Following The Dark Knight, which is arguably one of the greatest comic book films, was always going to be an unenviable task for Christopher Nolan and his team. That the conclusion of the trilogy had to be almost entirely repurposed after the tragedy of Heath Ledger‘s death meant that his original premise for Batman’s three-film arc was never going to be completed. In that respect, The Dark Knight Rises feels like a movie that didn’t really know what story it wanted to tell, and suffered as a result.
We begin with the canonization of Harvey Dent as a hero by the Gotham City Police Department after his death trying to stop Batman, which we know is a lie given the events of the previous film. Harvey was the Joker’s ace in the hole, and he was meant to bring Gotham crumbling down. In Rises, we see Gary Oldman‘s Commissioner Gordon desperately to make things right. His role is perfectly summarized in the line “I have to save Dent” from the previous entry; manic depression and all. Sadly, The Dark Knight Rises really doesn’t do his arc justice. His role is seemingly reduced by quite a bit and is cast to the side for other characters.
Speaking of, we meet Anne Hathaway‘s take on Selina Kyle doing what she does best, trying to rob Bruce Wayne. He easily tracks her down to start their dysfunctional relationship from the comics. However, putting aside the missed opportunity that this Selina Kyle is never presented as Carmine Falcone’s daughter, Anne plays her like a socialist who wants the wealthy class to get what’s coming to her. It’s a very weird turn if you compare it to her character in the comics. While I get that directors update and adapt characters as they see fit, Nolan still kept recognizable elements in his last two entries. This time around d, it just doesn’t work as well as it could’ve, and I can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t even meant to be part of this story.
Let’s turn our attention to the real villain in the story: how it wasted Marian Cotillard as Talia Al Ghul. The reveal is supposed to act as a gut punch but is telegraphed throughout the entire film. Furthermore, she’s never really built up as a threat. Even though she managed to steal Bruce’s company from him, cut Gotham off from the rest of the world in a half-assed take on No Man’s Land, and threatened to end the entire city, I never bought that she could pull this off.
There are, however, some bright spots in the film. Tom Hardy taking on the role of Bane was an inspired choice, especially in him breaking the bat. This is a historic moment in the comics, and Hardy sells the threat that his character represents. Even with his weird accent, he is incredibly quotable to this day. He’s not angry with Bruce. This isn’t personal to him. He’s just disappointed in Bruce. Their fight in the sewers is brutal, as there’s no music playing, and all we hear are Bruce’s bones cracking. He does his best Frazier impression but Bane delivers the Ali-like beating.
Of course, we can’t forget the titular Dark Knight. Christian Bale is one of the better actors of his generation, and he carries this film more than anyone else. Yet, Nolan seems to have trouble fitting Bruce into this story. He makes him disappear from Gotham to rehab his broken back in and tries to sell us on him healing up within a short span of time to return to Gotham. Keep in mind, he has no assets at this point in the film: it’s why he had to sell his company to Talia Al Ghul. Even with those restrictions, he still offers a cunning performance.
This time around, he does get a sidekick in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s character. Yes, he has a name but they make it a point to call him Robin later on and he was clearly being set up to be a version of Nightwing. However, the pain he feels when describing how the Wayne Foundation deserted the less fortunate and how betrayed he was when Gordon lied still hit hard. He, also, isn’t jaded by what he’s seen and still believes that Gotham can be saved. It would’ve been exciting to see Nolan try to crack a film starring a rookie Nightwing living in the shadow of Batman.
If there is one thing the film nailed better than the previous entry is in its action choreography. The police taking on the League of Shadows is filmed beautifully, and the modified Batwing scenes fighting the repurposed Batmobiles are a blast. With most of the finale’s action shot in the daytime– quite a departure from the two previous entries–you really get to see every punch.
When I watched this in theatres 10 years ago, I tweeted “Nolan did it.” At the time I meant killing Batman. I’m still of the belief that Alfred was imagining everything and nothing more in that Italian Cafe. I didn’t think Warner Bros. would let him kill one of the most iconic DC heroes, but Nolan had the cache to really do as he pleases with the character. While rewatching the film for this review, I find myself annoyed at some of the choices he made. He sadly didn’t end the trilogy on a high note all of us hoped for. It’s still the best Batman trilogy, but something tells me Matt Reeves might have something to say about that soon.