(SPOILERS IN ITALICS)
The Dark Knight Rises is not a bad movie, but it is, to my mind, a very disappointing one. It doesn’t live up to The Dark Knight, although it tries; in my opinion, it doesn’t even quite live up to Batman Begins, though I’d have to watch it a few more times to be sure.
I’ll start with what is good about the Dark Knight Rises–and make no mistake, there are a lot of good things about this movie. The Dark Knight, while a superb and suspenseful crime drama, left the central character of Bruce Wayne a little underdeveloped. Batman felt at times like a symbol more than a relatable, human protagonist. This film tries a different approach by bringing Bruce Wayne to the front and center, just as Batman begins did. It is in this Batman film that Christian Bale turns in his most powerful performance, giving us a Bruce Wayne we haven’t seen before–a broken, haunted shell of a man who is unable to let go of the past and unable to move on. Eight years after the events of the Dark Knight, Batman is no longer needed, and the question Bruce must come to grips with is this: if he’s no longer Batman, what is he?
Bruce’s struggle provides the emotional backbone of the Dark Knight Rises, and in this respect, the movie is a success. Bruce’s journey is riveting. It is also enjoyable to watch him interact with Alfred–for the first time the relationship between Bruce and Alfred grows strained, and it’s heart-rending to watch.
Anne Hathaway as Catwoman adds a bit of lightness to an otherwise grim, oppressive movie, though her character might have been better explored. How does she have the power to take down armed gunman with her bare hands while wearing high heels? Where did she learn her ninja skills? Alas, we’ll never know. Though her character arc is far weaker than Bruce’s, her interactions with him are some of the most entertaining scenes in the early part of the Dark Knight Rises.
However, in a superhero movie, the hero is only half the equation, and it is in the other half that most of the movie’s problem’s lie.
There’s nothing wrong with Tom Hardy’s performance. Bane is a truly menacing figure, able to do something the Joker could not–challenge Batman on a physical level. Though half of Bane’s face is obscured by a mask, Tom Hardy pulls of the difficult task of using his body and eyes to bring this villain to life. The way Bane moves and walks suggest a character who is a true threat and a powerful adversary for Batman. And while certain speaker systems may render his voice a bit muffled, if you work at it, you should be able to understand him.
Wait–how does he eat??
Or at least, you should be able to understand what he says. Understanding him is far more difficult, because the movie fails to give us any clear sense of exactly what Bane and his allies want or why they want it, and this is a serious problem. Suffice it to say that Bane’s motivation is under-explained at best, and inconsistent at worst. The Dark Knight Rises hits a point about halfway through the movie where Bane seems to take a complete 360 degree turn. It is at this point that the movie generally falls apart.
The movie would have us understand that Bane is working with the League of Shadows, the organization of ninjas from Batman Begins that wanted to destroy Gotham because they beleived it so corrupt and full of crime that nothing could save it. Bane is out to do what Liam Neeson’s character failed to do in the first movie–obliterate Gotham. Except…why? We learn at the start of the movie that thanks to Batman’s efforts in the Dark Knight, Gotham has become relatively empty of crime. The streets have been cleared up, and everything is peaceful. This doesn’t seem to matter to the League of Shadows, though.
So Bane goes about obtaining a nuclear bomb to blow Gotham to pieces. He obtains this bomb and then…uses it to hold the city hostage, cutting it off from outside support. And then he does something inexplicable and frustrating–he gives Gotham “to the people, ” a move that somehow involves releasing all of Gotham’s criminals while trapping all of its police officers.
Why? What is he trying to prove? Is he testing Gotham somehow? Is he trying to show that beneath Gotham’s white exterior it is ready to fall into chaos? I have new for Bane; if you cut any city off from outside support and then released all its criminals from jail while locking all the police underground things probably wouldn’t turn out so well.
So why Gotham? Why is Bane willing to sacrifice his own life to destroy a city that in all honesty doesn’t seem all that bad? Is it because Gotham’s criminals were imprisoned under the Dent act, which was passed because of a lie, and Bane and his people can’t stomach that? No; Bane only learns the truth about Harvey Dent from Gordon, after he was already in the midst of implementing his plan to destroy Gotham. In short, it seems, that the League of Shadows, which was presented in the first film as a misguided vigilante force that destroyed corrupt societies and regimes, is expending all its efforts to destroy Gotham for no better reason than to give a big f*** you to Bruce Wayne for killing their leader eight years ago. The Joker was about spreading chaos and proving that deep down people are all evil and self-interested. Bane and the League of Shadows are about–what?
Worse, Bane makes a series of amateur mistakes that seem utterly arbitrary and seriously undermine his effectiveness as a villain. It’s hard to take him seriously when his plan is so poorly conceived that even a pre-schooler could point out the flaws in it. He traps Gotham’s entire police-force of 3000 men underground and, instead of killing them, sends them food and water so that “when they have learned to serve the cause of justice” they may be let free. Well, that’s all very well and good, but what exactly is this cause of true justice and how are they going to learn it in less than five months? Bane never frees these officers and it seems that his plan was to simply leave them underground until the bomb went off and obliterated Gotham. Of course the real reason he doesn’t kill them is so that Batman can rescue them later in the film and provide us with an epic fight sequence, though it’s hard to imagine that’s what Bane had in mind. He also sends his bomb around the streets in a truck, again, for no real reason, instead of keeping it somewhere underground and under heavy guard. It’s almost like he wants his own plan to fail.
Bane is armed with a nuclear bomb with a detonator that is in the hands of an ally. “If any one tries to enter or leave Gotham,” he says, he will trigger the detonator and Gotham will be destroyed. This turns out to be an empty threat. Bane never detonates the bomb, and the entire ending fight sequence feels wrong for that very reason–it’s hard to feel any sort of suspense when you realize the villains could just destroy everything with the press of a button. By the time they try to do this, it is, of course, too late. Why Bane didn’t press the button when Batman first returned to Gotham will forever remain a mystery.
In short, the movie never makes clear exactly what the villains want and because they make so many arbitrary, plot-necessitated mistakes, it’s hard to feel like anything’s really at stake. The Dark Knight Rises tries to do too much at once–it tries to give us a palpable threat in the form of a ticking time bomb, while it simultaneously tries to impart some vague sort of message about class warfare that is never really adequately explored. “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne,” Selina Kyle says to Bruce Wayne at one point, “you (the wealthy) are all going to wonder how you thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” But this plot thread never goes anywhere. We see the rich being lynched by the poor, but these scenes feel disconnected from the rest of the movie and shoehorned in for the sake of some half-baked concept of political relevancy. Bane doesn’t seem to care about rich or poor, about dismantling the oligarchy–he’s perfectly willing to blow them all sky high. Nor does Batman ever do anything to help either the rich or poor–he just saves them all from the bomb.
In short, the plot’s rather messy. It’s a mess through which moments of real poignancy occasionally emerge, but still murky.
The easy solution to this glaring plot hole would be to have there be no detonator at all–Bane merely pretends that there is so that no one will enter or leave the city. Batman, who knows that the detonator doesn’t exist, has to break free of prison before the 5 months are up and warn everyone that the bomb will go off in 5 months so they can stop Bane. But sadly this movie didn’t give us the plot we deserved, just the one it thought we needed right now.
Emotionally, the Dark Knight Rises would be a complete success, but it’s poignant scenes of character development are in constant conflict with its illogical storyline. The movie is still entertaining, but it’s not the perfect ending to the trilogy, though it does wrap up in spectacular and satisfying fashion. It’s an enjoyable superhero movie, but it’s not the experience its predecessor was. Though in one way it did improve on its predecessors–its scenes of melee combat between Batman and Bane are much better , action-wise,than anything we’ve seen in a Batman movie before. The high point of the movie, for me was, in fact was the first confrontation between Batman and Bane, an expertly staged scene and one of real suspense and terror that no action sequence scene that came after could fully match.
As I recall, I was lukewarm about Batman Begins the first time I saw it. Repeated viewings have changed my opinion, so maybe the same will happen here. Maybe there was just too much to digest and understand in one viewing, and if so, this review will be amended. I went in with huge–possibly unfair–expectations and was disappointed with the movie didn’t meet them. I intend to watch this movie again and perhaps my views on it will change. But until then, I can’t help feeling a little let down.