By Ben L.
This is a Second Opinion piece directed at the raving reviews of The Dark Knight Rises, and contains tons of spoilers. Return to the Bat-Cave if you have yet to watch the movie.
As the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the final superhero movie of this year’s power-packed summer movie season, there are so many expectations weighing on The Dark Knight Rises. It’s DC Comics solo fight against two impressive offerings from Marvel, and you wouldn’t want to count on Nolan to deliver a disappointment after the 2008 box office hit in which a certain villain won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Truth is, the impact of Heath Ledger’s memorable performance as the Joker and his subsequent death is so monumental that four years on, it can still be felt in the third Batman film. Tom Hardy actually puts in an impressive performance as Bane, his atypical accent projecting both power and intelligence, but even his florid speech and immense physical strength is still overshadowed by the cunning manipulation and gruesome antics of the sociopath in a clown suit. Bane feels like a worthy adversary of Batman – after all he used to be a member of The League of Shadows – but I wished I could connect with him more as a villain the same way how I wanted the Joker’s madness to be stopped in The Dark Knight. Bane wanted to destroy Gotham City, but the movie didn’t really show in depth how he wanted the citizens to see the corruption in the city. Instead the focus is on the cold winter and desolate streets, and the only indication of his plan put into action is portrayed in the kangaroo court trials.
The unfortunate limited role of Bane is in fact a product of a complicated storyline which attempts to tie up loose ends in the trilogy and include new plot points at the same time. Nolan has always been hailed as one of the best storytellers because his movies have always been pretty straightforward with a timely and logical twist. In The Dark Knight Rises however, Nolan attempts the unprecedented by drawing inspiration from a number of Batman comics to create a story which would pack in three plots and a dozen characters in under three hours. It’s a pretty ambitious move that works, but one that does not pay off handsomely. A coherent A-plot – Bruce Wayne’s story about triumph and defeat – is let down by relatively sub-par subplots riddled with plot holes. It’ll be pointless and exhausting to analyse each one, most of which can be found online, but I found the revelation and subsequent death of Talia al Ghul to be the most underwhelming because it didn’t have any significant impact on the story given her few appearances in the movie, and it definitely did not help that she was killed just five minutes after, leaving absolutely no chance to further develop her threat to Batman.
Deceiving the audience to think that Bane was pulling the strings in Gotham’s demise certainly worked in Nolan’s favour, and could have worked perfectly on its own. The Talia twist however feels like it was included primarily to tie up the loose end of her father’s death in the first film and does not serve any purpose other than to blow our minds. Another surprising move was the lack of references to the second movie, the biggest omission being the Joker himself. While including a cameo would be near impossible, the clown still deserved a mention, verbal at least, especially following the release of all prisoners in Gotham – after all it was his acts of terrorism which fueled the implementation of the Dent Act. We assume that he had been held prisoner in the eight years after the events in The Dark Knight, so surely he would have eagerly made his presence felt again, perhaps another Joker card?
So it turns out that Rises isn’t really a direct sequel to The Dark Knight but rather Batman Begins. The events in the second movie are largely forgotten, and instead Ra’s al Ghul’s failed plan to destroy Gotham in the first movie is revived and becomes the antagonists’ motivation. Looking back, it seems like Nolan has run out of new ideas to tell, and instead has to resort to his first film for inspiration to piece the various comic plots together.
Billed as the epic conclusion to the trilogy, Rises surely impresses with its star-studded cast and complex plot, but ironically it is its own conclusion that threatens to derail the movie. Forget about plot holes and inconceivable coincidences prior to the film’s closing minutes – Nolan has unexpectedly produced his worst movie ending yet. Compared to his brilliant works like The Prestige and Memento, the ending of Rises is so cliched that it would be hard to recognise it as a Nolan film. For the first time, he tries valiantly to link the end back to the various loose ends in the film instead of leaving a cliffhanger. There’s the awkward mentioning of the Batwing’s autopilot being fixed which hints at Bruce Wayne’s survival, then Alfred sees Bruce starting a new life at a cafe as he had dreamed, a cliched scene made amateur by the fact that Batman’s survival of the atomic bomb detonation was still not explained at all. Overall, the ending of the film was so atypical of Nolan’s directing – it felt rushed, artificial and inept for someone of his calibre, a forced happy ending to tie in with the director’s goal of leaving the franchise for good.
The movie could have ended on a better note if Batman had actually died. We all know Nolan’s insistence on Rises being his last Batman movie, and if he had intended for John Blake to take over the Bat-Cave, why not let a supposedly epic movie end on a more plausible note with the death of a hero? After all, Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” If Batman was truly meant to be a symbol of hope for the city, his death would not have mattered much when someone else is already prepared to don the suit.
On its own, The Dark Knight Rises is a brilliant comic book movie, and the best of 2012. However despite its title, it is a shame that it does not rise up to the standards set by The Dark Knight and the director himself. The largely embarrassing ending fails to ruin the legacy of the Dark Knight trilogy only with help from a plot that is still engaging with a strong Act 2, and also a dedicated cast. Now that Nolan is truly done with the series, it would be interesting to see what magic he can conjure as producer with DC Comics’s upcoming Superman movie, Man of Steel.