Two groups of people should stop reading right now: Those who have not yet seen The Dark Knight Rises but plan to (spoilers await) and those who already saw the movie and liked it (I don’t want to change the opinion of anybody who enjoyed the movie; the more happiness in the world, the merrier.) I am only writing this review to explain why I personally did not like this film and perhaps to help others articulate why they felt the same way.
In full disclosure, I was extremely excited for this movie. Besides the original teaser, I did not watch a single trailer. I wanted to go into the movie knowing as little as possible. Let me start by saying I thought the production of the movie was A+. The cinematography, sets, costumes, effects, and most of the acting were spot on. For me, it was the writing that doomed the film. The story and dialogue felt lazy while the action scenes were extremely uninspired. SPOILER ALERT!
Opening Plane Scene: I thought the opening was badass. I really enjoyed the introduction of Bane and the overall feel of the scene. Something I found a bit confusing was how Bane escaped his handcuffs. In the comics, Bane’s mask delivers a “venom” that increases his body size while providing incredible strength. I thought this would explain how he broke free. In the movie, we learn Bane’s mask actually delivers an anesthetic that helps him deal with pain. I guess he just ripped his handcuffs in half. No biggie—Bane’s a strong motherfucker. At this point, I’m really excited.
After the opening scene, the movie crawls for about an hour. We are introduced to several new characters, see Bruce in seclusion, and learn Batman has been retired for approximately eight years. Blake tells Bruce Wayne he knows about Batman. When Bruce asks how he knows his secret identity, Blake tells him that as a kid, he saw it in his eyes. Eh. I’m still not really bothered at this point—just a little bored. Other than an exciting opening scene, not much has happened. However, with a runtime of 165 minutes, there is more than enough movie to remain excited about.
Batcave/Lucius’s Armory: Ever since the ending of Batman Begins, I could not wait to see a renovated Batcave. With billions of dollars at his disposal, and needing to reconstruct his burnt down mansion, one could only imagine what Bruce Wayne would build. Cut to eight years later: The new Batcave appears to have added a laptop and an elevating platform. I’m sad. I know Batman has been retired for eight years, but they were supposedly building the Cave since the end of Batman Begins. This is all we get? However, when Lucius insists on showing Bruce what he has been working on for the past eight years, I once again become super excited. Lucius tells Bruce that for the past eight years, he has been consolidating every prototype from each of Wayne Enterprises’ military subsidiaries. My imagination began racing. Consolidating prototypes? What on Earth has Lucius, the architect of every Batman gadget, been up to for the past eight years??? As it turns out, an EMP gun that Batman uses for about 10 seconds, and a broken down plane. I thought Bruce would ask Lucius for more gadgets as the movie progressed. Not the case. The Dark Knight introduced a hand weapon that could bend guns and cut through car doors, a new suit, sonar vision, a sticky-bomb gun, a Batpod (which flipped a truck and climbed/rotated along a wall), projectile Batarangs, computer software that reconfigures shattered bullets to retrieve fingerprints, and Sky-Hook. The Dark Knight Rises introduced an EMP gun and a Bat-plane. Disappointment is beginning to set in. A huge opportunity for awesomeness has been wasted.
We get a few more scenes that include lots of talking with minimal plot advancement. Then, Selina betrays Bruce and feeds him to Bane. This scene was decent. I would have expected some cooler action, but the scene did its job. Bane DISMANTLES Batman with little to no effort. Bane’s speech to Bats was one of the movie’s high points. Batman is broken. At this point, I feel like the movie has passed the halfway point. I’m not thrilled with what I have seen so far, but I’m still hopeful for what’s to come. This, however, is when the movie really begins to unravel.
Bruce Escaping The Pit: Bruce’s back is broken. He is then thrown into the pit where Bane was born. A fellow prisoner befriends him. The prisoner tells Bruce of Bane’s origin. Apparently, only one person has ever escaped this pit. Apparently, this one person was Bane. In the meantime, this prisoner realigns Bruce’s broken back by punching his protruding vertebrate into place. Once Bruce is healed enough to stand, he begins doing pushups. He plans to become the second person to escape this pit. After fueling up on water drops and wafers, Bruce is ready to escape. I thought this scene was poorly constructed. Up to this point, the movie made it seem like you get one shot at escaping, and if you fail, the rope essentially breaks your back as gravity slams your head into stone and kills you. For whatever reason, Bruce gets infinite tries. Also, I had a hard time believing that Batman, or any other grown man, couldn’t come close to making a jump that a ten-year-old girl (surprise!) made on her first try. Really? I thought the concept was interesting—you perform better when you don’t have a safety net—but the execution of the idea was terrible. Especially since…
Batman vs. Bane (Round II):
Bane: So, you came here to die with your city?
Batman: No, I came here to stop you!
When Batman fought Bane the first time, he got his ass HANDED to him. The movie established Bane as a total badass who could defeat Batman with ease. When Batman had to fight Bane a second time, I had no idea how he was going to win. However, Bruce had just escaped the pit by “overcoming fear”, so I assumed it would have something to do with that. Would Batman use his lack of fear to outsmart Bane? Would this “fearless” Batman devise a unique strategy—a strategy that a fearful Batman couldn’t have imagined? Would he use some new gadget to overcome this unstoppable foe? No. He did nothing different. He used the same hand-to-hand combat style that led to his broken back. For whatever reason, Batman could just win. I understand he lost fear, but you have to explain how this loss of fear led to him defeating Bane. It would have made much more sense if Batman tried to knock Bane’s mask off in the first fight, failed, and then successfully executed a new plan to knock his mask off in the second fight. Batman is, after all, a detective. It makes sense he would have known about Bane’s mask before deciding to hunt him down. Batman’s loss of fear didn’t lead to a new strategy, it simply allowed him to kick Bane’s ass. I don’t get it. If somebody can logically explain why Batman’s “loss of fear” allowed him to magically defeat Bane, I’m all ears. And no, Bane being allergic to rock climbers doesn’t count.
(Correction; 7/26/12: It has recently been brought to my attention that Batman doesn’t lose fear in the pit, he masters it. His “lack of fear” is what leads to his initial defeat.–Thanks Andrew. Regardless of this oversight, my point remains. Batman’s mastery of fear does not explain why he could suddenly defeat Bane in their second meeting. Others have mentioned Batman defeats Bane because 1-He was out of shape for the first fight and 2-He attacks Bane’s mask the second time around. To that I say:
Yes, I understand Bruce built-up his body in prison. Still, his back had just been broken. This means he was bedridden for several months without access to medical care or proper nutrition. I doubt he could have achieved peak physical condition mere months after such an injury, regardless of how many push-ups he did. If anything, I think the out-of-shape Batman from the first fight would have been better conditioned than the recently back-broken Batman from the second. I also understand that Batman defeated Bane by damaging his mask. My question is how? Bane is characterized as a “masterful tactician”. I’m sure he was prepared to defend his one glaring vulnerability—the mask. I have no problem with Batman damaging Bane’s mask—it’s definitely the strategy he should have used—but explain how. Batman engages Bane with the same hand-to-hand combat that led to his initial demise. Why does this hand-to-hand combat strategy succeed during the second fight when it had failed so miserably during the first? Bane is an amazing villain because he’s incredibly smart and devastatingly strong. Physically outmatched, Batman needed a way to outwit this insanely powerful foe. I couldn’t wait to see how he would solve such a puzzle. In the end, Batman simply outmuscles Bane. How? Because he mastered fear while escaping the pit. To me, that was epically unsatisfying.)
Talia’s Reveal: I personally didn’t see it coming. And I wish it didn’t. There was no real benefit of the reveal, except for the initial *gasp* moment. She did nothing as Talia besides drive a Tumbler and die. She did also flood the reactor, but that plot point could have been fixed with a simple rewrite. Revealing she was Ra’s Al Ghul’s kid and the sole escapee of the pit totally betrayed Bane’s character. It took all of Bane’s backstory and wiped it clean. I thought the reveal did a lot more to hurt the character of Bane than it did to advance the story. Also, as Talia is explaining her backstory to Bruce, Bane is left sitting on his ass, weeping like a bitch. I’m sorry, Bane. You deserved better.
Bane’s Death: “Anti-climatic” would be the understatement of the year. You spend two hours building this guy to be the ultimate badass. He beats the fucking SHIT out of Batman with ease. Then, Batman beats up Bane with no justification. After weeping like a bitch, Bane finally regains the upper hand and is ready to kill Batman. Selina, however, is able to drive the Batpod into the building (without ANYONE noticing!) before blasting Bane into oblivion. This was pretty terrible. Once again Bane, you deserved better.
Talia’s Death: Talia is killed when she crashes the truck. Makes sense. However, a defenseless Commissioner Gordon is in the back of the truck during the crash and emerges without a scratch. This does not make sense. Bad writing. I wouldn’t even call this nitpicking. If I said—Did Batman really get a canister of gasoline and paint his logo on the bridge so that Gordon could light it on fire?—that would be nitpicking. But the image of the burning bridge was cool enough to outweigh the silly logic. I have no problem suspending disbelief for a scene or two if it brings the movie somewhere awesome. Gordon surviving the crash unscathed had no excusable payoff; it was simply a case of lazy writing. He could have escaped the truck before it crashed, or been injured in the crash, or (fill in the blank with anything that makes more sense than the actual scene).
Final Thoughts: Overall, the film left me cold. None of the action scenes were clever—Batman mostly engaged in dull hand-to-hand combat or shot missiles from a plane. It was pretty, but boring. The end of the movie definitely pulled the trilogy together in a satisfying way, but other than the opening scene and the final ten minutes, I found The Dark Knight Rises to be choppy and plodding. I will give the movie an “A” for effort and a “C” for execution. The bar was set high, and The Dark Knight Rises did everything in its power to match its predecessor. Sadly, a flimsy script forced Christopher Nolan into producing his weakest film to date. The pacing, action, and dialogue all left me wanting more. The clever thought and attention to detail that made the first two movies great seemed to be missing from the final installment. It’s the tiny details that make a good movie great and a decent movie shitty. I wanted to love this movie. Hopefully I’ll learn to enjoy it as time ticks on and expectations fade. At the moment, I’m underwhelmed and disappointed.