Back in my Brave review, I told you all that I had to temper my expectations of the film because otherwise I’d just leave disappointed, there was no way it was going to live up to Up or Toy Story 3. The same is true of The Dark Knight Rises, and I think we all knew that going into the theater. Ever since the release of the phenomenal movie The Dark Knight, all everyone was talking about was how the third movie was never going to live up to it, it just couldn’t be done. Unfortunately it seems like Christopher Nolan and the rest of the production team didn’t get the memo. The Dark Knight Rises seems almost desperate to recapture the almost supernatural perfection of The Dark Knight, scrambling to be bigger, badder, and even darker than its older brother.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. If everyone is saying you can’t live up to the expectations of your greatest triumph, you don’t just quit trying. I bet no one thought Julius Caesar could top his conquest of Gaul, until he forged the god damn Roman Empire. However, as I watched The Dark Knight Rises, it struck me that the movie seemed to be going out of its way to top The Dark Knight, at the expense of the movie’s story and pacing. It also seemed to be in such a rush to get to the action that a lot of the foundation that this movie demanded wasn’t properly laid, making the whole movie kind of wobbly. What do I mean by that?
I mean that in its rush to get to Bane’s takeover of the city, a lot of the necessary framework of the story is lost or only partially established. So after an undoubtedly awesome opening sequence featuring a plane being dragged through the air by a bigger plane, we cut to Wayne Manor where city officials are commemorating the death of Harvey Dent from the previous film and celebrating a new law enforcement bill. We’re given a brief glimpse of a shadowy figure watching from the top of the manor, who we all know is Bruce Wayne. Then one of the waitresses overhears the helpful expository dialogue stating that Bruce Wayne has become a recluse and that Batman hasn’t been seen since the night Harvey Dent died. The waitress, who we all know is Catwoman (aka Selena Kyle) because Anne Hathaway isn’t going to just play an extra, then sneaks into Bruce Wayne’s private quarters and immediately sets to stealing his mother’s pearl necklace (oh, and his finger prints). A haggard and limping Bruce Wayne has clearly deteriorated since we last saw him, Catwoman easily casts him aside and leaps from the window and hitches a ride with the local governor.
So why is Bruce Wayne so tired and out of shape? Well…the movie never really goes into that and in fact this is merely the first instance of the movie not giving us sufficient information. Obviously we know that life as Batman was taking a physical toll on Bruce Wayne, but he wasn’t nearly as broken at the end of The Dark Knight as we see him at the beginning of Rises, and if Batman hasn’t been seen since the incident with Harvey Dent, how did he reach this state of disability? I mean the guy is barely keeping himself erect with his cane and walks with a very pronounced limp, and later in the movie when he goes to a doctor, the doctor tells him he has no cartilage left in his knee. How the hell did that happen? Did Bruce take the cartilage out himself with an ice cream scoop?
We also find out that Wayne Enterprises, the massive megacorporation that allows Bruce Wayne to finance his Batman tech, is basically just as battered as Bruce. The once powerful, multibillion dollar company is hanging on by a thread and from what we’re allowed to see, it seems like only Morgan Freeman still works there. Having used every financial asset at its disposal, Wayne Enterprises has successfully created a cold fusion reactor, but after a Russian Physicist postulates that new Fusion weaponry can be created using this technology, Bruce Wayne mothballs the project and nearly bankrupts the company. He also disappoints the woman who commissioned the reactor, the beautiful Miranda (Marion Cotillard). Now this is where the movie drops the ball.
Thanks to some brilliant acting by Marion Cotillard and Christian Bale, we can tell these two were romantically involved, their body language and the tone of their voices make that very clear. However, while they do seem to reconnect during the movie, not nearly enough time is given to establishing Miranda’s character or fleshing out the romantic relationship she has with Bruce. Meanwhile Selena Kyle has also been woefully undercharacterized, which is a shame because I thought Anne Hathaway kicked some major ass as Catwoman. She’s devious and intelligent, but that’s about all we get to learn about her. In the few scenes where we get to see Selena interact with people, it becomes clear she wants to leave her life of crime, however we’re never really given any idea why that is. She’s clearly exceptionally good at her job, we’re given no indication that she has any moral hangups about stealing (I mean she was trying to steal the pearl necklace of Batman’s dead mother), and when we see her sneaking and stealing, she seems to genuinely enjoy it. In fact Catwoman is so undercharacterized that I thought she was gay for much of the movie because she lives with this other woman who seems to be her partner in more ways than one. In the end these two underutilized and undercharacterized characters come back to bite the story in the ass.
Obviously I’ve spent nearly a thousand words on only the beginning of this movie, but watching the movie you’ll notice that you get a lot of fragmentary and vague information in a very short period. The worst example of this is Bane’s appearance in the city. Commissioner Gordon is pursuing Bane’s henchmen into the city sewers where he’s captured by Bane’s men and brought before the big guy himself, who stays just long enough to conveniently drop his speech that reveals everything important from the last movie to Bane before escaping. Half-dead, Commissioner Gordon is sent to the hospital where he spends the rest of the first half of the movie. Fortunately though, we get the very talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake to take his place. Unfortunately, despite how talented the actor is, Blake’s character creates several large plotholes that resonate through the rest of the movie.
While investigating Bane’s origins and motives, Blake interviews Bruce Wayne and pretty much the first words out of his mouth are “Oh hey, you’re Batman aren’t you?”
We get some very sloppy expository dialogue here about how Blake recognizes Bruce Wayne’s fake smile, but here’s the thing, that in itself doesn’t prove that Bruce Wayne is Batman and Blake has no reason to believe that. Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered, leaving Bruce an orphan just like Blake, but the whole city knows that already. It’s just too big of a leap between recognizing Bruce Wayne’s forced smile as familiar and immediately identifying him as the Batman. There just isn’t enough of a logical progression of thought for Blake to reach that conclusion, so it becomes painfully obvious that he reaches that conclusion exclusively because the plot demands he does so, which hurts the overall story.
What makes it even worse is that Bane does the exact same thing, immediately identifying Batman as Bruce Wayne the minute they finally meet…yeah apparently Blake went and posted that shit on the internet because that’s the only way I can think of that would have let Bane find out Batman’s identity. This plothole is made infinitely bigger as Bane reveals his plan to Batman: he’s going to steal all of Batman’s technology that is hidden in the secret vault beneath the Wayne Enterprises building. The movie takes great pains in reminding the audience that Batman’s secret stash is strictly off the books, with only Morgan Freeman knowing its location. So how does Bane know where this vault is? We’ll never know apparently.
Yet despite these plotholes, I really enjoyed this scene because it reveals Bane to be kind of the Anti-Batman. They both trained with the league of shadows, so all of Batman’s trickery and smoke bombs are useless against Bane. And then we’re greeted to the most badass lines ever uttered:
You merely adopted the dark. I was born to it!
The darkness has always been Batman’s ally, but here against his greatest enemy, the darkness no longer serves him and Bane easily dispatches Batman. Crippling him with sadistic glee.
I liked this scene a lot. In fact I liked this scene so much that I think it should have been the climax of Part 1. Oh yes, you read that right. I think The Dark Knight Rises should have been two movies. Clocking in at nearly three hours long, The Dark Knight Rises really needed to be two movies and considering what a money making machine the Batman franchise is, I’m really surprised it wasn’t. Sure, that would have ruined the whole trilogy thing, but so what? If it helps the story and makes you more money, what’s the downside?
You see if you split Rises in two, you could get two very complete and well done movies, instead of one rushed, half jumbled movie. Having the ability to take its time, part 1 (which you could name Dark Knight Falls) could focus on how Bruce Wayne became a half-crippled recluse, properly characterize Selena Kyle and Miranda Tate, and fill in the gaps of how Bane found out about the secret stash of technology in Wayne Enterprises, how both Blake and Bane find out that Bruce Wayne is Batman and various other plotholes. Then you have this excellent finale in which Batman gets his ass kicked, and then a few concluding moments of a crippled and imprisoned Bruce Wayne watching helplessly as Bane lays siege to his city. Holy crap, I get goosebumps just imagining the final moments of that film. Then in the second part we could take our time with Batman’s rehabilitation, how he slowly rebuilt himself and escaped Bane’s prison. Bane and Talia’s backstory could be revealed more slowly, making it much easier to swallow, and the final confrontation and betrayal would be all the more striking.
Instead though, they made it one movie, and we’re treated to one of the most stilted and awkward hour of any film ever. I appreciate what they were trying to do here, but the cuts between Bruce Wayne in the desert prison and Bane terrorizing the city, which also cuts between various characters in the city, makes this whole section feel diluted and unorganized.
Once again the movie tries to cram way too much information into too little time while also trying to show the passage of time in a believable and understandable manner (and only partly succeeding). The result is a kind of pseudo-montage, giving us a look at everything going on like a standard montage but in much larger bites and without nearly enough musical interludes. Batman’s triumphant rise from the pit should have been an epic moment of relief for the audience, but instead we’re still dealing with the information we were given in the last segment. Likewise the oppressive madness of Bane’s rule over Gotham should have left us wondering if there would be anything left for Batman to save, but most of us we’re probably still wondering how Bruce was going to climb out of the pit. And then of course we have the final twist of the movie.
After finally realizing that maybe the key to defeating someone whose face is held together by a mask might be to punch that guy in the mask, Batman overcomes Bane in the final conflict and is about to deliver the killing blow when suddenly Miranda Tate, who he had come to rescue, thrusts a knife between his ribs (through the suit that Morgan Freeman claims can stop a knife in the first movie…yeah someone’s not getting their Christmas bonus this year). I will admit I was stunned by this twist, since it comes out of nowhere and had Miranda been properly characterized, this twist would have been one of the best I’d seen. However since we see so little of her, this betrayal doesn’t have nearly as much oomph to it as it should. Most of the shock comes from Christian Bale just absolutely owning this scene, his pained expression and shock were just so real that I couldn’t help but feel sympathy. I did like the idea that Bane was simply another prisoner and that it was Talia that had to climb from the pit. It wasn’t a super powerful man like Bane that had the strength to escape, it was a little girl driven by fear. I thought that was a really nice touch thematically, since the whole series has basically been about finding your inner strength regardless of who you are or where you come from.
And then Catwoman arrives and shoots Bane in the most anticlimactic moments I’ve ever seen. I would have been okay had Catwoman arrived and fought Bane hand-to-hand, or teamed up with Batman to defeat him, but driving through the door and putting a rocket in his chest? That was not a suitable exit for Tom Hardy’s awesome portrayal of Bane. Sure, he was no Joker, but Bane was a great villain that needed a proper defeat. This was like Frodo dropping the One Ring into Mount Doom from the back of an Eagle instead of walking it in. Sure, logically it makes a lot of more sense to simply shoot Bane, but story wise, it’s pretty boring. In fact I was convinced that Bane wasn’t actually killed in that scene, that he was going to come back for a final fight, his grief-driven rage taking Batman for all he’s worth before finally succumbing to his wounds. I was thinking that right up until the Cafe scene.
The cafe scene however, was a very nice ending to Christian Bale’s Batman. I went into this movie expecting Batman to die because I thought that was really the only way for the tormented Bruce Wayne to finally find peace, but him appearing at the cafe to fulfill Alfred’s dream was a really nice touch that ended the movie on a much needed feeling of hope and happiness after such a dark story. And then we see Selena Kyle is there too, and it kind of adds this feeling of forced romance to the scene that didn’t need to be there. There just wasn’t enough of a relationship between Selena and Bruce to justify them running off into the sunset together. Okay, sure, they kissed before Bruce went on his assumed suicide mission, but that’s practically a requirement in those situations. In fact it’s the only reason that would make me consider going on a suicide mission: kissing the girl before going. So that kiss, or really any of the very tiny scenes before them, justified having Catwoman and Batman running off together. I think it would have been much better to see Bruce just chilling by himself at the table or hanging out with some average French woman he’d found.
Though as a brief aside, can I just say that Michael Caine is just a crazy good actor? I mean he’s in this movie for all of ten minutes, if that, but for those ten minutes he owns this movie. He pours his heart and soul into every god damn line he has in this movie.
Don’t get me wrong, Christian Bale is an awesome actor in his own right and an awesome person, but Michael Caine just has the experience of his many, many years of acting to push his performance to the next level. But moving on from my fanboy gushing over Michael Caine, this review might make it seem like I didn’t love The Dark Knight Rises. But I did.
I loved this movie so hard it hurts. There wasn’t a moment in this movie I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, sure my inner writer was analyzing all the flaws in the story, but god damn it I didn’t care. I had fun watching this movie from beginning to end. Sure, it had the potential to be so much more than it was, but that’s true of most stories. Reaching that full potential is never easy, and even great writers/directors/etc sometimes fail to live up to the potential of their creations. This was purely a breakdown of how the story’s foundation was too wobbly to support the epic proportions of its villain and hero, if you’re looking for a more standard review recommending whether you should see it, read the following words carefully:
Go see it, right now!
Go see it if for no other reason than to see Christian Bale’s Batman, because there will never be another like him.