The Dark Knight Rises is the third and final film in what is now being called the Dark Knight trilogy. It wraps up the plotlines that had been introduced in Batman Begins and puts everything nicely back in its box. This review contains massive spoilers – don’t read unless you’ve seen the film or don’t care about the ending/plot…
The basic plotline of The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) is that Batman has been absent for 8-years. In that time Police Commissioner Gordon has used Harvey Dent’s death to push through the Dent Act, an anti-crime bill that has virtually cleaned up the city. However, to do that he and Batman had to let the public believe that Batman was responsible for Dent’s crimes and his murder. Bruce Wayne is a virtual recluse until his crosses wits with a cat burglar in Wayne Manor. He identifies her as Selina Kyle and through his investigation begins to regain some of the spark and drive that he had as Batman. Bruce is finally called man up when it turns out that Kyle had been hired by a corporate conspiracy that is attempting to seize control of Wayne Enterprises. Things rapidly degenerate for Batman and Gotham as the conspiracy is seized from within by its own mercenaries. This group, led by Bane, are the bastard offspring of the League of Shadows from the first film and have returned to fulfil Ra’s al Ghul’s plan to destroy Gotham City.
TDKR is a seamless blend of several major comic book stories. The basic structure is lifted from the Dark Knight Returns — Bruce Wayne’s a virtual recluse, Batman’s vanished, something brings him out of retirement and it ends with his assumed death. The actual event that brings him out of retirement is Bane’s assault on Gotham. This is a blending of Knightfall — Bane, the breaking of Batman’s back, Alfred leaving — and No Man’s Land. That latter story is minned to give the details of what happens whilst Bane is in control of the City. Then woven throughout the film we have a story arc of John Blake, a police officer who believes in the missing Batman. His is virtually Tim Drake’s story — kid who recognises Batman, tries to talk sense into Bruce Wayne, ends up working for him — but, there are also elements of Batman Beyond with the succession elements.
All that mashes together to give something that plays surprisingly tightly. What is obvious, however, is that this is the third part of a trilogy. I’d re-watched Batman Begins the day before, but I ran out of time to re-watch the middle film. Even that partial catch-up was rewarded as many beats and themes from the first time are revisited and paid-off. The supporting cast carries a lot of the film as Batman spends a surprisingly short amount of time on-screen. However, this doesn’t feel like the villain heavy 1990s films. The focus is on Bruce, just not on Batman.
I heard the online criticism of Bane’s voice, but I hadn’t heard it until I saw the real film. I assume they’ve taking those comments into account as I found his voice very audible and easy to understand. Too easy to understand at times. His voice didn’t seem like it was coming from the events we were seeing — almost like a bad foreign language dub. Bane is as crazy as most of Batman’s other foes, but he’s far more in control of his own actions. That means he’s able to stay interesting enough to hold together a 3-hour story far better than some of the compulsive-obsessives from Arkham. Three hours of the Riddler would do your head in; 3-hours of Bane is tolerable.
Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, she’s never called Catwoman, works well within the Nolanverse. She’s competent, skilled, and isn’t directed by a former Hair Dresser. I really liked her intelligence and style. I also liked the way that they underplayed her sensuality — she can use her beauty as a weapon when she needs to, but it’s not something that defines her. She’s a grown-up woman and not the “kitten” that the comic book Selina is often reduced to. Her story arc isn’t lifted from any particular story that I can tell, but there are definite nods to things in the comics. Holly appears from Batman Year One and there is reference to the neighbourhood that she protected for a time.
TDKR is a Christopher Nolan Batman film so it has all the strengths and all the weakness of his other Batman films have. The supporting cast is excellent, Christian Bale is great as Bruce Wayne, it’s all very grounded, etc. That said the film isn’t perfect. I’d say this was a solid 4-star film and not a 5-starrer. What’s always been a problem for me is Bale’s Batman. All the shadows stuff and the ninja stuff is fine, but he doesn’t have the presence that I feel Batman should have. The shouty/growly voice just doesn’t sound right to me — maybe they should get Kevin Conroy to overdub all his Batman scenes.
So hail and farewell the Dark Knight Trilogy. Whoever takes over this franchise can’t hope to do a better “real world” Batman so I hope they don’t try. I’d like it if they just side-stepped the origin and jumped straight into a fairly straight Batman story. Maybe picking up a few tips from the Arkham games, the Bruce Timm cartoons, and the Grant Morrison comics.