The Dark Knight Rises: Not high enough

The Dark Knight Rises is disappointing, and you can’t cut directory Christopher Nolan any slack, because he’s done it before using all of the same pieces.

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Remember The Dark Knight? Specifically, remember Heath Ledger’s horrifyingly insane Joker? Like Batman, the Joker has no superpowers. But unlike Batman, he doesn’t need the funding and resources of a multibillion-dollar corporation–he’s just a guy, he could be anyone. When the Joker decides to terrorize Gotham City, he doesn’t do it for money or political cause, he does it…just because. That’s what makes him so terrifying.

It’s important to remember just how good Heath Ledger, the Joker, and the The Dark Knight were, because despite all of the hype, The Dark Knight Rises is not.

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At the conclusion of The Dark Knight, Batman kills Harvey Dent aka Two-Face, but convinces Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) to keep Dent’s supervillain identity a secret and to publicly hold Batman responsible for the murder of the popular district attorney. Batman takes the rap and disappears while Dent becomes a symbol of hope for Gotham. In the ensuing eight years, the city experiences a period of peace.

TDKR’s plot is overly complicated and full of Wayne Manor-sized holes, but here’s the gist:

  • A super-rich corporate fat cat hires an insane mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy, Inception) to help him take over Wayne Enterprises–thereby making him an even more super-rich dude.
  • Bane betrays the rich dude, and uses said rich dude’s resources to hold all of Gotham City hostage with a nuclear bomb. He does this because he’s mad at Batman…or capitalism…or ‘merica…or something–it’s not really clear.
  • Bruce Wayne decides that it’s time to dust off the ol’ cowl & cape and save Gotham from its most recent threat of total annihilation.
  • Catwoman (Anne Hathaway, Brokeback Mountain) is there!
  • So is Joseph Gordon Levitt!

TDKR’s plot isn’t complicated in an intricate and wonderful way, like Nolan’s Inception; it’s just overwrought. Nolan crams too much into 164 minutes and consequently can’t devote enough time to any one piece, making everything shallow and flimsy. Major characters make major, life altering decisions without any apparent motivation. Savvy business woman Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard, Inception), who finds Wayne cold and detestable one moment, suddenly flings herself into his arms without warning. Matthew Modine’s character, who gets a lot of screen time despite being completely unnecessary, pulls a complete moral reversal after a two minute conversation with JGL.1

And really, it’s not just the characters that are weak. The script wants so badly to make Serious Statements about the wealth gap, consumerism, and the role of authority that it takes no risks and uses blatantly obvious symbols to make sure you Get The Point. The second act of the film is spent literally destroying icons of American hubris: a football stadium, the stock exchange, and a prison. None of it is subtle. And, no joke, there is a wistful shot of tattered American flags flapping in the wind.

So who’s doing all of the destroying? It’s Bane! Who’s Bane? No one knows! Or even seems to care! Why do people follow him to their death with religious fervor? What’s with that thing on his face? Why does he sound like Mr. Belvedere? NO ONE KNOWS OR CARES. Maybe Bane’s blandness as a villain is only cast into such high relief because the Joker was just so dang interesting. Bane’s supposed to be the world’s change agent, using violence and terrorism to topple the one percent, end the prison state, get rid of the police, and decry rampant capitalism. You may remember that the Joker hoped to sow similar chaos in Gotham, but not for boring political reasons–he just did it because he wanted to screw with Batman.2

But guys, against all odds and despite my pre-movie trepidations, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman was great! Sure there wasn’t a lot to her, and it seemed like there should be more as even Bruce Wayne kept telling her “I feel like there’s more to you.”3 But she was charming and unexpected in a role that can easily just become “the hot chick in heels and leather who steals things.”

So, sure the movie is fun at times, and sure some of the action scenes are cool, but overall this movie is a disappointment. And it’s OK to say that because its prequel was so freaking good. You can’t cut Nolan any slack after he’s done it before using all of the same pieces.

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Why you should see this movie

You saw the first two or you love Batman. Really it’s not so terrible, just don’t go in expecting the successor to The Dark Knight.

Why you should stay home

If you demand great things from Nolan, a guy who’s talented enough to deliver.

Also, if you have a hard time understanding plain-speaking characters in movies, both Batman and Bane will be unintelligible. Christian Bale’s patented Batman Voice has become a parody of itself, and Bane’s voice was inspired by the king of the gypsies(?).

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Footnotes

  1. But, honestly, that’s the sort of thing I think JGL is capable of. 
  2. #realtalk: is there a better villain than Heath Ledger’s Joker? Discuss below! 
  3. It’s like Nolan was taunting us: See! Finally an interesting character! I bet there’s more to her! 
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Ross Catrow

Founder and publisher of RVANews.

16 comments on The Dark Knight Rises: Not high enough

  1. Boka's Pork Belly on said:

    Did we actually see the same movie? I can easily answer all the questions you posed, it was all laid out in the movie. Next time, quit playing with your phone and actually watch the movie.

  2. Susan on said:

    I am in agreement!

    To the above commenter and all the others that are sure to follow: Please ask yourself if it’s really worth getting angry and insulting over a movie. Those filnmakers don’t need defending. They just made a trillion dollars and will continue to do so whether or not they get a few disappointed reviews.

  3. Scott on said:

    I agree with the review. It was a very long movie.

  4. Matt on said:

    OMG ROSS! NEXT TIME OUR KIDS HAVE A PLAY DATE I’M TOTEZ GOING TO MURDER YOU FOR THIS REVIEW! AAAUUGGGHHHH.

    Seriously though, movie was cool but it was the weakest of the 3 and it felt like Nolan was forced to make it and really wanted to stop at TDK.

  5. Eric Drumheller on said:

    I agree with Ross. I think he may have missed some bits and pieces and it might be worth a do-over. But I don’t think it would change the review all that much. Who’s excited about Superman?

  6. Chris Munton on said:

    I agree and disagree with you Ross. On the one side there are gapping holes in the story line. Well not really, see if you where a fan of Batman, those holes would make sense because of knowing Batman Lore. I will not spoil the movie but Bane does have a reason for attacking Batman. They explain it in this movie, with flashbacks and “Jedi” like ghost images.

    Items of questions:
    - Bane’s mask. the concept of Bane is that (in the comics) he is juiced on Venom. Think Super Steroids. In the movie it explains that it feeds him a steady dose of pain medicine to prevent him dying of immense pain.
    - JGL – come on ste-up for a Nightwing or Robin series.
    - Maria Tate – sorry about this (Spoiler Alert!), come on figured this out half way through.

    I think it was a strong follow-up to the DK Series, not eclipsing DKR but close. For Fans of Batman it was a fitting way to end the series.

  7. wren on said:

    I don’t disagree with any of the above — although I’d argue that the 2nd movie had *even more* convoluted and pointless plot elements than the final installment (*ahem* Two-Face WTF?). Nevertheless, I enjoyed TDKR immensely. I guess I’m just a sucker for Batman. Or Bruce Wayne. Or maybe just Christian Bale shirtless training montages.

    (TDKR definitely benefitted from having so much Bruce Wayne and so little of Batman and the horrible Batman Voice. Though please, don’t blame that crap on Bale or Tom Hardy. Christopher Nolan runs their voices thru a zillion filters in post-processing to create that awful effect.)

    Anne Hathaway was confident and refreshing! Effervescent, even. And I feel like JGL’s early monologue to Bruce Wayne is not getting the credit it deserves — a powerful, understated performance.

    There is no villain better than Heath Ledger’s Joker. Poor Tom Hardy; he had so little to work with, and a damn mask over his face besides. And from the very first movie, I’ve found the League of Shadows obsession with destroying Gotham laughable: it’s has all the subtlety and nuance of Doctor Evil.

    LoS: WE’RE GOING TO DESTROY GOTHAM!!!
    Audience: Um, why?
    LoS: BECAUSE IT HAS TO BE DESTROYED.
    Audience: Um, really? Is that all you’ve got?

    Christopher Nolan took plenty of liberties with the source material to make his world less cartoon-y and more real. This was a huge oversight IMO.

  8. Well, I’m a fan of Batman, so therefore I expected, nay demanded, a better crafted movie. Sahry.

  9. Boka's Pork Belly on said:

    Not mad at the review, there were plenty of things that this movie got right and got wrong. But it completes the trilogy well, which overall seems to be a story not about Batman, but Bruce Wayne as a person, who uses Batman as a tool.

    My problem is that a lot of the questions posed were clearly explained in the movie. “Why do people follow him to their death with religious fervor? What’s with that thing on his face? ” Though given the review, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ross dozed off halfway through and missed this stuff.

  10. Let’s face it. It’s relatively impossible to get a good comic book film because almost every film attempts to either encapsulate or ignore back-stories and character development that is built up over many, many issues of the comics themselves. Nolan does a relatively good job with these Batman films but he has the distinct advantage of getting Batman at the beginning of his career, allowing him to bypass these difficulties (you’ll not that he’ll have that same advantage when he takes over the Superman franchise which is to follow).

    Your best bet for enjoying a superhero film is to view them all as a one-off, or an alternate universe where minor changes have been made to save time and deliver a simpler story with more action. I think Nolan does this particularly well in that his Batman series plays as more of a superhero drama with some action, rather than an action movie about superheroes (see X-men… well, all of them).

    I’d like to see a truly skilled director and cast take on existing comic story arcs such as the Batman’s “Contagion” or Superman’s “The Death of Superman”, and perhaps even the Save the Future/ Time Travel story arc from X-men. I think the person who can pull that off is set to make history in both the comic and movie industries. But until then, we’ll have to settle for the mass appeal of a hack and slash version of our favorite superheroes.

  11. K Tbar on said:

    Liked it. Had fun. Didn’t notice the length. Heard everything just fine. Wasn’t at all confused by the plot or the characters’ motivation. Missed the Batmobile, though.

  12. Ben on said:

    Loved it. Perhaps the best movie of the year. Why? because it was a great movie, it’s not a movie or a masterpiece but it is exactly what a movie on a comic book hero should be, extremely fun and totally awesome. When I walked out of the movie theater, to my car and happened to look at the clock and realized that it was an hour later then I had thought, I was shocked, but that is how tightly wrapped up I had gotten in this movie. When reading a comic there is automatically a suspension of disbelief, it is just a given. The same should be given to a movie about a comic hero. I am disappointed by this review however, I agree with Boka very easy plot points were ignored and then cited as points of weakness. I want near airtight points because at the root of this it is Batman. Go into it with with the enthusiasm of a kid on the eve of 8th grade when it is still ok to have unprecedented fun simply reading a comic book lose the post punk detail scrapper snarky attitude. Im not saying don’t think, but have fun. and go to hardwood tomorrow for the food truck court.

  13. Ben on said:

    sorry I meant…..its not a “film” or a masterpiece, it is indeed a movie.

  14. Nicolas on said:

    The issue with Miranda Tate is that at first she despises Bruce Wayne for doing nothing with her $500,000 investment in Wayne Enterprises’ clean energy fund. So naturally, if you spent half a million dollars in something and NOTHING happened, you’d be upset. She then latches onto him because (SPOILER) she knows she has leverage over him now that he’s desperate to save the company.

    Bane’s character was definitely changed by Nolan. In the comics, Bane is of Spanish decent and receives strength from the IV-like tubes going up his spine, whereas this movie he receives pain killing anesthetics essentially; hence when the guy on the plane asks, “If I take off that mask, will you die?” Bane responds, “It would be verrryyy painful.”

    Overall, I liked this better than TDK. I loved Joker, but I loved that FINALLY, a villain was able to break Batman physically. Let’s be honest, Scarecrow and Joker aren’t physically dominant at all.

    As far as the ending (MAJOR SPOILER), I assumed that the movie would cut when Alfred looks up at the cafe. I’m so glad it didn’t. It would have been an Inception-like ending, which I wasn’t too fund of.

    I’m really hoping this leads to another film….possibly B&R.

  15. Ben on said:

    yeah when Bane drops batman on his knee, straight out of the comics! so good!
    follow up movie I think chris might be right and a night wing movie maybe on the horizon

  16. Aaron Williams on said:

    Nicolas,

    I think you missed the point of this line of dialogue:

    “If I take off that mask, will you die?” Bane responds, “It would be verrryyy painful, FOR YOU”

    He is telling the CIA agent (Mayor Carcetti/ Little Finger for any HBO fans.) that it will be very painful because Bane will wreck him.

    While Bane’s back story may not be authentic, the movie makes Bane and Ms. Tate dark and interesting.

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