Second Opinion: The Problems I Had With The Dark Knight Rises
I saw The Dark Knight Rises last night in a truly amazing IMAX Digital screening. I like to watch movies in IMAX these days, if possible, as it gives the best visual and aural experience and TDKR was no exception; visually stunning and with some truly brilliant performances from Bale, Oldman, Gordon-Levitt, Caine, Hardy, Cotillard and Hathaway. There were some great additions to the franchise like The Bat and overall it was a fitting end to a trilogy I really enjoy. I don’t want anybody to think I didn’t like it, or enjoy it because I did.
But this was not a perfect movie. This was not a ten out of ten. All through the screening I had some pretty big problems with the way Nolan crafted this film. They weren’t flaws, as such, more stylistic choices I did not particularly like, and they genuinely hampered my enjoyment of the trilogy’s final instalment. Unlike The Dark Knight, which I gave a solid 10/10 and could find almost nothing to fault over, TDKR was at times superbly exhilarating and at others downright mediocre.
So here it is, a second opinion on The Dark Knight Rises detailing the things that annoyed me about this film.
Don’t read this til you’ve seen the movie. It’s not about telling you not to, because I think you should. It’s a fucking great movie. But it’s not a perfect movie, and this post is to let you consider some details and to bring about discussion. Spoilers abound below. You have been duly warned.
Bane. The character of Bane in TDKR bears little resemblance to the character in the comic and serves as a mercenary for the League of Shadows in the movie. It’s claimed early on that he was born in a prison, but then when it is revealed later that Talia was the mercenary’s child and not Bane, we’re left with no real backstory for the brute at all. Which is fine, actually; I’m all for switching up characters to suit a director’s vision and Nolan clearly has a specific vision in mind for his trilogy but what annoyed me was that throughout the film there seemed to be no real need for him to be Bane at all.
The antagonist could easily have been named anything else, and served exactly the same function. There was no venom coursing through his veins – venom does get a mention, but it’s a throw away line that does nothing to advance the plot. If you are going to change the details to such a great degree, why not make an original character? Sure he broke the Bat, (more on that later) but is that enough to warrant using the character? I mean he’s a petty one dimensional villain without any of the subtlety of Ra’s or Joker, so why does him being Bane serve any real purpose?
And while we’re on the topic of Bane related things that serve no real purpose, I need to comment on his mask. I’ve never loved it. Along with many people, I felt that in promo stills the character looked silly and I’m sorry but despite Mr Nolan’s assertions that it all makes sense, he looks no less ridiculous in motion than he did in the lead up and I couldn’t understand why he needed to be wearing it at all.
It’s explained, briefly, that he has some sort of injury and the mask stops him from feeling pain. This is where they fit in the casual nod to venom that never gets brought up again. I also understand that Nolan wouldn’t want him in a luchador mask and they needed to seriously distance themselves from the Bane of Batman and Robin, but why have him wear a mask at all, in that case? There’s no big reveal of his face, none of any consequence anyway and they could easily have had some other pain-relieving mechanism that looked less stupid and didn’t impede his voice work.
Because once again, despite Mr Nolan’s assertions, there were several scenes where both myself and my film-going comrade couldn’t understand a goddamn word coming out of his mouth.
Catwoman. Or should I say, Selina Kyle because at no point, not even once, is she called Catwoman in this film. She does nothing cat-like, her costume has only goggles that look very vaguely like cat-ears from one very specific perspective and she has neither her trademark whip or claws. She doesn’t even do any acrobatics aside from one backflip out a window.
She’s a thief, and the character of Selina Kyle: Master Catburglar is played to absolute perfection by Anne Hathaway. She’s subtle and nuanced and ferocious and clever and is easily my favourite rendition of the character but none of that takes away from that fact that she just isn’t Catwoman. She, like Bane, has only a passing resemblance to the original comics character and I think that both of them suffer a bit from Nolan’s overeagerness to make this a grounded, realistic universe.
It’s a movie about a crime fighting billionaire who dresses in a bat suit and still he shies away from calling a character Catwoman? Even a mention later, where she decides that like Batman she should have a catchy moniker, and picks Catwoman as an inside joke between the viewers and the action on screen would have been better than just never saying the name at all ever.
Batman. In Batman Begins, we follow Bruce on his journey to become the caped crusader. There wasn’t anything particularly innovative about the origin story told. but I’m okay with it because it was handled so well. In The Dark Knight, things are in turmoil because of the destruction of Wayne Manor and Bruce is forced to use a fancy, high-tech basement in lieu of a Batcave. That’s okay too; it’s all about the journey.
So when the third and final film comes around, he’ll have a proper Batcave right? And a nice Batmobile? And a few nods to the comics like maybe a collection of bat suits or a big ass screen for his supercomputer and a fancy entrance to keep it secret. Oh, wait no it’s still a hole in the ground with nothing in it.
What? Firstly, there is no Batmobile in TDKR. The Bat isn’t so much an addition to his arsenal as a replacement for the Tumblr and to me, Batman without a Batmobile is like Batman without a fucking Batmobile. It’s as much a character as Bats is, as much a staple as Gotham. Sure the vehicle was trashed in the previous film but guess what, Wayne Enterprises has three more sitting right there. Spray one black and ta-da, you have a new Batmobile. If you really need Bane to have access to three of them for your narrative to work out, fine; have four, give one to Batman and the rest to the enemy.
It all just feels like yet another origin story. Bats never seems like the caped crusader in this film. He’s the worlds greatest detective who rarely does any detecting; in TDKR it’s all about sulking, getting his ass kicked and doing pushups. He never really develops into the Batman he should be. He has his gadgets, but we only see him use one or two. His Batcave has a bunch of (somehow installed) hydraulic platforms that rise out of the ground, but he still hasn’t managed to seal the cave off or drain out the water.
He’s Batman in name only. He’s less of a superhero and more of the masked vigilante the authorities claim him to be and it just didn’t work for me. In Nolan’s continued effort to keep the film grounded, he took away the cool, slightly off-kilter things that make Batman Batman and like I said in the section about Catwoman; this is a film about a crime fighting billionaire in a bat costume: you can afford to be a little more lenient with realism without hurting your overall goal.
The Story. Okay. So I don’t feel like hashing out the entire plot here because honestly, who has that kind of time, but I felt that if Bane and Talia’s goal was to destroy Gotham and to bring about the achievement of Ra’s Al-Ghul’s original goal there was a better way of doing it than a five month long occupation of a city culminating in a nuclear explosion.
I understand that Nolan’s goal was to make us think about the decline of Western civilisation and the role of authority in shaping the lives of the people. I got the obvious parallels between the events of the film and the Bonfire of the Vanities, and the current issue of the haves versus the have-nots, of the rich getting richer while the poor eat dirt and tree bark. As a message, it was powerful, and resonated with me greatly. As a narrative, it was dumb. If you can lay all that explodo-concrete and topple bridges, why not just destroy the city? Isn’t that the point; to destroy Gotham? Why go through the rest of it? Why go through the theatrics?
It can’t be to make Batman watch it, as Talia attempted in the finale because both Bane and Talia never expected Bruce to leave the prison. They intended for him to watch it on television and the outright destruction of the city would have served exactly the same effect as the long, drawn out occupation.
The story was good it just had so many tiny holes in it that I couldn’t not see them. Although I did enjoy the use of Crane as the judge and I’m glad that if the Joker couldn’t be in the movie then at least Scarecrow was.
Light Versus Dark. Another main aspect of the struggle between Batman and Bane is that Batman uses his League of Shadows training, the theatricality and the cover of night to instil fear into his enemies. This, clearly isn’t going to work against someone also trained by the same people and who was raised in a pit of darkness his entire life.
So what happens? Batman attacks during the day. This makes total sense, it has a real impact on the narrative and it gives a certain vulnerability to both the Bat, who can no longer use his theatrics and his enemy, who genuinely can’t see in the day time or something. Know what else it does, it makes Batman look fucking ridiculous.
While I quite like the design of the Nolan bat suit, there is something to be said for ambient darkness and dramatic spot lighting when dealing with an actor in what is clearly a rubber suit. The bat suit looks great in the dimly lit scenes set in Gotham’s night but during the final confrontation, with a harsh winter sun bouncing off newly fallen snow it just reminded me how silly a guy dressed as a bat looks in reality.
Outside of SDCC there is really no way to pull off dressing like Batman in broad daylight and this really diminished my enjoyment of the latter quarter of the movie. The bat suit just looks hammy when well lit, particularly the legs. It was another example of a really great story point that just didn’t work for me in execution.
The reveals. Everybody knew Marion Cotillard was playing Talia months ago, despite Nolan and the studio’s frequent denials. I called it about fifteen minutes into the film as a certainty. Bane broke the Bat; called that a few months ago too. John Blake is Robin? Called that too. Sure he wasn’t Robin but he was still Batman’s sidekick, named Robin. It counts.
My point is that the twists and reveals felt very Shyamalanesque to me. None of them were very surprising and they certainly weren’t up to the ‘we killed Harvey Dent’ twist at the end of the last movie.
The niggling little annoyances.
– That isn’t how you pronounce Ra’s Al-Ghul. It’s Raysh and the way they’ve always said it in this trilogy irks me. I don’t get why DC would let them say it like this when they clearly got it right in the Arkham Asylum/City games.
– I get why Bruce thinks that Bane is Ra’s’ child but are we supposed to? Because I don’t. That is clearly a girl. Has anybody in the audience not yet figured out that Ms Tate is Talia Al-Ghul?
– Bane, could you enunciate a little more clearly?
– Bruce, close your goddamn mouth.
– Also, is there anyone left who doesn’t know you are Batman? You’re worse than Peter Parker.
– I don’t buy for a minute that Alfred would leave Bruce. Not for a minute. He’d be there to patch him up forever and he could still have felt as though he failed Thomas and Martha Wayne upon Bruce’s supposed death without Michael Caine having to be absent for a third of the movie.
– Yay more tumblers. Wait. Um, Bruce why aren’t you taking one of those? Have you forgotten you don’t have one?
– So in the five months of Bane’s occupation of Gotham City, am I supposed to believe nobody ever went on any of the roofs of those buildings and found The Bat? Really? Because personally the first thing I would do is look for it; I would scour the rooftops of the city with my army of men and delinquent children, find it and then disable it.
– Bane has an army of mercenaries and delinquent children. Okay then.
– Uh, where did Crane come from? Bane released all the prisoners from Blackgate, but there was no mention of Arkham nor any sign of it or the Narrows so where did Crane come from and if Bane just released all the Arkham inmates off camera (which is plausible) where’s Joker? He didn’t die in TDK, so if Crane is around shouldn’t he be too, along with the other residents like Zsasz? Is Joker just on holiday in Metropolis? I know Heath Ledger died, but you couldn’t even mention him? See a green haired loon from a distance?
– You loved Rachel so much you didn’t leave the house for eight years after she died but you’ll still jump in the sack with Miranda Tate after a six minute jog in the rain. You sir, are a complex sonofabitch.
– How did the totally penniless Bruce get from middle-of-nowhere-istan back to Gotham? In a day.
– Really Bruce, are you going to bash that nuclear device off everything you can see? Is that your plan?
– You’re not even going to try and pretend this isn’t New York anymore, are you? I mean fuck. That’s The Chrysler Building right there. It’s clearly New York. You couldn’t have CGI’d up a city for the long shots and just used the location stuff for the ground level action? Where’s Wayne Tower? Where is that fancy railway system that the Wayne’s built that we spent so much time looking at in Batman Begins? Where are the Narrows? I see Central Park. I see Saks 5th Avenue. I don’t see Arkham.
– When he finally gets the bomb out of the city, and is flying off into the sunset, all I could think of was that some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.
– Actually, if the Bat was caught in a nuclear explosion how did they get it back so that Lucius and the folks at Wayne Enterprises could figure out that he had, in fact, fixed the autopilot?
– Are all those wayward kids going to live in Wayne Manor? Isn’t one of them going to stumble across the Batcave eventually? Wait, is one of those kids Terry McGinnis because that would be kinda cool.
– I thought you said this trilogy could never be continued. Why on Earth did you leave it so obviously open for a Nightwing based sequel featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
Look. I really enjoyed TDKR. I laughed a lot, I was excited, I was entertained. It’s a great movie, it just isn’t a perfect movie. It’s on par with Batman Begins, but below The Dark Knight and while it serves as a pretty fine conclusion to the Nolan trilogy it certainly doesn’t stand up for me as a movie I would ever watch again without those other two films.
None of these things listed stopped me from enjoying myself, but they did stop me from enjoying myself as much as I could have.
I gave it a seven out of ten, maybe bumping it up to an eight but certainly no higher than that. It just had too many things that bugged me, made too many choices that took it away from the Batman I enjoy and into something I liked but didn’t love. I know Funk loved it, he said so in his rather gushing review, and I know a lot of other people did too but this article here is for the many people I’ve spoken to or read tweets from today who, like me, don’t think it’s the be all and end all of Batman.
You can harass the author of this post via Twitter: @CAricHanley