The Dark Knight Rises (2012): ***
Directed by Christopher Nolan
This is a movie that feels right while you’re watching it, but doesn’t hold up well to any sort of scrutiny, and has way more problems than Nolan’s previous two movies in this trilogy. Spoilers abound! Also, for no reason other than it amuses me, I'm only ever going to refer to Batman as B'man for the remainder of this review.
Nolan is a master of tone. Each scene strikes just the right note to evoke a powerful response, and watched viscerally the movie is a masterpiece. But even while I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching the movie, my brain kept on poking me and saying things like, “Wait, that doesn’t make sense,” or, “That shouldn’t be a problem for B’man.”
Cases in point: Joseph Gordon Levitt’s young policeman character has deduced that Bruce is B’man. His explanation is this: He saw Bruce in public and recognized that Bruce’s smile was completely fake and masking the anger of being an orphan, an anger that JGL’s character recognized because he had it himself. Great! But that’s quite a leap from recognizing that someone is an orphan to knowing 100% that that orphan is B’man. It feels like there are a couple of steps missing in there.
Later in the Movie Bruce puts on his B’man costume and goes on a merry chase with the police, who want desperately to arrest him. Even later in the movie a couple thousand police officers are captured. B’man blows up a wall to free them, and they all file out and WALK RIGHT PAST B’man, who is JUST STANDING THERE talking to JGL’s character. And he freed the cops in such a way that they wouldn’t automatically know it was him that did it. B’man is standing in the middle of this stream of cops in such a way that they have to go out of their way to walk around him, but NONE of the them even LOOK at him, let alone wonder whether he is a villain to be arrested or not. It looks cool, and the scene has a great feel to it, but really? C’mon. Also, the cops were living underground in captivity for 5 months but all their uniforms are clean and un-damaged. Really? C’mon.
This is especially distressing because Nolan did such a good job with nuanced groups back in the previous film. Remember those two ferries strapped with explosives, one full of civilians and one a prison transport full of criminals and guards? Remember how each one of the people on each of those ferries had their own, individual responses to the crisis? There were nuances and personalities and differing opinions.
Not so in this movie! If you are a part of a group, you think and act exactly like every other part of the group unless you are a main character. If you’re a cop, you think and act exactly like every other cop unless you’re Gordon, JGL, or Matthew Modine’s character. If you’re a convict, you think and act like every other convict. If you’re wealthy, poor, a thug, etc., it doesn’t matter. And the way you act doesn’t even have to make sense, it just has to serve the plot.
The main problem with the movie (and the whole trilogy), though, is that they aren’t really B’man movies. They’re movies about a guy who kinda sorta acts like B’man, but never truly becomes him.
One of my favorite-ever scenes from any incarnation of Batman is from an episode of Batman Beyond. A sound-based villain has been projecting his words into Bruce Wayne’s head (not knowing that he was B’man) using Bruce’s own voice, trying to get him to do bad things like commit suicide. When Terry (current B’man) asks Bruce why he knew the voice wasn’t his own, Bruce respons, “The voice kept calling me ‘Bruce.’ When I talk to myself in my head, that isn’t what I call myself.”
I never, ever got that feeling from these movies. It seems that Bruce is split three ways instead; there is the private, real Bruce (the one who hangs out with Alfred), and then the two costumes he puts on: Public “D-Bag” Bruce and B’man. Ironically, I felt that at the end of the 2nd movie he was just on the cusp of actually becoming a real B’man, and then at the start of this movie we learn that instead of doing that he just up and retired! What the eff!
Another instance is when Bruce is thrown into Bane’s prison. It’s a big, open pit that you can get out of if you can successfully climb out (there are no guards outside of it, apparently. Really? C’mon). After Bruce works hard to heal his back, he struggles to climb out of it because he can’t make this one leap between platforms. Then he is given a grain of wisdom by an elderly prison and uses that to psych himself up enough to be able to make the leap. And while that all felt right, the back of my brain kept on telling me, “B’man would have been able to get out of there no problem.” He would have used his resources to make some sort of climbing apparatus, or grappling hook thing or something. The real B’man could have done it pretty easily. But the Bruce in this movie couldn’t.
Why do we go see a B’man movie? To watch B’man! And this movie manages to completely remove B’man from the equation TWICE. Once at the beginning, and then when Bane breaks him. Bruce puts on the B’man costume in the movie for a grand total of three sequences: the police chace, the Selina/Bane confrontation, and the climax. Maybe a half hour out of almost 2.5 hours.
And another thing I’m sick to death of: Batman’s villains dying. Batman is the one comic book in which the villains hardly ever die, for the simple fact that the REAL B’man will do anything within his power to make sure that NOBODY ever dies. And we’ve had at least one villain death in each of Nolan’s movies, three of them directly caused by Bruce himself! And in this one we even get a horrifying clash between the police and Bane’s forces in which dozens of people die that was ORGANIZED BY BRUCE as a DISTRACTION so he could get to Bane while other people disarmed his bomb. Horribly irresponsible, reckless, and about as far from B’man as you can get.
I make it seem like I hated this movie, don’t I? Truth is Nolan is such a skillful filmmaker that I enjoyed it in spite of its many problems. There are a lot of great things in here. I really enjoyed the sophisticate brute of Bane (though not nearly as good as Joker of course). Anne Hathaway was exceptional as a young (Hathaway was only 28 when they filmed) Selina Kyle, and pretty much steals every scene she is in. And JGL’s earnest but weary young cop was a great addition to the mythos. There is a surprise character identity revelation very late in the movie that caught me by surprise and thoroughly delighted me. The Alfred/Bruce dynamic was very emotional, and Michael Caine gets some wonderful moments.
So Nolan’s run on B’man comes to an end in a big, soaring, epic way. It is just really too bad that he didn’t give the script to someone else to go through for logical flaws. It’s also too bad that we never actually get to see B’man in the whole trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises is easily the weakest film of the three.
By Christopher Grant Harris