Dark Knight Hype: A Story Of Expectations Told By A Reformed Fanboy

The Dark Knight RisesI had tears streaming down my face at the close of a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises on a stormy Thursday July night.

In one of the film’s final scenes, Batman’s loyal butler Alfred peered over the grave of a not-dead Bruce Wayne and began to weep, expressing his sorrow at having failed to protect Wayne from doom.

At this point, most ardent Caped Crusader fans probably had to reach for their hankie (as this was a Christopher Nolan movie, no 3D glasses could hide the waterworks). This fan was no different, but let’s just say I wasn’t exactly boo-hooing about the sentiment of the scene (even though the moment is emotionally poignant to a tee – one of the strongest, best-acted scenes in the whole film).

When I tell this part of the story these days, I set it up as a punchline, because, quite frankly, it’s funny – really funny – and pathetic. But, at the time, it was anything but.

My hot mess of a movie face was leaking emotion because, in that moment, I truly thought Alfred’s words of remorse were aimed at me.

Yes, folks, I thought, at that moment, Christopher Nolan, speaking through the beloved butler, was apologising to me for making a disappointing sequel to The Dark Knight.

I had realised that, as sure as day, my expectations had not been met. And, it hurt.

Flashback to July, 18, 2008.

Yours truly, as innocent and naïve as a 15-year-old high school movie fan could be, sat in a dark theatre at the Regal Green Hills 16 to watch The Dark Knight, by far my most anticipated movie that year.

To be honest, I’ll never exactly be sure what made me so interested to see the Batman Begins follow-up.

I started to follow movie news on a serious basis around the time that they began to circulate casting rumours about the Joker and Two-Face, and I remember being enthralled by The Dark Knight’s teaser trailer that premiered with The Simpsons Movie in 2007 (you know, back when trailers actually premiered with movies in theatres). Looking back on my time as a high school kid, I feel that everyone has *that movie* that they see in theatres and latch onto as an all-time favourite.

Dark KnightMine was The Dark Knight.

If you’re able to pick up on where this story is going, you’re probably already aware how I felt about the blockbuster sequel. I liked it. Actually, I developed a strong love for it.

After my expectations were met, I became The Dark Knight’s biggest supporter. Of course, that meant any negative reviews published drew my fast ridicule. “How dare that person not like a movie that I like? What an idiot!” Now, since I’m not a psychopath, I didn’t join in on the whole “attack the writer of the review” trend (a sad, sad fact of our society). But, sure, I held resentment for those that didn’t like the movie I loved.

Also, likely to the annoyance of my friends, The Dark Knight was all I talked about when it came to movies. The cast! The plot! The cinematography! The direction! Nolan! Nolan! BATMAN! BATMAN! AHHHHHH! (I’m sure it went something like that.)

The pitfall of a great franchise movie, especially one at the quality level of The Dark Knight, is the audience’s demand for more. A movie can only last so long, but to fans, what’s presented on screen usually isn’t enough. Actually, how often is enough ever enough for the most committed fanboy?

Just like a bunch of other folks, I wanted more – now.

On a family trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee (think Vegas with a Southern twist), I sat in a small room at the hotel that housed a computer (typically available for folks who need to conduct business). On Facebook (which, at the time, was still supercool and new to someone my age), I decided to start the conversation about more Dark Knight. The Facebook group, titled “Batman 3” (original, right?), was my way of starting a social media revolution, spurring the conversation for a follow-up to the Nolan Batman sequel.

I had no idea at the time if a third movie in Nolan’s Dark Knight Series was a good idea. I just know that I wanted the movie to exist, and that if it did exist, I knew it was going to be as good, no, better than The Dark Knight.

My sky-high expectations had just been met by The Dark Knight. How in the world could a new movie not meet them?

Enter The Dark Knight Rises.

Once a third Nolan Batman movie was announced, I instantly knew what my most-anticipated movie for the foreseeable future was.

Dark KnightIn the same year as the announcement, Nolan’s next effort Inception came out, and it was the same-old song and dance. I got extremely hyped, got my expectations more than met, briefly called it the greatest movie of all time in a glowing Facebook post (ugh, I know, the follies of our youth), wouldn’t shut up about it to my friends and quickly made fart noises at every negative review I saw.

It was bad enough that Toy Story 3 had just come out the month before. I don’t even want to imagine how annoying a conversation would have been with me in that time. Gracious.

So, at this point, Christopher Nolan was a film king who could do no wrong, and The Dark Knight Rises was to be the greatest film of all time. All I had to do was wait – and watch the expectation levels go up. And up. And up. And up.

The summer of 2012 was part me doing productive work to help my writing skills grow, part hanging out with friends and part me sitting on the internet, scouring for information on The Dark Knight Rises. Every little Tweet, tidbit in a story, and reference on a message board crossed my eyes during that long, long summer.

Finally, it was time.

Reviews broke that Sunday night before the movie’s release, and like a true fan (or someone that must hate a good night’s sleep), I waited up until about 2am or so to see what my favourite critics were saying about the movie.

Reactions were really good, but nowhere near what I’d hope they’d be. The burden of expectation left me staring down the long, dark hallway of disappointment. “What a scary place that must be,” I thought.

Dark Knight Rises BaneAfter reading a few negative reactions, I began to psyche myself out, thinking, “Surely, there’s no way this movie could be a lesser movie than The Dark Knight? Wait, is The Dark Knight even a good movie? Are movies even good? Are they even real?”

Then, I balked. “Those idiots don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m sure they’re just being hard on Nolan for yada yada yada…”

Yeah, it was getting a little silly.

Then, the day came. I had a press invitation to see The Dark Knight Rises the Wednesday before it opened (in glorious, real IMAX, I might add), and I was ready.

After the movie, I sat staring at the screen. I knew the truth as soon as the movie was over – that in no, way, shape or form was this movie as good as The Dark Knight – but I just couldn’t, in the moment, bring myself to accept it. I looked at my good friend who came with me and expressed my unfounded belief. “Of course, this was a far better movie!”

Deep down, though, I knew what had happened. My unbelievably high expectations had not been met, and I was disappointed.

I decided to go to the midnight screening of the movie with a few friends the next night, hoping that my first reaction was flawed. Maybe I was too tired?

And, soon after that screening ended, the disappointment was confirmed. The film’s problems became even clearer than they were in the first viewing. I knew, deep down, this was for real now, and there was no more running from the truth.

I had just been disappointed by The Dark Knight Rises. My expectations were not met.

Dark Knight Joker To the normal moviegoer, this entire story would have stopped at the closing credits of The Dark Knight.

“Huh, that was a really good movie. Wonder if they’ll make another one,” John Doe says as he leaves the theatre and moves on to whatever’s next on the marquee.

Being such a movie fanatic and a fan of the Dark Knight series, I don’t think I will ever come even close to a reaction like that, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

At the end of the day, not having my expectations met might have been the best thing for me – the one thing that might just have refined my (self-supposed) taste in movies.

I revisited The Dark Knight Rises when I bought it on Blu-Ray (had to complete the collection, right?), and watching the movie from the non-crazed eyes of a hyped-up fanboy actually helped. The Dark Knight Rises is a really good movie – far better than most of the stuff that comes out these days. Sure, the first act is a little slow and the finale needed some breathing room, but I really got a lot out of a non-expectation viewing.

This was the part of the kid’s sitcom where the stereotypical kiddo learned his obligatory lesson for the episode. I, no doubt, had learned mine.

I learned how dumb it is to have crazy expectations. This type of hype can be toxic if you’re truly going to enjoy a movie.

Now, I don’t mean that someone can’t be excited for a movie. I also don’t mean you should walk into a movie without any expectations at all.

Interstellar, Nolan’s newest movie, is my most-anticipated title for 2014. I’ve eagerly watched all the new footage, read all the reviews the moment they came out and even set the movie’s poster as the background on my phone. But, I don’t have skyrocket expectations for it. In fact, I really don’t have too many expectations for it at all.

I hope it will be an awesome movie. I hope it’ll be Nolan’s best yet. I expect it will be a well-made movie (based on Nolan’s track record) just like I would expect the Denver Broncos to be able to handle the Oakland Raiders in a home game. But, things can change, and if you’re not willing to roll with the punches and accept the outcome for what it is, you’re never going to find fulfilment.

Also, it’s incredibly unfair to expect a director, even one as good as Nolan, to be forced to top his movies one after the other. This level of unhealthy expectation destroys any reasonable criticism of a person’s work.

Dark Knight ScarecrowWith The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan had a story to tell, and he told it. I still really like the movie, but at this point, I’ve got no problem telling you that it’s not as good as The Dark Knight is (which is an unfair comparison to make in the first place). Rises shouldn’t have had to be, though. Sequels aren’t made to top their predecessors. They’re made to continue or finish the story that was started in the original instalment.

While some folks may not want to admit it, Christopher Nolan, just like every other out there, is going to make good movies, great movies and not-so-great movies. And, people are going to have their opinions one way or the other.

Having worked as a press critic for the past few years, I’ve learned how scary it is to be on the other side of the fence when it comes to having an audience. While I don’t write for a huge crowd at my college, I get how it feels to have your work and your opinion out on stage for everyone to see.

With Interstellar, I really couldn’t care less if someone doesn’t like the movie. The people who don’t like the movie are probably going to point out legitimate points of criticism. When I finally get to see it, I’ll either agree with the praises or agree with the criticisms. I’ll accept the movie for what it is and move on to the next one.

A love of film can draw out some emotion, but you can’t let your emotions get the best of you in either direction.

The people who are attacking Interstellar critics right now are morons – plain and simple. How in the world can you get upset about the criticism of a movie you haven’t even seen?

Growing up is always hard to do, but it’s necessary if you’re ever going to be a respectable member of your community. And there’s no difference when it comes to being a part of the community of film fans.

Yes, as hard as it is to believe, not every movie you’re excited to see is going to be good. You’ll have your good years and your down years, and you’ll still eventually see something you like from a director or actor or screenwriter or studio that you like and cherish it.

It’ll be a lot easier to weather the lacklustre, and yes, even disappointing, days at the cinema if you don’t have unreal expectations going in.

Take it from a guy who teared up about not loving a Batman movie.

The Dark Knight (2008)


The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Cory Woodroof is a journalist and film critic based in Nashville, Tennessee. He has written for Lumination Network (Lipscomb University’s student news service), the Nashville Scene, the Country Music Association’s 2012 CMA Fest blog, Brentwood Home Page and other publications. He’s a huge fan of catching the previews before a movie and the leading Space Jam expert in the Southeast.

9 thoughts on “Dark Knight Hype: A Story Of Expectations Told By A Reformed Fanboy

  1. The key to happiness is lowered expectations. But if we were happy all the time, that would get pretty boring. I haven’t found a way to keep my enthusiasm in check for certain upcoming movies, but I try not to read any reviews of a movie now until after I have seen it, and written about it (if I choose to write about it). With sequels, I have no expectations of them ever being any good. Your line about the pitfall of a great movie franchise being the audience’s demand for more is one of the best sentences I’ve read about movies recently. I intend to paraphrase it and use it myself.

  2. Great article, Cory – good to have you on the team. I reacted in a very similar way to you, although my biggest concern was that there seems to be something ever-so-slightly wrong with the sound design (particularly around Bane’s voice.

    My better half is particularly rogue, and rates ‘Begins’ at the best film!

    Great piece on the only superhero series I’ve ever managed to really get in to – entirely because of Nolan’s cerebral a and anti-CGI take on the material.

  3. A very well-written and wryly amusing article Cory. I enjoyed it a lot, and I have never seen a Batman film!
    (I think they should have stayed as comics, but then I am old, grumpy, and English…)
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. Good article, Cory. It’s very rare that a sequel approaches the quality of or even eclipses the original–the only films that I can think of that do that are Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring and The Godfather Parts I and II. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the original Dark Knight, and I have to confess it doesn’t interest me very much, but I see where you’re coming from. Nice post.

  5. The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t the movie I expected, but I almost expected that. If you look at each of the three films of the trilogy, they’re very different. Once is youth, one is new adulthood and one is middle age (or past). It’s a clumsy analogy, but the most apt I can think of. Also, the villains are different. So I’m glad each film wasn’t just a rinse repeat, I think that’s part of what makes the trilogy and the entire story special.

    I also love that there are themes that begin in Batman Begins and continue throughout. That the story grows (we’re back to my aging analogy). I think when you consider that aspect of the story, The Dark Knight Rises is a wonderful movie. Not a perfect movie, not the greatest film of all time, but more than worthy of a dedicated fan’s time, a good ending to the trilogy.

    That being said, I agree with a lot of your points. I went with friends and one wanted his money back. I was very satisfied. I enjoyed the movie and I felt I understood it, the why of it, the pace, the direction and that wonderfully poignant ending. Getting all of that from a movie makes it worth the money for me. Being satisfied, if not overwhelmed, is good. It’s solid.

    I know what you mean about expectation. Going into a movie hoping for… everything almost always leaves you wanting. That’s why I rarely, if ever, read reviews before going to see a movie I really want to (MUST) see. Doesn’t always work for me. I’ve been disappointed (The Lone Ranger….).

    Interstellar: I am ridiculously excited about this movie. And, yeah, it’s not going to be surrounded by the same level of expectation, is it?

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