The Dark Knight Rises: disappointing?

Just so you know, there will be serious spoilers here if you haven’t seen this movie. But no more than there already are on Wikipedia.

Seven years ago, Christopher Nolan (don’t trust him; he doesn’t truncate his name) made Batman Begins, which was an unexpectedly stylish, believable, and satisfying resurrection (or reboot, or retelling, or whatever) of the Batman character and universe on the cinema screen. I went in with almost no expectations and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Three years later, we saw The Dark Knight at a preview screening, full of über-fans in Batman t-shirts and Heath-Ledger-as-Joker make-up and purple suits, and we were pretty much blown away. We saw it twice more (I think; certainly once more) in the cinema, and have subsequently watched it another half a dozen times at least on DVD. We’ve watched it so often that it’s become a standing joke to say to each other “should we watch that Batman film everyone’s talking about?” as if we’ve never seen it. I wrote about it at length on an old blog, and would happily call it one of my favourite films ever.

(I’m not a slavish fanboy, though; The Dark Knight had issues and things that could have been improved, but is more than the sum of its parts, both successes and failings.)

Last night we went to see The Dark Knight Rises, which we’ve essentially been waiting to do for either two or four years, depending how you look at it – since the last Batman instalment, or since Nolan’s between-Bats film, Inception. It’s fair to say that we were looking forward to it mightily.

Sadly, Em and I (she, if anything, likes Batman and Nolan’s interpretation thereof even more than I do) both left the cinema feeling a little deflated and disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing bad about The Dark Knight Rises. No jump-the-shark moment. No poor performances. No, as far as I could tell from one viewing, bad cuts (there’s a doozy in The Dark Knight when Alfred is talking to Bruce as he stitches himself up; camera cuts to another angle of Bruce, his voice still talking but his mouth closed and still for a fraction of a second: it bugs me every time, especially given how often Nolan is described as “meticulous”). The Dark Knight Rises just didn’t quite grab us the way that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight did.

Here’s why.

Score and editing

For a start, I feel as though the pacing, editing, and score didn’t work together here as effectively as they did in The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight was gifted with an extraordinary, avant-garde, tension building, rising single tone that pierced every scene the Joker graced and added a veneer of nervous apprehension regarding what the hell this crazed lunatic might do next. Smash a pencil through someone’s head? Set fire to a few million dollars in cash? Explode a hospital?

The Dark Knight used its score and its astonishingly taut editing to create a sense of unbearable, inexorable momentum, only losing its way a little with the citizens vs criminals face-off on the ferries. The Dark Knight Rises never seemed to quite build that synthesis of score and editing to ramp the tension up to maximum; it got close, but maybe Nolan and company had just done it so well before that matching or surpassing previous efforts becomes an impossible task.

Bane

Which leads to the next, sad point. Ledger’s death denied Nolan the use of a truly great screen villain for Batman. Bane just can’t compete – he isn’t a great baddy. Certainly he’s physically frightening (he, of course, literally breaks Batman across his knee, as Bane must do), and with his startling mask (which looks like hands trying to wrench his jaw apart) he resembles a muzzled fighting dog. Which is interesting: after Batman is bitten by a dog at the start of The Dark Knight, and the Joker iconically leans out of a police car window, lapping at the air like a happy dog later in that film, and barks like a dog in one of his video messages to the city (“LOOK AT ME”), I wonder if this is a deliberate theme for Nolan; villains as mad dogs.

Bane takes an entire city hostage for three months (which pass in mere seconds of screen time, and consequently don’t feel all that perilous or plausible), smashes the Batman to bits with his bare fists and throws him down a metaphorically bottomless pit, raids the stock exchange and destroys a football stadium full of people, but he never seems as unstoppable, as fascinatingly, charismatically crazy, or as dangerous, as the Joker. I didn’t think this would bother me – I know Bane’s schtick, his USP, his use in the comics, I knew what to expect – but unfortunately it did. Tom Hardy is a great actor, tremendously watchable and likable, and capable of imbuing total nutjob characters with great charisma (go and watch Bronson), but he’s literally like a muzzled dog here. Also, his voice really is a little silly, and, at times, incomprehensible; not just his muffled enunciations but also his strange accent.

Not enough is made of Bane’s motivation either; ‘evil man does evil things because he is evil’ is a rote and unsatisfying comic book baddy motivation which doesn’t really work in otherwise grown-up films; there’s a hint that Bane is motivated, right before he dies, by love (possibly inappropriate, given that he first knows her as a little girl when he’s a fully-grown man) for Talia al Ghul, but there’s nary a split second to ponder this before he’s kaput.

Talia al Ghul

Talia isn’t explored enough either; not enough is made of her relationship with Bruce in order to make her reveal at the climax emotionally satisfying. She’d also be much more satisfying, and plausible, if she wasn’t just slavishly following dead daddy’s plan. If she’d been something more than just a cypher villain, she could have been awesome. Also, Cotillard, though fantastic as Édith Piaf, is a strange screen presence in both Inception and here: glamorous but strangely hollow. Apparently Talia is the only character Batman has ever canonically slept with, though, Bat-nerds, so Nolan plays it according to the book here as well as with Bane smashing Batman’s vertebrae over his knee.

Catwoman

Why oh why is Catwoman dolled out in a lonely-fanboy-pleasing black rubber superhero suit? There’s no explanation as to why it exists, how she got it, or why she wears it, and given that she’s never referred to as “Catwoman”, it would seem more fitting if she just wore a regular black jumpsuit or something, like a real jewel thief might. I’m not opposed to characters arriving with no backstory (the Joker didn’t have one, and that worked fantastically), but there are ways to deal with it: “nothing in his pockets but knives and lint” is almost all you need.

I actually found Hathaway’s performance satisfying, sassy, and amusing, and a welcome spark of charm in an otherwise really quite exceptionally bleak film, which I didn’t really expect. But the catsuit was an annoyance that seemed at odds with the universe that’s been created over the films. When she jutted her arse in the air as she climbed astride the Bat-pod, it seemed like a nod too far to comicbook misogyny.

I’ve actually often had a problem with the way Nolan treats his female characters; they do seem to be very often simple Hollywood clichés, vehicles to inspire men to great things rather than there to achieve anything for themselves. Hell, in Inception Cotillard practically plays a MacGuffin. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne’s father imparts line after line of pastoral wisdom to his son, whilst his mother barely opens her mouth to speak before being gunned down.

Other stuff that left a disappointing taste

The Bat, Batman’s new helicopter-thing toy/vehicle, was a little problematic. Though generally utilised in a fine, plausible way, in the climactic scenes it suddenly weaves through Gotham, dodging bombs and missiles and then ferrying a nuclear bomb out to sea more like a spectacular, physics-defying creation from GI Joe or Transformers. It lacked the physicality of the Tumbler, Nolan’s interpretation of the Batmobile, and thus the realism that this trilogy been so satisfyingly grounded in.

Speaking of realism, once again you see nobody bleed, even when shot to ribbons by sub-machine guns or brutally smashed with massive fists. In fact, the only person you see bruised and battered is, again, Batman himself. Partly this is a nod to the unrealism of comicbooks, partly a concession to 12A / PG13 certification, and partly a device to demonstrate the physical as well as mental toll taken on Batman over the years. With The Dark Knight I felt that this was a great, clever, hyper-real move (Batman pummels the Joker’s head, and all that happens is his make-up comes off), but for some reason here I found it a little childish, mainly when Matthew Modine’s deputy police chief ended up shot to death with not a mark on him. Conversely, I’m happy that Bane breaks a lot of necks, but always off screen.

The opening plane hijack was a little disappointing, too, seeming like a cross between the audacious henchman-kill-henchman heist from The Dark Knight’s opening and the extraordinary, anti-gravity hotel corridor fight scene from Inception. Sadly it lacked the shocking novelty and audaciousness of either; possibly because shots from it had been glimpsed in the trailers.

The use of flashbacks to Batman Begins seemed a little strange too; the film started almost directly on from The Dark Knight, with no exposition or context, assuming that the viewer knew exactly what was happening and what was going on. After this tone setting, it seemed strange to then almost patronise the audience by not trusting them to remember what had gone before.

Batman himself doesn’t get to do very many Batman-esque things; there’s precious little detective work (except by Gordon-Levitt), and barely any crepuscular beatings of baddies, one of the most satisfying aspects of the previous two films for me – Batman is meant to move in the shadows, to scare the hell out of people, make villains afraid of the night; seeing him duke it out on the steps of city hall in broad daylight is just weird.

Finally, how does Bruce Wayne get back into Gotham, when a major plot point is that it’s impossible to get back into Gotham? I know he’s got mad skills, but I’d have liked at least some attempt at an explanation.

But still, Batman!

I probably sound, after 1,700 words of moaning, as if I didn’t like The Dark Knight Rises, but that’s not true: I enjoyed it an awful lot, didn’t look at my watch once, and felt genuinely moved and satisfied by the closing scenes. Christian Bale turns in his best performance yet as Bruce/Batman, tying the two personas seamlessly into one damaged, sympathetic whole. Alfred, Gordon, and Lucius are all, though perhaps a little under-used, as charismatic and human as ever. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific, and the treatment of his character shows that Nolan can find a way to bring even the most potentially eye-rolling bits of comicbooks to plausible, satisfying life on celluloid (he’s Robin, if you didn’t guess, but sans tights, thank the lord).

It looks, as with all Nolan films from Memento onwards, absolutely sumptuous; not real but hyper-real, dream-like, comicbook like. I’d love to see him do straight sci-fi, create a world unlike ours rather than one so like it in almost every way as to be uncanny, which is what he’s done with Batman and what he did with Inception.

We’ll probably go and see The Dark Knight Rises again soon; as much as anything I have loyalty to two cinemas in town and feel guilty for going to one and not the other to see it! But also I want to assess how much I felt disappointed; did The Dark Knight Rises simple fail to live up to impossible, outrageous expectations, or did it actually fail me as a fan? I hope, and strongly suspect, that it was merely the former.

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16 responses to “The Dark Knight Rises: disappointing?

  1. Glad it wasn’t just me. You’ve pretty much nailed what I was trying to say to people last night. Thought Bane’s death was a bit of a cop-out too. “Shit… You mean we could’ve stopped him by just blasting him earlier? Well that would’ve saved us a lot of bloodshed…”

  2. I also felt like this,the movie was just a disappointment :/

  3. i enjoyed this article ……………and you are right — the film does lack “tension”………..i knew it would be hard (impossible?) to better the dark knight rises because of heath ledgers performance and yet the early reviews of this film were so positive – my misgivings gave away to great expectations which the film did not live upto…………

  4. glad i wasn’t alone – thought it was insane after John Blake somehow knows Bruce Wayne is Batman and Wayne doesn’t bat an eye…and there was way too much John Blake. The long tense action scenes from previous films didnt exist in TDKR even when Batman returned, I could feel (or thought I did) the audience wanting a crescendo to cheer.
    Hard to follow Joker with Bane – i loved his voice but he felt flat and I am a Tom Hardy fan.
    And how again did Wayne’s exposed vertebrae heal in 89 days?
    I think Christopher Nolan is brilliant, I wonder if he and his brother were just tired of the story but being a writer myself the third act is always the most difficult to sew up.

    • TDKR is a Good movie. But it is not, by my terms, a Batman movie.
      There is no loyalty paid to the characters build in the two other movies, or the comics for that matter.
      A crimeless gotham? Bruce Wayne ressisting to beat up bad guys every night for eight years?
      The Batman universe which i like is dark, gothic, hostile, grotesque and tragic.
      To me Nolans Batman universe turns out in the end to be only tragic.
      I very much enjoyed the two first installments of this trilogy and therefore had high hopes for the conclusion.

  5. Wow I guess I was the only one to enjoy it. I read quite a few negative reviews so my expectations were in check before I saw it. I thought Batman got off too easy in Batman Begins the League of Shadows seemed too powerful to be stopped after only one attempt. That after the increased realism of the TDK I read several times that the TDKR was more like BB and decreased the realism. I was satisfied with John Blake (training successors are apart of Batman lore) and Selina Kyle (Hathaway was great) and understood these movies from the start were about more than just Batman. I found the scenes were Bane break’s Batman, coolly kill henchmen, blows up much of the city, and strung up people on bridges pretty hostile and dark. There were plot holes but the other two movies also had them. I also enjoyed the fact that **Spoilers Bruce Wayne realized he wanted more than to just die for Gotham **Spoilers. Not as good as TDK but still quite pleased with it.

  6. I wouldn’t say i’m comic/superhero movie fan but I absolutely fell in love with the Dark Knight. I didn’t expect it to be as great as the last one or even Begins but I did want it to feel like, and carry the same expressiveness as the previous two. The aspects of the film I really enjoyed were the ones I felt fit in with the existing universe but sadly (it really does make me sad) a lot of it didn’t feel congruent with what Nolan had previously done. It’s very hard for me to reconcile right now that the same person who made TDK is the person who made the The Dark Knight Rises (it’s a pretty sterile and annoying title too).

  7. This movie was an extreme major disappointment. I loved Christopher Nolan’s first adaptation of this epic character and I withheld from seeing any trailers or reading any information about the movie so that my experience would be fresh. I can think of many expletives to describe what Nolan has done with this third installment however there might be women and children reading this article. The plot line and story was laborious and predictable. The characters (while they had potential) were undeveloped and in most cases un-interesting. And what’s was with the five months of time lapse? Why did it take five months for them to blow the city up? Why were the cops so wrested and not bearded after being underground for months? They came out battle ready- cloths fresh… How did batman get back to Gotham? And how did it take only five months for Bruce to get back into tip top shape after being ravaged for eight years and then having his back broken by Bane? If Bruce retired from active duty as batman eight years ago- where did his injuries come from? Did he secretly return to the Cowl and injured in fights not seen in the movie? (Maybe this is a hole in the story to be explored in future batman movies) The dialogue seemed cumbersome and the relationships were forced and confusing. Bane’s voice wasn’t his only problem- why did he exist except to help another villain that he was in love with? So this big bad character was nothing but a mush? And Alfred did not stop crying long enough to understand who he was talking to I know he’s like a father to Bruce but he’s also Batman and after a while his crying just seemed annoying. And a nuclear bomb?… Really?… Really? That seems like the oldest plot line in cinematic history and only used as a lazy tool in movies from the ninties like “True Lies” (which seemed fresh at the time). And the way he introduced “Robin” was pathetic. I give any director creative license to interpret and develop character but that was just lame. Ann Hathaway’s performance was probably one of the best “Cat woman” adaptation for film outside of Michelle Pfeiffer but her character would have served well if she stayed a lesbian and not miraculously transform to help wrap up Bruce Wayne’s story line.

  8. I agree with the above more so on the score & editing.Did not enjoy at all found myself struggling by the end of two & half hours.Such a shame the only good part was the end build up with robin …..very disappointed…..

  9. I fully agree with your assessment. I mostly thought they could have kept the first and last 20 minutes and pretty much scrapped the middle of the movie and started again. Two points bothered the heck out of me: one… no way in the world would the government allow Gothem to be held captive for 3 months… just no way that would happen… not for fear of one nuclear device being set off. Two… Batman, who has thousands of gimmicks to fight with, scatters the crowd with the weapons of the bat plan… then for some reason I can’t fathom, he lands it and get out to have a fist fight with Bane. Batman has a moral problem with killing… fine… but he’s going to weigh the survival of all the citizens of Gothem against the life of one killer who is easily in his gun sites… easy choice. I thought that was the killing blow to the movie right there. For two years I’ve been hearing the hype, and when I left the theater, I was for the most part simply pissed.

  10. Wasn’t the whole fingerprint thing just bizarre? Apparently Bane used them to place fraudulent trades. Since when do you need fingerprints, or be on the trading floor, to place trades? And wouldn’t the SEC immediately void them? More important, why doesn’t Nolan provide some exposition so we know what is happening and why.

  11. I agree w/ John Bines

    Very true. Crappy movie. Not true to the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne that has been built up in the comic books, cartoons, and other media since the late 80’s.
    – Retiring for 8 years over the death of a woman (even if it was the love of his life)? The Batman I’ve come to know would never do that; rather, he would double-down on criminals.
    – Crime in Gotham fixed w/ a little legislation? Please.
    – Bruce not knowing what’s going on in his own company? Getting played by Catwoman? Walking into Bane’s trap like an amateur? He is the one of the world’s greatest detectives — the ultimate chessmaster!
    – Fighting crime in daylight? Batman IS the night!
    – Gotham citizens making a statue in his honor? They think he’s almost as crazy as the villains he fights.
    – Retiring to live a life in the sun? He is one of the most obsessed people in all of the DC Universe!
    – Blake the next Robin? Didn’t he kill somebody?

  12. I must agree with most that have been sayed allthough i think Anne Hathaway was anoying beyond belief they should have gotten Noomi Rapace for the role i mean come on who better to go toe to toe with Bale than The Girl with the dragon tatoo.
    I don’t know if Nolans creatvety have reached it’s end but that plane scene just feel’s like a repeat, by the way notice that he has a fetish for the insides of planes and trains.
    Batman Begins featured the inside of a train and a plane, The Prestige featured the inside of Train, TDK had both, as did Inception and now TDKR:).

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