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MOVIE REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Messy, way too long, and with far too many missteps and misguided elements, Nolan’s final chapter in the rebooted Batman franchise still remains watchable because of its outstanding cast and several breathtaking sequences.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Batman is called back into service eight years after taking blame for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent to save Gotham City from the psychotic Bane, and enlists the help of the mysterious jewel thief Selena Kyle.


  Visually stunning, with outstanding performances by the leads and supporting cast; incredible action sequences.
Underdeveloped ideas and story; overlong; intrusion of science fiction elements breaks the tone of the series.

Despite the incredible high-tech gadgets, powerful souped-up vehicles, and near-magical ability of his utility belt to rescue him from any nefarious jam (much like Doctor Who twisting the knobs of his sonic screwdriver to turn any series of unfortunate events, ultimately, to his benefit), Batman is not, and never has been, part of the science fiction universe.  Large though his shadow looms over the ever-growing corner of genre populated by four-color heroes of a far more fantastic bent (from orphaned alien Superman to Amazon Wonder Woman, from laboratory success Captain America to super-science accidents Hulk and Spider-Man, incredible and amazing or not), Bob Kane’s seminal creation shares far more in common with the crime fighters of The Strand or Black Mask, a Sherlock Holmes in cape and cowl, a Continental Op who goes down the noir mean streets in operatic fashion.

Director Christopher Nolan understands this, which makes his take on Batman intriguing.  The Gotham City of Batman Begins takes place in an urban cityscape built on the foundations of the collective unconscious.  By The Dark Knight Rises, his final chapter in Warner Brothers’ rebooted franchise, Nolan breaks down the buffer separating Gotham and New York City (it was obviously Chicago in The Dark Knight) in what occasionally seems like a reverse nod to Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, where Paris stands in for the obvious titular dystopian city.  His take on Bruce Wayne (again played by Christian Bale), too, shows more familiarity with the “blonde Satan” of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and ennui of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe than with any of his previous media iterations.  The artistry on display from his creative team always worked in the series’ favor.  The Avengers may match it for epic scale, but The Dark Knight Rises wants to be more than just the greatest, most epic comic book movie ever made: it wants to be the form’s Citizen Kane, its The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, its (and given the 165-minute running time, you can’t really escape the comparison) Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Lofty ambitions.  And make no mistake: Nolan deserves credit for aspiring to a kind of geek Akira Kurosawa or Stanley Kubrick rather than Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams (or post–Raiders of the Lost Ark Steven Spielberg).  While his goals worked brilliantly in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, his vision obstructs The Dark Knight Rises to such a degree that, while still providing several great scenes and some meaty themes and ideas, it reverts back to the murk and pretension of Tim Burton’s Batman, and exacerbates the problems with Nolan’s previous entries.  By turns undercooked and overheated, it wants to rise like its title, but too often lurches.  It wants to wow (and when it does…wow), but usually frustrates.

Consider the opening sequence, in which Bane’s small army rescues him from a CIA plane in mid-flight.  An airplane drops cables and tows the fuselage as cultists launch an aerial assault that seems lifted right out of a never-made James Bond movie (if EON has any sense, it will sign Nolan up for the next 007 effort, pronto), thus initiating the bulk of the action.  Breathtaking though the sequence is (and on an IMAX screen it is breathtaking indeed), it never erases from memory the interrogation of three prisoners suddenly brought onto the plane.  The officer in charge (Aidan Gillen) questions them on Bane’s (Tom Hardy, bulked up, pate-shaved, and wearing a mask feeding him painkillers, all but unrecognizable) location, but never bothers removing their hoods.  Sorry, no; that’s the first thing a CIA officer would do, and unfortunately is indicative of the comic-book plotting hampering the Brothers Nolan’s script.  (Nolan and his brother John wrote the screenplay from a story by David S. Goyer and Nolan.)  And yet, unless the prisoners wear their hoods, the scene simply doesn’t work.

Bane, a former member of the vigilante League of Shadows—according to Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), disavowed by its leader Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson in a cameo) for being too extreme—plans to do what the League could not in Batman Begins: destroy Gotham City, a symbol of decadence and corruption, once and for all, first by breaking the Batman and sending him to the pit where he was (according to legend) born and raised.  Then he cuts off Gotham from law enforcement and the trappings of civilization (in a sequence that brings new meaning to the term shock and awe), thereby letting its citizens tear each other apart, and then with the rapidly decaying core of a fusion reactor developed by Wayne Enterprises, which Bane keeps in a truck driving around Gotham’s deserted city streets.  The scenario provides Nolan with the perfect opportunity to pull out all of the apocalyptic stops; some of it works, as when a makeshift judiciary holds Swiftian court hearing (presided over by psychiatrist Jonathan Crane, once again played by Cilian Murphy), yet it also smacks of the cozy catastrophes of John Wyndham.  Though the city has been under siege for months, obviously everybody is getting enough to eat because nobody incites a food riot, and no trash lines the streets.  Nolan pulls his punches when he should see them through.

Why would Bane be so obsessed with the destruction of Gotham?  Since the death of Harvey Dent eight years ago (the movie’s time-frame since The Dark Knight) and the subsequent disappearance of the Batman, Gotham City’s crime has dropped dramatically.  Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman), eaten by the guilt at letting Batman take the blame for Dent’s death, seems to want Deputy Commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine) to replace him.  Bruce Wayne has mothballed the tumbler and the Batcave and gone full-tilt Howard Hughes recluse…until thief Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) attempts to steal his mother’s necklace.  (It’s the comic-book movie’s version of Meet Cute, and one of The Dark Knight Rises’ high points.)

Her fire and sex appeal incite him in a way that a prospective relationship with clean-energy socialite Miranda (Marion Cotillard) does not.  Then a body is discovered in the sewers, leading “hotshot” cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to uncover, in pretty short order, Bruce Wayne’s alter ego, Bane’s plot, and ultimately, as Gotham City tears itself apart, to assist the Batman in the final confrontation.

Though a lot happens in The Dark Knight Rises, too much of it drags.  Its more than two-and-a-half-hour running time should give it a degree of depth and breadth akin to Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City, yet the ideas never coalesce.  Too many of its political ideas languish under a lack of real thought, and one key plot element seemingly comes out of nowhere.  Problematic, too, is the inclusion of more science fictional vehicles; in the period during Batman’s semi-retirement, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) develops tumbling wheels for the Batpod and an air vehicle called simply the Bat.  Both attempt to up the movie’s wow factor, but they clash with the fastidious verisimilitude that grounded The Dark Knight.  Even the movie’s time-frame makes little sense, and begs more questions.  One wonders why, in the eight years since the events of the previous entry, nobody mentions the Joker, or that he has even tried to escape from Arkham Asylum.  (Yes, I know Heath Ledger died shortly after filming The Dark Knight, but his villainous clown is not even mentioned.)

For all of its many faults, however, The Dark Knight Rises shows flashes of pleasure, and occasional grandeur.  The cast, as usual, turns in outstanding performances, with Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt standing out.  (Hathaway steals each scene she’s in, and looks stunning in the catsuit.)  The sequence in which Wayne must heal and drag himself out of the pit where Bane resided for so long may go on too long, And when the final battle comes between Batman and Bane, it shows off the epic brutality one would hope.  It gives glimpses of the great movie buried under the pretty good one.

14 Comments on MOVIE REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

  1. TheAdlerian // July 20, 2012 at 4:04 am //

    Batman, as a stand alone character, is science fiction and almost comes close to hard SF. That’s because, potentially, his gear and detection techniques could possible. He’s a science fiction ninja.

    I haven’t seen the film yet, so I’ll wait to respond further.

  2. Thanks, Derek.

    I plan to see this tonight.

  3. TheAdlerian // July 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm //

    As a side note, I live right by the theater where the people were killed.

    I really wanted to go to the midnight show, but told my wife about the reviewer death threats and felt people were too charged up about the film. I still wanted to go a little, thinking it was stupid to not, but she was concerned and we didn’t go. In the end I thought it a good idea and planned to push it off to Sunday.

    I am extremely grateful for paranoia.

  4. TheAdlerian // July 20, 2012 at 8:08 pm //


    I went for a bike ride to blow off the tension from the day and the area is very quiet with a sad tone, but several people went out of their way to say “hello” like they’re happy we’re all alive.

    My spirits were boosted a bit.

  5. Urstoff // July 21, 2012 at 8:21 pm //

    The Bat(wing) isn’t much more science-fictional than the rotating-wheel motorcycle from The Dark Knight (and also in this movie) or the “cell-phone as radar” gimmick from TDK (or Scarecrow’s drugs, or, or, etc.).

    Also, the opening scene is such an amazing set piece that I can forgive the minor plot hole.

    In general, it’s 2 and a half hours plus with not a single minute wasted; I think it may be better than TDK (an amazing feat in itself), but that judgment will have to wait until after repeated viewings.

  6. TheAdlerian // July 22, 2012 at 12:39 am //

    Weird Plot Hole!

    I couldn’t believe the odd knee brace problem.

    Knee Damage: They made a big point of telling us Bruce’s knee had no cartilage, which means the bones would grind and cause pain and lack of flexibility.

    Electronic Knee Brace: Bruce gets the brace and it supports his knee perfectly. HE CAN KICK THROUGH A BRICK WALL WITH IT.

    Bruce Fights Bane: Bane damages Batman’s back and sends him to the prison stripped of his suit and the knee brace.

    SUDDENLY: He has no knee problem, doesn’t need the brace and is climbing and jumping around!

    That’s definitely a plot hole and a WEIRD one.

    I’m wondering if they had planned to put Batman in a full exoskeleton, like a version of the knee brace to fight Bane, then decided that would be “cheating” for Batman.

    It seems odd to me that they would make a big deal out of telling us Bruce had a destroyed body, then show us the brace, THEN completely forget about it. Very strange since fans would be watching all of it like hawks.

    Also, he fights Bane with the super kicking power leg and doesn’t use it and loses, which is another logic error.


    • Warning: Possible Spoilers

      I agree that the knee brace problem seemed like a plot hole. But my view is that I only noticed it after the movie was well and truly over.

      Plot holes can be forgiven, in my opinion, if they serve a purpose and if they are minor enough to be overlooked until after the movie is finished. Bruce Wayne starts from an extremely low point physically, and this is clearly the script’s purpose in giving Batman a bum knee. His body is then supported by the brace. He then fights Bane and gets the sh*t kicked out of him while relying on this physical crutch. Also, the real point of his loss with Bane in their first fight is that Batman is emotionally weak. Bane outclasses him physically, but more importantly, Bane outclasses him on an emotional level. He tells Batman that he has only adopted the dark (or words to that effect), while he was born in the dark. Look at how much talking Bane does about how he, Bane, was forged in the pit. That’s one of the major points of that confrontation.

      If you watch that fight scene, the really important stuff is what Bane says to Batman, effectively calling him weak. And at this stage of the film Batman is emotionally weak. But the point then is that Batman enters the world of the pit, the world that effectively created Bane, and comes to own it for himself. When he returns to Gotham, he has already conquered Bane’s world. He has triumphed in the very place that created Bane, the very place that Bane references so frequently as his source of strength during the first fight where he destroys Batman. When Batman returns to Gotham to face Bane, on one level he has already won. And we see that in the scene where Bane is in disbelief at how Batman escaped his prison.

      But in the scene where he finds himself, his physical problems all take a back seat to his personal soul searching about life and death and what he is fighting for. I can forgive the script issue with the knee because in the greater context while i was watching the movie, all I cared about was Batman getting out of the pit and finding his emotional conviction. Whatever part of my brain cared about the bum knee issue was completely overridden by the idea that his emotional soul searching would lead him to find the physical strength to repair his back, to make the impossible escape from the pit, to fix his ailing body, and to return to Gotham in a state that was fighting fit. With all those other obstacles at stake I completely didn’t care about the knee at the point in time that I was watching the movie.

      Now, I’m no Nolan or Batman fanboy, but I’m going to admit that I thought The Dark Knight Rises was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. In my opinion the script was brilliant. Okay, so I do sound like a fanboy when I say that, but that’s my twenty cents.

  7. TheAdlerian // July 22, 2012 at 11:58 pm //

    You’re incorrect.

    The film takes a lot of time to tell us that Bruce isn’t psychosomatically broken, but physically so, and they show us X-rays, driving the point home. Then, another point was made that he has a super knee brace, allowing him to kick through a wall. That’s an obvious lead in to using that brace for something later.

    He fights Bane, doesn’t use it and doesn’t even fail to use it, because the filmmaker forgot about it, or had to abandon the idea.

    Later in the prison, the beginning of the film all about Bruce’s complete bodily deterioration, with both knees ruined, is forgotten. Had Bruce’s declined state been psychological it would have made sense, but it did not.

    As I said, the knee brace was a harbinger of an exoskeleton to fight Bane. Batman used a similar device in the beginning of Dark Knight to bend a gun barrel, but it didn’t work well. So, there were signs in the past.

    The film was filled with plot holes and bizarre incomplete ideas. Bane punching through concrete, but yet not the super steroid guy from the comic. Bane injured in prison and the primitive prison doc hooking him up with some gas treatment that make no sense given their environment. Catwoman made no sense and it was bizarre that Batman even remotely liked her given her actions.

    The story was a good idea but the execution was really a one or two start film. I’m a fan, but not a delusional one.

    • “The film takes a lot of time to tell us that Bruce isn’t psychosomatically broken, but physically so, and they show us X-rays, driving the point home.”

      My point is that he is broken on an emotional level, and that supersedes the physical limitations. The movie makes a big point of what a psychologically busted unit he is at the beginning — the fact he hides in a wing of the house and has a maid bring his food into an empty room; the long speech Alfred gives him in the Batcave; the way he has become a recluse and lost touch with the humanitarian aspects of Wayne Industries. This is the primary focus of the beginning of the film in terms of Bruce Wayne.

      The cartilage issue is given a short, short scene with a doctor. Now, he’s only at the doctor’s so he can leap out the window and rappel down a building to see Commissioner Gordon. How much credence can we really give that doctor when Bruce immediately does everything the doctor would advise against? That scene doesn’t exist to drive home the point of Batman’s knee, that scene is there to do multiple things: build character (by showing how little Bruce takes the advice of doctors), and to move the plot (by providing an entrance into the conversation with Commisioner Gordon). What I was saying, was that in the larger plot, I didn’t notice the knee brace issue because it was peripheral to more important issues.

      In terms of Bruce using the knee brace to kick through the wall, it’s no big deal that it is not used later. Yes, it’s an issue, but it’s an issue of a minor nature because would the movie really be any better if he had used his super knee brace to kick Bane?

      I mean, I found it harder to accept the fact that Anne Hathaway suddenly knew how to ride the Bat Pod with the rotating wheels without any apparent training. But I forgave that too, because she’s Cat Woman. I didn’t find it bizarre that Batman liked Cat Woman. Cat Woman is aggressive, and very, very competent. She is the closest to an equal that Batman has encountered.

      The entire film is about how Bruce is not right psychologically until he has the epiphany inside the prison that allows him to escape. That’s why Alfred gave the speech in the Batcave and then the speech just before he leaves Bruce. These speeches are never about Bruce’s physical condition. Bruce is also heartbroken by Rachel’s death, and this comes to light several times. In this Batman universe he has retired for issues that have nothing to do with a physical decline, but everything to do with emotional issues.

  8. Without divulging much, I’ll say only that Dark Knight Rises had a very “Star Trek III” feel to it in that it worked very hard to undo all the bold and important choices and consequences that last film set up. The fact that Gordon, Alfred Fox and even Batman were absent for so much of the film also worked against it. There was a lot going on, but it never really cohered.

  9. Lots of great points in this review, especially about the motivation of the villains. Really, why did they want to destroy Gotham? My thoughts in that regard are here: I also linked to this review. Thanks, Derek!

  10. Spoilers follow…

    Since this is a superhero movie, I interpret some of the plot as symbolic. Bruce being hobbled by the knee damage to me seems like an outward sign of him being emotionally broken. Most of the movie’s characters are emotionally broken. Catwoman is the most obvious, who can’t trust anyone. Alfred feels like a failure. Blake talks to Bruce about the anger no one understands and talks of the mask he wears, which lends credence to the idea that Bruce’s mask is the Bruce Wayne persona. He lets that mask down only when he puts on the Batman cowl. This is partly why a relationship with someone like Catwoman makes sense because she actually gets to see the real man.

    The doctor’s litany of physical damage Bruce has accumulated showed that when Bruce is driven toward a goal, he’s able to power through most physical damage. Those injuries aren’t recent and he’s fought with them for a long time. This makes sense if you buy into the mental conditioning that would have gone along with the physical training he’s received.

    Since taking the rap for Dent’s death, though, Bruce has given up on the singular goal that drove him forward for years. In the absence of that goal, his injuries can’t be overlooked. The introduction and lack of a follow-through on the knee brace makes me wonder if we’ll see more of it in a sequel.

    What bugged me more was the “rock climbing wall” in Bayne’s prison. It wasn’t clear why prisoners had to make that leap instead of just climbing up the whole way. It’s not like the ledge went the whole way around the hole blocking a climber. As a major plot point, I thought that required more explanation.

  11. I loved the film, not so happy about the time lapse. Didnt care too much about Banes voice. Good review Derek.

    – H.Quinzzel

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