The question looming, however, was "How could The Dark Knight Rises possibly measure up?" With huge shoes to fill in terms of its predecessor, TDKR now would suffer comparison to its massively successful Marvel competitor as well. So, how did it do?
It pains me to say this. The Dark Knight Rises just isn't as good as The Dark Knight. It's not even as good as Batman Begins. While it's far from being a bad movie--it's still head and shoulders over dreck like Daredevil or Green Lantern--it's just not a good movie either. This was supposed to be Christopher Nolan's "piece de resistance," but The Dark Knight Rises collapses under its own bulk, entangled in a bloated, unwieldy plot.
|The Dark Knight Rises|
An unsatisfying ending to
Christopher Nolan's genre-defining run.
Bane's appearance is concurrent with that of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), an intensely skilled burglar--never once called Catwoman--who steals Bruce Wayne's fingerprints in exchange for a chance at wiping her criminal record clean. Hathaway's Kyle is truly the brightest spot in this movie, using her femininity for manipulation and lethality while simultaneously providing a vulnerable, sympathetic viewpoint. It'd be a revelatory performance...if Scarlett Johansson didn't already play these same cards as Black Widow in The Avengers.
Also joining the story is John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a beat cop-turned-detective who has somehow deduced Batman's identity--it's never stated or shown how--and who pushes Wayne into action. While Blake's character is meant to be an uncompromising idealist and a point of entry for the viewer, he seems to just stumble across major clues haphazardly which, when exposed, advance the plot.
If The Dark Knight was based in part on Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's The Long Halloween, TDKR pulls primarily from the Knightfall and No Man's Land arcs. Without spoiling too much, if you've read Knightfall and know the basic premise of Bane's character, you can anticipate exactly what happens to our cowled hero. But, the scene in question occurs less than halfway through the film, just after Wayne "learns how to be Batman again"....resulting in an entire second hour of Batman doing the same thing he just did, just in a different setting!
With Batman out of the way after said incident, Bane and his allies are free to establish martial law in Gotham City, stealing the fuel core from a Wayne Enterprises nuclear fusion reactor and using it as extortion fuel against the surrounding government. "What about the police?", you might ask. Well, Bane has them trapped in a warren of tunnels beneath the city, yet for some reason keeps them alive with regular shipments of food and water. The city descends into chaos absent their protectors, holding kangaroo courts to exterminate the city's entitled elite.
Unfortunately, this is where the plot bogs down. Why does Bane keep the police alive? So that we can have a climactic police-vs.-anarchist beatdown scene in the third act, of course! Bane and his lackeys know that their fuel core-turned-bomb can be shut down by reattaching it to the reactor, but the reactor has a flood control to prevent meltdowns. Why not just trigger the flood control and prevent the possibility in the first place? For that matter, why extort the populace in the first place? The plot simply breaks down upon cursory examination, with both villains and heroes taking actions directly contradictory to their own motives and even logic itself!
The Dark Knight Rises further suffers from a core storytelling flaw of "telling" rather than "showing". Rather than acting through or physically demonstrating his frustration with Bruce Wayne, Alfred (Michael Caine) goes on a literal three minute diatribe directly into the camera, telling Bruce why his retreat from the world was so wrong. Rather than show romantic interest in Bruce Wayne, we merely hear from other characters that Miranda Tate is interested in Bruce Wayne romantically, which makes a love scene between the two halfway through the film seem totally unrealistic. Rather than demonstrating the decadence and corruption of Gotham's elite, we merely hear speeches from Bane, culminating in a stolen speech from Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) that went undelivered in the first act. Bane's attack on a Wall Street-esque investment area made good progress in this regard, but the focus shifts almost immediately from Bane's mysterious motives to the police's erroneous pursuit of Batman.
As I mentioned in my previous entry, the element that separated The Dark Knight from the majority of genre-movies out there was its willingness to address greater ethical and philosophical questions. We didn't simply deal with Batman and The Joker--we examined the fundamental flaws with moral absolutism and addressed the depths to which men and women would sink in order to preserve their status quo. These sociological and philosophical questions arise in The Dark Knight Rises, but as quick as the questions arise, they are simultaneously backhanded back down.
|Bane...you won! |
You got exactlywhat you wanted!
What more are you trying to accomplish?
I almost want to give The Dark Knight Rises a pass, simply because of the massive steps it had to follow in. The basic flaws in storytelling, editing, and scene structure found here really are uncharacteristic of Nolan's work and of the series in general. But, at the end of the day, I'm left with one defining decision that sums it all up for me:
When I left the theater after The Avengers, I immediately thought to myself, "This is awesome! I need to see this again! I need to get this on Blu-Ray/DVD!" I'm even contemplating shelling out for the massive 10 disc ultimate edition.
When I left the theater after The Dark Knight Rises, I felt let down. I might ask for it as a Christmas present on DVD, but I don't want to shell out to buy this myself. And, certainly, I don't care to see it again in a theater. It's a servicable, if unsatisfying ending, but it's not the magnum opus we were all hoping for.