If you’ve talked to me in the last few years then you know that I love Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker. I had even planned on doing an article on why Interstellar is one of the best movies of the last 20 years.(Maybe I still should?) But one of his major films was always one that I wasn’t incredibly fond of. That film was The Dark Knight Rises. As I have written before, my good friend Nick is a huge Nolan fan and we always had disagreements over this film. He finally just challenged me to watch it again and do an article on it. So this article is dedicated to my illustrious friend, Nick Wild.
I remember watching the first two parts of Nolan’s trilogy with a sincere sense of awe and wonder at who Batman could be and what Gotham could mean to a person. I loved these films and the structure they used to constantly maintain a sense of change and fear in Gotham. This poor finale had an incredibly difficult task of following The Dark Knight which was and still is considered by many to be, not only, the best Batman film but the best superhero film of all time. You have a phenomenal performance done by Heath Ledger that is impossible to top and his death made a few people ask if they should even do a third film. This is where DKR’s biggest problem lies: Nolan’s heart wasn’t in it. You can feel that throughout the film that this was the second script and that this was plan B to his original “Joker’s Trial” Script but, luckily, Christopher Nolan is an A+ filmmaker so what would be a convoluted mess from any other director becomes a film that works exceptionally well as a finale to his Batman story.
It’s definitely worth mentioning that Nolan had a clear vision for making this a story as much about the entirety of Gotham and not just about Batman. through the economic downfall in the first film which led to the deaths of Martha and Thomas Wayne but then in the second film we see that even though Batman has come and brought hope to this city alongside Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent we still have crime to deal with in the form of Sal Maroni. This is why every villain in the trilogy was methodical and written in a way that affected the theme of the film. Ra’s Al Ghul and Scarecrow both dealt in fear, one causing it and one using it to his advantage. Joker dealt in chaos and Two-Face was the direct reflection of it. Then we finally get to the third film and we’re dealing with Bane and Catwoman.
Both of these villains work more as an antithesis of Bruce Wayne in every fashion of his life. Bane is the dark part of his origin, the chosen destroyer of Gotham that Ra’s Al Ghul wanted Bruce to be. Bane is the reckoning of Gotham that he declares himself as and he works as a villain in a way that none of the others could or would. Whereas Joker wanted to prove that everyone was chaotic, Bane was counting on it and used it to his advantage. I like this version of Bane because when most people think of Bane then they just see him as the man who was strong enough to break the Bat without knowing that he was smart enough to actually break Batman down in more than just a physical encounter. Hardy is giving a great performance here and there’s only one main Issue I have with Bane and that is that it is very difficult to understand him at multiple different times and that most of those lines are fairly crucial scenes. When he kills Dagett should be absolutely terrifying but it falls flat if you don’t have captions on. Both versions of his voice had their own problems and I honestly don’t know who to blame in the process, was Hardy just trying too hard? Did the lead sound editor take a Vacation during Bane week? Either way, my favorite line of his is the title of this article and I didn’t know he said it until my most recent viewing, which is sad. Bane as a character works in the sense that his plan/speeches are still very relevant 4 years later, he brings to light the fact that their peace was built on a lie. But more importantly he gives Gotham back to the people and lets them detroy themselves.
This is where Catwoman comes in. Selina Kyle has been the victim of a difficult lifestyle, presumably she’s been on her own for a long time and now she’s turned to theft to either make ends meet or further her agenda and hopefully work towards a better life. She works against Bruce Wayne in the fact that she has had to fight for everything in her life where Bruce was born into money. Now this is something that Nolan covered well in the first film. Bruce talks about leaving Gotham and going to a place where no one knows him, stealing for the first time so he can eat and understanding that not every crime is worth a beat down and being sent to a prison. So Bruce understands her but she doesn’t really understand him as a person just yet. All she sees is someone with a ridiculous amount of money while everyone else is starving or homeless. Remember how I said that Nolan had a clear vision for his story? well one of the underlying themes here is that “The Dent Act” has stopped most of the crime in the city but on the other end it’s keeping parents away from kids, abolishing most of the middle class and almost regressing itself back to the economic climate we saw in Batman Begins. Which is why Bane’s plan works so well. People are afraid, fear breeds anger and anger breeds rash actions…like joining with Bane.
So from a solid thematic standpoint, we’ve seen the setup of Bane and Catwoman being direct opposition for Batman. But what about the rest of the film?
Well Christian Bale is still fantastic in this role. I’ve never had any problems with him in these films. He makes the entire pit sequence interesting just by delivering some great lines and giving a great performance of someone who has to “Become something more” See what I did there?
I’ve always said that Michael Caine was terribly underused in this film and I still believe that but now I understand why. He’s meant to show that this Bruce Wayne has nothing, he lost Rachel, he lost his hope because of Harvey, he blames himself for Jim Gordon’s injuries and now he’s about to lose Alfred. Does this work for this film? Yes. Would I have done it differently? Absolutely.
Remember this exchange: Bruce – “You still haven’t given up on me”
Alfred – “Never”
It’s beautiful, it’s special and it’s completely undone by the characters actions in the third film. I understand that’s the point but it still upsets me every time I watch it. Alfred never leaves. “Never”
John Blake is a new character that I want to love because Joseph Gordon Levitt is great but he makes some pretty stupid decisions in this film. Granted, yes most of them are done because he’s still learning but still, he throws the handgun away because Guns are bad but the next time you see him he has a shotgun. That will never not annoy me. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen who he became at the end of the film. Nightwing? New Batman? Something else entirely?
Now we get to the final point of the film and my least favorite part of it, Talia Al Ghul. Now you might be thinking that either I don’t like Marion Cotillard or that I don’t like that it changes things from the comics but that’s not the case because Cotillard is amazing and absolutely gorgeous in this film and I don’t care if they change things as long as it makes sense…which this doesn’t. Talia’s origin with Bane is just convoluted at best but I can get past that, what I can’t get past is her motivation. She wants to fulfill her father’s dream and destroy Gotham which I’m fine with until she explains that she hated her father because he cast Bane out of the League Of Shadows. So why does she want to fulfill her father’s destiny? Well her direct quote to Bruce: “I hated my father, until you killed him” doesn’t make sense at all. So that’s why Talia always annoys me in this film.
My other complaint is fairly minor due to it being circumstantial and that is that you don’t have to see The Dark Knight to watch this movie. As long as you know that Rachel and Harvey died then you have everything you need to know from that film. Now the reason I don’t complain as much about that is of course due to Heath Ledger’s untimely passing forcing them to build a new story and not wanting to cheapen his performance by making it nothing more than a passing reference.
Overall I love the themes in this film and the performances are just perfect. The opening scene is never not interesting, the fight sequence where Bane is just destroying Batman is beautifully shot and has some great dialogue, if you can understand it, from Hardy and the ending may not be the perfect Batman ending but it’s the perfect Nolan ending and it’s the one we deserve.