Yeah, this is happening. And I know that reviewing The Dark Knight Rises puts me about ten months past the last exit to relevance. But for a variety of reasons that are too long to annotate here, I only recently saw the third entry into Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. What a disappointment. Point in fact, I’m afraid to re-watch Batman Begins or The Dark Knight for fear that I’ll end up in a Plato’s Cave situation.
Let me make something else clear. When I say this is a letdown of a movie I’m not doing so over fussy and pedantic details, such as Bruce Wayne’s broken back being reset with a hanging rope and a few well placed punches to the spine. Nor am I merely objecting to Bruce Wayne’s plot mirroring that of Rocky Balboa. I am put off by structural problems relating to how this movie tells it’s story.
Let us begin with how The Dark Knight Rises cherry picks from comic book canon, specifically Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and 1994’s Knightfall run. Both of those stores are among the best in Batman’s history. Rather than focusing on adapting one of these two arcs, The Dark Knight Rises takes elements from both. In doing so, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan penned a story inferior to either.
The movie begins seven years after the death of Harvey Dent. We see Bruce Wayne as a limping recluse, having given up on being Batman. Wayne’s perceived weakness inspires a corporate rival to make a move on Wayne Enterprises. To do so, he brings Bane, a masked mercenary from parts unknown, to Gotham. Little does corporate America know, Bane has his own plan to lead a proletariat uprising against Gotham’s elite. Except, that Bane is a catspaw of Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, who is dead set on carrying out her father’s vision of destroying Gotham.
Pro tip: even though The Dark Knight Rises features the cast of Inception, there’s no need to write this movie as if it were a costumed Inception.
Therein, Christian Bale becomes arguably the least present Batman in the history of Batman movies. His first conflict with Bane leads to a Knightfall style back breaking. From there, Bane sends Bruce to Pena Duro Prison “Hell on Earth.” Within a jail lifted from The Chronicles of Riddick, Bruce watches an allegorical Occupy Wall Street pair with the imagery of the French Revolution. What results is not so much a condemnation of the 1% but an editorial on how the 99% would ruin things for everybody. In the past, the good people of Gotham wouldn’t blow up a boat full of convicts. Now they submit to a dystopian hell when confronted with Bane and his gang of mercenaries. Despite agonizingly long first and second acts, the movie fails to construct Bane as a modern Robespierre. Considering the story at hand this is a mission critical failure. He’s just a guy, with a mask. He’s not even honest to canon because the real Bane doesn’t give a toss about anything other than dominating his environment. So the plot meanders from character to character, eventually zeroing in on Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Tim Drake Terry McGinnis Jason Todd Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
Though Oldman and Gordon-Levitt are perfectly capable in their roles, they have the dubious distinction of leading in The Dark Knight Rises’ deal breaker. Simply, Nolan’s Batman is an idiot. During the first act, Talia al Ghul, under the alias of Miranda Tate, sounds off to Bruce about how a failed green energy project, this movie’s AllSpark, could have brought “balance” to the world. How dare the screenplay telegraph like that without Bruce Wayne, the world’s greatest detective, noticing the strategic choice of words.
Later, Batman, fresh from having his identity, company, and legacy stolen by Catwoman, literally walks into a trap set by Bane and Catwoman’s corporate overlord. Where’s the brainpower? Where are the plans within plans? Where is the ninja-like ability to use guile, misdirection, and fear to manipulate the foe? And I’m not just talking about Batman. Bane is supposed to be Batman’s physical and intellectual rival; this doesn’t mean very much when Batman is as dough headed as the Flash off his Ritalin.
Perhaps equally disappointing is the movie’s consistent and painful tendency to telegraph. After John Blake proves himself capable of doing basic police work, Commissioner Gordon gives him the world’s most obvious promotion to detective. And just in case you forgot that Blake’s a detective, Blake announces to various characters that he is, in fact, a detective. Pair this with continual reminders that Blake is an orphan and I half expected Judi Dench to try and recruit him into MI6. . .wait no, that’s not right. Is it? I can’t keep track because I’m not a detective.
To have any impact, the movie needed to put its money where the trilogy’s mouth is in terms of the ongoing “Batman is an idea” rhetoric. Blake needed to put on a mask. Nolan should have found the courage to accept the inevitable comparisons to V for Vendetta. Clumsily teasing out the next-and-never Batman over the course of three hours feels more like a protracted sales pitch, rather than a story worth watching.
I could practically feel Nolan elbowing me in the ribs and saying, “Eh? Eh? What do you think of him for the next movie? You want I should cast him?” Shut up, Nolan. I don’t like high pressure sales pitches.
The Dark Knight Rises, despite popular attention otherwise, is not a good movie. In fact, it’s rather bad. It is bloated and far too self-assured despite obvious shortcomings. The persistent theme of popular unrest proves as desperate as a drunk party girl trying to pass herself off as smart. Combine that with the eponymous character and his chief rival written as thoughtless brawlers, and the manic attempt to craft a relevant and allegorical plot falls flat. The result is a movie that seems to have Christian Bale phoning it in and the director resting on past laurels.
Go home, The Dark Knight Rises, you’re drunk.
The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan and Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, and Anne Hathaway