Mary Conti’s review published on Letterboxd :
Before I start this review, I’d like to say the following: If you liked or even loved the film, that is fine. I frankly envy you. This is a film I wanted to love. But I didn’t, for reasons I will go into during this review.
Previous to this rewatch, I had last seen The Dark Knight Rises at the midnight premiere. The idea of a filmmaker finishing off a comic book trilogy and summing up their run of a character was great. But alas, I was disappointed with The Dark Knight Rises, because what we’re left with is a film that’s pretty dramatically unsatisfying. The reason I could enjoy Batman Begins was because aside from logic fails, that film had a thoroughly satisfying dramatic arc, whereas this film only has the appearance of one. Even if this film was logically sound (it isn’t), I couldn’t be bothered to enjoy it due to how boring it is.
Which is what this review is going to be about: How it’s both dramatically and thematically unsatisfying, and how it could have been easily fixed. I’m not going to go into the logical gaps this film (other reviewers have already done that). I’m rather going to go into why this film just doesn’t work beyond it’s lack of consistent logic. This is because I might have enjoyed the film past the logical inconsistencies if I was at least engaged by the film.
So here we go.
Note: There will also be spoilers for the James Bond film, The World is Not Enough in this review
The Main Story’s Premise
If there’s one thing Nolan manages to excel at, it’s coming up with some pretty great basic ideas. And if there was a story that would ever need to work for the final film of a Batman trilogy, it’s the premise for this one. Despite what people said, this film does not need The Joker to conclude properly, it just needs proper execution.
See, the whole idea that Batman needs to come back after a retreat to save his city and earn back the people’s trust is practically the logical conclusion this trilogy needs. At the end of The Dark Knight, Batman is on the run after taking responsibility for Harvey Dent’s crimes. PERFECT. Now our hero has to earn his place back.
So the interesting part Nolan adds here is that instead of hiding AS Batman and still fighting crime but as a pure vigilante, he hides as Bruce Wayne because the Dent Act rids Gotham of major crimes. While the premise is a bit silly, it thematically works, just not in its execution. This premise doesn’t work if ALL crime is gone, just most of it. The Dark Knight Rises has most of the crime gone, and thus, there’s really no reason for Batman to come back. This ends up validating Batman’s decision to hide out. There’s nothing for him to really learn or come back from, which is what this film is about. So why care about Batman getting back in the swing of things, if everything’s pretty peachy without him (this also leads to a problem with the motivation of the villains, but more on that later).
What *should* be happening is that Bruce Wayne isn’t hiding out as a hermit in exile because of being Batman. He should be living as a rich man doing rich things telling himself he doesn’t need to be Batman. Therefore, when Bane arrives, Batman is forced to go back into things, instead of willingly chasing after a string of pearls that just ends up leading to Bane. That’s not really heroic, and it’s dramatically uninteresting, because once again, Batman has nothing to learn from (never mind that it features an hour of boring stock market games before anything of interest happens).
But this leads into the question: How do we get Batman to be forced back into the game?
Nolan is a noted fan of the Bond franchise, and it shows not only in set pieces, but ideas. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t just reminiscent of the Bond film, The World is Not Enough, it IS The World is Not Enough. In both films, we have a main hero who is injured at the beginning and has to come back to fight the main villain (who is a bald mercenary that doesn’t feel pain) while also feeling the betrayal of a woman he loved who is secretly working with the main villain. There’s also a second love interest that gets in the way of things (Fuck you Denise Richards). The thing is, The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t just suffer the same wasted potential that film has because it made the same mistakes, it’s because it made the same mistakes while also making several new ones.
The problem with The World is Not Enough lied with the more complicated than necessary plotting (and Denise Richards) that got in the way of the more interesting Bond/Elektra/Renard dynamic, which was ultimately the heart of that film. But where that film succeeds and The Dark Knight Rises fails is that Bond gets involved with Elektra right from the very beginning, and we see the connection between the two characters grow. In The Dark Knight Rises>, Bruce Wayne and Talia don’t get involved together romantically until the hour mark of this film, and he immediately goes after Bane only to get his back broken that very night.
The issue here is that there’s no proper development for this relationship. Why should we care when she reveals herself to Bruce? Hell, why should he care? He had sex with this woman once. He had sex with many women once. No, Bruce and Talia need to be together from the very start of this film, in fact, from before this film even starts. Introduce Bruce’s new life with Miranda/Talia. Show them be a normal couple, happy in their moments but with their own respective troubles. She knows he was Batman, but still supports him, even if their relationship has the occasional issue. This way, when Talia does reveal herself to Bruce, it hurts emotionally, and we, as an audience, are more involved, and we feel Bruce’s pain.
Now that we’ve established Bruce’s new life, we need to find a way to force him to become Batman again, and not have it be his mother’s fucking pearls. Have Bane introduced to the city. He begins committing terrorist attacks. It drives Batman further and further to hunt after Bane, but never really confronting him directly, at least not at first, mainly because he’s still unsure of it. Maybe he doesn’t really believe in it anymore. All the while, you have the police force chasing after Batman. And nobody’s looking at him in awe as if “HE’S BACK!”. No. They’re fucking pissed. Batman, from their perspective, royally fucked up. Because Batman needs to EARN his previous status, because every protagonist needs to EARN his change from their own motivations and goals.
Finally, Bane kidnaps Miranda, and this pisses off Batman. He’s not in this right now for the ethical standpoint, it’s personal. He goes after Bane, who properly gives him a royal whup ass, because it’s not Batman fighting, it’s Bruce Wayne. So Bruce Wayne gets his ass dumped into the Pit, and that’s the first hour of the film. There we go. We got the status quo, it’s been challenged, and now Batman is in a place where he has to get back. Wunderbar. We’re already infinitely more entertaining and engaging.
Let’s we cut over to the other half of this film: John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Now here’s a character that could really benefit from being given more to do, because he’s the most necessary character for the end. First off, and the biggest issues with his character, is that A. He’s never given a chance to really grow as a character because he doesn’t really have anything interesting or important to do, and B, He knows who Batman is. It isn’t necessary for him to know who Batman is. Again, have him EARN that right. If he uses his magical orphan powers (that apparently every orphan in this film has) to deduce that Bruce is Batman, it isn’t fun, and it isn’t satisfying.
Since the beginning of the now new version of this film has Batman attempting to hunt down and stop Bane, have Blake be the one cop who wants to help Batman. Perhaps he was saved by Batman when he was younger. That’s just one reason for him to want to help Batman while everyone else wants him dead. He should support Batman, but he should also antagonize Batman for abandoning his job, and running away like a coward. Blake still has a drive. He’s young. He’s smart. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong. He grew up as an orphan, so he knows the difference between petty crimes and big crimes. He’s probably even experienced them. This is why Batman likes him and will ultimately pick him as a successor.
Now that Blake has something to do for the first hour of the film while Batman hunts for Bane, let’s give him something to do while Bruce is hanging out in the Pit. As The Dark Knight Rises stands, we don’t really get to see Blake do much aside from interact with the leftover cops who are attempting the smallest resistance against Bane. Why isn’t Blake leading it? Better yet, why is it just cops? Why isn’t it also bunch of civilians who don’t believe in Bane’s rule over Gotham? Have the orphans help out. Make it a big resistance scenario, not a few cops just helping out with some special operatives sneaking in.
That’s another part of the problem. Bane’s rule feels to small. We don’t see enough, and the streets are practically empty and clean, which makes them look more like closed sets than they do an anarchic reign. Where’s the chaos? Where’s the suffering? Bane’s Gotham looks pretty sweet.
And here’s where Nolan really threw out all care. I’m going to propose a scenario to you, and you’re going to tell me which one sounds more engaging:
Scenario 1: A wounded hero does not heal from his crippling wounds. Instead, he learns to fight through the pain, and ignore it. Through this, he has limits, but now his heart is in it, and he’ll do anything to stop the villain. As well as this, he is also now contrasted to his main villain, who hides behind his own pain.
Scenario 2: A wounded hero completely heals himself from something that would kill most people, and climbs out of the pit to go beat up the bad guy.
Nolan went the easy way out and chose scenario 2, when clearly something along the lines of scenario 1 means having a character put up an effort to earn his place back. In scenario 2, it is given to him. All he has to do is climb out of the pit.
Another issue here is that the Pit is supposedly “hell on earth”, but everyone seemed reasonably relaxed. Bane might as well have dumped him into a spa. I understand the significance of the Pit resembling a well he has to climb out, and how it parallels his fall in Batman Begins, but it’s such a non issue here because the only real difficult part about climbing out of the pit is making a jump. Either make it more involving to watch (because after the jump apparently it’s an easy climb), or ditch the pit idea and make him escape from a regular prison. Just give us something to work with here.
The motivations of the villains here are so fucking lazy it hurts. They have the right idea to connect Bane and Talia back to Ra’s Al Ghul, but the way it is done makes them seem so insignificant. Show Bane being jealous that Batman was asked to lead the League of Shadows and not Bane. Work more with that “excommunicated” angle. Jealousy makes it more personal and more interesting than pure revenge.
On that matter, when Talia does eventually betray Bruce, have her show pure hatred for Bruce. It’s such a contrast to her attitude about Bruce when she showed affection for him in the context of a relationship, that even if we know already, we’re caught just as off guard as Bruce is. These films already run on melodrama, so turn it the fuck up. Make me feel it. Show the complex emotions these characters have. I want to feel her hate, not sit back as she nonchalantly just says “Batman, you fucking dick, you killed my dad. Go fucking burn. God.”
Finally, as I mentioned before: We need more of Bane’s rule. Show more civilians dying. Show public trials that aren’t just rich people getting the “Death or Exile” treatment. Show him being a tyrant, contrasting his “Gotham belongs to the people” attitude. I want the Reign of Terror in Gotham, or hell, even a Defenestration of Gotham. Not this weak crap.
Every great villain also needs a good demise, which leads to the next section:
The Climactic Battle
I’m sure you all know what the most aggravating part of this section will be, and I’m leaving that for last.
First and foremost, the cops shouldn’t be the ones doing the climactic running battle, or at least not alone. This is a fucking revolution. Get some civilians in there. Hungry, tired, and angry citizens. They’re done with Bane’s rule, and they’re now uniting with Batman’s side.
Secondly, Gordon, the old man, shouldn’t be the one hunting after the bomb (if there’s to be a silly fucking bomb plot device anyways). He’s an old man, why is he doing the fucking physical work? This is Blake’s job. Remember, he’s going to be the new fucking Batman, so give him a chance to act like it.
Next, when Batman eventually gets to go chase after the bomb, and Talia is driving, do that chase scene, but when it crashes, Talia doesn’t die. Instead, Batman drags her and the bomb back to the reactor, where Fox is waiting. Batman, destroyed by her betrayal, forces Talia to assist Fox in turning off the reactor. Instead of complying, she floods the chamber, and the bomb is still going to go off. As the chamber floods, Batman hooks up the bomb to the Bat, and takes it out. Meanwhile, Talia, injured, can’t escape. As the chamber starts to flood, she asks if he’s going to save her, and Batman, paralleling Ra’s Al Ghul’s death, tells her he doesn’t have to. Bam. She drowns. It’s fucking poetry. The original death’s issue is that, like the rest of the film, it is a nonissue. She just spouts a monologue after a fatal crash, and dies. She trumped Bane’s main villain card, only to die minutes later without getting to do anything.
And now, that one big problem.
Bane getting shot by Catwoman is not an acceptable death. Not only does she have nothing to do with him, it’s anticlimactic, because Bane’s the main villain, and Batman is our main hero. Batman has been fucking training to get this shit done, and he doesn’t even get to do it? No. When Batman gets stabbed and caught again, instead of having him get Deus Ex Feline’d, have him, in pure anger, break out of his situation, and rip off Bane’s mask. Then he has our permission to use the “When Gotham is safe you have my permission to die” line. As Bane writhes in pain, Batman walks away leaving Bane to suffer, as the citizens of Gotham, who have won the battle outside, to walk in and give Bane his own fate, which again parallels how they jumped in and beat up Bane in the pit.
So Batman goes and takes the bomb out to sea. Now before I deal with this poor excuse of an ending, let me go over a few other things:
Relatively Minor Issues
As cheap as it sounds, someone notable in this film needs to die. Gotham is of course what Batman wants to save, but we need someone in the film to raise the stakes and show this isn’t just a regular game. The three main candidates, of course, are Lucius Fox, Gordon, and Alfred. Lucius can’t die because he needs to be there to shut off the reactor. Gordon could possibly die, but he already did that game in The Dark Knight. This of course, as much as it would hurt, leave us with Alfred. When Alfred does his “Goodbye” deal, instead of disappearing until the movie ends, have him run back into Gotham to try and save Bruce, but only to end up at his own demise. Why not have him be a public aired execution. Have him be what drives Batman to start training and fighting through the pain. Alfred was always his second father (Father figures being a main theme of Batman Begins which this film is running parallel to). Having him die takes Bruce back to the death of his parents, and this causes him to RISE again. To be resurrected.
Next, there’s the issue of Catwoman. As much as I like Anne Hathaway in this role, she has nothing to do, she isn’t relevant thematically to this story, and like Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough, she is just taking up space from the more interesting aspects of the film. I love Anne to death, and I wish her cool cat was given a better film to be in, but delete it. She shouldn’t be hitching up with Bruce, and not in this movie. This leads me to the finale:
THIS ENDING ISN’T SATISFYING AT ALL
I think the absolute worst part of this film isn’t all the stuff that happened previously (although it certainly doesn’t help), but rather, the film’s ending. At the end, we’re expected to believe, that even though he’s perfectly fine, he just decides to fucking quit. I’m not even a hardcore comic book fan that won’t accept a change of character, but this is unacceptable. Batman doesn’t fucking quit, especially after he just spent the previous 2 and a half hours learning to become Batman again. Even if we went with Batman still being hurt, having him run away to Florence is fucking stupid.
It’s ultimately silly because now he’s left Blake flapping around with his dick in the wind. Blake doesn’t have any fighting experience, he’s not a ninja, and how does he know where to get equipment from, and better still, how will he even know how to use it? This guy is going to get shot on his first night out on the town, and he’ll fucking die. Then who’s going to be Batman?
See, Bruce can’t be allowed to just quit and leave all the heavy lifting to be done by some beat cop who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing. Now he’s not a hero, he’s an asshole.
See, in this alternate version of the story we’ve been telling in this review, Batman has earned his status back, but now he can’t physically meet the needs of Gotham. He fought through the pain to save Gotham, but he can’t do it forever. But there’s someone who can, and that’s John ROBIN Blake. But Blake needs helps. So Bruce is going to stay behind and train Blake, starting a new cycle. And when Blake steps onto the rising platform, it should be rising to meet Bruce as they begin their training. A new hero rises.
Again, fucking poetry.
One might say this isn’t a really closed ending, but then again neither is Nolan’s ending. Nolan’s ending doesn’t block Bruce from ever becoming Batman again. This one does. Further adventures will be had, sure, but Bruce won’t be a part of them, at least not directly. It gives Bruce something to do now. He’s learned his lesson at the end of this film (running away is the exact opposite). He’s earned a new life, a fresh one.
An even sadder note of fact is that the way I’ve gone over fixing this story isn’t even the only way. There’s thousands more, and not just with this basic plotline, but others too. It’s such a shame that a premise like this that could have bookended the trilogy in a meaningful way, is wasted by lazy writing.
I have to wonder, did Nolan even want to do this film? Even aside from the writing, there’s a lot to suggest that he didn’t care. Wally Pfister may have the film look great, but Nolan also decides to shoot the film in such an interesting way.
Worse yet, does this film have a tone? I think one of the more interesting failures of the film is that it doesn’t really feel like it has its own identity. Batman Begins had its own identity. The Dark Knight has its own identity. But The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t. It feels like its trying to copy a lot of the standalone aspects from The Dark Knight (hell it starts and then ends with the same formula) while also attempting to run parallel to Batman Begins, and it’s such an incomprehensible mess as a result. It doesn’t get to stand on its own, and worse, it’s comparing itself unfavorably to the other films.
The actors that are also clearly halfassing it. In fact, the only two actors who look like they’re into it are Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy. Bale clearly wants to go off and do other films, he barely even feels like he’s trying here. Michael Caine brings a little to the film, but he’s barely in it anyways. Morgan Freeman shows up to perform his perfunctory “Batman’s Q” role. I can’t tell if Gary Oldman is just acting stupid or playing himself confused at the mess he’s in. And Matthew Modine is forced to say and do some really really fucking stupid shit.
The action is mediocre. The spectacle is there, but it’s not involving at all because there’s little to care about at stake, and the fight choreography is embarrassing.
But the saddest part about all of it is that this kind of film is considered passable, even good. Again, if you liked it, good for you, but quite frankly, this is a mediocre effort, and if this had been made 30-40 years ago, it’d be considered pretty shitty.
When I was sitting down that midnight watching the film, I thought I was at least entertained by what was going on, because I felt a sense of suspense. But that suspense wasn’t based on what was going on in the film. It was me wondering if the movie was ever going to become good.
But it never did.