Why “The Dark Knight Rises” scriptwriter should be shot

WARNING: may contain spoilers.

The kids wanted to see it, so I took them to see The Dark Knight Rises. Because it’s a film based on a comic and I’m over twelve years old, I wasn’t really expecting to like it, but there were some scriptwriting crimes so egregious that I list them here.

Firstly, the film was way too long. It didn’t help that Cineworld in Solihull decided that air conditioning in a packed cinema in the summer is a luxury that our £28 entrance fee didn’t merit. But it was still 30 minutes too long.

On the plus side, the special effects were good (of course they were: it’s a summer blockbuster) and the babes were suitably babelicious, if Hollywood collagen pout is your thing (it isn’t mine).

But the script was terrible. Now, in a Hollywood blockbuster based on a kids’ comic, I don’t hope for emotional depth. But as the Bad Guy had mobilised thousands of normal people who were prepared to be blown up by a nuclear bomb he’d planted, it would be satisfying to be given even a cursory explanation of why they would. Or even, why Bad Guy and Bad Girl would. (“Because they’re bad” doesn’t work.)

Two can’t-be-arsed script devices were employed repeatedly. The lazy, lazy flashback-with-a-voiceover technique was used several times, as was clankingly clumsy Obvious Explication Dialogue:

“I want you to give me Clean Slate”.
“you mean, the computer program that lets you type in your name and erases you from databases?”
“Yes!”

Imagine if people in real life spoke like that:

“Have you got the keys to the car, Bruce?”
“You mean, our blue Nissan Micra that I bought from my father when he upgraded to a Passat? The one I scratched when I reversed it into a wall outside Aldi last Wednesday?”
“Yes!”

Then there is the mysteriously common movie trope whereby a character who doesn’t speak English suddenly learns it in time for them to utter the words that allow them to fulfill their plot function. I’m thinking of the bald guy in prison who needs translation until he whispers encouraging, motivational words to Batman. Imagine being that guy! All that time, unable to communicate with the Anglophone world and, just when the deus ex machina grants you fluent English so you can go to the pub and chat up girls, you disappear from the world as your bit of plot has finished. Bummer.

And don’t get me started on the unrequited homo-erotic thing between Michael Caine and Christian Bale. Any scriptwriter that requires Caine to cry should be drummed out of the scriptwriters’ guild. He’s spent 85 years being celebrated for not acting – he’s not going to start now.

More fool me for expecting anything other than cartoon characters, I suppose, but grown adults had promised it’s “dark” so I expected a Bergmanesque investigation of why a man would wear tights, with added “Pow!” overlays. Should’ve gone to see The Lorax instead.

31 Responses to “ Why “The Dark Knight Rises” scriptwriter should be shot ”

Comment by Futekov

I liked the movie because I switched off the critical thinking part of my brain. It’s an action movie after all…

The one thing that I couldn’t help but notice was the motivation of the bad guys to blow up the city with a delay. They wanted to destroy the city to make the world a better place because it was too corrupt and couldn’t be saved (repeated several times in batman begins and dark knight rises), however, at the same time they don’t want to blow up the city immediately, but after a month to give its inhabitants false hope and then kill them in a flash. And the bad girl slept with batman in order for him to be truly surprised when she stabs him? Seriously.

Though again, the action was worth it.

(this reminded me of another great action movie – the avengers, where the bad guy – loki, wants to invade and rule the earth just because he likes people bowing to him)

Comment by Andrew

You’re so hip, man. Rocking that counterculture. ;)

But really, I’m curious if you’ve ever liked a comic movie with that stringent criteria.

As for “based on a kids’ comic,” I know why you said that and I know I’m walking into it, but seriously man… read The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns. Mainstream Batman comics haven’t been for “kids” necessarily since the Silver Age (1950’s-70’s.)

Comment by Bruce

Andrew,

It’s not counterculture to point out that a film relies so heavily on CGI and action scenes that it is flimsy with scriptwriting, surely?

I confess I liked the first couple of Spiderman movies. And, I haven’t read a comic since I stopped buying The Beano in the mid-70s.

Comment by Daniel

Due to the sad circumstances in the US on this movie’s premiere screening I feel a bit uncomfortable with the “should be shot” headline… I am not trying to appear overly political correct, it was just my first thought.

Comment by Jake

Let me guess, you took your kids to go see Watchmen “because it’s based off a kid’s comic book” too?

Comment by Dean

yes it might be based on a comic book! But Nolan Made his batman movies realalistic!!! its not a kids movie at all!!! It is a darker version of batman!!!

Comment by Bruce

Dean – in exactly what way is this movie realistic?

Lots of people have told me that it’s “dark”. If they made a movie of The Cat In The Hat that was a little bit dark, it would still be a movie of The Cat In The Hat.

Comment by Johnny

Lol this is funny. You apply that to any movie and I guarantee you, you won’t ever have a good time. Imagine if people talked like they did in The Matrix, or in the Avengers, or Captain America, or The Lord of the Rings, or Avatar, or Good Will Hunting, or The Bourne Supremacy, or The Social Network, or The Hurt Locker. If you wanna watch a movie with lines that apply to real life…. I don’t know why you’re watching a movie. There is no movie on Earth that will have lines that would fit into real life.

Comment by Rafael

Totally agree man,
I liked the other Batman movies and although I didn’t suffer through this one, I did notice so many bad moments and bad script points. (BTW, I doubt if any script writer writes character crying. This is more of a director-actor choice, and the issue I had with these scenes was the constant violin music in the BG)

I liked your post mate!

It’s kind of silly to criticize you for criticizing a movie.

Comment by Dude

firstly, after reading your first paragraph i presume you haven’t seen the two previous films. Had you bothered to watch them you would realise that bane didn’t do what he did just to “be bad” but to fulfill the league of shadows work (watch batman begins). Secondly, just because it’s a comic film does not mean that it is for kids the constant violence and relatively heavy plot clearly meant for adults and kids alike. Thirdly, if you can’t be asked to watch a long film then check before hand and don’t. Also the writing is more realistic than most films, your quote is completely out of context as this is the first time the clean slate is mentioned to batman and so it is likely that he is to confirm with selina what it is before he contiinues to talk about it.

Comment by bruce

Dude,

it’s not that I can’t watch a long film (one of my favourite films is Apocalypse Now, at 2 hours). It’s that the film was longer than its scipt required, so it dragged. A 5 minute script, if filmed in 10 minutes, is still too long,

Comment by prasanna

Meh. Just another showoff who doesn’t know a thing about scripts.

1. The clean slate dialogue:
Have you ever heard of sarcasm? That was the undercurrent of the exchange between them during that part. Maybe you were just too busy eating popcorn.

2. There was no such homo jumbomumbo between Caine and Bale:
He cried because he was sure Bale would die in a direct battle with Bane. And he loved him like a grandson to allow that.

You will probably delete this comment. It’s not about my comment. It’s about sending YOU a message.

Comment by Lars

Wow, I love how all the replies are made by stupid kids who totally must have switched their brains off when entering the cinema, this movie doesn’t even make sense in it’s own universe.

And as for it being realistic, that’s just bullshit as told by Christopher Nolan, we have batman breaking his back and getting back in shape in a few months (something that in the comics had to involve magic healing to fricken happen at all) then we have all the characters who do the complete opposite of what they tell us they want, but you guys lap it up because you don’t want the trilogy to end on a down-note, it’s better to live in denial right?

We have Batman relaxing for the past 8 years after laying his cowl down at the end of TDK but at the same time contracting wear and tear injuries as if he had been active after Harveys death. And finally we have the most egrerious characterflaw of them all: Batman quits.

Comment by Ashton

It is so funny to me when people say that the Nolan Batman movies are realistic when The Dark Knight Rises was NOT realistic at all. For instance, when Gordon discovers that Bane(an international terrorist with the league of shadows(which should actually be the league of assassins) – when he is a drug dealer in the comics)is in the sewers. Instead of calling the FBI, CIA or the National Guard to take of this problem (like he would do in real life) he sends EVERY police officer is Gotham down into the sewers so no one is left to protect the city… really!? There are a dozen stupid things like this throughout the movie! Like why was there suddenly a TV in the hell hole prison that Bane and Talia grew up in.. The prison didn’t seem all that bad while Bruce was there. The prisoners even trained him and helped him escape but earlier in the movie they were depicted as brutal bad guys that would beat on a child. Anyone who thought this was a good movie clearly wasn’t paying attention. The other thing I would like to point out is that the movie should not have been called The Dark Knight Rises because Batman didn’t do shit in the movie! He got his ass handed to him throughout the whole film! He didn’t even defeat Bane, Catwoman did (very anti-climatic btw)! Sorry if I sound bitter but the Batman comics are some of my favorites and it angers me that DC can’t make a good movie to save their lives. (They should hire the guy that did The Amazing Spider-man because that was easily the best superhero movie of the year)

Comment by Mc

I was so dissppointed. I love the first two movies and I was so ready for this movie, buying a tshirt for it before the movie release. I couldn’t wait. And then when I found myself bored and shaking my head through the majority of the film, I found myself so disappointed.

I’m waiting to see it again at home but I’m not sure ill get past certain plot points.

Comment by P.Z.

You people are ridiculous. Nolan did an awesome job. Don’t believe me? Read the critics(the real ones) reviews. Research how well this film and all his other films did. And PLEASE if you think you can write a screenplay better than his, do it. Seeing that you know SOOOO much about how to make a great script. And as for you, LARS. You’re an idiot. Explain how The Dark Knight Rises does not make sense. Is it the part where Batman has to RISE out of hiding to save Gotham one last time from a deadly mercenary named Bane? And also involves Bruce Wayne even more when Bane presents himself as a member of the league of shadows. Oh! and another thing. IT’S A MOVIE!!! Shut up and enjoy. Again, if you don’t like and believe you can do better, then write a damn script!

Comment by Bruce

P.Z.: ” Nolan did an awesome job. Don’t believe me? Read the critics(the real ones) reviews”. So “real critics” are defined as “ones you agree with”. Right.

“Research how well this film and all his other films did.” So quality is defined as revenue generation? Right. Therefore, Justin Bieber is better than (say) Lou Reed?

“And PLEASE if you think you can write a screenplay better than his, do it.” I don’t think I can. But neither do I do it for a living. Similarly, I think the Charlie Brown illustrator is a less technically proficient artist than da Vinci, even though I can’t draw as well as either of them. Am I wrong?

Comment by P.Z.

Wrong. Real critics meaning, professionals. That do it as a living. You on the other hand make some good points, but to say that comics are for children…you should check out batman’s history. Nothing kid-like in there. I consider your criticism quite amateur. Such as the homo-erotic thing between Alfred and Bruce. Like you said, you don’t write scripts for a living. There’s nothing gay about this. He’s afraid of losing him. He’s like a son to him. He raised him. For him not to show any feelings in the matter would be boring. The audience would see him as a cold hearted bastard. And the Clean Slate problem you have. Now I know that you’re a freaken genius and all, but as a writer you don’t want only the genius’, like yourself, to get that. You want everybody that watches your film to clearly understand. I know it isn’t hard to do, but you have to remember that not everyone is as smart as you.

And stick with the subject, son! We’re not talking about music or picture art. If you like Justin Bieber, that’s all on you. But to compare them. HELL NO! Anyone that likes both Justin Bieber and Lou Reed would slap you for comparing them. Ain’t even the same ball park.

Comment by Moobs

I can’t be arsed but can someone destroy the above poster’s sense of logic… And for God’s sake please don’t use allegory, simile, metaphor or comparison lest it be misconstrued as being “off-topic”.

DKR is an incredibly flawed film.
Timing issues and plot devices aside; I believe the script erred toward tackling contemporary issues rather than universal themes and as such lacked an emotional core.

Bruce’s metaphorical Hole was not highlighted nearly as much as the literal one from which he had to climb.

When Bane said “Victory has defeated you”, I thought that was a good line, but not entirely accurate in the context of the three films. It was Rachel’s death and his inability to reconcile the events of the Dent act (and admit that the Joker had won) that had defeated him – not Victory.

Thoughts?

Comment by Mike

Am I right in saying that in your opinion the flaws in the script writing are
1) Moments where things like ‘the clean slate’ are explained in full through dialogue.
2) The motivation for the bad guys was not explained.
3) Michael Cain was made to cry.
4) There was a deus ex machina when the man explained how the child got out (sort of)
5) The reason Talia slept with Wayne
6) The decision to kill Gotham instantly seems to reverse their decision to make them wait and suffer.
7) Flashbacks are lazy
8) Homo-eroticism between Alfred and Wayne.
9) You were expecting Bergman

Is that a fair summary.

I know there are a lot of people out there who were disappointed with the film, and I can understand why. I enjoyed it – it wasn’t 100% to my taste, but oddly the choices that I didn’t like were the exact choices my 50 year old mother adored. So I guess there’s something to be said for some decisions being made in the test screening. And I can understand why that puts some people off.

But seriously, the comments you made about the screenwriter are unfair in terms of craft

1) Exposition
You can’t have a film without exposition. And you certainly can’t have a thriller – the audience doesn’t know what is going on. If that line wasn’t there – its significance to her character would have been lost. There are a number of ways that screenwriters deal with this – the most common is for the exposition to come out through character conflict, which it did here. He was mocking her. As a writer, I prefer to have the character discover the thing exists and have the audience discover it along the way – but that only applies to major plot points, and a true investigation takes time. So I can respect the choice made because it is a choice based on commonly accepted craft.
2) Talia’s motivation – Wayne killed her father and destroyed his life’s work.
Bane’s motivation – he loved Talia (pedophilic or fatherly, I’m not sure but love none the less)
The league of Shadow’s mission was set up with the first film and touched on here – but that wasn’t the character’s true motivation. And really – does all motivation need to be explicit? I’m damned if I can put my finger on many of Bergman’s character’s motivation, but I know they have one.
I can understand if the motivation isn’t to your taste – but that doesn’t mean there is a flaw in the writing.
3)Michael Cain’s acting
Is the actor really the job of the screenwriter?
And on a side note – Michael Cain’s book on screen acting is one of the best out there. He has 2 academy awards, and that scene set up the stakes for the whole movie. It sets up Alfred quitting (which no fan would see coming), it establishes the likelihood that this superhero would die (rare for a film of this kind), the revalation of Rachel’s letter changed the decisions Wayne had made, and it establishes the moment in Italy (not to my taste but my mum adored it – chicks!) A massive pay off for such a little scene. That is a difficult thing for a writer to do.
4)Not a deus ex machina as such, is it? Doesn’t happen at the end. Not exactly unexplainable in terms of how it could happen. Convenient, yes, but it is part of the tapestry of the film.
But are you sure he didn’t know English? I’m pretty sure he understood it; he just didn’t want to speak to Wayne. But then after him trying and trying and watching the man struggle against the odds, not for himself but for his community – we’ll the old man’s heart melted. It’s part of the fabric of the film and is logical. But I can understand it not being to your taste.
5)Why did Talia sleep with Wayne?
To trick the audience. To get access to the technology. To make him feel like a complete and utterly useless human being. Mostly to get the technology. Cause and effect – but I like a plot point that has several layers and pay offs.
6) Instant death vs quick. I genuinely don’t understand your point here. I think I need you to explain more.
It seemed to me that they always planned to let them suffer for a while and then kill them with a nuclear explosion. There are many different kinds of villains and many different kinds of plan. You might have written a different film with a different villain – different taste does not mean lack of craft.
Eventually they had to kill them with a bang, but they wanted to wait. With Batman on the scene they had to speed things up a little, but it was all part of the plan.
Is it something else you are talking about?
7) Flashbacks
I know that a lot of producers don’t like flashbacks, so a lot of first time writers are told not to include flashbacks in the script. The main reason is that it is very difficult to maintain forward momentum of plot when you move into a different time period.
I also know that a lot of older writers, film historians and critics hate that flashback that comes right at the end of a movie – where something is explained instead of the exposition working in our minds, it is played out visually.
It’s a tough one. Mainly because, as you pointed out, verbal exposition is frowned upon by the rest of the world (show don’t tell is often misinterpreted), and showing the images of the past along with words seems to be a mainstay of all forms of cinema in the 21st century.
A well placed flashback or dislocated narrative with intersecting time periods done well seems more likely to win an award these days at independent film festivals.
Nolan’s got a thing for ‘time’ in his movies – ever since the following. And he is one of the few writers who can maintain the forward momentum of plot in spite of his flashbacks (partly because he gives them here in fragments, not scenes). And the twist here isn’t so much that Wayne was tricked, but that Nolan tricked the audience by making us think that the little girl was a boy, and making us forget to tie the fact that Bane was disfigured in the pit and the child wasn’t. I think that the images here were the right choice and verbal exposition would have come across as more flat.
But I respect that it may not be to your taste.
My point is – flashbacks are not a sign of a lesser writer. Bad articulation of flashbacks are a sign of a lesser writer, and writers should stay away from them until they are well trained. We spend so much time clinging to the things we were taught in screenwriting 101 that we forget that some of the most memorable films in histroy have flashbacks. Doesn’t ‘Silence’ have flashbacks? And ‘Cries and Whispers’?
8) Homo-eroticism
Does that make for a lesser writer? Is all queer cinema amateur cinema? Is Almadovar a hack?
Alfred was Wayne’s surrogate father. He looks like a grandfather. If you thought your child was going to Afghanistan to fight, wouldn’t you cry? I don’t personally think that it is homo-eroticism, but either way – why does that impact on the writer’s craft?
9) Bergman
Really? You saw the poster for Batman, the sequel to one of the highest grossing films of all time, and you were expecting Swedish 60s personal drama under the flag of a summer tent-pole? Honestly? If so, why did you take your children?
Nolan brings the film making style of the 1990s and early 21st C to big budget Hollywood. The camera, the psychological thriller, the neo noir, the technology and the intertwining relationship arcs. Also the talented actors, the understanding of screen composition, and the understanding of how to bring the two together to get the performance.
So, I truly understand why you would be disappointed if your friends lead you to believe that you were getting ‘Silence’.

Why is this important to me? Why do I care?

You really attacked the man and went all out suggesting that his lack of craft demands a bullet – I expected something founded on an understanding of screenwriting craft. However, a young person who hopes to be a screenwriter could easily read your post and learn half truths and falsities. Tell me you didn’t like the film. Tell me you preferred the one with Heath Ledger. Tell me you like thought provoking cinema only. But when you attack a man’s craft, back it up with a solid understanding of not just the introduction to screenwriting, but years of writing things and putting them in front of an audience. My mother is 50 years old. She is a smart and intelligent woman, and she has no time whatsoever for superheros or action movies. And she loved it – utterly loved it. She has no idea that Nolan is one of the better writers marrying independent and mainstream cinema working today. She just like it.

Comment by Cassidy

Mike has pointed out almost everything I was about to mention. I would just like to say, isn’t it a little homophobic to critisize a movie for having “Homo-eroticism”? Especially when that wasn’t even the case. Alfred was upset because he knew that Bruce, who was like a son to him, would die if he continued to fight crime as Batman. So you’re saying it’s gay to show emotion? Can you please explain what you’re trying to say here?

Comment by Bruce

Cassidy, nothing wrong in showing emotions, except it’s lamentably un-English. And asking Michael Caine to cry is ridiculous. His job is to be the uber-heterosexual, straight talking cockney geezer of Alfie and The Italian Job.

Comment by Cassidy

Bruce, Crying doesn’t make someone homosexual, it makes them human. It’s ignorance like this that creates so much lack of understanding in the world. The fact that he cried showed that he actually had emotions and cared for his surrogate son.

Comment by Bruce

I didn’t say it does. I felt the homoerotic undertones added nothing to the story, so object to the script. I also feel it’s silly to ask Caine to cry. Different things.

Comment by Foxdive

Actually, I found the script leaked online and it makes no mention of tears.

WAYNE
How dare you use Rachel to stop me!
ALFRED
I’m using the truth, Master Wayne.
Maybe it’s time we all stopped
trying to outsmart the truth and
just let it have its day. I’m
sorry.
WAYNE
Sorry?! You expect to destroy my
world, then shake hands?!
ALFRED
No. I know what this means -
WAYNE
What does it mean, Alfred?!
ALFRED
It means your hatred. It means
losing the person I’ve cared for
ever since I heard his first cries
echo through this house. But it
might also mean saving your life.
And that is more important.
Wayne looks at Alfred. Furious. Summons the worst thing to
say and says it quietly and calmly.
WAYNE
Goodbye, Alfred.
ALFRED
(quiet)
Goodbye, Bruce.
Wayne mounts the stairs…Alfred watches him go. Turns.

Comment by kylio27

“Hollywood blockbuster based on a kids’ comic”

Nice try, making yourself out to be the matured ‘adult’, too good for a ‘kids’ movie’, when you’re too ignorant too realize that the Batman comics for which the film takes inspiration are very much NOT for kids.

“I don’t hope for emotional depth.”

And I don’t hope for much intellectual depth from you.

“But as the Bad Guy had mobilised thousands of normal people who were prepared to be blown up by a nuclear bomb he’d planted, it would be satisfying to be given even a cursory explanation of why they would. Or even, why Bad Guy and Bad Girl would.”

You obviously show ignorance of the background of the League of Shadows and the passion at which they have for their psychotic intentions of destruction. Perhaps you didn’t see the first film.

Also, regarding all the “normal people who were prepared to be blown up by a nuclear bomb”… I guess you weren’t paying enough attention to the film.

Bane says this when introducing the bomb, “And we came here not as conquerors, but as liberators to return control of this city to the people. And at the first sign of interference from the outside world, or for those people attempting to flee, this anonymous Gothamite – this unsung hero – will trigger the bomb. For now, martial law is in effect. Return to your homes, hold your families close, and wait. Tomorrow you claim what is rightfully yours.”

So the “normal people” were stuck, and had to just go along with it as not to have the bomb go off.

Now Bane’s actual henchmen, who are part of the League of Shadows, are martyrs, and this is suggested at the beginning of the film when one of them sacrifices himself in the plane crash at Bane’s request, and he does so without hesitation.

Ever hear of al-Qaeda? They have hundreds (if not thousands) of Militants with this same willingness, to God, of all things.

Regarding the explicit dialogue about the Clean Slate, as someone has already stated, there was an undercurrent of sarcasm in the way he said that to her, because he knew she wanted it, so he was mocking her.

“Then there is the mysteriously common movie trope whereby a character who doesn’t speak English suddenly learns it in time for them to utter the words that allow them to fulfill their plot function. I’m thinking of the bald guy in prison who needs translation until he whispers encouraging, motivational words to Batman. Imagine being that guy! All that time, unable to communicate with the Anglophone world and, just when the deus ex machina grants you fluent English”

Yeah, as if a character who speaks primarily one language, cannot know a bit of another…

And it’s not really a “deus ex machina”, since it earlier showed the child who got out of the pit before, doing it without the rope, so the audience knew about that, unless you weren’t paying attention. The old guy just later suggested that Bruce try without the rope (fear).

“And don’t get me started on the unrequited homo-erotic thing between Michael Caine and Christian Bale.”

You saw homo-erotic in that? Because me, and everyone else I know, saw it as it as a caretaker/grandfather/friend-son relationship, which it is. Perhaps you seeing it as homo-erotic says more about you than it does about the film, projecting are we?

“grown adults had promised it’s “dark” so I expected a Bergmanesque investigation of why a man would wear tights, with added “Pow!” overlays.”

Yeah, not clever in the slightest. I’m laughing, but not at your wit, at you.

Also, some acomment you left in the comment section needs to be addressed:

“It’s not counterculture to point out that a film relies so heavily on CGI and action scenes”

The film actually doesn’t employ all that much CGI shots, and uses more live-action SFX with slight CGI moments that are blended into the live-action. The only part with some heavier CGI is the Batwing, and even that is blended with a real live-action Batwing.

Also, the film is an ‘action-drama’, were you expecting little to no action at all? Hell, even if you look at the script and time the action scenes, they only make up about a quarter of the run-time, which is little relative to the typical Hollywood action movie.

Comment by Bruce

Heh, nice reply Kylio27.

“You obviously show ignorance of the background of the League of Shadows… Perhaps you didn’t see the first film.”

No. why would I? My kids didn’t want to see it. And it’s a crap movie if you need to have seen another movie in order to understand something as basic as why the bad guys do what they do.

“Yeah, as if a character who speaks primarily one language, cannot know a bit of another…”

but, as I say, in this movie trope, they suddenly switch to English just in time to deliver their oh-so-empowering motivational speech. That’s the absurd bit.

” Perhaps you seeing it as homo-erotic says more about you than it does about the film, projecting are we?”

Put down your comic collection and come back after puberty if you want to talk to me about sex.

Oh – and, by the way – it’s only a film. I didn’t like it. You did. It doesn’t matter.