The Dark Knight Rises: A Delayed Reaction

“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits, you’re going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Well, the storm hit. The wait is over and The Dark Knight Rises is finally out after four long years. Although it’s been out since July 20th and although I saw the trilogy at midnight, I wanted to give it a second viewing and allow a little time to gather my thoughts before writing a review. Plus, the first time I saw it was amidst a nine hour marathon, and immediately following The Dark Knight and Batman Begins.  So instead of two times, I’ve now watched it three times since it came out, and I think I can give it a more unbiased reaction.

Let me just say that the first time I saw TDKR, I didn’t like it. I thought it was absolutely the worst of the three. But I was unfairly comparing it to The Dark Knight, having just seen it. Having now watched it separately from the other two installments, I like it a lot more. I also realized that Christopher Nolan was constrained by the fact that this was the end of his trilogy. With BB and TDK, he basically had free reign over the story arc and character development. With TDKR, he was boxed into putting a definitive end to the trilogy. Additionally, Nolan had wanted to have Heath Ledger reprise his role as The Joker, but his untimely death made that impossible. TDKR was a perfect end to the trilogy. Nolan handled it with the class and skillful direction we expected him to. It wasn’t perfect, but by no means was it a disappointment.

WARNING! | THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!

If you haven’t seen the movie yet you should probably stop reading because the rest of this will be riddled with spoilers. Also this is probably going to be really really long. Deal with it.

First, the good. A lot of people voiced concern about Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman and to that I simply replied: “In Nolan We Trust.” I think I can safely say that
those fears have been put to rest. Nolan has an excellent casting director and typically never works with actors who are in the habit of giving sub par performances. Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle was maybe the nicest surprise of TDKR. She was sexy, stylish, and pretty kick ass. Plus her reveal at Wayne’s charity event was classic. “Oops. Nobody told me it was…uncrackable.” The banter between Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne, and between Bruce’s “powerful friend” and Catwoman was perfect, even if she somehow didn’t realize that Bruce and his “powerful friend” were the same person. Additionally, the scene on the roof where Batman turns around to look at the Bat (which was also really awesome to all the doubting Douglas-es out there), then turns around to find that she had disappeared was great. Plus that answers the question if Batman still talks to himself in the deep gravelly voice when he’s alone. Finally, I really loved that at no point was she referred to as “Catwoman.” Simply Selina Kyle, a jewel thief, or cat burglar. Bravo, Nolan. (Also, her piano-based theme is AMAZING. The best piece of the soundtrack I thought. Oh and when she steals Bruce’s Lamborghini? One of my favorite scenes.)

Another character that I really liked was John Blake, the Gotham beat cop turned detective turned hero turned vigilante, played by the always terrific Joseph Gordon Levitt. I figured he would be in this, since after his masterful role in Inception, Nolan would most likely want to use him. He was actually one of the people I thought would be pretty good as The Riddler. But, amazingly as almost all of my predictions were pretty accurate, he turned out to be another integral character in the Batman universe. After Blake visits Wayne Manor and reveals that he knew who Bruce Wayne’s alter ego was, I figured he would be a Robin, since one of them figures this secret out in the series (and especially after Batman suggests he wear a mask to protect those he cares about). Although I predicted that John Blake would turn out to be either the next commissioner, or Batman’s successor, I was hoping he would be a Terry McGinnis/Batman Beyond type character, and not Robin. Nolan had said that he would never have Robin in his movies, but technically since TDKR ended with a Batman Begins-esque Robin scene, and not with him donning a mask, Robin was never technically in the movie. Plus since Batman “died,” it could be assumed that Blake would become more of a Nightwing character, and not a sidekick. Regardless, like with the rest of the movie, it was handled as well as could be expected and was the first set up to the upcoming DC Comics Justice League movie.

Batman & Nightwing

Keeping with the reveals and my previous predictions, I pretty much expected Talia al Ghul to be in TDKR since I saw on IMDB that there was someone cast as a young Ra’s. I figured it would be Marion Cotillard (man Nolan loves to recycle actors) since ‘Miranda Tate” seemed like it would be an alias a la Henri Ducard. Also, she’s Batman’s major love interest through most of the series and hadn’t even been touched upon despite having Ra’s al Ghul as a character in Begins. However, it took so long to reveal her true character and role in Bane’s master plan that I was second guessing what I thought to be a sure thing. So although I kind of knew already, I was still surprised. Only a little though, because I knew that there was no way Bane was Ra’s’ son.

While I thought that Catwoman, Robin, and Talia’s reveals were pretty well done, I really didn’t like the way Bruce revealed himself to Gordon at the end of the movie. I get that it was supposed to mirror the scene with Rachel in Begins, where she says: “Wait. You could die! At least tell me your name!” To which Batman replies with a quote Rachel had said to him earlier in the movie: “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” However I thought this really crucial moment was too awkward. The line he used about draping a coat over a young boy’s shoulders was way too long and a little cheesy. This should have been handled better. Plus I always thought Gordon sort of knew after Bruce crashed his Lamborghini to save Coleman Reese in TDK. Adding to that, there were WAY too many people who knew who Batman was by the end of the movie. Just off the top of my head: Alfred, Lucius, Talia, Bane, Selina, Blake, Gordon, Alfred’s sister’s mailman, the DPW guy who never showed up, etc. Come on. I know he faked his death, but it was getting a little out of hand.

To be honest though, I didn’t like Gordon anywhere near as much as I did in BB or TDK, and I’m still unsure whether it was supposed to be that way. I don’t know if Nolan tried to change the character’s motives, or if Gary Oldman just came at the role in a different manner, but he was extremely un-likeable in this. In the other films he was sort of a hapless, loveable, goofy hero and in TDK he was an emotional force, but he came off very blunt and disconnected in TDKR. If it was meant to be this way, I assume it was meant to reflect the turmoil associated with keeping the Harvey Dent secret for eight years. Propping him up to be a fallen hero, when it was really Batman who saved Gotham. Then that whole rift between him and Blake after Bane reads the speech. (“Your hands look pretty dirty to me.”) Even when he helped save the day at the end of the movie I still didn’t really like him, which is unfortunate because he was one of my favorite characters throughout the first two installments. I just didn’t like him being portrayed as a dirty cop or a tragic character. It didn’t work and it made all the scenes with him seem weird.

Now. On to Bane. I don’t know if it was just the theater sound system, but I was really frustrated the first time I watched TDKR, because I had an extremely tough time understanding Bane’s lines. The second and third times through it seemed a lot less muffled, but that might have just been because I knew his lines better. Either way it was doubly frustrating because other than Bruce Wayne’s witty lines (which I thought were the best of the three), Bane’s dialogue was the best of the movie. I loved Tom Hardy’s delivery, and the accent (which I hope was actually his). It sounded almost Scottish, as if Captain Jean Luc Picard did a voice over for him. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tom Hardy, who must have gained about 50 lbs of muscle for this role, and who’s acting was probably constrained by how hard it was to speak through the mask (You have to enunciate!). The whole role seemed very Shakespearean, even if his motives were a little hackneyed and the underlying theme was quite obviously a statement about the 99%. (“We take Gotham back from the corrupt…the oppressors  The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests and cast out into the cold.”) But if it was about the 99%, the overall message is muddled since if the League of Shadows were portraying the 99%, they’d be the enemy. Woo go one percenters! Get a job hippies!

The fight scenes between him and Batman (especially the first one) were perfect. In true gritty brawler style. Also, his fur lined coat is awesome and I want one. Clearly I plan on being Bane for Halloween this year, though it’ll make it pretty tough to drink with that mask on… (“If I take that off, will you die?” “It would be very painful.”) In the series, Bane is not only Batman’s most physically formidable foe, he is also a genius. Unfortunately this wasn’t really portrayed in TDKR. He was more of a one sided villain. Merely a foe for Batman, and a new leader for The League of Shadows. However his backstory and connection to Talia were very cool. A thousand times better than the Poison Ivy / Bane storyline in the Batman & Robin travesty.

I really disliked the fact that there was a “doomsday device.” Yes, I realize this is a superhero movie and I should suspend some level of disbelief. But I feel like I was forced to suspend my level of disbelief a lot more in TDKR than in BB or TDK. A doomsday device seems way too campy for a Nolan Batman film, which are typically more grounded in reality. Also, the idea that Bane said he would give the bomb trigger to an “ordinary citizen” is preposterous. Why would that person ever blow up a neutron bomb!? Plus I hated the stadium scene because Ben Roethlisberger’s stupid rapist face was in it, though I guess we have to assume he died. Also, I only just noticed in my third viewing that Bane blew up the box with the Mayor in it. Why wasn’t that highlighted better? Isn’t that kind of a big deal?

The idea that Bane could hold an entire city hostage, and that the world would watch for five months as it’s greatest city descended into anarchy, as Blake says, “like some failed (African) state” is also pretty absurd. There is NO WAY that the United States, United Nations, NATO, whatever, would look on and allow this to happen, with the only response being to send in a disguised band of inept special forces. And alright Nolan, we get that you like to re-use your actors and that you pretty much had the entire cast of Inception in this other than Ken Watanabe and Leo, but the Scarecrow cameos needed to stop. Those court room scenes were unbearably bad. “Death…by exile!” Really?

Two more things that I meant to add when I published this. There was no way The Bat would have made it six miles into the “bay” (aka the Atlantic Ocean) in a minute and thirty seconds. Additionally, I say aka the Atlantic Ocean because after about halfway through the movie there was little effort made to disguise the fact that the majority of this movie was filmed in Manhattan. Nolan had said after TDK that he wanted to do a better job to disguise what city the movie was filmed in because it was too obvious that it had been filmed in Chicago. Gotham, while originally meant to represent New York, is a fictional city. There are blatant shots of the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, World Trade Center site, and Saks Fifth Avenue. At least the scenes filmed in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh were a little less recognizable. If you’re giving up trying to make Gotham seem like a nondescript place, at least be consistent and keep it in The Windy City.

Finally, I didn’t like that the ending was so different than the first two. I think it would have been great to have ended this one with another Gordon – Batman (or maybe Bruce) scene. Maybe that would have made me dislike Gordon a little less. The final rooftop scene in Batman Begins is my second favorite scene in all three movies, save for the Batman – Joker interrogation scene in TDK (“Look at you go!”). The “Wait. I never got to thank you.” “…and you’ll never have to” final lines give me chills every time. Plus, I wish Gordon would thank Batman (or Bruce), who would finally accept it. However I liked that they do a play on this in all three movies. In TDK Gordon thanks Batman at the end, who replies with “You don’t have to thank me.” To which Gordon graciously states “Yes! I do!” Now while it was a little more subtle than the previous two, there is a point in TDKR where Blake thanks Batman for coming back to help them, and Batman goes: “Don’t thank me yet.” I enjoyed that little tongue in cheek reference. There were a couple subtle allusions like this throughout TDKR, which I definitely appreciated. Another I picked up was when the stock broker was getting his shoes shined in the stock exchange, the one guy asks how he chose what stock to buy or something and he says “I flipped a coin” in reference to Harvey Dent.

So, after having enough time to absorb the movie and write an unbiased review, I have to say that I ended up really liking it. To be fair though people jumped all over me when I said I thought it was the worst of the three after my first viewing. That wasn’t meant to be a slight to TDKR in any way. It’s not like I’m calling it The Godfather III. The other two installments are SO good that this being the worst of the three by no means makes it a bad movie. It definitely felt a little too over the top and un-Nolan-like at times. Some parts came across too much like an Avengers style superhero movie and less like a gritty crime action/drama. Loved Bane and the epic showdown. Disliked the anarchy/doomsday concept. The Ra’s and Talia backstory was really cool, and the her reveal even had me a little fooled. I really enjoyed JGL as John Blake and Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. They both did outstanding jobs. I particularly liked how Nolan pretty much stuck to his guns about not doing Robin, but still set up the character (hopefully Nightwing) in a classy manner.

After three viewings, I have to say that I still think The Dark Knight is the best, but that The Dark Knight Rises is slightly (only slightly) better than Batman Begins. I give The Dark Knight Rises a solid 8/10 and the Coug stamp of approval. Flame shield activated. Do your worst, trolls.