I had to see The Dark Knight Rises twice before I knew exactly how I felt about it. Leaving the theatre after the first viewing, I felt thoroughly let down. After my second screening I found myself still retaining some of the same disappointment; however, I was able to look at the film more objectively, and come to some mixed conclusions. So, as a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga, I can finally say this: the entire trilogy is an incredible achievement, but Rises is absolutely the weakest entry in the series.
Part of the problem here is the level of expectation I had going into this final chapter. The first two chapters, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), were incredible films, packed with a level of depth not previously seen in any comic-book adaptation. My desire for this third movie to match its predecessors in quality is a tall order in and of itself, but part of me had been hyped to believe Rises would be the best in the series.
And it’s true – Rises is a decent film that, sadly, finds itself falling into a trap of convention. In this film Batman will be put in an “inescapable” prison and work to defuse a ticking bomb. It’s all the same typical crap we’ve seen in dozens of other films, and these overused clichés fail to create the tension that Christopher Nolan was likely hoping for.
At times everything looks so bleak – so extremely hopeless – that it becomes borderline silly. It was hard for me to buy into Bane’s (very) elaborate terrorist plot, largely because I just couldn’t accept it as being possible in the real world. Both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight walked the fine line of reality and total fiction; however, the films were able to keep the action on screen grounded enough to make the plots believable.
In The Dark Knight Rises Bane hijacks a nuclear bomb, blows up bridges to isolate the city of Gotham, and holds the United States hostage. It’s like a wet dream for War on Terror fearmongers, and it’s just too ridiculous to take seriously.
While the audience is well aware that Bane plans on blowing up the entire city, he still spends a lot of time pretending to lead a revolution in the name of the people of Gotham. Yes, Bane is so evil that he likes to give people hope before destroying them – at least that’s what he explains to Batman.
Nolan moves in the direction of social commentary here, but never quite achieves his goal. There is some mention of extra police powers, but we see no real indication that Gotham has become a police state. We also have no idea how the economy of Gotham is doing, how happy citizens are with their government – nothing.
It makes Bane’s “revolution” angle all the less believable. Would you have hope that a guy hijacking a city with a nuke is actually on your side?
There are aspects of the plot I really like, particularly how Rises ties the three Batman films together so perfectly. Bane is a student of the League of Shadows, the secret organization lead by Ra’s al Ghul (as seen in Batman Begins), which gives a nice twist to the story that I didn’t expect.
Bane is brought to life due to a solid performance by Tom Hardy. In my opinion, Bane is one of the most ridiculous villains from the Batman comics. Luckily the hulking, masked mercenary in Rises shares very little with his comic book predecessor; Hardy’s Bane is dark, twisted, and very interesting. He may not be the Joker, but he certainly works.
The other newcomer to Nolan’s Batman world, Selina Kyle (Catwoman), is another very pleasant addition and, in my opinion, Anne Hathaway playing the role is a near-perfect match. Hathaway sells the action, con-artistry, and romance with a level of sophistication and sex appeal that was completely unexpected.
I only wish that Catwoman had a larger role in the overall story. Selina Kyle has a lot of depth and background that the movie explores, but only to a limited degree.
I hate to keep trashing the story in Rises because, all things considered, it isn’t that bad. There are elements of the narrative that work really well, and I was absolutely blown away by the ending. This is Christopher Nolan we’re talking about – he doesn’t make a bad film. The Dark Knight Rises is loaded with memorable scenes, and everything in this film looks absolutely fantastic.
Still, this isn’t the conclusion to Batman I had hoped for. The Dark Knight Rises is a good movie, a decent finish to the trilogy, but a huge disappointment nonetheless. The Nolan Batman trilogy will earn its place in the halls of film history; however, I can’t help thinking that this last chapter could have been a whole lot better.