This review contains a ton of spoilers. You have been warned.
I must repeat how big of a fan I am of Batman. Not just of the Christopher Nolan series, but of Batman in general. Anyone who has read my Arkham City review knows how much I love the Caped Crusader. So, you know that I might be biased in favour of The World’s Greatest Detective, but then you also know it pains me a great deal to say that I was quite disappointed with The Dark Knight Rises.
The Dark Knight Rises takes place about 8 years after The Dark Knight. After taking the fall for the death of Harvey Dent, Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne has gone into seclusion. The emergence of a new threat in Gotham requires Bruce to get back into shape and don the cowl again.
I did enjoy the film, I think. It wasn’t slow, I never looked at my watch, but there were a lot of things I didn’t like about it. And the more I think about it, the more I find that I didn’t like. On the flip side, there were quite a few things I did like, but in the shadow of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, this film doesn’t measure up.
What Was Good
Catwoman was played ‘purrfectly’ by Anne Hathaway. From the moment she spoke, I could see the essence of Selina Kyle emerge. It was very reminiscent of the Arkham City Catwoman. Not just from how she spoke, but how she moved, and her character was exactly what it should have been.
Bane was downright scary. He often spoke in a very poetic way, and was always calm and collected. Tom Hardy really allows Bane’s power to come through even though his face is blocked with a mask. He is exactly the opposite villain that Joker is. He is cold, calculating, but also physically a match for Batman.
Alfred Pennyworth has always been the audience’s perspective in Nolan’s series. He is the one we really feel things through, and try to understand Batman through. The most heart breaking and emotional scenes in any of the three films come from Michael Caine. He got me choked up more than once and really iterates what the audience feels.
The basic premise of the story clearly takes its notes not just from the Arkham City Batman, but clearly taken cues from The Dark Knight Returns and especially from Knightfall. I am glad that Nolan even showed Bane literally breaking Batman’s back as he did exactly in Knightfall.
The ending was very emotionally rewarding. While it did leave room for DC and Warner Bros. to continue with this particular saga, it gave a lot of closure to fans of the series and was a nice farewell to the Dark Knight. The end really tied up all the loose ends with all the characters but also gave Bruce Wayne a way out of the cowl. The ending made me feel happy, and allowed me to leave the theater satisfied, despite the few disappointments throughout the rest of the film.
What Was NOT Good
The title has frustrated me from the beginning. I found it a boring title, and it seemed to more of a copout than anything else and trying to ride the waves of The Dark Knight. I have found the title to be uncreative, and it really doesn’t fit well with the previous two entries.
The sound work in the movie was really something that needed to be fixed up. And while Bane was difficult to understand sometimes, I often found it difficult to understand other characters as well and really needed subtitles just to figure out what was going on. Not to mention that the score made the entire theatre vibrate and often overpowered anything else that was going on in the scene.
The specific plot of the film seems like an over the top 1980s action film. The basic idea is that Bane holds Gotham hostage with a nuclear weapon and Bruce Wayne has to put on his cape and save the day. You had thousands of police officers fighting thousands thugs, and in the middle is Batman trying to stop a bomb with a red LED on it that is counting down.
The magic knee brace that allowed Bruce Wayne to kick with a huge amount of power after his entire leg has atrophied from what I guess is just a lack of use. Bruce Wayne at the beginning of the film is a recluse very reminiscent of Howard Hughes and has been told that he has no cartilage in his knees by a doctor. So he straps on this mechanical knee brace and all of a sudden he can kick so hard, he can break a brick. This scene literally left me rolling my eyes in the theatre.
Talia al Ghul appears but is less calculating and more just psychotic. If everyone can remember that in Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne is trained by the League of Shadows’ leader Ra’s al Ghul. In The Dark Knight Rises, Talia (undercover) becomes CEO of Wayne Enterprises to gain control of the nuclear reactor that eventually becomes Bane’s weapon. To get to that position, she had to have been patient and strategic. But in her final moments, after revealing herself, she seems like she is more just bent on revenge for her father rather than trying to preserve the world as Ra’s thought he was doing.
Bane’s ending was disappointing. He was powerful, menacing, and very well spoken throughout the whole movie, but in the end it appears that he was nothing but a pawn for Talia al Ghul’s plan. The audience was meant to feel like Bane was in control but to see his relationship with Talia made him far less frightening. And frankly, the fact that they have a relationship at all is just weird.
The lack of Batman seemed odd considering this is supposed to be his story. There was a lot of Bruce Wayne, and a lot of other of Gotham’s citizens but it seemed the Batman himself was absent from a good portion of the film, and he was definitely missed.
Bruce Wayne’s healing of a broken back takes place over months. He is trapped for almost 3 months (if not more), and takes that time to not only heal his back but strengthen his body. My only problem is that it doesn’t feel like three months at all. There is no real sense of time, and while the movie is supposed to take place over a period of roughly 5 months, you don’t feel like more than a few days (maybe a week) has elapsed. I wish they spent more time on watching Bruce Wayne heal and train before they moved on.
Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a super cop that seemed to be everywhere and figured out everything. He seemed like at the beginning he was just a beat cop and yet he manages to show up to all the major incidences that go on to set up the main plot. He also manages to figure out the identity of Batman after meeting Bruce Wayne when he was in an orphanage as a child. And in the end it turns out his real first name is Robin and Bruce Wayne has left him the exact location of the Batcave. I think that it is obvious he isn’t going to be Robin; I assume he might take up the mantle of Nightwing. But everything about this character bugs me. He was too perfect, and just too good and being a police officer. And the fact that his first name is Robin is just stupid. If his first name was Richard, or maybe his hyphenated last name was Grayson, I am sure the audience could have figured out the connection. But to say his first name is Robin I find just insulting to the audience’s intelligence.
The Bat (plane) is apparently Nolan’s answer to the lack of Batmobiles, or Tumblers rather. Even though there are three tumblers in the basement of Applied Sciences at Wayne Enterprises, it is apparently more realistic to have Batman flying around in an airplane capable of vertical takeoffs. Really?!
The lack of any mention of the Joker is supposed to be out of respect for Heath Ledger. In a movie where everything else in the previous movies has been mentioned again, and often multiple times, this seems like an odd one to leave out. We hear about Ra’s al Ghul, the League of Shadows, we get to see Scarecrow more than once (which was too much to be honest), several mentions of Harvey Dent, and have more than one moment of Bruce Wayne’s photo of Rachel Dawes. And not to even mention the Joker, or where he is, or what he might be doing seems like something that was very odd and clearly something that was missing.
Too much reliance on the previous films for the plot was too much of a rehash. Batman Begins was an excellent start to the trilogy, then The Dark Knight took the trilogy in a different direction and really stands on its own, but The Dark Knight Rises really hinges on the audience being familiar with the first two entries of the film and reintroduces the League of Shadows as the connection between the antagonists and Bruce Wayne. Ra’s al Ghul’s goal was balance in the world and he tried to ‘save’ the world. But Bane and Talia al Ghul just seem bent on revenge rather than fulfilling her father’s plans as she claims.
The Dark Knight Rises was crushed by its own weight. There was far too much going on for its own good and I daresay followed the typical folly of previous superhero movies. They added more characters (both protagonists and antagonists), and as a result the film became filled with far too many story lines and not enough time to see strong character arcs.
Ultimately, I was let down by The Dark Knight Rises and although it’s a fun film, it doesn’t hold a candle to the previous two entries, and often doesn’t feel like it is part of the same world. It has an excellent ending but getting to that end had quite a few disappointments. I really wish I liked the film more but I just can’t, although maybe in time, re-watching it might give me a new perspective. At this point, I can only say the film is good and not great like it should be.