For the last two days I’ve struggled to find the right words to describe my experience with the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. It was equal parts brilliant and exasperating. It was equally inspiring and equally dull. It found a bizarre middle ground to inhabit. Sure, it’s better than most movies coming out, but I expected a whole lot more from the people who gave us The Prestige and Inception.
Where to start?
The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years from where The Dark Knight leaves off. In all that time, Bruce hasn’t put on the mantle of the bat since then. You see, in his quest for justice that he was driven to by the death of his parents, the death of Rachel was simply too much for him to bear. This was the first thing that jumped out at me watching the movie. Despite the fact that it was so preposterously out of character for Bruce Wayne (“But not Nolan’s Wayne!” some could argue, but that argument lacks sense), I felt I had to simply swallow that bad characterization and move on to enjoy the movie. We’re given dialogue heavy exposition scenes of characters whispering about Bruce Wayne and introduced to minor characters that may or may not have needed to be in the film.
These bits of over-wrought exposition are intercut with Alfred playing Downton Abbey with the waitstaff manning the party and comes to Anne Hathaway, sending her on a dire mission to the East Wing of the house to deliver food to the reclusive Mr. Wayne.
We’re also treated to a very well-shot action sequence to introduce Bane and the opening threads of the convoluted plan to destroy Gotham once and for all.
If I’m overly harsh in the opening salvos of the film, it’s because the first hour of the film is the least good of any of the Batman movies. It’s all set up and it’s all so dour. You’re left chasing one thing after another and it’s all just so overwrought. After having watched the other two installments of the trilogy it’s easy to see that Nolan has no sense of humour whatsoever. The one liners in Batman Begins are stilted and barely work, if at all. The only thing that keeps The Dark Knight on its feet is the fact that Heath Ledger’s Joker was infusing it with a grim comedy and the character never took himself as seriously as Nolan did. The Dark Knight Rises is absent of any human warmth.
When making this movie, someone really needed to ask Nolan, “Why so serious?”
My other big problem with the film were the punches that it pulled. The big twists for Miranda Tate and John Blake were both things that should have happened about a third of the way through the movie and taken to much further conclusions than we saw. And Miranda’s twist was so ham-fisted and laughably predictable (even in just the casting choice) that I thought something more shocking would be done with it. Instead, it was simply predictable.
The standout performances in the film, however, belong to Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I wanted so much more with the both of them. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a perfect blend of smarts, sexiness, power, and perfection. Anne Hathaway really knocked this out of the park and I wish there had been more for her.
As far as things to love in this movie, there are so many references to all the great stories in Batman comics that it’s hard to not like it. It cannibalizes pieces of Knightfall, Knightquest, No Man’s Land, A Lonely Place of Dying, Son of the Demon, Dark Victory, and on and on and on. But in mashing them all together, it doesn’t really give us what we need for a perfect Batman film. During the No Man’s Land section of the film, the comic offered the perfect blueprint to fit thematically with the teachings of Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins. Creating a symbol would last longer than Wayne himself. He inspired those around him to act. Why weren’t they using that symbol? Blake, Levitt’s character, uses the symbol in bits of chalk here and there during the movie, but never brings it full force, or in any way that anyone but the audience can really see.
Which brings me to my next point:
I’m going to talk about the biggest spoiler in the film, so, if you want, leave now. See the movie and come back. It’s a spoiler, in a sense, but if you have half a brain you figured it out from the trailer like I did.
Seriously. Go away if you don't want to know.
It’s just us?
John Blake, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is Robin. A new one. Though Blake does rhyme with Drake. And Tim Drake was the third Robin and the star of the Lonely Place of Dying story. Drake (and now Blake) was a brilliant detective who divined the identity of Bruce Wayne and came to him, appealing to his better judgement. In the comics, it was to bring back a Robin to balance the darkness, in the movie it was to put the suit on again because he’d abandoned it...for some reason...
The trailer telegraphed that Blake was Robin. The movie telegraphed it. I spent the whole movie waiting for him to get into a suit and spray paint on a blue bat symbol across and become a cross between Robin and Nightwing, Dick Grayson’s current alter-ego, bringing the city the symbol of the bat while Bruce was convalescing. But no. None of it happened. He’s a costumeless Robin, a sidekick in every sense of the word but that one. Batman even tells him to get in a god-damned mask and we still don’t get to see it on screen.
This is all simply a missed opportunity.
It was so incredibly frustrating.
When they said the word “Robin” I was as giddy as a school boy. I love the Robin character. He was always my favorite as a kid. But after they said it, and didn’t really pay it off, I just got sad and angry. I know I said that if he turned out to be Robin I’d declare this the best film of the year, but I was wrong. He did turn out to be Robin and this isn’t anywhere close to the best film of the year.
I wanted this film to start in the middle of where it did, and then carry on beyond the ending, giving me something more.
I know I’m focusing a lot on the negative, and there really is a lot to like about this movie. But after the last two, I was expecting the best of the three, not the worst.
Is it better than most movies coming out? Yes. Will it make more money than the Avengers? Not on your life.
Will I go see it again? Yes. But will I rewatch it as much as I rewatch Tim Burton’s Batman film? No. Never. You know why? That film has an incredibly smart sense of humour. I said it jokingly before on twitter, that Nolan’s universe needed Robert Wuhl’s Knox character to add a charm to the movie. He’s one of the best parts of Burton’s film. He added a sense of humour. And that’s really the missing ingredient in Nolan’s world.
But somehow, my guess is there’s a huge segment of fanboys that will eat this up. Why? Because I think if there’s any group that might take itself as seriously as this movie, it’s anonymous internet fanboys, the same mouth-breathing masses who forced Rotten Tomatoes to shut down their comments for an honest assessment of a movie that isn’t as good as it should have been.
But what do I know? I’m just a guy with an opinion.
This was an ambitious film that fell short of its goal. There was a lot to love (more than anything, Zimmer’s score, which finally made me feel that Batman had a theme as iconic as Superman’s) and a lot to be disappointed by. For that, I’m giving it a 7.5 of 10.