Monday, 23 July 2012

Why So Lazy? My Thoughts On The Dark Knight Rises' Fight Choreography

Earlier today I had the pleasure of seeing The Dark Knight Rises. The epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan's unique take on the mythology of the masked vigilante The Batman. Everybody is busy giving their thoughts about the film, whether it's the acting, the thematic elements of the film's story or the big action set pieces but I'm not here to talk about that today not the for the entirety of this article anyway. You see, when I was watching it I couldn't help but notice something that kept nagging the hell out of me. I tried to ignore it and pay attention to Tom Hardy's brilliant portrayal of Bane or Anne Hathaway's gorgeous eyes on the big screen but no matter how hard I tried it just kept throwing it's way into the forefront of my mind. Now what was it that bugged me? Was it's Bale's silly Batman voice? Hardy's even sillier Bane voice? The fact I was watching Matthew Modine on the big screen? It was neither of those things.

It was the fight scenes.

Yep, something so simple that should have easily been handled was what bugged me the most. Having been a fan of martial arts cinema for a number of years you can not help but get used to seeing action choreographed, shot and edited in a certain way. You get so used to it in fact that when you see a bad fight scene it gets to you more then it really should but that's not a bad thing because it then allows us to look at certain movies in a more fair and objective way. I know the risks I'm probably taking by posting this. I've seen the horror stories of critics receiving death threats for anyone who says anything remotely negative about Nolan and his Batman films. I for one I'm not afraid of these people. They're simply cowards and if anyone reading this feels compelled to threaten my life for sharing my thoughts then by all means.

That aside, I'm hoping this article will allow me to articulate my issues with the film's fight scenes.

From day one when Nolan signed on to direct Batman Begins he was determined to tell the story in a less fantastical and more grounded way. He wasn't interested in any of the overt theatrics the character had been subject to in the previous cinematic versions. Whether or not Nolan achieved that is ultimately up to the viewer but I for one liked Nolan's take on the whole mythology. He made it accessible, he made it different and more importantly he made it successful which is quite an achievement given where Batman had been left with the last film Batman & Robin directed by Joel Schumacher. He made Batman a viable and profitable brand again. Bale brought some much needed humanity to the role of Bruce Wayne and you can see this is a role that's important to him through out the three films. This fell perfectly in tune with Nolan's determination to tell a realistic Batman story which is odd as each film have hugely dramatic action set pieces to give it that extra Summer Blockbuster edge.

Now, you see, that's all well and good but there was always one aspect of the films I never warmed to. The fight scenes. Batman Begins had fights which were horribly shot and badly edited so it was difficult to see what was happening. I've had many people (Some well meaning but others very condescending) tell me that it looks more real. No, it shows a director who lacks imagination on how to shoot it so does in a way that's basically a cheat. Now from what I could see the fight choreography itself wasn't too bad especially when you consider the fact they had three different people working on them. That seems excessive but for a Hollywood movie where time is money I can understand the need for more people to handle it.

Now with The Dark Knight we didn't get much in terms of hand to hand fighting but it was filmed a little better but this is when the choreography started to work against the tone of the films. The fighting method used is the Keysi Fighting Method. A style of fighting that utilizes elbow strikes, close range grappling and striking. In the first two films of the series this style works because the action is filmed in such a choppy and awkward fashion. You see Batman throw an elbow, you see the bad guy go down. Now when we enter The Dark Knight Rises, things don't look as effective anymore. The first thing you'll notice is that it's actually shot and edited in a competent way. You can see everyone perform their techniques clearly and you see the impact, or lack there of, for the most part and it's here that the Keysi Fight Method no longer works at all.

When you pull the camera back and you show just how the Keysi Fighting Method is used in a fight, it looks weak and ineffective. I'm not saying in a real situation it wouldn't be. The method had some nasty techniques so I imagine it would be quite the opposite. From a film making perspective though, shooting it in such a way loses some of the style's ferocity and impact which I admit the fights in the previous films did have in spite of how they were filmed and edited. I feel with Nolan shooting in this new way should have made him realise that re-examining Batman's fighting style would have worked in his favor.

The fights should portray Batman as the ultimate fighter that he is. A man who is versed in so many fighting styles that he can easily and effectively take down his opponents in a single move but in the finished product it looks exactly like what it is. An actor in a costume awkwardly throwing elbows because the suit doesn't give him full flexibility. He barely even throws a good looking kick. While that may not be part of the core style, throwing a few side kicks and even a flying kick would have looked great and would have fit right in with Nolan's cinematic vision. Tom Hardy fairs a little bit better. His fighting style is more down and dirty and relies heavily on brutal head butts and vicious punching combinations. I was excited when it came for both Bane and The Caped Crusader to duke it out for the first time but the end result just came off so weak and I hate to use this word but..well...lazy.

I know in film's like this time is always a factor but I felt the people involved should have come up with something better then Batman trying to throw a few limp punches and Bane tossing him around. There's even a key moment lifted directly from the comic books that should have been a big dramatic moment but what we end up with just for me didn't work. The fights lacked any kind of drama or impact. Bane is a violent, sadistic, cruel character and while some of that sadism and cruelty did come through in Tom Hardy's acting, The violent nature of the character sadly did not. People were concerned that Tom would never be able to top Heath Ledger's performance of The Joker. I don't want to compare them because their respective characters are completely different but after The Dark Knight Rises, Ledger is still the top villain in my book.

Toward the end we get to see our two adversaries clash once more. A large portion of the run time builds this up as something that's going to be incredibly, epic, violent and hugely dramatic but their fight is just as pathetic and lazy as what's come before. I found it frustrating and disappointing as being such a huge fan of the character, I feel he deserves better then this. One thing I will say however is Anne Hathaway's fight scenes as Catwoman are treated much better except it seems she inherited The Dark Knight's terrible filming and editing problems. Also she didn't get enough to do in terms of fighting. Her moves were great and very much in keeping with how Catwoman fights in the comic books but you can have an amazing fight scene on your hands with perfect choreography but if you don't know how to film it then you're gonna screw yourself one way or the other.

The Dark Knight Rises is a film that gets so many things right that something as fundamental as fight choreography should have been a no brainer but it seems even an auteur like Christopher Nolan struggles to grasp what makes a good fight scene. Soon we'll be seeing a new version of The World's Greatest Detective and I hope that when we do, they hire an action director who can create some breath taking action scenes that do the character justice. Until then, I'll stick with the animated series from the 90's.


  1. I know what you feel. I've felt that way since the fight scenes in The Dark Knight, especially when Batman was fighting his way towards the club to face Sal Maroni. It was as if the henchmen were actually waiting for him to punch and it was painfully irritating to watch.

    The same is very much true with the first fight with Bane. "I punch, Bane punches. I punch, Bane parries, he punches. I punch..." well you get the picture. A style like kali or krav maga would've worked better here. I'm not saying that Batman should've trained with Bourne, but you are right. Editing and proper angling with fight scenes is key, more than to compensate for the lack of skill of the actor/stuntman but to give the illusion of speed and unpredictability.

    In the end, it just falls flat, and you just tell yourself that the fight scenes take a backseat from the story and cinematography.

  2. I always thought i was the only one who felt like this with Nolan's Batman movies. Glad to see a someone else wanting something a lot better than the excuse of a fight choreography that we have see in the recent batman movies

  3. Yeah the fightinig scenes were really bad in all the batman movies... Just looks like they're ordinary men brawling... But you don't really notice it in the first two movies cz of the way the capture it... (Smoke and darkness get in the way). Bane vs Batman was awful to watch. To my friends who say that it's more realistic this way, i give to you the Bourne trilogy...

  4. Ha, I saw yesterday and was thinking the same, just watching the actors in the background fighting... Just looked like they were play fighting. Also that dude on the back of the pick up with the 50cal who gets kicked in the face, he just stands there waiting for it to happen.

    The explosion on the bridge with robin trying to cross and they blow it. Him getting blown back just looked like him jumping back.

    And the cops running at all the rebels? hardly any of them fall in that hail of gun fire >_<
    So many little things spoiled it for me. And some of the CGI was sloppy, like the smoke wasn't blended into the scene well etc.

  5. I felt pretty much the same. (which is why im here).
    Its been a while since i saw the previous films now, so it might be time to review their fight scenes. But I do remember I felt way more satisfied with the fights in the previous ones, than with those in DKR.
    (even if the camera work might have been messy)

  6. I couldnt agree more fellas the most awkward of it all is that the stuntmen hired for the prepping are excellent fighters ... check youtube and you will see their skillsrange. is it a that the actor want to do the stunt themselves these days to allow great close ups to be verified but it is no excuse to derail from the Batman stories. Wayne is well versed in fighting arts and the range displayed in TDKR apart form a few elbow techniques are poor. Would have loved to see him use all his range and still hit a wall fighting looked like two Glasgow pub brawls at best.. Didnt mind it too much in BB as the introduction of the Bat should be misterious as should be the encounters of league of shadows warriors, with the ninjas or with Rhas but with Bane C'mon we waited for this for century it seems... No excuse Nolan! You even showed us Wayne kick through bricks with his new braced leg.. I feel let down. Great film apart form this note though. Vincent

  7. I wholeheartedly agreed that the fight scene is really ,really disappointing...growing up watching Hong Kong martial arts fighting action movies , it has made me become extra sensitive with any fighting sequences in a film ... Decades ago , there weren't much good fight scene that came out of most Hollywood big productions , but in recent years , we have the super agent fighting in Bourne trilogy , Daniel Craig's James Bond & MI :Ghost Protocol , the less fancy more deadly realistic fighting in both Taken & Unknown , then we also have slow-mo heavy fight scene in Matrix ,Sherlock Holmes & Watchmen (even without all the slow mo & extra damage effects , the choreograph alone were top notch)...
    Even in The Avengers , Hawkeye vs Black Widow is more exciting to watch...Catwoman has some nice moves ,but bad camera angle ruined everything

  8. i remember the first time watching the dark knight rises in the theater, the fight scene in the parking lot looked so choreographed and the punches looked so weak glad im not alone

  9. great article. I agree 100%.

  10. I totally agree myself a 100%. If you're going to do a Batman movie, make sure the suit is flexible enough for him to a cart-wheel or even a back-flip! Batman fan to the fullest!! Loved the trilogy but focus on the fighting style much more better than this.

  11. Great write-up.

    Totally agree, very poorly done fight them to Haywire, and The Dark Knight Rises is destroyed.

    Also the top picture with Bane and Batman, they look like they are dancing, not fighting. Haha.

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  13. I always felt the same way, it is unforgivable that a movie with such an enormous budget can execute so bad in the fighting scenes. Specially when all the people involved in making this film did not represent the Cape Crusader as he truthfully is: A martial arts,and various fighting techniques expert. Disappointing.

  14. couldn't agree more, especially batman/banes first meeting, where batman throws these perfetic punches/graples which looks very un-effective and pretty pointless

    The final fight was a little better, despite being clearly able to see banes henchman and the cops 'fake'fighting in the background (missing punches, grappling each over etc.)

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  16. Just finished to watch the film and google "Batman bad fights" because I thought I cannot be the only one who think these are the worst fight scenes I've ever seen in such a blockbuster. I totally agree with the author, I hope the film were epic, but the fight scenes are a letdown. With a little effort this could have been improved so much I don't understand why nobody did notice that before release.

    Sorry for the rant :-(.

  17. I'm a little late in posting, but I totally agree about the bad fight scenes in these movies.

    That is easily the biggest letdown from the series seeing as how Batman is supposed to be a badass martial artist/ super hero.

    I think Nolan should watch some MMA fights for inspiration when filming a fight scene.

    Some examples from Anderson Silva fights:

  18. I am totally in agreement with the collective disappointment regarding the fight scenes in all of Nolan's Batman movies.

    I don't know which would be a worse criticism - to label Nolan's action direction lazy or to simply call it unimaginative. But after 3 movies filled with the lamest fight scenes in memory I think it is safe to conclude that the abject failure of these action scenes is a result of both factors in combination.

    We are all well aware of how the stiffness of the prosthetic suit worn by Bale in these films limits physical movement. But the same limitation thus applies to the Batsuits worn by Micheal Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney in all the preceding Batman movies. If anything those suits were even more limiting in terms of flexibility.

    And yet the fight scenes in those films were more coherently choreographed, staged for camera and edited. More importantly they were scripted and directed with considerable wit, intelligence and imagination because the filmmakers never forgot that action scenes are still, in essence, part of the overall drama of the film (granted a more visceral, visually spectacular expression of that drama).

    The final fisticuffs confrontation between Bane and Batman is such a huge disappointment largely because the filmmakers seem oblivious to this last point. After Batman's defeat in their first confrontation the natural dramatic progression would be for him to learn from his mistakes and ascertain a way to overcome his physically superior opponent. Learning about your opponents technique, fighting style, strengths and weaknesses are an essential part of any fight strategy. This process of learning should also reveal a development in the lead character that takes him closer to the final stage of his 'Hero's Journey'. In other words - what does 'the Way' in which Batman chooses to defeated Bane show about the growth of his character and the dramatic conflict between these two foes.

    According to TDKR, 'the Way' simply involves Batman trying to hit Bane really hard, really fast, as often as possible.

    And I thought filmmaking was supposed to be 'creative'.

    And in terms of the dramatic conflict. Well... there isn't any. There are no dramatic beats, no twists, no suspense, no escalation. It starts for 4-5 seconds, cuts away to Gordon running back and forth thru an alley interminably, then cuts back to them throwing punches for another 10 seconds - and ends.

    And we waited how long for this?

  19. Agree 100%. Don't like Nolan any more for this shots. This Batman with this fighintg style can't defeat a lot of thugs. He's not fast and do not have any acrobatic skills... he's just a boxe fighter, go dammit! Zacky Synder is coming and he has such skill to make fight sequences (Watchmen was great) and story. I'm puting my coins on that.

  20. I agree, this movie has the worst fight scenes ever. They all just felt so fake. It was unbearable to watch.

  21. Finally someone who understands!