I was rewatching Dark Knight Rises the other night and began to realize something I had not thought about before. There were a myriad of similarities between Nolan's final Knight and Marvel's last Iron Man movie. Both have took their fair share of leers and jeers as well as outright raging from the fan base. Most of them would like to just forget either of them ever happened for one reason or another, but, for many reasons, they both are a definitive piece of cinematic history that will forever leave their mark on their perspective trilogies.
Let's start with that word; TRILOGY.
Movie franchises from Star Wars to Blade to even Bill and Ted (YES, the third one is apparently coming) seem to run on the rule of three. The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. Movies especially believe that there is some truth to this as success is weighed by their ability to make a trilogy survive to the big screen. Both these movies had successful opening and second acts. Both were new to audiences. Even Batman had taken a much needed eight year rest and was coming back with a fresh take. So both were exciting beginnings. Both were introduced or reintroduced (as with Batman Begins) to audiences and warranted a sequel.
The sequels of each did not disappoint. Tony Stark returned to face a relentless Justin Hammer and the raw, untamable Backlash played by the incomparable Mickey Rourke. The introduction of Jim Rhodes in a full War Machine suit didn't hurt ticket sales in the least. But, I won't even try and compare Iron Man 2 to the Dark Knight. Heath Ledger gave the benchmark performance of his life as the Joker and helped make the movie possibly the best comic movie ever. The pacing, the acting, the writing and the pure visual nature of Batman's arch-nemesis rocketed this movie to the height of the trilogy. Despite the hate that Iron Man 3 received it surpassed it's second installment.
This brings us to the end of two trilogies; each rushing to it's intended climax. Both movies entered that final installment looking to put the nail in the coffin of their perspective stories. Dark Knight Rises was the last of Nolan's master pieces and, as such, showed signs of an ailing father trying desperately to mold its child to some type of finish. Iron Man 3 also showed the same tell-tale signs of someone pushing to a quick end even though Favreau had stepped down from the directors chair in favor of Shane Black. But, in this case, the domineering father was not the director, but Marvel itself. Both felt a bit rushed; as if it was imperative to put some finality to the story. And both had no real reason to do so. Being comic book properties their characters were destined to live forever and return to the big screen without them. But, still, they felt they needed to retire the two comic book characters that will always define their brand and will never truly retire.
But the similarities continue. Both movies have as their main character a man who has been pushed to his limit and, in one form or another, is at war with his own body.
Tony Stark has always been at odds with his health. The metal shards he has kept from his heart since movie one are always a risk unless he keeps the electromagnet in his chest. But, in Iron Man 3, he finds a new problem vexing his already busy mind. In The Avengers, Tony saved the day by delivering a nuclear bomb to the heart of the enemy on the other side of a dimension door. He very nearly didn't make it back and almost plummeted to his death afterward. This left him with a form of PTSD (Post Tramatic Stress Disorder) much like our soldiers come home with after years of combat. A lot of people cried about him suffering from these anxiety attacks even to the point of hating the movie. But it made sense. Marvel is always good about making these heroes REAL people. And who wouldn't be effected after that all out war with the alien Chitauri in New York? It's a natural response. It was appropriate. And it caused us to remember that Tony Stark, although encased in emotionless, inhuman metal, is nothing more than a man. A genius of a man, but a man all the same.
Bruce Wayne, in The Dark Knight Rises, began the movie walking with a cane. And it wasn't just for show. The doctor told him the lack of cartilage in his knees, the scarring on his vital organs and the extraordinary wear and tear had taken its toll. He finally had to use high tech braces to even walk right. But that wasn't the end. His run-in with Bane left him with a broken back and a crushed spirit. There was a dark finality to this movie from beginning to end. Alfred caught on quick just before he left. He realized that quite possibly Bruce didn't want to survive being Batman; that he secretly had some kind of superhero death wish. Throughout the movie, it was made clear that Bruce Wayne was just one man and his body would never last the role of Batman.
Of course, both men in some form overcame their weaknesses. Tony forced himself to face the future his arrogance had built and confront the Mandarin. Bruce pulled himself up out of that hole and came back to, not only, confront Bane, but defeat him.
And, while we're on the villains, let's look at the similarities we find there.
Both movie villains seemed to disappoint audiences. Bane entered the scene as a mercenary with a strange accent that oddly resonated from his trademark mask. There was no sign of his past origins of pumping himself up physically with chemicals; although he did redeem himself a bit by becoming bigger and more intimidating to the very end. There was nothing much redeemable about Marvels take on the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. This even caused me to rage quite and flip tables. After I calmed down, I realized the character worked within the framework of the single story and, later (Hail to the King), came to see that Marvel had a much bigger game plan. Although, to this day, I'm not sure if it was planned all along to be, at first, a rouse to set up future story-lines or if it was an afterthought to save their mistake.
Both Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man three had a supporting cast that made or broke the movie. Anne Hathaway did an adequate job in her role as Cat Woman, but took a back seat to Joseph Godon-Levitt as the potential heir to the cowl as we see in the closing scene. Tony Stark was backed up by his ever so present friend, Jim Rhodes, as the Iron Patriot. Iron Man 3 might take the cake on back up simply for the army of Iron man armors at the end. But the real breaking point for most fans was Pepper Potts being imbued with the Extremis virus and saving Tony. Not that seeing a strong woman save the day wasn't palatable; in fact, it's become quite a modern cliché in cinema. No, it was just the whole final sequence seemed to send fans packing. And I'm not really sure I understand why.
The main villains really didn't disappoint us at all. Talia al Ghul was a surprise at the end and delivered a shocking and sinister twist to the story. Aldrich Killian came on as convincing as any Iron Man villain next to Backlash. He took Tony to his limits and pulled off the role of the puppeteer and the true mastermind behind the whole affair.
In the end, both heroes walk away. This, to me, is where the art goes away and the rush jobs begin. First of all, it makes no sense to retire either of them. Why finish his story only to have it picked up a few years later as if nothing happened? Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man 3 were truly fitting ends to their trilogies. The only problem is that the story will NEVER be finished. Stark is back in the armor for Avengers: Age of Ultron opening May 1. And Bruce Wayne continues on as Batman in [Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice](movie:711870) next year. Wayne and Stark will never retire. They will most likely die in their suits. But both icons, Batman and Iron Man, can live on and MUST live on beyond the deaths of these men. This is what Dark Knight Rises got that Marvel hasn't been ready to admit. Sooner or later, you will have to replace your iconic hero. Warner Brothers has already cast Ben Affleck as Batman replacing Christian Bale. Marvel/Disney are still in denial. Either that or they have a master plan in mind that will blow us away. I wouldn't doubt the latter.
All in all, when taken simply as part of the trilogy, both movies stand on their own as the definitive nail in the story that made both characters household names again. There will always be those who mock Bane's voice or sneer and rage at the very mention of the Mandarin. But both Marvel and DC get their 'second chance' in the next year or so. And, I predict, that the next movies will make us forget somewhat the bad taste left from some of the elements of these trilogy finishers. I, personally, can't wait.