“YOU REALLY THINK THIS IS GOING TO LAST? THERE’S A STORM COMING MR. WAYNE. YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS BETTER BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES, BECAUSE WHEN IT HITS YOU’RE ALL GOING TO WONDER HOW YOU EVER THOUGHT YOU COULD LIVE SO LARGE AND LEAVE SO LITTLE FOR THE REST OF US”
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
My first viewing of The Dark Knight Rises was after an epic but grueling previous six hours in the cinema watching both the terrific Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Having only previously seen each of these predecessors once all the way through, my main interest in the third installment was sparked by the trailer’s depiction of the villain Bane and his attempt to obliterate Gotham City. However the first two films were so compelling that until the final hour of Rises I was feeling deeply underwhelmed by it.
To briefly summarise the plot: Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight took place, Gotham City is in a time of peace, and Bruce Wayne is now a shell of his former self. The Batman has not been seen since the demise of Harvey Dent, having taken the blame for his death. After an encounter with master thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and the appearance of new villain Bane (Tom Hardy) – who also leaves Commissioner Gordon in the hospital – Bruce realises he must once again don his bat suit and take on the new threat that aims to destroy Gotham.
There were a few issues with the film that make it problematic for me. Although there has been much talk of it being over the top and too grand, I felt that some scenes were lacking in scale to make enough of an impact. For example many of the overhead shots of Gotham showed a city almost deserted, and this was before Bane seized control of this domain. The roads were devoid of traffic. For a city boasting a population of 12 million, they were rarely to be seen. Was this now a place so peaceful its citizens just stayed in bed all day? This is something I did not notice in the previous films – perhaps due to a large proportion of Rises taking place in the daylight. Aside from the football stadium scene, the people of Gotham were noticeably missing.
Another concern was connections between aspects of the plot and characters. I spent a lot of the film wondering what is the point in Selina Kyle? The same goes for Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Although these issues were tied up by the end, there could have been more character development. The connection between Bane and Selina seemed sparse – we needed to know more. I felt the same about the prison. Although having since researched what this place was, for those who don’t have a good knowledge of the comics, this could be confusing. For instance, how is it regulated? I’m sure there was a mention of guards, but the audience doesn’t see them. We know there was a doctor, and why is there a TV?
Further to this, Bane did not turn out to be the villain I wanted him to. Physically he looks incredibly menacing…vocally not so much. I can’t say I had many problems understanding what Bane was saying, I can kind of understand why the filmmakers would want him to sound like that, but come on…it was pretty ridiculous. Having expected him to be absolutely terrifying this was disappointing. Without comparing him to The Joker in terms of performance or visual spectacle, on the one hand we have a villain who is presented as being completely insane…as Alfred says in The Dark Knight:
‘Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.’
On the other hand, Bane is meant to be highly intelligent, so his motives are questionable. He appears to lead an anti-capitalist revolution but with an overall intention to blow Gotham to smithereens…giving its lower class citizens hope when there is none. Meanwhile the cops are seen behaving both ambiguously and heroically – which may leave the viewer unclear on who they are meant to root for. Although now dismissive of lavish parties, Wayne is still a member of the bourgeoisie, and in order to make his true return he must suffer the same kind of life in the pit that Bane once led.
Also what was the deal with the fingerprints?? These confusing class politics and a disjointed plot should arguably diminish the film’s greatness. I have read numerous times of a moment where on Wayne’s first appearance as Batman on his return to Gotham he asks Commissioner Gordon of Miranda’s whereabouts only minutes after just having seen her – but clearly at least several times have passed since they were last together. Despite these apparent blunders, the film’s grand scope and ambition make these largely unnoticeable in the cinema. This is fantasy after all, and one of the great aspects of film is that time can be stretched to fit the narrative.
But enough of the negativity…
The initial let down of Bane’s limited fear factor is much less of an issue on a second watch, allowing me to enjoy the character for what he is in spite of this. Visually he has an extremely menacing presence, and watching him strut around, hands gripping onto his chest is great imagery. However, although Bane was an enjoyable villain, for me the show was stolen by Hathaway.
Whether sneakily driving off with the Batmobile, giving the inmates of Arkham Asylum a run for their money or cutting a rather dashing figure on the Bat-Pod; Selina Kyle injects humor and fun into an otherwise grave tale. Her action scenes are flawless and it’s good to see a more substantial female in this trilogy. Her morally ambiguous character is often seen in moments of confliction – first handing Batman over to Bane to save her own skin then asking him to leave Gotham with her – Kyle’s moments of vulnerability are great but underused.
One of my favourite moments was also the return of Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane…’Death by exile!’
Another pleasing aspect was the audience getting to know the man behind the mask. Critics and fans have cried out at the lack of ‘Batman’ in the film, but Nolan should be commended for taking the risk of focusing on Wayne’s demise and rise – adding an emotional weight not seen in most other superhero films. The moment where he finally makes the climb from the hell on earth pit is truly epic.
All technical elements are perfect, from the cinematography and imagery to Hans Zimmer’s score. And then there’s that ending. I have to admit the first time I saw this I completely missed a key element – when Alfred sits down in the cafe and sees Bruce and Selina, I had originally thought he only saw a lookalike, as in an earlier scene. I can’t quite decide if I prefer Nolan’s ending or my own deluded imagination…either way, it is made clear throughout the film that Batman is not a man but a symbol of hope.
I’ve now seen The Dark Knight Rises three times, and it gets better with each viewing. Despite all the talk of bad pacing and plot holes, this film is a triumph and deserves no less than