Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight revolutionized the superhero genre and made Batman once again popular in the eyes of mainstream audiences. To conclude his epic trilogy, Nolan made the Dark Knight Rises. While the film brought us the iconic Batman villain Bane, many thought that it was a bit of a let-down when it first came out. After ten years since its release, is that opinion still valid?
Eight years after the death of Harvey Dent and the Joker’s arrest, Gotham has finally experienced peace. However, Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) is now living as a recluse from society, hardly ever leaving Wayne Manor. The events of the previous film left him physically crippled and depressed. Meanwhile, a former member of the League of Shadows, Bane (played by Tom Hardy), amasses a following and plans to fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s wish to destroy Gotham. Realizing how much of a threat Bane poses, Bruce decides to once again don the cape and cowl to stop him.
To start off, Tom Hardy did a phenomenal job as Bane! Many people think Bane is just a roided-up bodybuilder with an impressionable voice, but he is so much more than that. Bane is the version of Bruce Wayne if he never left the League of Shadows and his physical strength is further complemented by his vast intellect. Hardy was not only able to capture the masked man’s intelligence, and remain one step ahead of both Batman and the Gotham P.D., but also the physical side. His portrayal of Bane not only felt like a genuine threat to the Dark Knight, but also became a comic book film legend like Ledger’s Joker before him.
Some of my biggest complaints are the presence of the other new characters: Selina Kyle, John Blake, and Miranda Tate. While Anne Hathaway does a fairly good job, she doesn’t stand out as Catwoman and doesn’t really add anything to the plot. I really don’t understand what was her motivation to commit crime and I also hate her costume, specifically the stupid cat ears on her head. It looks like the costume team just gave up and slapped them on from Party City!
Besides Selina Kyle, I also didn’t like John Blake. While I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an actor, the character of Blake wasn’t written well, and he feels like a fanfic self-insert. He’s highly intelligent, brave, resourceful, witty and able to get on the good side of Commissioner Gordon despite being new. He even figures out Batman’s identity, with little effort on his part. His explanation for doing so just feels unsatisfying. Plus it makes Batman look dumb, especially since there are several people, none of whom are that close to Bruce, finding out on their own. This effectively turns knowledge of his identity into more of a joke than a showing of someone’s intelligence.
Then there is Miranda Tate. At first she seemed like only a love interest and damsel. However, she’s revealed to be Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul. And this is where the character becomes the worst character in the film. First, this reveal shows up in the last 20-30 minutes of the film, leaving no actual time for her to build up any sort of presence, especially compared to Bane, who is a much more compelling antagonist. Second, because of both her lack of presence and timing in the reveal, she’s lacks any defining characteristics, with what few traits she has are either too generic or ripped from her father.
The plot is messy. It requires both the characters and the world to be as dumb as possible in order for the plot to continue. For example, Bruce is made bankrupt through a financial action coming from a stock building that had been publicly taken by armed gunmen who openly messed with some part of the stock system, something that should have voided any transaction in that building for at least that one day. Or sending in the whole police force into the sewers despite the clear number of ways that could go wrong, not including the way it actually did go wrong. After the Joker pulled crazy subversive tactics in the previous film, you would think that Batman or the GCPD would learn to not do the first plan they think of. But apparently the eight years and lack of crime have really affected everyone’s judgment.
So let’s talk about the dichotomy between the rich and poor in Gotham that makes Bane’s takeover possible. Gotham has some blatant tensions going on between the rich and poor that is shown throughout the film. A prime example is with the stock market scene where the GCPD dismisses the situation as being about some rich jerks and having nothing to do with them. Then there is Bane’s army which is made up of out of work men, including construction workers. All of this builds into Bane’s argument of decadence and that the rich stomp on the poor, who should have it better. However, while the film shows that Bane and his plans are very clearly evil, it never goes into why his arguments don’t have weight. It is never even made clear if the film sees him as having any good points. As a result the film seems to equate the rich being held accountable for violent Maoist dictatorship purges which imply the very ideas Bane is espousing to be inherently evil, despite that clearly not being the case.
Despite the film’s shortcomings, there are some silver linings present. While the plot is weak, the film is still engaging and has some pretty good dialogue. Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Morgan Freeman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are notable in having some good one-liners, and Caine has at least two scenes where he gets to show off his acting skills. Additionally, I really liked the cinematography, set pieces, and music. The orchestral score is just as grand and memorable as the first two films. My only real gripe with the production is the fight choreography. Batman and Bane fight like they are a pair of straightjackets. They also are way too similar in how they fight, to the point where it is difficult to tell whether either is making any progress in either one of their fights until it becomes blatantly obvious.
Overall, The Dark Knight Rises is a strange film. It’s greatest strengths are in its music, cinematography, acting and dialogue. Which makes the film’s mistakes all the more infuriating. While Bane is done really well, many of the new characters fall flat, and the overall plot just doesn’t work. This results in a film that should be really good, but instead is only slightly good, but not close to what it could’ve been. Not the worst way to go out, but it most definitely could have been a lot better.
Co-Written by: Michael Li