When working on The Dark Knight Rises, a movie about Batman, the Nolans forgot one minor detail. Batman. The Caped Crusader doesn’t show up until about 50 minutes it and shows up so incompetently that he might as well not have. It’s only 2 hours in that Batman actually arrives and that’s also the point at which The Dark Knight Rises become a watchable movie instead of a montage of violent scenes and shots of Christina Bale brooding in the dark.
Rarely have a superhero’s appearances felt like a cameo in his own movie. But The Dark Knight Rises, like The Dark Knight, isn’t really about Batman. It’s about how we rise and fall and how we solemnly talk about rising and falling. It’s not really about anything. Like artsy commercials, it’s a really expensive way of getting your attention and then once it has your attention, The Dark Knight Rises has nothing to say.
While the last two movies ended with Batman doing his shadowy thing, The Dark Knight Rises begins with no Batman and Christian Bale living alone and walking around with a cane. Something that he’s been doing for years. The way the story is usually told, Batman broods and Bruce Wayne puts on a grin and goes to parties. There’s a reason why the story is usually told that way and it’s not just because Christian Bale can’t act and can barely get by with a dopey playboy, but is completely unwatchable as a moper.
No the reason is because that character, the one who spends almost two hours of The Dark Knight Rises whining, is not the one that people want to see. It’s not just the whining. This version of Batman is almost superhumanly stupid. No I take that back, he is superhumanly stupid. This Batman has worse combat skills than Catwoman and has trouble figuring out how to get into his own mansion. His detective skills instantly enable him to deduce that Catwoman is after his fingerprints, they just don’t lead him to disable any forms of authorization that depend on his fingerprints or pass them along to a proxy. After noticing this interesting factoid, he doesn’t do anything about it except unsuccessfully ask Catwoman why she stole his prints. The man who is capable of immediately detecting a plot to steal his fingerprints never considers what things out there might require his fingerprint authorization.
But that’s okay because this is also a movie where all the good guys are superhumanly stupid too.
Just to get your head around this level of stupidity, no one on the Gotham Police Force believes Commissioner Gordon when he describes being attacked by Bane, even though Bane was being hunted by the CIA and had managed to kill a number of officers. After walking into one explosive trap in the sewers set by Bane, the Gotham PD dispatches thousands of police officers, most wearing no protective gear, clumped closely together into the sewer. There they fall victim to another explosive trap. In the culmination of their role, the Gotham police charge unarmed at Bane’s gang who are armed with machine guns.
In possibly the worst piece of stupidity in this entire movie, the Gotham police and Lucius Fox are aware that the nuclear bomb will go off anyway. Instead of getting on the radio and conveying this information to the outside world so that the US Army will step in and liberate Gotham, they only tell it to a few special forces officers who get killed right away, which leads the military to blockade Gotham.
In The Dark Knight, the Joker was an evil genius. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane isn’t a genius. He just has a gift for being in the right place at the right time. His enemies just happen to be retarded.
Total creative control can be a bad thing. It’s a very bad thing in the case of The Dark Knight Rises which is too long and too pointless. About half of its problems could have been fixed with some major cuts to the first act, which feels like a long slow commercial for a product that you really don’t want to buy. The other half could have been fixed by nuking the whole project from orbit.
There are unnecessary flashbacks to the previous movies that don’t contribute anything to this movie even if you didn’t see the previous movies; the exception to this is the flashback to Gordon with a young Bruce Wayne. And then there’s the dialogue which consists of blocks of emotive speeches that might work in a play but sound ridiculous in a movie. Every actor gets to deliver his or her own soliloquy. And the dialogue handed to them veers between the ponderous and the cliched. “His only crime was that he loved me” is an actual line of dialogue in the movie.
It’s all too easy to point out what’s wrong with The Dark Knight Rises. There’s three bad accents, from the occasionally incomprehensible Tom Hardy as Bane, Marion Cotillard’s nearly equally horrible accent and Christian Bale doing his usual ridiculous Batman voice. But the really incomprehensible part is the plot.
The plot for The Dark Knight Rises looks like it never got past the scene cards stage. It’s stupid and too complicated at the same time. Sure Gotham could just happen to have a nuclear reactor nearby, but instead we have to spend 15 minutes discussing a Wayne fusion reactor project and why he shut it down. Bane’s backstory is equally messy and told in the most complicated way possible. Nothing goes from A to B if it can instead get there by way of F.
The degree of improbable events and coincidences are even worse. Bane discovers that Harvey Dent was a madman when he finds a speech admitting the lie by Gordon who had just been carrying it around with him. Blake figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman because he saw that Bruce Wayne is angry on the inside. No seriously, that’s it.
There are great moments in The Dark Knight Rises and the movie picks up once Bane seizes control of Gotham and fully comes to life when the true villain is revealed. But it’s hobbled by the same old problems. Nolan still can’t direct action and the movies are too long, but this time there are no saving graces. There are hardly any ideas in The Dark Knight Rises worth discussing. There are no moments here to compare to the ferry scene or the hospital scene in The Dark Knight. And the movie, like Bale, spends too much time alone in a dark room.
There are good ideas somewhere in the script. Turning the Lazarus Pit into a hole in the ground prison had potential. Forcing Bruce Wayne to learn to walk and climb out of his prison also had promise. Even the takeover of Gotham occasionally works. But unlike The Dark Knight, we don’t really get to see much of the ordinary people grappling with the moral dilemmas posed to them, and Bane shouts a lot about the people, but we have no idea how the people react to it.
Moving Batman’s defeat up to the first act, instead of spending hours wallowing in Bale’s misery, and then playing out the takeover, might have made for a stronger movie. But this is the movie we got. It’s not the movie we need, but maybe it’s the movie we deserve.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a standout performance and steals major chunks of the movie. I wouldn’t have said it before, but if WB decides to replace Bale with him, it would be a major improvement. Anne Hathaway isn’t completely terrible, but she is out of her league and her performance is uneven. The role she’s supposed to be playing is street, but she can never sell it. Marion Cotillard is irritating until you realize why she’s in the movie. And that provides the only surprise and one of the few strong moments in the film. It’s Nolan’s prestige act, but it’s also all he has to offer.
There might be a good movie lurking in The Dark Knight Rises. A good edit might even bring it out. And had The Dark Knight not achieved mythical levels of success, WB wouldn’t have let The Dark Knight Rises out of the gate in this condition. But it did and the critics are in no mood to talk about any of the shortcomings of an inevitable film.
The Dark Knight Rises is brilliant because it must be, because everyone says it is.