THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012, dir. Christopher Nolan): Wasn’t This Supposed To Be a Batman Movie?

Dark Knight Rises1Welcome to the fourth and final part of my series on the Batman films.  Check out my previous articles on BATMAN RETURNS, BATMAN BEGINS, and THE DARK KNIGHT.

The villains in each entry of Nolan’s trilogy are nice metaphors for the films themselves:

BATMAN BEGINS is like Ra’s Al Ghul – intellectual, mysterious, does a lot with very little.

THE DARK KNIGHT is like the Joker – well written, creepy, effective, charismatic with a lot of presence.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is like Bane – big, talks too much, eloquence masking shallowness, can be easily cast aside.

After the surprise mega-success of THE DARK KNIGHT, we all wondered what would come next, with many, myself included, feeling that Christopher Nolan should leave the series after this high note, as he would never be able to top his EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.  In fact, despite THE DARK KNIGHT having an open ending, I actually felt it didn’t need a sequel but worked fine as a stand-alone film.

Had I been a Warner Bros. exec, I’d have been very scared.  Here we were with a massive hit on our hands, but the director was its true celebrity, and as INCEPTION proved, his loyal fanbase would follow him to wherever he’d move next.  If Nolan left the Batman series, audiences might leave with him.  So THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was put together quickly as a business deal.

I bring all of this up because that’s exactly what THE DARK KNIGHT RISES feels like: the result of business decisions.  The filmmakers do the best they can with their storyline, but their heart isn’t in it as much.  Even the title seems to have been chosen for political reasons.  The title suggests that this isn’t BATMAN 3; rather, it’s THE DARK KNIGHT 2.

Right from the moment the first trailers were released, I noticed things that bothered me.  The movie was being marketed as “the final chapter in the saga” where Batman might potentially die.  What?  I thought the whole point of BATMAN BEGINS was that it was rebooting the continuity so that we were seeing the beginning of Batman’s campaign.  THE DARK KNIGHT was supposed to take place only six months later, and now the story was already ending?  I wanted the story to continue and for Batman to have many more adventures.  Furthermore, the marketing really focused on the director’s celebrity.  The key phrases seemed to be that this was “Nolan’s special interpretation of the Batman mythos into his own cinematic trilogy.”

Huh?

Gee, all this time I thought I was watching Batman movies.  Turns out I was actually watching Nolan movies.  Nolan is the star and he can do whatever he wants.  It’s as if James Cameron suddenly directed a few JAMES BOND films, and then suddenly announced you were no longer watching real BOND films; you were watching Cameron’s special BOND films!

Dark Knight Rises3So all of this aside, what do I think of the movie itself?  Well, it doesn’t feel like a Batman story.  Batman doesn’t really do any detective work or fight crime this time; instead he’s a revolutionary or freedom fighter battling an extreme terrorist.

I think every review by now has raised all the main points.  Overall, it’s enjoyable as a guilty pleasure, and is certainly epic in scope, but has tons of story problems.  On the positive side, Bane, as interpreted by Tom Hardy, is a good villain, though he is more fun than creepy.  His campy voice has led to many imitations in the past year (“Now’s not the time for fear” and “It would be extremely painful” have become popular one-liners) and he is introduced in a highly implausible scene on a plane that tries too hard to copy the opening bank heist of the previous film.  Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has some nice scenes as he slowly puts the cowl back on.  His dynamic with Catwoman is good, and the scene where Alfred “breaks up” with him and leaves has some of the best acting in the entire trilogy.  Most of all, it is interesting to see Batman come back after eight years…only to fail and be beaten badly by his opponent.

But then comes the middle act in which Batman is kept in a “prison/hole/Lazarus Pit” thing with excellent TV reception and doctors that fix his broken back.  As Confused Matthew put it: “This isn’t really a prison.  It’s an obstacle course.”  Over the next five months, Bane takes over Gotham and cuts it off from the rest of the world.  Obviously this stretches plausibility and I can accept it to an extent, but what makes this middle segment so weak is the fact that no one in Gotham seems to even miss Batman!  We almost forget he’s in the movie.  Adding scenes showing the people of Gotham rallying for the Batman, wanting his return, would have made the story more cohesive and reinforced the concept explored in the previous two films of Batman providing a symbol no man can be.  As I said, this is why the movie doesn’t really feel like a story about a superhero fighting crime; instead Batman is turned into something else.

Bruce then magically gets back to Gotham and starts a revolution like the kids in LES MISERABLES.  The big reveal with Miranda Tate makes no sense (maybe there were trying to redo the Harvey Dent ending of the previous film?) and Batman’s fake death raises tons of questions.  “Batman would never abandon Alfred and Gotham behind” the fans cried, and it’s true.  “Now I’ve saved this city forever…and I’m going to leave it, so that if any future villains come along, I won’t have to deal with them.”  Exactly what was it about defeating Bane and Miranda that makes Bruce overcome his grief and leave Gotham?  Instead he wants to live the rest of his life in Europe with Selina Kyle (boy, he got over Rachel pretty quickly after eight years of moping) having Espresso in the same cafe every day until Alfred finally shows up.

I think on the whole, the story simply showed us things that we as an audience didn’t want to see.  We don’t want to see Batman apparently die, or have Alfred grieve for him, or have Bruce “overcome” being Batman and leave his city.  To sum it all up, the movie was an ending to a story that didn’t need an ending, that perhaps should never have been ended, but allowed to live on under new directors.

That’s all I have to say about this film.  It’s enjoyable for what it is, but it isn’t particularly deep, nor is it really a Batman story.  It’s well made technically, however, and serves as a fitting conclusion to this trilogy that should not have been a trilogy.

And so, until next time, the story of the caped crusader can be put to rest…until Ben Affleck comes along to start all over again!

Dark Knight Rises2

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