Film Discussion

The Dark Knight Rises – Throwback 10

Looking back at the Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman films it’s hard to believe that there was a point where people looked at these films with anything but respect. Despite it having been eight years since Batman & Robin came out, there was still some confusion around at the time when Batman Begins was being promoted. Some people were claiming that it was a part of the canon of the previous movies, which put some people off, and even those who knew that it wasn’t still had a lingering bad taste in their mouth from the previous live action outing.

This was still a few years away from the release of Iron-Man, and the other comic book movies at the time were a hugely mixed bag in both quality and tone. People didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, Batman Begins wowed audiences who saw it, and a sequel was soon on the way. And just as with the first film, people judged the sequel harshly before it came out, decrying the casting of Heath Ledger as The Joker. But after The Dark Knight was released people finally got the message: this was a series of films where you should just trust the director, because he got Batman. Unfortunately, The Dark Knight Rises, the one film in the trilogy no one was worried about before it was released, proved to be where the trilogy stumbled at the final hurdle.

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According to interviews and behind the scenes books, the plan for the third film in the series was put into place before the second was even made, with The Joker set to play a big part in the final film, essentially giving the character a two film arc. However, following the untimely death of Heath Ledger, this plan fell through. Nolan didn’t simply want to recast the character, and felt that a complete new story would be needed. The studio asked him to return for the third film, pushing for the villain The Riddler to be the main antagonist, feeling that he was close to The Joker, and would recapture some of the magic of the second film.

Nolan refused, stating that the film would need something vastly different from its predecessors to stand on its own, and decided that Bane would be the villain of the final film. Taking inspiration from several comics, including Batman: Knight Fall, and Batman: No Man’s Land, Nolan and the film’s writers came up with a story that would push this version of Batman to his limits.

The film picks up several years after the events of the second, with Batman (Christian Bale) having vanished following the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) kept the crimes of Dent, including murder, a secret, pinning blame on Batman, so as to prevent Dent’s work from being undone, and a number of criminals being released onto the street. Whilst organised crime in Gotham has been almost completely eradicated, a secret figure known as Bane (Tom Hardy) has begun to form a network of criminals and terrorists beneath the streets of the city.

Bane, using go-betweens, hires the cat-thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) to steal the fingerprints of Bruce Wayne in order to commit an attack on the city’s stock exchange, which ends up leaving Bruce bankrupt, and having to give over his control of Wayne Enterprises. All this was done in order to allow Bane access to a new kind of reactor, which he in turn alters into a nuclear bomb. When Batman tries to stop Bane, he’s badly beaten, and left with a broken back. Blowing up all of the bridges and tunnels into Gotham, Bane declares the city his own kingdom, promising to destroy the city if anyone interferes.

Photo by Ron Phillips – © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding LLC

The plot for The Dark Knight Rises is pretty convoluted, and seems to be trying to be the exact opposite of the previous film, where the villain had no real plan, acting like a force of chaos. Bane instead plans out every detail, and has multiple schemes running at once. Whilst not completely awful, it does make for a film that at times feels a little bloated and overly long. But this is not the biggest sin of the movie. It seems that in between making the last two films in the trilogy Christopher Nolan forgot everything about how these characters are supposed to act.

Commissioner Gordon broke the law. He lied, he committed crimes, and he acted in a corrupt manner. It doesn’t matter that he did so for a good reason, he still subverted the law and lied. This is something that feels completely antithetical to everything about the character. He’s a man who never did wrong, who always stood against corruption, who believed in the law and what’s right. And Nolan made him a corrupt cop. Over the course of the film Alfred (Michael Caine) gives up on Bruce. He stops supporting him, he turns his back on the man who is essentially his son, and walks away. This is so far from who Alfred is it’s kind of insulting. In every comic, every adaptation, Alfred has always stood by Bruce. He may not always have approved, he may have sometimes called him out, but he was always there to protect and help his son; walking away like he does in this film is against everything that Alfred is.

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Then there’s Batman himself. Batman is a character born from tragedy, a man who made a vow to never let anyone else go through the pain that he did, who vowed to stop criminals and the corrupt so that he could make the world a better place. His mission became his life, to the point where Bruce Wayne was the costume he wore, and Batman was who he was. And Nolan made his version of Batman give up not just once, but twice. Batman saves the day and runs away forever by the end of the movie, and that just feels wrong. The comics have shown us that this would never happen, to the point where he’d be working from the Bat-Cave, directing his replacement when he’s too old to go out and fight himself. Batman would never give up, and Nolan didn’t get that basic fact about the character.

The Dark Knight Rises was supposed to be this grand, epic conclusion to the ‘best’ Batman films. And it wasn’t. The characters were mismanaged and badly written to the point they might as well not have been the characters they were supposed to be. The plot was all over the place, and made little sense when you stopped to think about it. And whilst the acting and action was fine enough, without a decent story and decent characterisation it resulted in very little. The Dark Knight Rises was not have been the conclusion of the trilogy Nolan had in mind, and it shows through in a film that feels ill thought out, and often poorly executed.

The Dark Knight Rises was released in the UK on 9th July 2012.


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