AW Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I left the theater fairly certain I’d be seeing The Dark Knight Rises again soon which is pretty big for me considering I don’t often like to spend extra money on multiple viewings in theaters (there’s only been a handful of films I’ve seen twice in theaters and none I’ve seen more than that). However, this wasn’t because I thoroughly loved the movie and just had to see it again. In fact, I was pretty disappointed by it. I was so disappointed that I wanted to see it again simply to “give it another chance.”

Now before you roll your eyes and make a preemptive review of my review keep in mind that I didn’t not like The Dark Knight Rises. I give it like a B-/C+ compared to Batman Begins’ B+ and The Dark Knight’s solid A. So it wasn’t that I felt like it was a bad movie or anything. In fact, there were many parts and aspects that were truly amazing. But as a whole, those pieces simply did not all fit together to make a complete picture. The film tries to find a voice by balancing too much which often results in starting with an idea, but not always successfully seeing it through to a satisfying end. It unsuccessfully juggles its own universe with its source material leading to some thematic collisions. Watching The Dark Knight Rises was like watching a high scoring, back and forth basketball game. There’s plenty of action and it’s even damn entertaining. But when you finally can catch a breath to think about it, you realize that the breakneck pace was achieved at the cost of sound fundamentals.

The brothers Nolan have done a fantastic job in their previous Batman films by including elements of iconic storylines such as Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Killing Joke. They’ve taken themes, dialogue, and even specific scenes and reworked them to fit their universe. Even when altering major plot points such as Crime Alley or Dent’s transformation into Two Face, they’ve managed to maintain the tone and feel present in the source material while building their own interpretation. In TDKR, they let the source material dictate how their story would progress.

When you think Bane, you think of the Knightfall storyline where Bane breaks Batman’s back. With all of the question marks surrounding TDKR, everyone was sure that the Broken Bat was one plot line they could count on seeing play out on the big screen. An early pic of Tom Hardy executing the move on a crew member all but confirmed this expectation. And sure enough the Nolans included this in their screenplay. The result was a story built around an incident that contradicted not just some of the themes of the source material, but also some major themes in their own previous films.

In the comics (sorry to use the phrase and comparison, but I am a geek after all), when Bane breaks Batman’s back he breaks his spirit as well. This is essentially the same concept in TDKR. The difference is that in the Knightfall saga, the broken back was a launching point and necessity for a greater plot and theme. When comic Bruce is out of commission, a dude named Jean-Paul takes over and does so well that Bruce retires. But over time newbie Batman becomes too violent and goes kind of crazy forcing Bruce to unretire and to take back the cowl. Knightfall broke Bruce’s back to show that not anybody could be Batman. It also broke the back to give Jean-Paul enough time to rise and fall.

I wonder if the countdown to destruction derived from the need have a rehab period. We need to break Batman’s back, but he’ll need time to recover. The answer is an awkward 5-month gap that utilizes several Hollywood clichés such as various characters’ developing the super human abilities of convenient timing. Bruce happens to recover in time for him to return a day before the nuke goes off. There’s just enough time to fly the bomb out over the bay. Another cliché the Nolans mistakenly rely on is the nuke itself. For decades the nuclear bomb has been the symbol for the ultimate escalation of destruction so it makes sense why the Nolans would include it in TDKR. But this ultimate weapon has been used and used so many times that it’s lost its impact as a fictionalized threat. While using the nuke as a way to keep Gotham isolated was clever, that was the only original idea associated with it. At times I felt like I was watching an episode of 24 including the last minute race to deactivate it. These two elements were at the core of the movie, and even make sense in the context of this movie. But they’re also tired and lazy ideas no matter how spectacularly dressed up they appear to be.

My biggest issue with the 5-month gap is that it deflates what had been building for two films. In Batman Begins, Bruce is set on becoming a symbol, something that can inspire. By TDK, hockey pants guy aside, his plan has worked as people like Harvey Dent are beginning to step up. He’s even ready to retire the Batman. Jumping the narrative forward 8 years after the events of TDK was a great move as it proved that Gotham could in fact take care of itself without Batman. This is crucial in Batman’s decision to “sacrifice” himself in the end.

However, the 5-month gap contradicts the notion of a progressing Gotham. After the Blackgate breakout, the criminals take over the city. We’re allowed to see what becomes of Gotham mainly through Blake’s eyes, which reveals little.

Sure a few thousand pissed off cops step up in the end, but Gotham is a city of millions. Could the rest of the city have been forming some kind of resistance? Sticking it to the man in their own small way? Maybe. Nolan never shows us what the vast majority of Gothamites are doing during this time gap other than keeping their heads low and staying off the streets. They’ve proven they can’t rise without the Batman.

Every major player delivers a stellar performance even if they aren’t given the best material to work with particularly the new cast members. I really wasn’t a fan of John Blake when I first read about him since Batman has 70 years’ worth of characters to bring to life. Why create an original? But JGL plays him perfectly and carries much of the film as the Harvey Dent of TDKR. Anne Hathaway makes Selina Kyle her own even if the romance with Bruce feels a little forced. The modern day interpretation of Catwoman is rich and complex, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Hathaway in her own flick.

And then there’s Tom Hardy as Bane. Everyone knew that Ledger’s Joker could not be topped so Nolan and Hardy made a great decision to ignore the challenge. Instead they created a villain terrifying in his own way. There is just a coolness to Bane from the way he struts to his weird accent to his shifts from calm and collected to brutal and savage. His connection to the League of Shadows is a great way to bring everything back to the first film. And it should’ve stopped there.

Miranda Tate is in large part an unnecessary character. Instead of her hooking up with Bruce, develop the relationship between him and Selina so that romance angle doesn’t seem so forced. The “reveal” at the end is not only another cheap movie trick that made me recall Die Hard with a Vengeance, but it also tarnishes much of Bane’s credibility as he goes from international criminal mastermind to vicious attack dog. She never has time to establish herself as a real villain or a real character. Not to mention I’m pretty sure Batman kills her in the end which made me feel kind of weird. I guess he’s willing to cross that line with the al Ghul family as he pretty much did a similar dick move with Ra’s.

All the returners are great as expected even if their screen time is diminished (though I suppose Lucius got a bigger role). I understood that Gordon had to sit out so Blake could fill that police role, but I still would’ve loved to see more Gary Oldman. Batman’s final words to the commissioner might be my favorite Batman moment of all time. Bruce picked out Gordon not just because he’s a good cop, but because he sees him as a hero. His hero. I’ve never thought to view their relationship in that way. It’s a small moment that humanizes Batman in a way that dwarfs the “I’m tortured and emo because my girlfriend was blown up eight years go” approach.

Conversely, Alfred disappearing was maybe my least favorite moment in all of Batman. In the comics (I know, I know), no matter what, Alfred is always by Batman’s side even if he disagrees with his actions and decisions. Even in Nolan’s universe I remember an exchange of “you haven’t given up on me have you, Alfred? Never” that happened not once, but twice. Oops. Plus it is a widely accepted rule that more Michael Caine always equals a better film.

I realize I’ve laid down a lot more negatives about the movie than positives, but again that’s not to say it’s a bad movie. Nolan has created a trilogy not to mention an entire career of great films that good should be the standard. Exceptional should be expected. Yes, that means we as film goers are spoiled by such excellence but when he doesn’t deliver, it stands out that much more. Nolan is Pixar and this is his Cars. I’ve had several people tell me that I just need to see it again, and I’ll appreciate it more. While I fully agree with that may be the case, I shouldn’t really have to see it again. The greatest films grab you and hold you all the way through. You return to them because you love them, not because you want to give them a second chance. Nolan got lost in trying to top the scale of The Dark Knight by cranking everything up to 11. While there are many truly awe inspiring shots and scenes such as the bridge collapse or Batman vs. every frickin’ cop in Gotham, and I can appreciate that Nolan needed to up the ante as escalation has been a running theme throughout his trilogy, in the end, the screenplay suffered under the weight of its own ambition.

I end with some other plot problems in my mind in no particular order:

  • Bruce making it back to Gotham after being bankrupt, broken, and abandoned in the middle of nowhere.
  • The fallout from Bane’s Two Face reveal had no impact other than a JGL tongue lashing (though I suppose some might not see that as punishment at all). Jim Gordon seems to be fine in the closing scene of the film.
  • John Blake discovering Wayne was Bats because of a look on his face AND Bruce not objecting to the accusation in the slightest.
  • Daggett and especially his henchmen were unnecessary middle men that just added to the over bloated character list.
  • The police commissioner was just shot and literally saw Bane AND gives you a direct order to enter the sewers…but you brush it off.
  • Batman’s poor physical condition after an 8-year retirement was remedied by a robotic knee brace. Similarly, an old man realigned his protruding vertebrae, which lead to a push up intensive rehab. I’m assuming he was getting three square meals a day to help fuel that recovery. He’s Batman, not Wolverine.
  • I didn’t dig the whole “my friend Batman will meet you on the roof” ploy. Selina Kyle couldn’t connect those dots on her own?
  • Gordon and co running around to find the right truck felt like a mission ripped out of a GTA game.