betrayer?
You start early, from page 14:

MAID
Oops. No one told me it was
uncrackable.

We are introduced to Selina as a highly intelligent, extremely competent, smart alec. Something in this reply, at least for me, made me like her right away– in spite of the fact that she is engaging in essentially unlikeable behavior– stealing.

The Yuppie has Jen against the wall – he reaches back to hit
her with an expensive wristwatch-clad arm. But Selina has
grabbed his wrist with a powerful grip.

SELINA
Get out.

YUPPIE
She took my wallet!

Selina twists his arm behind him in a blinding move.
SELINA
Now.

She releases the Yuppie, who moves off down the stairs.
Selina turns to Jen. Who is examining a wallet.

SELINA
I told you not to try it with the
assholes, Jen.

JEN
They’re all assholes.
SELINA
Okay, the assholes who hit.

JEN
I don’t know what he’s so upset
about, he only had sixty bucks in
here.

SELINA
Probably the watch.

YOUNG WOMAN
Watch?

Selina opens her hand and gives Jen the Yuppie’s Rolex.

I picked this scene because we again have Selina doing something unlikeable, but coming across as noble in the process. That’s a nice storytelling trick to pull off. I also picked this scene because it shows that even pros like Nolan can make a rookie mistake and miss a character name change from time to time. It looks as though previous drafts of the script had Jen as the Young Woman.

Without citing any more examples, I’ll note that every time Selina does something which we ordinarily think of as unworthy or unlikeable she does it in a redeeming way or for redeeming reasons… Until she sells Batman out to Bane. This she does from selfishness and only her sacrifice can redeem this choice.

Overall, the subtext in the successful characters is outstanding. I will also say that the unsuccessful characters are poor BECAUSE they have no subtext Still, I’ll go:

7 out of 10 points.

Part C) I think the characters are individuated to a high degree. I also like the way Nolan gives us dialogue “beats”. Things like the “permission to die” line. Those are hard to come up with and are one of the hallmarks of expert level writing.

10 out of 10 points.

dark-knight-rises-34. Do the first 10 pages make me want to read to Fade Out? (20 points)

Well, this is a tent pole summer blockbuster and as such, it requires the super cool action set piece that no one’s ever seen before. We get that with the airplanes piggybacking each other, so these 10 do what they have to do. And I would keep reading.

In terms of my actual interest, my interest extracted from the rubbernecker’s impulse toward seeing spectacle I hold in common with the rest of the species, Bane’s lines in these opening pages do hold promise. I definitely would keep reading to find out what the deal was with this guy.

20 out of 20 points.

5. Does the structure of the story have (a) a suitable number of reveals (b) an engine that fits its protagonist and (c) a thematic underpinning which, by Fade Out, explains why THIS engine and THIS protagonist were the subject of THIS story. (each part worth 10 points)

Part A) Without a doubt there are a suitable number of reveals. I like how these run the gamut too. We have the very large: Miranda is the mastermind and Bane is just the muscular front; to the somewhat small: Alfred tells Bruce Wayne the truth about Rachel.

My favorite reveal, by far though, is when Selina sells Batman out. As a dramatic foil to his leap from the prison well, this is really good stuff.

10 out of 10 points.

Part B) For me, the engine which drives this story is: Can Bruce Wayne find a reason to live? It’s somewhat important, I think, that the engine gets phrased that way instead of as: Can Batman find a reason to live? The protagonist of THIS story is Bruce Wayne not Batman, the search, therefore, is also Bruce Wayne’s and not Batman’s. I thought that was a pretty brilliant matching of an engine to a protagonist.

10 out of 10 points.

Part C) Thematically, though, I’m afraid the script comes in as a bit of a mess. If I had to guess why this is so, I’d offer that there are too many characters and not enough character development for a story this size.

Take the Miranda/Bane mastermind reveal which serves as the script’s next to last twist (the fixing of the autopilot being the last). Does this twist really have any resonance? Bane broke Batman’s back, dude. Bane is the one I want to see get beaten in the end. Instead we get an extra ten minutes with the “real” villain Miranda. This seems so tonally inconsistent that I decide to prove its invalidity with a scene from the script. I will let the character we all know is the real villain of this script do the convincing for me. From pages 74-75:

DAGGETT
What the hell’s going on?

BANE
The plan is proceeding as expected.

DAGGETT
You see me running Wayne
Enterprises?! (Moves towards Bane.)
Your stock exchange hit didn’t
work, friend. And now you’ve got my
construction crews working all
hours around the city? How’s that
supposed to help my company absorb
Wayne’s?

BANE
(to Stryver)
Leave us.

DAGGETT
You stay right there! I’m in
charge!

Bane places a gentle hand on Daggett’s shoulder.

BANE
Do you feel in charge?

Daggett is taken aback. Stryver leaves.

So, I’m not on board with the next to last twist and I think Blake’s character arc is totally superfluous to the story, and the five month seige of Gotham feels like it is miraculously convenient given that we have to give Batman time to heal from his broken back, but my real problem with this script is it doesn’t know what it thinks about its theme:

The opportunity to trust other people is the best reason to go on living.

This is the theme and it gets expressed in Miranda, Selina, and even in the fusion reactor itself, but I have no idea how Nolan thinks that his story demonstrates this theme. What it does instead is: it just says it.

2 out of 10 points.

Total Score: 77

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