The Dark Knight Rises Review
Last night (18/07/2012) I went to the IMAX cinema in Melbourne to watch the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, finishing with the Dark Knight Rises at 12:01am. It ended up being a long night of Batman – about 9 hours in total – and it was good to see the first two films in the cinema again after not having seen them in quite a while. What did I think of The Dark Knight Rises? Well, I guess it’s something to say ‘I know how it ends’ but overall I really didn’t enjoy it.
So here’s yet another review and more opinions from a nerdy fitness guy.
After watching all three of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies I felt I got a fresh perspective of the ‘trilogy’ as a whole. Unfortunately though, at the end of my 9 hour stint of watching these movies I can’t say I was really pumped about Batman at all and for a male comic book/action movie fan, that’s a bad thing. Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) were good but The Dark Knight Rises (terrible title) was a huge let down and real mess of a movie.
I wasn’t impressed at all and felt that for the 2hr and 45min run time, The Dark Knight Rises should’ve delivered a lot more substance. I felt this movie was trying to squeeze in as much as possible to appeal to as many people as possible and should’ve gone in a completely different direction to where it did. I didn’t really connect with anything that was going on – except Batman and Bane’s first encounter – and I felt that all the new characters squeezed in weren’t really fleshed out. I also really didn’t like how they try to link this film back to the first as if to tie it all into one neat package. The Dark Knight Rises was not only a bad film but it really killed a lot of the elements that made first two films good, thus making it a bad addition and a bad way to wrap up the modern Batman films. This is the Batman and Robin (1997) of this generation.
It has taken me a while to put this review together as I wanted to see what the general reaction from the film was. From what I’ve seen it’s getting 4-4.5 star reviews and people are saying it should be up for an Oscar, so in going well against the grain here I guess I should justify why I think this is way off the mark.
I’ll start with Batman Begins.
When this movie first came out I actually avoided it, my last Batman impression was from 1997s Batman and Robin and I wasn’t willing to sit through another repeat of that, but when I finally saw Batman Begins I was impressed. It was well written and had done away with the extreme quirky/cartoony themes of the previous Batman movies and everyone loved it. As good as Batman Begins was though I always felt it never quite hit the mark to being one of those movies that I have loved and raved about, to me it always felt like there was something missing from making it a real epic but I could never put my finger on it until last night.
Batman Begins is a solid movie but I think my problem with it is that it takes itself a little too seriously for a Batman movie. It pretty much went to the opposite extreme of Batman and Robin and didn’t quite hit that balance between realism and fantasy which probably could’ve made it a great comic book movie. Although I do enjoy this retelling of the Batman origin story and I love the scenes of Bruce Wayne training and overcoming his fears, I found it becomes a little disjointed in the middle of the film where he actually becomes Batman – it feels like it almost starts an entirely new movie.
Batman Begins really put a new spin on the Batman story by focusing heavily on the realism of what it may be like to actually set up a Bat-Cave and fight crime as a Batman but I just feel this realism maybe clashes a little too much with Batman himself. After watching this movie again I found that Batman was my least favourite part. I’m pretty lenient with my suspension of disbelief when it comes to these kinds of movies but I just felt that Batman didn’t really fit too well in the world that Christopher Nolan had set up and made the feel of the movie a little confusing.
Like I said above, the movie takes a turning point when Bruce Wayne actually becomes Batman and I can’t help but think they should’ve done away with the traditional Batman costume all together to make this movie work a little better. Or maybe go in the opposite direction and take a step away from the realism and ham up Batman a little more – it would’ve been cool to see an actual Bat-mobile for example.
The minor flaws don’t ruin the movie but overall it’s a little lacking.
There you have it Batman Begins – 3/5 Stars
Next up - The Dark Knight.
This one was much better and it felt a lot more detached from the realism set up in the first film by including more bat gadgets, elaborate settings and the main villain - the Joker.
I loved the Joker in this movie, aside from Heath Ledgers awesome performance, the character himself is just so ridiculous and insane that for me it really breaks the movie out of the realism that I found a little awkward in Batman Begins, yet he still fits in well with the Christopher Nolan Batman world – it’s a good balance.
My favourite scene is at the end of the film with the Joker hanging upside down and telling Batman how they are destined to do this forever – I felt like I’d finished watching an actual Batman movie and after all the tension building up to that scene it was satisfying to see the Joker finally caught. It’s a real shame that Heath Ledger passed away and the Joker couldn’t return in the Dark Knight Rises.
My one gripe with this movie (and with each of them) is that it’s so long. Why are movies so long these days? I remember looking at my watch after they first catch the Joker (right after Commissioner Gordon reveals that he’s still alive) and it had already been an hour an forty minutes - at this point I felt they should’ve started wrapping the movie up. The car chase building up to capturing the Joker was a great action scene and would’ve worked well as the movie’s climax but then the story just keeps going .
I did like the added story of Two-Face and then the actual climax of Batman catching the Joker but I don’t think it needed to be dragged out for so long. I think Two-Face and a Joker escape would’ve worked better as the third film. But whatever, these points don’t really ruin the movie for me it’s still good, dark fun - The Dark Knight is a solid movie.
Here we go, The Dark Knight Rises.
My first words to my friend after watching The Dark Knight Rises were – ‘I hated it!’ My friend, who happens to be a bigger Batman fan than me, agreed. This was a terrible movie and a terrible way to wrap up the Batman story.
I really had no idea what to expect going into The Dark Knight Rises but I was expecting something that would be a little more thoughtful of the tones set up in the first two films and not just another over the top, Hollywood, action movie that massively blurs the lines between realism, which the previous films were praised for, and comic book action. In the movie’s 2 hour and 45min run time we are overloaded with new characters that we never get quite attached to, ridiculous settings (dessert prisons for one) that are just unnecessary and dumb bat gadgets that kill any tension (magic knee braces and the bat plane). The Dark Knight Rises was truly a bad film. It had a lot flaws and pointless scenes that not only made it bad as a standalone story but bad as an ‘epic conclusion’ to what was otherwise a solid movie series.
The Dark Knight Rises begins by introducing us to Bane in a kind of cool sequence where Bane is kidnapping a professor who makes nuclear bombs. This scene is kind of cool because it’s visually awesome but not so cool because at this point we’re not quite sure what is going on.
We then move onto Bruce Wayne who is now a cripple from the physical damage he has sustained from his time as Batman and hasn’t been seen in public as himself or Batman for eight years. The city is clean and his mission as Batman is essentially complete.
We then meet Catwoman who steals Bruce’s mother’s necklace and kicks him over before she leaves.
Stuff happens and Bane comes to take over the city with his nuke, he practically breaks Batman’s back and throws him in a hole in a dessert (we’re not too sure where), he releases the inmates from Arkham City (whoops I mean Asylum) and occupies all of Gotham City and starts ruling like a Warlord.
Batman has to overcome his fears (because he’s still a little scared after Batman Begins, in which the whole first half of the movie was about him confronting his fears), then escape the hole in the ground while the other prisoners chant ‘RISE’ (oh “The Dark Knight ‘RISES’” I get it now), then awkwardly team up with Catwoman (who knows why as she screws him over every time they met and is portrayed as a dodgy bitch from the get go) and finally take down Bane and save the city.
Where to begin with this mess?
Well I need a little ammunition so let’s take a look at a couple of my favourite scenes from the first two movies, two scenes which should’ve had The Dark Knight Rises go in a completely different direction and two scenes that are now ruined because The Dark Knight Rises contradicts them.
Bruce Wayne has finished training with the League of Shadows and is about to return home to Gotham City with Alfred. Bruce is at a point where he has overcome his fear s and the angst surrounding the death of his parents – which is a powerful scene in itself. So, on the plane with Alfred, Bruce is explaining his plan for eliminating crime and fear from Gotham and says:
“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible – I can be everlasting.”
This is suggesting that in becoming Batman he is detaching himself from the equation to become something else that goes beyond his own physical capabilities. This is a really awesome scene because we’ve seen all the drama’s Bruce has gone through to reach this point and we get a real feel of his conviction.
The Dark Knight:
As I said above my favourite scene is where Batman has finally caught the Joker. Batman has the Joker hanging upside down and the Joker says:
“You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness and I won’t kill you, because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
I find this to be a great scene because it again feeds into the idea that Batman goes beyond anything physical – that Batman is totally detached from the real world. The whole movie is about the Joker trying to break Batman’s resolve but Batman endures, he watches the lives of his friends be put in danger but sticks to his guns. He does it to the point where he even takes the wrap for Harvey Dent’s crimes because it means that Gotham can be free of crime and fear. This is what Batman as a symbol can do for Gotham – even if Batman is seen as negative he has still accomplished his goal.
So we can see a running theme carrying over in each of these movies. These key scenes show us where the Batman character is heading. Following this, I would’ve thought it to be more appropriate to show either an evolution or downfall of Batman in The Dark Knight Rises:
Evolution: where maybe something like the city finally gets behind Batman and supports him by standing up against Bane occupying the city. Maybe the city takes on the example that Batman has set and after the city is saved Bruce can finally hang up his cape. Or a;
Downfall: where Batman completes his goal and the city is saved and without fear but Batman is still seen in a negative light – like the end of the Dark Knight. Maybe Bruce reveals himself as Batman and because he has nothing left he loses the plot and ends up in Arkham Asylum.
What we see instead is nothing like this and definitely not a follow up from the previous films.
Bruce Wayne / Batman:
I just can’t tell what they wanted to do with this character – it was so confusing and weird. Bruce/Batman is initially portrayed as someone who is weak and decrepit which is fine but as the story goes on it kills any tension that this could possibly bring by adding a dumb gadget or some weird inspirational, ‘rise’ imagery (because I guess he has to ‘rise’ at some point as this is The Dark Knight Rises).
Ok so the film starts with Bruce Wayne as a cripple and a hermit. He’s hobbling around on a walking stick, Catwoman kicks him over and he hasn’t moved on from his Batman life because he has nothing to movie on to – his girlfriend died remember.
Bruce Wayne visits a doctor who lists off all the details of the physical damage throughout his entire body and he strongly advises against anything physically strenuous. We also see Alfred and Bruce arguing about going out as Batman again because Bruce’s body can’t take it anymore. They even argue to the point where Alfred leaves – for good.
We get a lot of information about how we should feel about Bruce/Batman in the beginning of the movie. He’s in terrible shape and if he can’t even move how is he going to save the day? We’re set up to feel that Bruce is really down and out. At this point I was thinking back to my ‘Batman Evolution’ theory – where else could this character go if his body is toast? Then we have an idiotic scene where Bruce is attaching a magic knee brace to his leg that he just happened to have lying around.
After the brace is attached he walks around a bit and says ‘it feels good’, then he kicks a wall and part of it crumbles ‘it feels really good!’ So immediately we’ve just eliminated any tension that having Batman out of shape could’ve brought by adding the knee brace 9000 and giving him the Wall Shatter Attack.
Why have the whole first part of the movie? We’ve just wasted an hour of our time thanks to a tension eliminating knee brace.
Ok so he has a knee brace – I let it slide – and goes off to fight Bane. This is the best scene of the whole movie and I will touch more on this a little later. Anyway, Bane beats Batman within an inch of his life and practically breaks his back. So now we’re shown that despite Batman’s power brace and Wall Shatter Technique that he’s still no match for Bane. The suspense has returned!
At this point I’m thinking – holy s#@%, how is Batman going to fix this?
So Bruce is thrown in a hole in a dessert and slowly heals – in an absolutely ridiculous scene that I will also touch on later. If he wants to escape he has to perform a physical task that only one other person has ever done before – climb/rise out. There’s still a little suspense despite the insane setting and the fact that you know he’s going to get so what’s the point of him even being there but it is again eliminated with a lame training montage and some rubbish about Bruce being fearful.
Bruce’s broken back and leg heal after another prisoner punches his vertebrae back into place and he does some pushups, chin-ups and sit-ups. At this point the health professional inside of me is like ‘why doesn’t he do squats or any kind of lifting?’ especially since part of his training goal is to jump a ledge. Bruce tries climbing out with a rope around tied around his waist and falls whilst trying to jump to the ledge that will lead him to freedom, he falls and the rope yanks on his back. A few more sit-ups later and he is ready to try again - but falls again. What’s going on? His body is apparently back in full working order, thus killing the tone set by the pointless scenes that showed him as weak and injured and also killing the tone of Batman being beyond anything physical which was set up by the first two movies – so what is stopping him from jumping to a ledge that a child could jump? What is stopping BATMAN from jumping from one ledge to another? Well it turns out he has to confront his fears.
What the hell?
We spent the whole first movie confronting Batman’s fears and showing that he is now beyond that. Is he still a little bit scared? Who is this character, do we even know him? Anyway he confronts his fears (again) and escapes the hole without injury or fear – just like we left him at the end of The Dark Knight rght? What was the point of the movie leading up to this point again? We’ve now wasted 2 hours. We could’ve started the movie at this point and saved everyone the trouble.
So off Bruce goes to team up with a person who he has only met briefly on three separate occasions and who has screwed him over on each of those occasions – including leading him to Bane who broke his back. On top of this this character has been portrayed as deceitful and untrustworthy right from the start. Catwoman.
At this point I’m not sure what I’m meant to feel for Bruce Wayne/Batman, I know the flaming Bat signal on the bridge and the dramatic music is telling me I should be pumped and I should like him but I just can’t tell if I should be worried or excited. Is Batman’s body going to fail him again? Is Catwoman going to stab him in the back again? The Batman theme playing in the background is insisting that everything is ok and we should all be excited but I’m still confused.
At this point the city isn’t exactly behind Batman – they just don’t want to live in a city that is now ruled by a crazy warlord and overrun by the inmates of Arkham Asylum, they’re not technically behind Batman or see him as a symbol of hope that the movie tries to make out, sure a few people do but we’re not really told at all in the movie that the people of Gotham feel that strongly about Batman. Also it’s kind of sad that Batman had to set up his own flaming bat signal for Commissioner Gordon to light up – it makes him look a little pathetic. Why was he up on the bridge painting his own bat logo while there’s a decaying timer on a nuclear bomb in the city?
I’ll wrap this part up now but hopefully you can see how the Bruce/Batman character becomes a little confusing to follow and hard to connect with. Maybe you didn’t notice and actually enjoyed the film but for me it stuck out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I’ve read too much into it either, I’m just following the information the movie is telling me. Bruce/Batman comes off as being weak and unlikeable – definitely not a heroic image, even if the music and having him rise out of a hole tells us otherwise.
Hole in a desert:
Where the hell was this hole, in the desert on the outskirts of Gotham? It had to have been close because Bruce had time to make it back to Gotham and paint a bat logo on a bridge within a day. How did he get back, he had no means of calling the Bat-Plane and didn’t have any money to buy plane tickets, how did he get back?
The prison scene was awful – 100% ridiculous. I know this scene was here to loosely tie The Dark Knight Rises back to Batman Begins through the backstory involving Bane as an ex League of Shadows member and Ras Al Ghul’s daughter being the first person to climb out but why do it in such an unbelievable setting? This whole idiotic scene just breaks the movie up way too much.
What I also didn’t like about this scene is the whole element of Bruce having to confront his fears in order to climb out. As I said above his character is already beyond that, no one who runs away from their whole life to live as a criminal for seven years meanwhile training themselves to be the ultimate fighting machine in a secret league of ninjas and then return to fight crime in their home town dressed as a bat needs to confront their fears to jump a gap a few metres wide. Up to this point we’ve suspended our disbelief for a lot of things and now we’re meant to believe there’s underlying fear stopping BATMAN from jumping from one ledge to another.
Perhaps a more fitting scene to show Bane tormenting Bruce’s soul would be to put him a series of scenarios where he has to save people from dying while a clock is ticking and his body is failing him. He’s not in costume and the people can see that Batman is actually Bruce Wayne and maybe on the first few occasions the person dies because he can’t react quick enough. So the other trapped people can see his torment and start to rise against Bane and his henchmen themselves after taking inspiration from Batman’s efforts – something like this would mean that we can see people getting behind Batman as a symbol and thus his strength comes from something beyond his own physical capabilities. I don’t know but if I was writing the movie I’m sure I would’ve spent more time considering these kinds of elements.
The ‘inspirational’ scene of Bruce finally climbing/rising out of the hole was completely lost on me because of how ridiculous it was and because I’m not sure if he’s still injured or not or still afraid or not.
Bane Vs Batman:
Yes I hated this movie but the first fight scene between Batman and Bane was awesome. After a lame scene with Batman and Catwoman all of a sudden fighting together like an ultimate crime fighting duo they find Bane and Batman is forced to fight him one-on-one.
This scene is awesome because Bane looks so badass as he stands on one side of the bridge by himself ready to fight Batman. The imagery here is classic comic book hero vs villain stuff and I love it! I thought movie was really going to pick up from here.
Batman comes straight at Bane and gets his ass kicked. They fall off the bridge and Batman gets his ass kicked. Batman performs a trick where he blows all the lights in the room making it pitch black, Bane turns around and says ‘Ah the darkness. But you must remember I was born into darkness, you merely adopted it’, and then Batman gets his ass kicked.
This scene was great because we’ve never seen Batman get hammered like this before and nothing that Batman could do had an effect on Bane. It really had me on the edge of my seat and had me thinking ‘how will he overcome this?’, of course we later find out that you just have to get the courage to beat Bane by rising out of a hole, but at the time of this scene it was a new element I had been hanging to see.
But as cool as this scene was it is spoiled by not showing us Bane’s weaknesses – including the insanely obvious one perched right on his face.
At the end of the movie Batman returns for round two against Bane and all of a sudden can take the beating Bane dishes out despite the fact that he should be in worse physical condition than in their first encounter - after having his back broken and falling multiple times in the desert hole. During round two though one of the tubes on Banes mask falls out and all of a sudden he slows down and can’t breathe. In that whole first fight with Bane, after all the punches Batman landed on Bane’s face none of those tubes came out? Did the first fight loosen the tubes so that they could be knocked out in the second fight?
My point is that while it’s pretty obvious that Bane’s mask is his only weakness, it was never shown to the audience that this was the case or that those tubes could be dislodged so easily. A scene showing Bane having to change his mask and being immediately weakened could’ve fed us some information about this. Or maybe in Batman and Bane’s first fight, after getting his ass kicked Batman actually knocks one of the tubes out and learns about Bane’s weakness, which teaches us too – without simply being told - and Bane’s henchmen then have to step in to subdue Batman while Bane collects himself.
Finally, facing Bane a second time should’ve ended in much the same way as the first time – Batman isn’t any different and this time he’s physically weaker and without the wall buster knee brace 9000 – Batman should’ve been on the edge of having his back broken all over again. What would’ve been more interesting is maybe have Catwoman – or Commissioner Gordon – jump in to distract Bane and Batman has to remove the mask entirely to bring Bane down. Tell me that isn’t 100 times more fitting and exciting.
Ok that’s enough :) There are many other flaws to talk about with this movie – pointless introduction of Robin, the Bat plane, Catwoman, the Gotham police vs Arkham inmates ‘Lord of the Rings’ type battle and even the ending – but what I have covered should outline the main problems with this movie. Maybe you actually really enjoy this movie – a lot of people seem to – but if you left the cinema feeling a little unsatisfied maybe some of the points I’ve gone through can tell you why.
The Dark Knight Rises was a huge mess of a movie that ruined the themes set up by the previous two movies. It feels like it tries to squeeze in too many different characters and settings and thus loses any chance of having us connect with any of it.
How this movie is getting 4-5 star reviews I don’t know. Perhaps they are reviewing as if it’s a comedy – in which case it’s one of the best I’ve seen.
1.5/5 Stars (and that is for the first Bane vs Batman scene)