I really do hate writing reviews like this. The Dark Knight Rises had unprecedented expectations. It seemed that director Christopher Nolan could do no wrong after brilliantly reinventing Batman for the big screen with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. He had just made Inception, which was another critical and financial success. The filmmakers had chosen Bane as Rises’ villain, a move which excited Batman fanboys to no end. Oh, did I mention that The Dark Knight remains the third highest grossing film of all time? Rises was primed to be something incredibly special. But I totally hated it.
Spoilers abound in this article, so read at your own risk. Also, this review is long. Fitting, because so was the movie.
You know what? I bought into the hype initially. There’s an incredible opening sequence, featuring Bane and his thugs doing some airplane-fishing, but then things take a turn for the worse in the newest Batman film. We’re reintroduced to Bruce Wayne, who’s hosting a fundraiser at Wayne Manor, though he isn’t in attendance. You see, Bruce hasn’t been seen in public for eight years and it seems that everyone in Gotham just accepts that he’s become a Howard Hughes-type crazy billionaire recluse. And that’s when it happened. At seven minutes into the movie’s gargantuan 165-minute runtime, I have already become angry at it.
You see, it was exactly eight years ago that Batman “killed” Harvey Dent and was forced into retirement. So, Dark Knight Rises, you’re telling me that no one in Gotham put two and two together? Batman and Bruce Wayne have both been gone for eight years. Definitely just a coincidence that they both hail from Gotham City, right? Furthermore, the whole movie rests on this premise that Batman was forced to hide for killing Dent at the end of the previous film. What? Why? Just blame the Joker and go fight crime, you dick. Why would you quit anyway? You’re Batman. I immediately thought of Spider-man here. Spidey was feared and hated, too, even though he was all that stood between New York and its supervillains. But guess what? Spider-man didn’t wuss out. He kept fighting for the people. What I’m trying to say is this: No matter what the reason is, it makes no sense that Batman would just give up on the people of Gotham and retire to the east wing to fart around for eight years. It’s implied later on that it was Rachel Dawes’ death in The Dark Knight that turned Batman into this super-pussy. Yeah, pretty sure that isn’t true to the character of Batman. Your parents die so you dedicate your life to fighting crime. Your ex-girlfriend is killed by criminals, so you stop fighting crime? That seems pretty hypocritical, dude.
At the party, we’re also introduced to Catwoman, who is obviously in the film so that women will buy tickets, because she contributes little to nothing to the on-goings of the plot. Throughout the first act, Bruce accidentally becomes more and more Batman-y again while studying Catwoman and Bane, until Alfred tells him that Rachel chose to love Harvey instead of him in the last film. For some reason, Alfred then quits and Bruce realizes he is a baby and it’s time to fight Bane. While that was happening, Bane has been setup to be a total badass. This is, by far, what the movie does best. Bane is scary, he’s gigantic and it’s going to take a lot to bring him down. Or so you are led to believe…more on that in a sec. So a bunch more characters are introduced at this point, I think to make the movie as long as possible. We meet Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member who has been working on some secret nuclear stuff to power the world and make it a much better place. For some reason, only she, Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne know about it and it’s kept in a secret sewer basement. There’s John Blake, a young street cop that believes in the power of Batman and provides some inspiration to get him off his ass and then wastes viewers time for like an hour while he fakes helping Batman. There’s Deputy Commissioner Foley, who serves to represent all the people in Gotham that still believe that Batman killed Harvey Dent, because literally none of the other characters do. And of course, returning is Commissioner Gordon, who is seemingly on screen for the entire film, but hell if I know what he was doing except almost dying all the time.
Bane and Batman confront each other finally in a very tame, short fist fight that ends with the iconic comic book image of Bane breaking Batman’s back over his knee. “Hooray!” I thought, “The movie is going to pay some respect to the comics and audiences are going to see just how crazy-awesome, intelligent and badass Bane can be. Plus, Batman will have to overcome his paralysis to stop him. That’ll provide some really important character depth and show just how hard it is to be Batman. We’ll all be rooting for the impossible and when Batman wins, it will be glorious.” That’s what I thought was going to happen, anyway. Instead, Bane talks a bit about that time he was in prison in a hole for a while and then he flies Batman halfway around the world even though he was pretty busy in Gotham trying to destroy it. He drops Bruce in the hole-prison and then heads back to Gotham City which is in a totally different part of the world. The ticking clock has started. Gotham is about to be destroyed. Batman is about to give up again. I mean, broken back, right? Pretty hard to bounce back from that. But some old dude in the prison gives away the message of the movie. Basically, Batman is not afraid of dying and that’s all bad and stuff. You see, you can only escape the hole-prison by wanting to live. So Batman does like 1000 push-ups and then his back is fixed. Obviously, he escapes. Bruce gets back to Gotham City instantly, despite being thousands of miles away, to confront Bane again.
So now, Bane’s plan is finally revealed…to be not his plan at all. Gasp! There’s someone he’s working for. Bane had been a member of the League of Shadows. So OMG! Ra’s al Ghul is back! Nope, wait…it’s his daughter, Talia. Surprise! Miranda Tate, the Wayne Enterprises board member with a heart of gold is actually an evil supervillain and she didn’t want to use the nuclear power for good, but rather for treachery! Honestly, what a waste. Everyone can see this reveal from a mile away. And because it’s so easy, there’s no power in it. The relationship between Talia and Bruce (which is alluded to in the film) is almost completely skipped over. Bruce isn’t conflicted in the slightest in stopping Talia and her now dumbed down henchman, Bane. The reason Bane works for Talia is because he like fell in love with her in the hole-prison. When she was a child, she was a prisoner, too! It’s all very convenient and very much diminishes both villains.
So Catwoman comes back now and helps Batman fight Talia and Bane and their army. Remember when I said it seemed like Bane would be hard to take down? Yeah, it wasn’t. It seems pretty easy to stop Talia and Bane, because it takes like three minutes. But now the nuke that Talia rigged up is about to go off. Scarecrow comes out of nowhere during this time and has this weird court for people where they are basically given the choice of sure death or possible death. All the police are up in there. Except that Blake guy. He’s hanging out with some orphans, trying to get them off the island (Gotham is an island?) by use of a bridge. The police on the other side of the bridge don’t want him to come over, because Bane said that if anyone escapes, the nuke will explode faster. I guess they wanted to give Batman enough time to redeem himself for murdering Harvey Dent. As you can see, there is an ass-ton of stuff happening and it’s all pretty hard to keep straight.
Batman doesn’t have the time to stop the nuke. So he flies it like a mile or so out to sea and everyone is like, “No!! Batman, you have redeemed yourself for killing Harvey Dent, don’t sacrifice yourself in a nuclear explosion!” Also, I assume all of Gotham died much more horrible, painful deaths later on when the radiation from the explosion blew in over the city. We’re treated to more endings than Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It looks like Catwoman and Batman got married and ran away. Oh yeah, he didn’t die, like you knew he wouldn’t. And also, John Blake’s first name is Robin. Shock and awe. Finally, we’re at the end of the movie and my marathon plot summary.
All I can say is that The Dark Knight Rises is a massive disappointment. A nuclear bomb? Really? This is the laziest plot device in action films. I half expected Wesley Snipes to show up at some point and be like, “I got this one, Batman.” The action sequences are such a small part of the epic length and few and far between. Batman relies on his new flying machine, The Bat (what happened to the Batwing?) for a large sequence, but I found myself yearning for him to ditch the gadgets. When he did, though, I wasn’t much happier. Bane and Batman actually fight twice, but it’s so pedestrian and shot in such a way that you can’t really see what’s going on. This isn’t a superhero fight. Instead of being the attraction to the movie that it should be, the action actually detracts from the whole of the film, making a tedious movie seem even longer.
The cast is great for what they’re given. The regulars are on par or better than they have been in the past. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman all deserve props for what they’ve done in this trilogy. Tom Hardy is astounding as Bane. It’s too bad that Bane is relegated to henchman status like he was in 1997’s Batman & Robin. He’s never given a time to really shine on his own, as he becomes dependent on Talia in the second half of the movie. Marion Cotillard is a great choice for Talia, but she doesn’t give Batman a challenge physically or emotionally like she does in previous comic, cartoon and video game appearances. I do believe that Anne Hathaway is miscast as Catwoman, but I also can’t really complain because she’s barely a part of the movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfect as the center of the film. He’s the heart of Rises and the only one that seems to have any motivation at all. But I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t extremely pissed off at the idea that he was Robin. I don’t like this concept that Batman quits again at the end. That’s just not the character at all. And to have this other character come out of nowhere to give the audience some sort of notion that Batman continues now through Robin makes no sense. So this guy that has no superhero training is going to move into the Batcave and just take over? And he’s going to use his first name as his superhero name? Is he still going to have the red, green and yellow costume? And why isn’t he one of the pre-existing Robins that people are familiar with? I’m calling this an unnecessary copout.
Christopher Nolan did some wonderful things with this incarnation of Batman. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were instant classics. They mostly honored the characters they were portraying, they had a dark, gritty and realistic feel that had yet to be applied to superhero film. Most importantly, though, the stories were epic; they were challenging and rewarding for the viewers and they featured characters who were iconic, inspiring and worth caring about. Unfortunately, I didn’t see that in Rises. The impression I got was that Nolan didn’t care about the characters in this film. It felt like his interests lie elsewhere and that he did this third film because of a promise to end the trilogy, rather than because of a passion for the world he created with Batman. I realize I could be way off base with these comments. I obviously don’t know what he was thinking. But there was little for me to grab hold of and like in The Dark Knight Rises and I desperately wish that there was. Instead of a spectacular ending to a transcendent trilogy, I got a plodding, overblown, overcomplicated and unremarkable mess of a superhero flick. One that has me regrettably saying, “It ain’t no Batman Forever.”
But hey, at least I got to see the Pittsburgh Steelers destroyed when Bane blew up Heinz field.