Christopher Nolan has prided himself on creating a vision of Batman in the real world as oposed to some comic book world. He has fairly realistic weapons and abilities and the films have been infused with the politics of the moment. The Dark Knight really captured the dilemmas of America’s “War on Terror” post 9/11 and had some interesting things to say about it. I loved the film and was really moved by the journey Batman and Bruce Wayne took during that film. In The Dark Knight Rises Nolan tries to tie everything that’s happened from Batman Begins and Dark Knight with a little “occupy movement” in the mix as well. Does it work? (Major SPOILERS AHEAD!)
The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) begins 8 years after the death (and cover up) of Harvey Dent. Gotham is at peace thanks to some iffy legislation that is never fully explained that revokes parole for mafia criminals. Batman has not been seen since the night Harvey Died and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, hold up in Wayne manor and walkign with a cane from his adventures as Batman. But he gets pulled out of retirement when a beautiful cat burgler (Anne Hathaway) steals some pearls from the Wayne mansion along with Bruces fingerprints. This is the fairly fun and light part of the movie where Bruce gets back in shape and gets a new toy called “the Bat” to fly around Gotham. Anne Hathaway is fantastic as Catwoman and plays the character with charm and sexiness that is never exploited. But soon a new criminal comes to Gotham in the form of Bane. A big hulking man wearing a respirator that makes him impossible to understand. I’d like to tell you exactly what Banes master plan is but its a convoluted mess from a man who’s muffled voice I only understood half the time. Bane also has this “British butler” type voice that is just hilarious especially when you consider that his voice is amplified as if he’s speaking in surround sound on the soundtrack. It just comes across as silly and left me giggling in my seat.
Bane has some master plan to basically punish the rich by taking over the city and allowing the poeple to form courts to pass judgement on the rich and affluent in the city. Bane has his showdown with batman and breaks him but doesn’t kill him. Instead he sends him to a prison in India or somewhere and leaves him to rot and watch his beloved Gotham burn. The next 40 mintues we’re given a condensed 3 month view of the city as it deterorates under mob rule. Commisionor Gordon and Detective John Blake try mounting a resistance by tracking the movements of a nuclear device the Bane is using to keep the military and cops out of Gotham. He’s basically threatened to detonate it if anyone tries to leave or enter Gotham.
Meanwhile Bruce is still in prison trying to recoup and build his strength back up and finally escaping to return to Gotham and save his city. TDKR tries really really hard to do a lot of things. Nolan tries to create a sweeping epic that makes all the bits we’ve seen before come full circle. After the first act there’s a ton of pacing problems with this movie. It feels bloated and bogged down by story and it jumps around sometimes erratically. While the first act of the film is probably the lightest and most fun, its also the one that probably should have been truncated or eliminated entirely. Starting the film with a injured and batterered Batman that has to build himself up to get back out there only to take all that away from him so he has to build himself up again really makes the film feel repetitive. The city at war element of the film is the strongest and its also the one that gets the short end of the stick. We get montages of Gordon and Blake trying to gain intelligence while locked in the city mixed with montages of Bruce in Prison trying to rebuild his broken body so he can return. I would have liked to see the film open with Bane coming to Gotham and within the first 45 minutes shutting down the city so we could get more out that. The last hour or so of the film just feels rushed and like a lot was sacrificed in order to wrap it all up.
Lets talk about the ending if I may (Again you should not be reading this if you didn’t see the film yet). The end really felt like a total fan wank. I really expected to see Batman’s story end with Batman dying and that’s exactly what I thought happened. The nuclear Bomb that Bane has had ticking away for months in Gotham is now just seconds away from blowing. They have no way of stopping it and so Batman ties onto it this his Bat plane and flies off into the sunset seemingly sacrificing himself to save the city. This is followed by an epilogue where Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) discovers that Bruce did in fact fix the autopilot functionality of the plane suggesting that he may have not been driving it. Then we see Alfred sitting at a cafe somehwere in Europe where he looks over at another table and see’s Bruce, possibly with Selina (catwoman) living happily ever after. This more than anything else really frustrated me. I didn’t see how Batman could end like this and it felt like just fan service so that Christian Bale could comeback and play Batman again someday. In fact the film set up the sequel with John Blake being left a map to the batcave in Bruce’s will. Will John Blake take up the cause and be the next Batman? Very likely if Warner Bros. ever hopes to get Christian Bale back in the cape and cowl again.
I found myself really frustrated with this film. I wanted to like it, I tried to like it. But it felt so uneven with far too many flashbacks to explain things, a boring villain that I couldn’t understand and an ending that was for me a letdown. When it was all said and done TDKR is a spectacle that is at times great fun and very action packed but ultimately its a bloated, self important and uneven film. The Dark Knight is still the best film of the series and I left Rises wondering what the film might have been had Heath Ledger lived to return as the Joker and be a part of Nolan’s End game. I guess we’ll never know.
I will say this about any potential sequels: Bring some fun to the series. If Warner Bros decides to continue this series of bat films using John Blake (Joseph Gordan Levitt) as the Batman, I’m cool with that. However, I want to see a Batman that’s a little less serious and a bit more fun. I don’t want to go as far as say “The Avengers” did in the comedy department but you can definitely take some cues from that. Also bring back the batman symbol over the yellow oval because its cool and looks bad ass. Lets move away from Frank Millers bleak take on Batman and move on to something a bit lighter and a little less self important.
UPDATE: May 2014
Obviously the big news since TDKR is that we’re getting Ben Affleck as batman in “Batman V Superman: The Dawn of Justce”. So far it looks like the filmmakers have doubled down on Frank Millers Vision for batman by adapting the Dark Knight Returns for the screen. That’s fine and I’m sure Affleck will make a decent batman but I’d rather see something that takes the fun of The Animated Series with the punch of the Arkham Games but what do I know?