Why Fans Hate The Dark Knight Rises Ending
So throughout The Dark Knight Rises, the train has been coming into the station. In Begins, Bruce Wayne became Batman; “yeah, sure, just until I destroy all crime in Gotham.” In The Dark Knight, he actually has an exit strategy. Bust Lau, take down the Joker, hand the reins over to Harvey Dent, get with his chick. When that ceases to be an option, he’s locked into being Batman, starting a downward spiral that takes eight years to hit rock bottom. There’s no longer any reason for the Batman, with a cleaned-up and competent police force scouring Gotham. What’s worse, there’s not an excuse either. If Batman so much as gets a cat out of a tree, the police will drop on him like O.J. Simpson in a white Bronco, opening up his friends Lucius Fox and Alfred Pennyworth to reprisal.
Without the “escape valve” of Batman, Bruce has become a recluse. He’s become a professional brooder; the most unattractive aspect of his melancholy personality having totally taken over. When given a hint that Gotham once more “needs” Batman, Bruce jumps for the ol’ death wish over the strenuous objections of Alfred, but over the course of his adventure, he slowly realizes that he can let go of past tragedies, let go of the Batman, and actually be happy.
It’s a moving, daring conclusion to one of the darker takes on Batman. And it’s one that people seem to hate. Over at Badass Digest, head writer Devin Faraci tears into it:
I kind of expected a bummer of an ending. I expected Batman to be completely finished, if not Bruce Wayne dead. I expected a couple of the side characters might not make it to the end. Alfred and Lucius Fox both seemed like strong contenders to meet their maker before the credits rolled. […] What I got was a happy ending. A happily ever after ending, at that. An ending that felt, to me, kind of like fan fiction more than a real conclusion to this story. […] Bruce Wayne escaped unharmed and has made a new life with himself. Possibly married to Catwoman. This is the beginning of a series of fan service epilogue bits. […] Bruce and Selina are now out in the world, living on… her earnings as a thief? They’re presumably married, and I only say that because we see them at the end fulfilling Alfred’s dream for Bruce, which involves being married. This part sort of got on my nerves because it feels really unearned. […]The cavalcade of happy endings strikes me as wrong. It actually reduces the gravitas of what came before. When the most prominent deaths in the film are the villains and Matthew Modine’s character, the film loses weight. That’s the best Bane and Talia can do? Even killing off Lucius Fox would have given the end of the movie some more heft. Hell, it seems like Fox is left unemployed – why not kill him off?
Let’s leave aside the tiresome notion that a “prominent death” automatically makes a work of fiction “meaningful” and more dramatic, something that has ensured every comic book event has one or more C-lister fatality (usually a woman, minority, or character from the 90s. Of course, I really don’t see the need to continue the long trend of fridged black characters when Alfred Pennyworth literally has nothing to do in the story and his death would affect Bruce (and the audience) far more in this hypothetical The Dark Knight Rises, but that’s beside the point. Did you notice a theme there? I thought I did.
In fact, over and over in film geek forum discussions, I’ve noticed a recurring, incredibly specific criticism. The ending reveal of Bruce Wayne’s survival, in which the film calls back to Alfred’s earlier fantasy of seeing Bruce alive and happy. In the last few seconds, Alfred is back at the café of his old dream when he sees Bruce and Selina, both characters in dire need of a fresh start, sitting together at a table. It’s an implicitly romantic visual. Seeing it, Alfred smiles in happy approval.
A lot of fans seem to think the movie would be much better if it had cut away at Alfred’s smile, instead of actually showing Bruce alive. This is, what, ten seconds of screen time? How is it a deal-breaker on par with Charlton Heston being cast as a Mexican, or the Green Goblin’s costume? How is it worthy of specific, sustained attack?
I think I know. It’s that the shot in the movie says that Bruce and Selina are together. Which is, obviously, incredibly important to Bruce’s character arc. It means he’s definitively moved on from Rachel’s death, Talia’s new betrayal, even his parents’ murder. He’s taken to heart the lesson that Alfred had been trying to teach him all these years. He’s fucking dealt with it. And, while you could criticize the very conventional shorthand of a healthy relationship as a symbol of mental health and general contentment, I don’t think many fans are hating on this scene… no, this one shot… because it ruins their theory of Bruce Wayne being asexual.
What’s weird is that the notion of Batman retiring to go have kids with Catwoman is not just canon, but incredibly canon. In the comics, “Earth-2″ is an alternate continuity where Bruce Wayne has married Selina Kyle and had a daughter, Helena “The Huntress” Wayne. This is meant to be the “Golden Age” Batman as opposed to the modern, mainstream one—you know, the real Batman, as created by Bill Finger. The one who used guns and killed people. Doesn’t get much grimmer than that.
Oh, and the aged Bruce eventually retires and passes the mantle of Batman onto Robin. Sound familiar?
Even when this continuity ended in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the character of Huntress and specifically the one born of Bruce and Selina popped up on the TV series Birds of Prey and now has replaced another incarnation as Huntress in modern comics. Bruce/Selina endgame (with kids!) has shown up in more continuities than Hank Pym beating his wife, so if we’re not going to shut up about that…
But why is this one simple thing so controversial? Wouldn’t your average obsessed Bat-fan be happy that Bruce is “tapping dat ass” all day and all night? Doesn’t it just add to the fantasy aspect of Batman? Not only is he The Caped Crusader, The Masked Manhunter, and The Darkknight Detective (Gotham ran out of cool nicknames quick), he’s also getting some from the one person who can work a catsuit better than Solid Snake.
So what exactly is the problem here? Well, us.
As fans, we want our stories to go on forever, and get better and better, and never change. (Before some wiseass takes the opportunity to go “So why are you against Quesada’ing Spider-Man’s marriage?”, think about it. That’s not even a change. That’s UNDOING a change, which is what most of the “big changes” in Big Two comics have been. Undoing character development, making characters younger, bringing them back to life.) Knowing it’s as unhealthy for us as an all-donut diet, we want the Batman sequel where Batman just keeps Batmanning it, without changing in any real way. We want Leonardo DiCaprio to play the Riddler and give Batman a hard time, but end with everything still in place for yet another Batman adventure.
There’s even some misogyny in that. A change we’ll allow is killing off the “expendable” love interest like Rachel Dawes, but I think some people are still in denial that Harvey Dent died, even though it furthered the story.
So ending the movie, the story, with Bruce Wayne QUITTING BATMAN, LEAVING GOTHAM, SHACKING UP WITH CATWOMAN? It must come as a slap in the face. There’s a certain boys’ club mentality, I think. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wolverine–these characters are bachelors til the rapture. They have their love affairs, their doomed romances, their sexual conquests, but they’re never sullied by women. Not for them having to commit–to give. They get what they need (from women who are all too happy to give it) and retire to their Fortresses of Solitude to gossip about what Green Lantern did with two superheroines and a bottle of grappa.
These characters are power fantasies. They can’t be allowed to marry, to grow, to change, to age. They are, like every man believes himself to be, eternally in their teens and twenties; literal man-children. Their emotional life is only deep enough to justify their wallowing in attractive angst.
So Bruce growing up and giving up his now-obsolete crusade to a younger generation–it’s nails on a chalkboard. I’ve heard serious arguments that the “happy ending” was forced on Nolan by the WB. He ‘really’ wanted to end with Bruce Wayne dead and gone. Forget his writer’s talk about how the last shot in the movie was what was intended to end the trilogy all the way back when Batman Begins was conceived. Forget that this arc makes a perfect, definitive statement about Bruce’s character and his journey. Forget that Nolan isn’t really that fond of downer endings (how many of his movies end with the battered hero reuniting with his loving children?).
Maybe it was all a dream.
This isn’t an attractive look, in the end. The people complaining “BATMAN WOULD NEVER ABANDON GOTHAM CITY” are going to look like the “fans” who hated Casino Royale because it ruined the international playboy cliché of James Bond with actual feelings and consequences. But what do you go to the movies for? To indulge in a vicarious fantasy? Or to be told a story? There’s nothing wrong with either, but only going to movies for that Mary-Sue hit doesn’t make you an audience member. It makes you a chronic masturbator.