As Christopher Nolan’s legacy with the DC Comics franchise comes to a close, I can’t help but revel in the previous films’ greatness. Batman Begins was an incredibly solid tale of how Bruce Wayne, a tormented young man passionately driven by revenge and, more correctly, fear, found a way to take that fear (along with his infinite wealth) to save Gotham City from turmoil. Then The Dark Knight stretched our minds at how the Joker, chaos in the form of man, could simultaneously show the best and worst of humanity, leaving Batman to use his intelligence and skills as a detective to crack the case.
But as we know with all of Nolan’s films, nothing is forever. Eight years after the Joker nearly destroyed Gotham, Batman is an outlaw and hasn’t been seen publicly since that dark day. Harvey Dent, former assistant district attorney turned agent-of-revenge and the king of randomness Two Face, is hailed a hero with a day commemorating his saving the city. The police joke how the city is so clean of crime they’ll soon be investigating late library book returns. And Gotham’s billionaire playboy sits mourning in his mansion for his lost love, only keeping fit for the day that his city will need his true self again.
Yet following up fear and chaos with pain, as Nolan has stated, is a very hard thing to do, especially on a budget of PG-13 (likely a requirement of DC Comics). Fear, after all, is the primary fuel for Batman in the first film, and Chaos is unforgettable thanks to Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance as the Joker in the second. But Tom Hardy’s amazing performance as Bane leaves much to be desired regarding pain. Bane is a nearly invincible fighting machine, a thinking killer with the wit and muscle to stand toe-to-toe with Batman and win. The resounding reason: “he was born in the shadows,” he came from pain and lives pain. And while that makes such logical sense, and gives the audience a reason to understand and appreciate Bane’s plight, we never do for two simple reasons:
Bane is too much of a badass, and all of the other drama distracts the audience from the aspect of pain entirely.
In so many respects, The Dark Knight Rises fails to keep viewers engaged because of the sheer depth of plot points worth noting. The story is simple, but too long, too much. At 2:44, it’s the longest Batman film and at least half an hour too long, period. Wayne’s struggle with wealth, his hermit lifestyle after losing the love of his life, even Commissioner Gordon going after a single detective to help for the fight…these are all excessive, and they only add minutes that can’t be taken away. When it’s said that less is more, in this case it certainly is. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight had very little fat to trim; The Dark Knight Rises has so very much.
Further, Bane’s character is one that shows no real weakness because he isn’t really human. The only fault, if it can be called that, is his love of Talia Al Ghul, discovered with only a few minutes left for the film. Her character reveal and the revelation of it is so much to take in, and so sudden, that it’s unbelievable, and not in the good way. For Bane, it made the character unstoppable except by a gun; unbeatable by Batman. For Talia, her abrupt entrance and exit as the true villain of the film feels like a cheap trick on the audience, a ha-ha just for laughs with limited reason or merit except to blind us to Batman’s ultimate demise.
There is so much trickery in the film, that I find it hard to believe that Nolan was at the helm. His past films, especially Inception, The Dark Knight, and Memento were so perfectly crafted that his signature was that perfection. The Dark Knight Rises, however, is riddled with misgivings and errors and nonsensical events. The recent Batman films strength has come from incredible acting from remarkable characters, and stories that put those characters into action. This time the characters are here, but the story isn’t. It’s almost entirely reactionary.
Then there’s Batman’s greatest appeal to Gotham: that anyone can be Batman, that anyone can be an irrevocable rock against injustice, that anyone can stand for what is right. The whole ordeal is very V for Vendetta, without the poetic charm. And almost no one listens. Everyone is too self absorbed with the curiosity of who Batman really is, except for those elite few who already know. His constant plea that “Batman can be anyone” constantly falls on deaf ears, and the constant distractions make it easy to forget that while the major theme of the film is pain (which is equally easy to miss), that ‘anyone can be Batman’ is the message. Somehow Nolan allowed that message to be clouded in the grip of details, instead of every second of film devoted entirely to it.
The appeal, however, remains. The action is as good as ever, even if it is so rare. Besides for being the Inception reunion, the characters are excellent. Costume design, setting, cinematography, and nearly every technical aspect of the film is top-notch. In the end, moviegoers and Batman fans don’t get an almost fanatic love for Batman or his message; we leave with no message at all, no meaning to gain, and nothing to leave the feeling with. No relief, no questions, no real closure, just the end of this era of the dark knight. This isn’t the Batman we wanted, or needed. It’s just the one we got. And perhaps the true people of Gotham, and everyone, deserved better.