The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – The Legend Sort of Ends…

[This article contains HUGE spoilers!]

Halfway through Christopher Nolan’s hysterically anticipated final installment of the Dark Knight trilogy, I couldn’t help thinking of Dr Evil in Austin Powers:  “Let’s just do what we always do, hijack some nuclear weapons and hold the world to ransom!”

Hulking villain Bane (Tom Hardy) wants to liberate Gotham from the decadent, complacent fat cats and give it back to the people…then blow up with a nuclear bomb. No matter how sophisticated the villain or dastardly the plan, movie-makers still use nuclear weapons to convey the ultimate terror. Nolan has performed an awesome feat of gloomy revisionism in rebooting Batman for the post-9/11 audience, but even he couldn’t resist reaching for the nukes to ramp up the stakes in this last installment.

The Dark Knight Rises is a meaty, barnstorming conclusion to Nolan’s caped crusader legend.  Inevitably, it suffers in comparison to The Dark Knight. It is long-winded and confusing, jammed with extra characters and last-minute exposition, and its central villain Bane is a prosaic presence after the mercurial Joker.  If Nolan was a cash-in merchant, he could’ve justified splitting his finale over two parts, like Harry Potter or Twilight.

Two days after seeing it on the big screen, there are nagging doubts about Dark Knight Rises that won’t leave me alone.  The Dark Knight, for all its muddled action set pieces, perfectly crystallized the central conflict of the Batman myth, revealing Batman and the Joker as opposite sides of the same coin.  One couldn’t exist without the other.  The perfect balance between order and chaos.

The Dark Knight Rises uneasily draws on too many of society’s current ills to offer grandiose popcorn entertainment.  Panic on the stock exchange, financial crisis, 9/11, and a deprived underclass revolting against society’s top 1%.

Scenes of the disenfranchised pouring out of the sewers to dish out mob justice brought to mind the week in 2011 when Britain stood back and held its collective breath, waiting to see how out-of-control the anarchy in London would get, and how much of the city would topple.

The ramparts shook, but the gates held firm. The rioters ebbed away into the night, to watch the news on their freshly stolen 50″ plasmas and find out if they’d been caught on CCTV. Why did it end when it did? Possibly because UK retailers don’t carry enough stock of the good shit to satisfy paying customers, let alone gangs of looters making their way in and out of Dixons through the front window, using fallen OAP’s faces as stepping-stones.

Bane’s motives don’t add up.  What’s the point of overthrowing the city, if you’re going to blow it up anyway?  Surely that would only entrench a false moral superiority of the Haves over the ungrateful, misguided Have Nots.

The film presents a paranoid conservative view.  Cheap green energy?  The hoi polloi aren’t ready for that yet, plus our enemies would only use it against us if it fell into their hands.

A city in control of the People?  You might as well let the lunatics run the asylum, as demonstrated in an entertaining cameo by the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), presiding as judge over sentence without trial.  Or let the Taleban have control, then you’ll have enemies of the Revolution strung up on the castle walls as a lesson to the world.

With Batman out of the picture, cast into a subterranean prison offshore, it’s left to the remaining members of the Gotham police. The cops are usually trusty enforcers of the oppressor’s standpoint, and it’s up to them to organise the resistance and win the city back from the anarchists.

The star-spangled banner is in tatters, but still flying over Gotham.  Batman, almost in a cameo appearance, pops up to help the boys in blue save the day and re-establish the well-ordered grip of Capitalism.

What of the mighty Gotham?  More obviously and overtly New York than at any point in the franchise, I think it would be good manners if Nolan allowed it a personality, especially if he’s evoking everyone’s worst nightmares in our post-9/11 world.

The plot involving construction crews used to undermine the city recalled Die Hard With A Vengeance, a movie that joyously celebrated the noise, diversity and mayhem of the Big Apple. Nolan shows an increasing distaste for the disorder and idiosyncrasies of human life.

In his meticulous creations, there is little room for mess and disorganization.  In Inception, he gave a good impression of a man who dreamed by Powerpoint.  Large swathes of dream sequence were set in a corporate-looking hotel, and his deeper levels of sleep looked like a city template, devoid of all the noise, crud and human confusion that makes cities great.

In The Dark Knight Rises, I struggled to spot much of Gotham’s reported 12 million population.  Nolan’s Batman trilogy seems inhabited  by the wealthy elite, the people who serve them their fancy meals and drinks, and the cops who protect their way of life.

So if you’re not part of the elite, or people who polish their shoes or enforce their laws, you’re probably part of an untrustworthy, unstable underground mob, eating ratburgers, swearing and driving vintage automobiles, like Edgar Friendly’s band of merry sewer dwellers in Demolition Man.

People who’ve read my articles before may know I rarely pass up the opportunity to bash Christopher Nolan.  However, I think you’ve got to admire his absolute belief in his own material, and his commitment to making the superhero movie a legitimate film genre.

His movies are big, and even on a regular cinema screen his images are towering. He avoids using CGI where possible and takes his time, shunning the wobbly-cam & MTV-style editing approach that make so many blockbusters unwatchable head-aches.

In The Dark Knight Rises, he does a tremendous job of making Batman & Gotham’s situation so dire. Bane breaks Bruce Wayne financially and physically, robs the Bat-armory and steals his fusion reactor.  Gotham is cut off from the outside world with a ticking nuclear bomb riding around in the back of a truck.  Everything looks so bad that it’s impossible not to feel a thrill of excitement when Batman, finally risen, lights up a burning bat emblem as a war cry to Bane.

Let’s get to Bane.  After The Dark Knight, the big question was would Tom Hardy, or anybody, ever top Heath Ledger’s exhilarating performance as The Joker.  I saw Bronson a couple of weeks before The Dark Knight Rises, and it heightened my anticipation of the last installment.  I will stand by my assessment that Tom Hardy’s performance in that movie equaled Malcolm McDowall in A Clockwork Orange, and Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Hardy bulked up for the part of Bronson, and has piled on even more muscle for Bane.  At his current rate of development, somebody can re-make King Kong again and cast Hardy in a gorilla suit, and won’t need to use any CGI at all.

So if Hardy’s Bane couldn’t top the Joker, he’s an actor who could certainly match it.  He doesn’t, but that’s not his fault.  In The Dark Knight Rises, he’s a daunting, brutish presence, who gathers intrigue throughout the movie.

The problem is that Nolan and his screenwriters, in an attempt at a final reel twist, transfer everything that makes Bane interesting to another character.  This leaves Bane as an ill-defined, loyal dog, gunned down like some no-name goon.  He doesn’t even get a death scene.

Although Batman is barely a cameo presence, Christian Bale finally escapes the shackles of his character and registers a warm, heartfelt performance as a grieving, torn Bruce Wayne, perhaps the only time in the trilogy the billionaire crime fighter has become human and sympathetic.

As his paternalistic butler Alfred, Michael Caine does some top-notch emoting.  However, after the second or third time, I started thinking: I don’t want to sit in front of a three storey image of Michael Caine crying.  I yearned for some vintage era Michael Caine nasty bastardry – maybe Alfred could get his leg over with a bit of crumpet, find himself a shooter, then dangle Wayne from the parapets of Wayne Manor, shouting: “You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape…”

Morgan Freeman reprises the role of Wayne’s gadget man, Lucius Fox.  Freeman has hardly seemed over-worked by the character in the trilogy, and it seems like Nolan cast him just because he thought it’d be great to have Morgan Freeman in his movie.

Ann Hathaway plays Selina Kyle, a cat-burglar targeting filthy rich types like Bruce Wayne.  She’s leftie enough to chastise Wayne for being part of the elite, but cat-like in attitude to steal from the rich and keep it for herself.  Being a cat burglar in a comic book movie, it’s necessary for her to pour herself into a figure-hugging catsuit, which is neither as kinky as Michelle Pfieffer’s or as gratuitous as Halle Berry’s.  Endearingly, Hathaway’s Catwoman outfit harks back to the old style catsuit of Julie Newmarr and Lee Meriwether in the 60’s Batman.

For me, Hathaway seems too goody-two-shoes to play Catwoman, although she improves as the movie goes on, as Kyle gradually feels an unfamiliar urge to care about other people. I was never completely convinced the character was necessary at all and made the movie feel more old-fashioned.

For all the superhero and supervillain stuff, it is the regular human characters who come across best in The Dark Knight Rises.  Gary Oldman ably plays the conflicted, committed Commissioner Gordon, living with the guilt of covering up Harvey Dent’s crimes in the last film and letting Batman take the fall.

Best of all is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, in what initially seems a small, unflattering role. Blake shares a similar tragedy to Wayne.  As one of the last few cops left above ground as Bane springs his trap, Blake unwaveringly helps run the resistance, and offers a ray of optimism in contrast to Batman’s shadow of retribution.

“The Legend Ends”, one tagline promised in the build up to the film’s release.  It kind of ends, but without the finality you might imagine.  It would be more powerful if Nolan had the courage to actually kill off Batman.  It wouldn’t stop people making other Batman movies if they wanted to, and would make more sense in Wayne’s character arc.

It’s a bet-hedging conclusion to a powerful trilogy, with the open-ended suggestion that Nolan, Bale and Gordon-Hewitt might get the chance to redress the Schumacher, Clooney and O’Donnell debacle sometime in the future….


About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 09/08/2012, in action, B, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Reviews, Superhero and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. What a good and intelligent review! You sum up many of my misgivings. I still thoroughly enjoyed the film and thought it was very entertaining. But it does leave you with a lot of questions, which may be what Nolan wanted?

    • Thanks for your kind words! Maybe Nolan wanted to leave some things up to the viewer – he did a great job of that with the spinning top at the end of Inception. With Dark Knight Rises, I’m not so sure. What questions bugged you in particular?

      • I wonder whether Bruce Wayne can ever manage the “normal” life hinted at here. Also, does Nolan really believe that the 1% will and should win, against the prevailing will of the Occupy movement? Should protest end up with no change in the order of things? And I find the end of Bane unsatisfactory.

  2. Thank you guys for telling me what happens to bane and that batman is not dead befor i have watched the film lol,batman begins in my eyes was forgetful,the dark knight was heath ledger period,is this batman actually better than the dark knight?
    In terms of the franchise carrying on,do you think its better put to bed? we have had two jokers?two catwomens?and two banes?and why does christian bale always seem in need of lockets when putting on the batman suit,he sounds like hes smoked 40 Marlborough!.
    what i would really like to ask you lee is do you think bale is the best actor so far to don the mask? or do you think he seems slightly overshadowed by the bad guys ala terminator salvation?

    • No, it’s not as good as The Dark Knight, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the end for the franchise. Each era brings something different to Batman, from the colourful Camp Crusader in the 60’s, to Tim Burton’s gothic comic book in the 80’s, through to Nolan’s deadly serious vision, playing on the concerns of our sombre times. It’ll be interesting to see which way it goes next…

      As for Bale, if you look at his scenes over the three movies, it’s not a bad performance, but the nature of the material means he’s always going to be the straight man. Personally, I liked Michael Keaton as Batman, because he actually brought a little devilish twinkle to the role, and made the Bruce Wayne scenes worth watching in their own right.

      • i totally agree,keaton was by far the best role,for some reason he seemed to fit the bill better than others,since then i kind of got bored watching the bruce wayne areas of the films,why he did not carry on i dont know,keaton looks the same as he did twenty three years ago!
        The new batmans have a huge high end supporting cast and obviously use more cgi and greenbacks,this kind of makes me respect burtons movies a bit more,maybe im just old lol

  3. ljconnolly6

    Excellent review. The analogies to capitalistic triumph over a dumbed down society are spot on. I couldn’t take Bane seriously at any point in this film though; mostly because of his ridiculous voice. I think the mask is too restrictive as well. It hides Hardy’s facial expression to the point that any meathead could have played that role. This review is spot on.

    • Thanks for reading! I could handle Bane, although I was disappointed Hardy wasn’t given time to shine after “Bronson”. The film’s politics disturbed me – as Reginald D Hunter said: “Batman is a Conservative’s wet dream. Fuck Batman!”

  1. Pingback: Bronson (2008) – What Have You Got? « Video Krypt

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