Yeah, you heard me. I don’t like it. For what it is, The Dark Knight Rises (2012) is a fine movie. Production value is good; the talent pool is good; the action and cinematography are good and I like the fact that this IS the end of a trilogy. Despite being insanely popular to the point that director, Chris Nolan could have made about 15 more of these films and people would still come to see them, he knew when to stop and say ‘this is done, I’m off to write Man of Steel.’ Good for you, sir; I applaud you. But looking at his career since his success with Batman Begins (2005), you can see a strong trend develop that has an impact on every film he’s made: He keeps trying to be too smart, make things too complicated and in the process, loses track of what should really be going on.
The premise for this movie is actually very good: around 8 years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight (2008), and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has all but retired from his life as Batman and gone into seclusion, having taken the blame for the death of Harvey Dent/Two-Face and despairing over the loss of Rachel Dawes. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) continues to cover up Dent’s crimes despite his growing sense of guilt, and resigns from his post following the success of the Dent Act, which has practically eradicated organised crime in Gotham. A new threat emerges, however, in the form of Bane (Tom Hardy), a fiercely intelligent and ruthless mercenary bent on bringing Gotham to its knees and ultimately destroy it. This story takes inspiration from some of the most popular graphic novels in the franchise’s repertoire, including Knightfall, The Dark Knight Returns and No Man’s Land.
There are several things that I do like about this movie. The introduction of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) as Catwoman was perhaps unnecessary, but I liked how she factored into the plot for the most part. The actual portrayal of Bane is also spot on, from the perspective of trying to translate the comic books into a more grounded and realistic interpretation of Batman. He is imposing and highly intelligent – a true test for Batman and a fitting villain to round out the trilogy. I don’t mind his voice either, which has been a sticking point for many critics who have said it’s practically inaudible; it’s not that bad at all. Get over it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also a nice addition as John Blake (real name, Robin) who we assume takes up the mantle of Batman at the conclusion of the movie. I like that in particular – it’s open-ended but knows that now is the time to stop. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is marred by elements that just don’t work or seem like poor choices.
The first big stickler for me is the fact that Bruce Wayne is, by and large, sort of a cripple at the start of the film. The cartilage in his joints has all but wasted away and he would be in pain when performing his antics as the caped crusader. I wish they’d have kept him this way throughout the movie. It would have made for far more interesting scenes of conflict between Batman and Bane, who is physically superior. Indeed, even facing regular opponents would have been a strain and it would have been good to actually see these bouts take more of a toll. But they don’t go that way. Having made a huge deal out of it, they quickly solve the issue by having him wear electronic actuator enhancements on his limbs that basically let him kick through walls. A cheap solution to an issue that could have posed an interesting arc for his character – he’s not the Batman he used to be – but instead gets brushed under the rug and basically never mentioned again.
As a continuation from the above point, perhaps, is the whole sequence within the prison that Bane drops Bruce in to, having crippled his back and besting him, despite his stupid actuators. What would make sense here is Bruce coming to the realisation that kicking Bane’s ass isn’t going to work and that he’d have to think of a smarter way to confront and defeat him. This… sort of happens. But the movie still ends in a one-on-one brawl between the two of them that Batman somehow manages to win, despite being in even worse shape than when the movie started and Bane at the height of his strength. Does NOT make sense. And this is because crippling back injuries only take a few days to heal in this universe. Not even that, actually – merely a few seconds. In the prison there just happens to be a man who can snap his back into place again (which, to be fair, does look damn painful). Once this happens, the whole lack of cartilage thing is totally forgotten about and Bruce re-trains and manages to escape the prison, previously considered to be a near impossible feat then go on and beat up a tonne of people before doing the same to Bane.
And then you get the two biggest flaws in this movie, both revolving around Bane’s grand plan to destroy Gotham and get revenge on Bruce for spoilery reasons that I’ll go into because this film came out 5 years ago and you’ve seen it by now. Firstly it’s the attack on the stock exchange and his plan to bankrupt Bruce Wayne and force him to hand control of his company, Wayne Enterprises to someone else. Bane gets Catwoman to steal Bruce’s fingerprints. Fair enough. Then he and some goons violently crash the stock exchange and use Bruce’s fingerprints to hack into his account, steal all of his cash and then use that cash to buy ‘puts’ in the market that… basically it’s complicated and stupid. He didn’t need to break into the physical stock exchange to be able to trade under Wayne’s name or hack his account. The internet from just about anywhere would work perfectly fine. Then, long story short, what he does to bring Wayne Enterprises to bankruptcy wouldn’t really work given the rest of his plan… also, trading on the market would be necessary for him to do any of this, and breaking into the trading hub and taking hostages would surely cause trading to stop altogether… it just makes no sense. Except without it, we wouldn’t have Batman come in on his Bat-cycle and come and Bat-save the Bat-day… sort of. It’s literally all to initiate the chase scene that follows, and it’s dumb. Also, very hard to follow. Nolan trying to be too smart.. When actually it’s not smart at all.
Then we have the big issue, all centred around this clean energy project by Wayne Enterprises involving a fusion reactor that was taken out of commission after Bruce learned it could be weaponised and turned into a powerful nuclear bomb. Right from the get go we have an issue: Why didn’t Bruce have the reactor destroyed once he discovered this fact? Oh, because we need it for the plot to work… great. Then we get to the oft criticised point, picked up onl by the guys at How It Should Have Ended… to weaponise this device, you need to log into it with a password for some reason. This is a password that only Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) know. Entering the wrong password would cause the chamber containing the device to flood, rendering it inactive and, essentially destroyed. Bane and co. kidnap Lucius and force him to enter this code, which he just does… he’s supposed to be ridiculously smart. Surely, he would have just entered the wrong code, flooded the room and ruined Bane’s big plan to hold the city hostage with a nuclear bomb?? But no, he just enters it and the thing is free to be used as a bomb. Additionally, if they’ve built this failsafe in (a plot device created to put Lucius in peril because Morgan Freeman needed to do something in this movie), they clearly expected the device to be misused…. And should have therefore just destroyed it anyway!! IT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.
Then we have Batman return to the scene with some of his allies to rally the people of Gotham into fighting against the criminals now in control of the city in order to get rid of Bane, to get to the bomb and defuse it in time. Tension created by a literal ticking timebomb. But this is just handled so messily with a twist thrown in that Bane isn’t the main villain and it’s actually Talia (Marion Cotillard), the woman who Bruce slept with earlier – the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul, the villain from the first movie – who wants to complete her father’s work and get revenge on Bruce for killing him. It’s not bad as far as twists go, but it’s just handled poorly and shoved in as a way to draw out the scene, get Batman stabbed so it’s harder for him to defuse the bomb in time and consequently force him to fly it out to sea and have it detonate there, supposedly killing him with it… the whole bomb thing is literally just the worst. And Bane gets killed by Catwoman driving in and shooting him with the Bat-cycle thing… it’s just a cheap way to get rid of him. The whole movie, he’s built up as Batman’s better in nearly every way, but still he manages to get the crap kicked out of him by Batman and then taken out in literally less than a second by Catwoman.
And just thinking about Bane, his plan for most of the movie seems to have been to reduce the rich and powerful of Gotham to pitiful status, releasing criminals into the city and having all disenfranchised people take charge by forcing power onto them. Having the bomb seems to be simply be insurance so that, after Gotham’s police are (foolishly) sealed away underground (literally), no other law enforcement would dare go near the city for fear of Bane killing everyone in it. That’s a better plot. He is painted to be a revolutionary character, still linked to the League of Shadows, but instead of destroying Gotham physically, he would rather see it politically and financially broken and have it rise from the ashes as a better, more equal society. But nah, he doesn’t give a crap really and he’s not even in charge. Talia is, Bane’s her protector (slash lover??) and the plan was to blow up the city the whole time. WHAT IS THIS BULLSHIT???
And finally there’s the deal with how he ended up alive at the end. It’s mentioned earlier in the film, when Bruce first gets the ‘Bat’ (wing) off of Lucius that it has issues with its autopilot mode. As soon as he says it, alarm bells ring and you think “I bet THAT won’t return as an issue later in the movie, having been so obviously set up here”. So Bruce fixes the autopilot, so when he flies off in the Batwing with the bomb at the end, and it all explodes, he isn’t even in it, unbeknownst to everyone else, and he is free to not be Batman anymore and ‘dies’ a hero. So when did he have time to eject from the thing before it explodes? And how did he manage to get anything done after that, assuming he did get out, with a huge stab wound in his side that WOULD kill him? Just… ugh. The set-up for the ending isn’t bad. I like how the character arcs end and where everyone ends up, but it’s how they all got there…
So there you have it. The reasons why, in my opinion, The Dark Knight Rises is not a very good movie. Too many plot holes, pointless plot elements and convenient solutions to problems that don’t make any sense. It does get lots of things right, but the flaws are so glaringly obvious that it’s just disappointing. Nolan went too in-depth with the plot, which was incredibly convoluted. He should have focused on a stronger characterisation of Batman and the emphasis on the dynamic between Batman and Bane – a psychological thriller. The Dark Knight works in this respect because the Joker was allowed to do his anarchy thing. Why couldn’t Bane be left to do his? Unfortunately, Nolan likes to make movies like Inception and Interstellar, and have Batman be as twisty as them. It works for those (for the most part). Not here. You can’t set up what is actually quite a compelling premise, then revoke it at the end in favour of a standard STUPID bomb threat plot. Nolan apparently was reluctant to return to direct this, and it kind of shows. Such wasted potential. This was the Batman film we needed, but not the one we deserved.