The Dark Knight Rises

TM & © DC Comics

CHRISTIAN BALE as Bruce Wayne in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' action thriller "THE DARK KNIGHT RISES," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. TM & © DC Comics. Photo by Ron Phillips

The challenge in writing a proper analysis of a sequel is in having the capacity to remove one’s self from the halo effect of beloved franchises. The problem with Christopher Nolan’s final installment in the DC Comics serial, owned by Warner Bros. since their 1969 acquisition of National Periodical Publications, is threefold: First, the film tugs at our heartstrings by borrowing heavily from the events of September 11, 2001. Second, The Dark Knight Rises exploits the emotionally charged attitude about the present climate of class warfare. Third, and perhaps most egregiously, Mr. Nolan seems to rest on the expectations of an audience already in love with the character of Batman. However, the trilogy’s center has always been Bruce Wayne’s personal journey. When the film focuses on the man, not the myth, it’s at its best. But these moments are fleeting.

The film picks up with Harvey Dent’s (Aaron Eckhart) funeral, in the aftermath of the middle chapter. But the picture abruptly shifts focus to the escaped prisoner, Bane (Tom Hardy), and some nebulous plot involving a nuclear physicist, Dr. Leonid Pavel (Alon Aboutboul), and a fusion reactor which he weaponizes into a nuclear bomb (Sound familiar? The filmmakers did this before, with municipal plumbing and a large vaporizer–beneficient technology twisted to malevolent purpose.). The plot becomes clearer as the picture progresses, but we gain no new insights on the central figure of Wayne. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, far too talented for this series) carries in his pocket a speech, intended to tell the people of Gotham who Harvey Dent had really become. He decides, perhaps appropriately, that it’s not the time. Gordon remains faithful to ideas that inspire hope.

Eight years have passed since the Batman fled. A scruffy, disheveled Bruce Wayne, battered and bruised from myriad altercations, now hobbles along with a cane. And somewhere out of this Howard Hughes parable (one character even offers a quip about fingernails and jars of urine) his stalwart servant, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), decides he can no longer watch the orphaned son of privilege remain withdrawn from the world. From here, the film collapses. Batman and his game of Chutes N’ Ladders with Gotham’s substrate of villains has never been the interesting facet of the series. The singular element to which everyone wishes to relate is Bruce Wayne and his fall from grace. It’s that story which gives heft to his resurrection as an incorruptible messiah. Superheroes generally have some kind of ability that puts them above and beyond the the physics of this world. But Bruce Wayne fascinates because he’s human and has flaws. He’s a philanthropist in a cape, minus the top hat.

The gold standard in the genre, of course, is Richard Donner’s Superman (1978). (Full disclosure: This was the first superhero film I’d seen on 35mm, setting the expectation for everything that followed.) If one cannot achieve the character depth that Mr. Donner did, he or she might as well skip the attempt. But part of what was at play, including the chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, was the origin story of Superman. You can’t beat the origin story of Batman in terms of emotional intensity. So Mr. Nolan and gang, it seems, have decided to “rip from the headlines” as they say in Law & Order parlance, which is the screenwriter’s method to dealing with abject laziness.

Let’s re-examine the three components I feel were a failure in a film that had the potential to be so much more than merely entertaining. In the first case, I don’t take direct issue with the appeal to post-9/11 emotions. It’s not, as they say, “Too soon,” to have that conversation. The problem I have lies in co-opting our emotions surrounding that moment to make us feel something that isn’t built independently by the story elements themselves. The Dark Knight Rises makes the connection all too evident when Bane and his gang of terrorists trigger citywide explosions, trapping three thousand police officers below ground. Later, as matters escalate, another familiar scene is invoked: a pair of fighter jets patrolling the island of Manhattan, err, Gotham. It’s extremely effective at eliciting emotions, but it feels cheap.

A recurring theme in Mr. Nolan’s Batman series is that of class warfare. Here, Shakespeare was and remains the master of social commentary. But social commentary, whether in Gotham or the topsy-turvy dream world of Inception, is just Mr. Nolan’s backdrop for action sequences. Buildings get “blowed up real good”. Presided over by the Nutcase-in-Chief, Dr. Jonathan Crane a.k.a. Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), mock trials incarcerate the obscenely wealthy. The inmates are literally running the asylum. But there’s no real involvement—class warfare is just another plot device. The imagery of castles being stormed is meant purely to incense and titillate us. Again effective, but shallow.

There’s a scene in which Alfred tells Bruce Wayne of a vision he has, Good Will Hunting-style, in which he hopes that some day the crusader will hang up his cape and get a real life. This and numerous other breadcrumbs are loaded with portents so obvious you’d have to be M. Night Shyamalan to believe that nobody could see it coming. It entirely plays toward our love for the established character. Some degree of reverence is inevitable. But how much of our excitement is anchored upon seeing our beloved hero in action, and how much genuine excitement germinates from a well-crafted human story?

I can’t quite decide whether the introduction of Officer John Blake was Mr. Nolan’s idea, or the studio’s. The role is carried completely by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s presence, not at all by the writing. While it’s certain that no one will, nor would they deign to, surpass Heath Ledger’s astonishing performance as the Joker, Mr. Gordon-Levitt admirably chisels out an heir to both Commissioner Gordon and, perhaps, Bruce Wayne, who seem to have been the only two honest men in a city of scoundrels. But Blake’s already wearing one uniform. If you can’t tell where Mr. Nolan is going with Blake or socialite Miranda (Marion Cotillard), then you’ve never read Roger Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters (see Chris Cooper in The Life of David Gale).

The lithe burglar, Catwoman, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, cast cleverly for a duality she can straddle which my original preference for the role, Eva Green, would belie), makes her entrance in a sequence that nicely builds up to revealing a broken Bruce Wayne—knee shattered, several years past his prime. The thought, perhaps, was that Batman had his dark middle chapter. But that’s incorrect. In the previous installment, dark things were happening to Gotham, yet Bruce Wayne was still dedicated to saving it. Aside from feeling sorry for himself and his pitifully corrupt city, Wayne never had a true crisis of conscience. Bane describes himself as Gotham’s reckoning, but save for some nebulous ideal into which he was indoctrinated from afar, why do we care that he resents Gotham? Imagine if it had been Bruce Wayne resenting Gotham? Isn’t that more realistic? Isn’t it more tragic? Isn’t Gotham, rightly or wrongly, the city that bred the kind of criminal that senselessly murdered his parents? A fascinating opportunity to explore depths of the privileged son’s character is completely missed here in favor of paint-by-numbers, superficial redemption.

So attached are we, lately, to the pedestrian myth-making of comic books, that we might overlook how the third film recycles the prison liberation story from Batman Begins for more than a third of this lumbering 164-minute celluloid behemoth—attempting to capitalize on the appeal of origin stories as if Mr. Nolan had no idea where to go with the characters once he’d established them. Excluding perhaps Rocky II and The Godfather: Part II, this is where almost every sequel fails miserably, lending credibility to Pauline Kael’s belief that Hollywood always bets on the audience’s willingness to settle for less than they deserve. What the audience deserves is a deeper, more traumatized Bruce Wayne who might even identify with Bane and Catwoman—a cross-pollination of empathy that both enlightens as well as complicates reality. What we got was more of the same gadgets and chase sequences in real, urban locations, shot mostly on very expensive 65mm film.

The Dark Knight Rises • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 1.44:1 • Running Time: 164 minutes • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language. • Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

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  • Pablo Olmeda

    What a condescending review, it makes my head hurt.

    • How is it condescending, and to whom? I’m not sure that word means what you think it means…

      • Omar G

        To be condescending is to imply the subject’s fall from superiority, which is exactly what you did in the review. Also, to be condescending can be to imply the subject’s fall from your own level of superiority, which is what you just did with Mr. Olmeda’s comment. I don’t appreciate a professional reviewer insulting the intelligence of his readers, especially when the reader in question wasn’t being very hateful at all. Of course that is my opinion, but I found your review to be engaging until I saw these smart aleck comments of yours. I’ll remember the name for future reviews.

        • How exactly did I insult his intelligence? By asking a question? By disagreeing with him? That isn’t the definition of condescension. I don’t tell my readers they’re idiots. I ask for clarification or I rebut their arguments from time to time. That’s not condescension. That’s debate. I asked Mr. Olmeda a question I believe he is fully capable of answering.

          • Richard Grayson

            i’ve never seen a critic talk to the people commenting on the reviews. they usually just put their opinion out and not worry too much about what others say. kinda makes it seem like you want to try to “outsmart” or “out talk” your readers. Kinda a big turn off as a reader.

          • You commented… obviously I’m doing something right.

      • Mike Hollstein

        I don’t disagree that the movie was a letdown, but for different reasons:

        -shoddy acting

        -cheesy lines

        -many indiscernible Bane lines

        -plot holes the size of the grand canyon such as endless instances of characters coincidentally being in the right place at the right time, ALL THE TIME, or the whole Wayne in jail piece; something tells me these inmates could have built a makeshift pick ax after a while and climbed out, but guess not.

        Above everything else though, the unnecessary use of Batman’s always hilarious, annoying, and cheesy growl voice when in the presence of those who already know that he’s Bruce Wayne. WHY IS IT NECESSARY STILL? It’s so BAD.

        Nolan previously did a great job recovering from these kinds of moments in the previous films, but this time around they were just too frequent for any hope of a full recovery.

        And yes the review was a little condescending in some aspects, but mostly it was just overly assuming regarding “our” emotions. Still a great review though, and sometimes talking in a superior tone (or as some would call condescending) helps to get more out of people. In any event, I really want to read Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters now!

        • I appreciate that you took the time to be descriptive/specific in your criticism. Cheers!

          • Mike Hollstein

            No problem, and good luck with the war being waged on here!?

  • Onesimo

    What a bullshit review. All that it says “See, the movie wasn’t good at all because they didn’t do what I would have done had I been the one that was to write the story”. Basically you’re saying that this movie is not good because nothing that you wanted to happen in the story happened? Can’t believe they pay this guy to be a movie critic. I agree that this movie has far less quality than The Dark Knight, but it surpasses Batman Begins by a longshot. You complain about him exploiting origin stories…. Would you’ve preferred not to know where bane came from and just having him running around wrecking havoc without knowing his motivation?.

    • Neither did I complain about Mr. Nolan exploiting origin stories nor did I say that the film had to unfold exactly as I would have liked. My central problem with the film is that it’s a hodgepodge of emotionally-appealing concepts borrowed from somewhere else, getting away from Bruce Wayne’s personal journey as a character… which ultimately is where any franchise about (surprise) a character should logically focus its attention. The origin story of Bane didn’t have to be framed in the same context as Batman’s (prison hardens people; we got it the first time…), and it didn’t have to be one third of a 164-minute film. All that does is travel over territory we’ve already been down… wouldn’t you have liked to see the director and writers take us further down the road? Or you don’t feel you deserve more for your $10 ($13 if you went to IMAX)?

  • Vincent

    I’m interested on what kind of movies he likes (other than the 78 superman). It’s an action flick based on comic books. It’s not schindler’s list or a clockwork orange. What’s up with the over-caffeinated remarks?

    • That’s a different question. I don’t talk as much about whether I subjectively liked a movie because that information is of little use to you. We don’t know each other… So my tastes can’t inform you whether you’ll like the film. I did state at least three times in my review that the film is entertaining. But why it’s entertaining is what I chose to take apart for deeper analysis.

      I love Hudson Hawk. I know it’s a terrible film. But it’s also entertaining… Does that answer your question?

      P.S.: Thank you for at least asking.

      • Vincent

        My point is why expect an Oscar winner when you watch an action flick movie? How many action movies that were that decorated (in terms of acting, directing, or writing)? It’s made to entertain and forget about reality for two hours or so. Shallow? Yes. Everyone is entitled to their own point of view. I was wondering why you were so critical. But you’ve answered it. It’s basically not your taste. It’s hard to convince someone to take benadryl if they’re allergic to it.

        • I wouldn’t say it’s not my taste so much as it entertains on the surface, but it doesn’t work when you take it apart. Pauline Kael wrote an essay in 1980 in Harpers, titled “Why Are The Movies So Bad -or- The Numbers.” In her essay, she elucidated the difference between what moviegoers really want and what they’re willing to settle for. The easier path for Hollywood studios is to work with what we’re willing to settle for, because they collect on the way in. But that doesn’t mean viewers should settle for that, especially given the steep cost of the experience today.

          In my 2005 review of Batman Begins, I concluded:

          For the first time since my childhood, I’ve seen a film that both engages my adult sensibilities of wanting to see more character and a better story in this genre, and rekindles my childhood excitement… Walking out of the theater, a part of me wants to live a day in the life of Batman. It’s not the suit, or the gadgets, or the money that Bruce Wayne has that makes me envy him… It’s that here’s a man who has put more of his resources, energy and time into doing more good than many others in his position. Is there a nobler character to which one can aspire?

          Roger Ebert had similarly written, echoing Kael, that this Batman was the one we didn’t know we wanted until we saw it. Several hundred movies and seven years later, I have somewhat higher expectations than I did the first time. I didn’t want to see a recycled story structure. I wanted to travel even further into the mind of Bruce Wayne. I, and several other critics, feel Nolan didn’t do enough of that despite having almost three hours to explore it. That certainly doesn’t mean I wasn’t entertained… I just wasn’t provoked.

          • Vincent

            Understandably. My love affair with movies started at a very early age. But I’m not a movie critic or have anything to do with the entertainment world. I only developed a rule of thumb (for my own good) when I try to watch an action movie: it’s going to be shallow. Anything surprisingly good is a coincidence or ‘just’ well made.

            I did like the first two installments (with emphasis on the first one). But I’ve always applaud movies that had an actor unexpected for the role (Philadelphia, scent of a woman, and coincidentally the fighter [pertaining to Christian bale]). Different story but I just want to answer my own question.

          • Here’s a listing of some films I praised. I love movies… but as a critic I have to concede when films I like are bad, and when films I hate are good.

  • Alan

    What a trash review by a film blogger (not an actual critic) who’s extremely egotistical. Bane’s back story had to be revealed in full light. He was THIS Batman’s doppelganger. Like Nolan said this series is about Batman’s journey. In the last movie, before Batman exiled himself and lost his persona it was the Joker who was his opposite. Now, it was Bane. The next challenger and mountain that Bruce/Batman has to climb in order to finish his story. You missed the theme of this movie. It was pain (the director even outlined this you twit). First movie: Fear, second movie: chaos, third movie: pain. The prison scene was SUPPOSED TO RESEMBLE THE FIRST MOVIE. Do you comprehend anything you watch what so ever? Christopher Nolan purposely has stated multiple times that the point of this film is to tie in key aspects from each film. Why the fuck do you think Raz Al Ghul made an appearance again? Oh, now that I (not you) mention it didn’t he VISIT Bruce (NOT BATMAN) in the prison in the first movie? What a coincidence…Furthermore, everything else from Talia to Catwoman was about Nolan following their comic book characterizations and throwing in his own spin here and there.

    In the end, this movie is undeserving of a C- simply because of the closure it gave us that is rarely scene in trilogies these days. It’s pathetic how blind and biased you’ve made yourself. At worst this is a B movie. And I’ll stick with much more esteemed and prominent film critics who agree that this was a good/great movie ergo Roger Ebert > your critique skills.

    The fire rose and you were left behind.

    • The prison scene was SUPPOSED TO RESEMBLE THE FIRST MOVIE.

      Supposed to? Why? What I’m saying is that just because the director thinks it’s a good idea to mirror (see Mike Stoklasa’s review of the Star Wars prequels at for an example of how self-serving this argument is), doesn’t mean it’s actually a good idea. Characters have to grow. It took seconds for any reasonable person to understand the source of Bane’s anger… but why stretch that to an hour of a film that’s really about Bruce Wayne fulfilling his purpose. The director also hammers home that point, repeatedly: Bruce Wayne believes he’s not given everything of himself. But it’s less interesting to watch 50 minutes of Bane mumbling about how much Ra’s Al Ghul told him to hate this sprawling city for which he, having grown up in a prison all his life, has no context from which to even form contempt.

      I liked Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and I thought Heath Ledger was fantastic as the Joker. But I’m a “blind and biased” critic, so I must be wrong about that, too…

      (Not an actual critic? Someone should notify the Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Association that three of their members are publishing here by accident!)

  • Stephanie

    There are a few reviewers that see how empty this is, and you are one of them. Thank you. Nolan understands the power of myth, but then merely dumped topical subjects into the framework without having the building blocks in place to make it feel well-earned emotionally. It’s trying to appear clever, but really is not. It is interesting that he basically made a series about Bruce Wayne and not Batman. And being a Batman fan for many years, there is something kind in seeing him given a different kind of ending. It seems Nolan identified more with Bruce Wayne than the Batman, when, traditionally, Bruce Wayne has been the mask and Batman the real persona.

    • but then merely dumped topical subjects into the framework without having the building blocks in place to make it feel well-earned emotionally.

      Well said.

      Bruce Wayne has been the mask and Batman the real persona.

      Precisely! I’ve never found Batman as interesting as this complicated, billionaire recluse that has a strong sense of purpose driven from childhood trauma. That’s something real that we can connect with. So, then, Nolan takes that, and much like his other films, runs away from deeper examination to spend the rest of the movie blowing things up and having fist-fights. That’s the sort of nonsense I expect from lesser directors like Michael Bay. But I have always felt that Memento, Inception, et. al. were a bit gimmicky so as to feel more philosophically meaningful than they really were.

      My issue is not at all whether the film was entertaining or not. It is. But it had the foundation to be so much more… I would have, in fact shelved the second chapter, and made the middle story about a lesser character, perhaps Riddler (can you imagine Andrew Scott in the role?), who screws with Wayne and makes him detest Gotham. That’s the fall from grace… Then as the final chapter, the Joker would have exploited Bruce Wayne’s hatred of the city that gave rise to the kind of criminal that murdered his parents. But the people of Gotham proving themselves to not be complete monsters would restore Bruce’s faith and that entire ferry subplot would serve a much grander purpose toward completing Bruce Wayne’s journey as a human being.

      • Stephanie

        I liked your idea of Batman being tempted to give up on Gotham, and not a Gotham that no longer needs Batman, especially when you have a character like Bane to play with and the groundwork of the Ra’s Al Ghul relationship, to jump from the themes of TDK (which are external) into a deeper discussion of Batman’s own duality (internal).

        Which brings me to something really bothering me not really being addressed: the basic premise that an event like Dent’s death or even an PATRIOT Act would somehow create a peaceful Gotham that no longer needed Batman. Absurd and expects you to completely chuck everything we know of human nature, not to mention the two previous films.

        • Another good point. The “Dent Act” (the PATRIOT Act repurposed; like everything else in the film) wouldn’t have been a sweeping success, especially in such a sprawling city with tentacles of various criminal enterprises reaching into every alley and corridor.

          I had a related problem. Batman/Bruce Wayne warned of a war erupting, and we didn’t really get a sense of that. We got a standoff and a street brawl instead of a long, drawn out war which, coupled with the city tearing itself apart, would have given a great foundation for Bruce Wayne’s growing disenfranchisement with Gotham.

          I didn’t see that magnitude of hopelessness in the middle chapter. It also troubled me that *spoilers* Bruce Wayne didn’t really make the ultimate sacrifice he felt compelled to make. He said he had more of himself to give, but perhaps the studio tested the original ending and felt it would be unpopular. It feels more like an ending decided by committee rather than artistic creativity. The outcome undermines his depth of character, not because I wanted it to end that way but because there’s a huge buildup followed by a cheat.

          • Ryan

            I didn’t find the film to be nearly as disappointing as you did, but I couldn’t agree more with the final paragraph of your comment here. The hero character making the ultimate sacrifice but then, oh wait, just kidding, is cheap, pathetic, weak, sad and ultimately undermines just about everything.

          • Stephanie

            The movie borrows from many Batman storylines, but I think the aspect of a Gotham at war cut off from the outside world (No Man’s Land) could be a trilogy in and of itself.

            Seems a bit of a throwaway effort on Nolan’s part and maybe people are correct that after Ledger passed, he was not going to be able to make the ending he wanted and this was the result.

  • pravin

    i agree with every word u said about the film…its disapppointing and verbose at times.iam a greatfan of this franchise and its director chirstopher nolan but he lets me down..i think its the worst film he ever made

  • bird

    9/11!?!?! Why does every time a terrorist do anything in a movie now its a direct correlation with 9/11.

    ** Spoilers Ahead **
    And though you’re correct about the focus needing to be on Bruce Wayne, I disagree with how you feel its too focused on batman. I think the large absence of batman throughout the central part of the film shows that, but batman is certainly a huge part of Bruce Wayne. Once you’ve seen the previous film, you’ve seen how he feels that his alter ego is the only thing he has left. When I see him fighting at the end, I easily see the broken man who had to climb out of that jail and all the struggle he’s gone through with the whole trilogy. Then once you think he’s beaten bane for good, he gets betrayed by the girl who Bruce Wayne was finally substituting over Rachel: Talia al Ghul.

    And you’re listing class warfare as a major point for why this film fails? Class warfare is an ever-present struggle. But even if its topical, that why you say it fails?

    Yes, the film does seem to throw a bit of focus away from Bruce. But this is the final installment of the trilogy. It has to back away from him so it can also put a close on the universe. My only complaints were a few errors in plot and a bit of rough acting here and there – but this is about as good a finale as I could have hoped for.

  • RoyFanner

    What a terrible review. The poor review has nothing to do with the fact that you did not like the movie, the problem is that you compared it to movies that you should not of.

    Example. You bring in Richard Donner’s Superman, why would you compare it to a third entry in a series?

    Even better. You reference Godfather II and Rocky II….you should be comparing those movies to The Dark Knight…not the third part.

    Ok, so yes, they movies does not match up to Batman Begins or TDK, but it’s still a worthy entry and done well.

    Where the movie falls, is that Nolan should of had a screenwriter to polish off the story, Batman Begins worked so well because he had a screenwriter.

    • the problem is that you compared it to movies that you should not of. [sic]
      Example. You bring in Richard Donner’s Superman, why would you compare it to a third entry in a series?

      Why not? Should the goal of every movie to be only as good as the endless stream of mediocre sequels? Why wouldn’t you want everything you spend $10-15 on to be as rich in characterization and story as Superman?

      Even better. You reference Godfather II and Rocky II….you should be comparing those movies to The Dark Knight…not the third part.

      Why? My point had nothing to do with second chapters specifically. It had to do with sequels/franchises in general and how very few of them are an improvement upon a first film. Thematically, Rocky II and The Godfather: Part II have nothing specially in common with the The Dark Knight except for being the second films in a series. All I was saying there is that they were two rare occasions when a sequel’s story and direction surpassed the original.

      Ok, so yes, they movies does not match up to Batman Begins or TDK…

      That’s precisely my point!

  • Michael

    I think the review is spot on. I left the theater last night feeling quite a bit let down by the film and your review eloquently touches upon most of my concerns. My only line of disagreement is how you feel the film is too focused on Batman. I don’t see that at all. In fact, it takes ~45 minutes before we even seen Batman in action. And even then, it’s only for a short stunt.

    The Batman in action that we do see towards the end is not the Batman we have seen in the previous two films. Perhaps it’s a take on mortality and age, though I’m not sure if the film is clever enough to have actually intended that subliminal message. Everything that makes Batman who he is is undermined in the film, such as the downfall of Wayne Enterprises (which I don’t think ever happens in the comics). I also felt Lucius Fox and Alfred were both very poorly written characters in this film and I was extremely disappointed by their lack of involvement.

    I feel the film spent a large portion of time on the character of Bruce Wayne. However, it didn’t seem fulfilling because it was mostly recycled content from the 1st film…probably Nolan’s desire to return to his roots and come full circle. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out that way and seemed a tad clunky.

    My other main problem that wasn’t mentioned was Robin. I didn’t think he was necessary at all and he had simply way too much screen time. It also flies in the face of comic book lore of Robin’s origin (as do many things in this film).

    • The film focuses more on Batman because it has less to do with Bruce Wayne’s development than it does the evolution of Batman as an ideal, which they keep hammering home for no other reason than to drop very obvious hints at Officer Blake’s purpose (I did mention Robin by tangentially alluding that the studio tacked on his subplot, without giving it away). Whether Batman is on the screen or off, the film is about him much more than it’s about Bruce Wayne—failing to explore the depths to which his childhood trauma and a Gotham spinning to pieces could leave him bitter toward humanity. Giving him a scruffy beard and a cane for a few minutes before he springs back into action isn’t enough. How soul-crushing a middle chapter could there have been, do you think, if he started to empathize with the likes of Bane and Catwoman? Stories are a lot more interesting when characters are truly conflicted, rather than when good and bad are so clearly delineated.

      • Shaun

        “The film focuses more on Batman…”

        Actually, one of the (many) problems I had with this movie is that didn’t seem to focus on Batman much at all. Too many new, extraneous characters and maybe half a dozen different subplots were all crammed together. Few of them were done well, unfortunately. All the stuff about Wayne’s fortune being lost and stock market stuff was, as one reviewer I read put it, about as thrilling as organizing my sock drawer.

        And what the hell was Matthew Modine even doing in this movie? He took up way too much screentime. Or Selina’s blonde friend? Maybe she was “Holly” from the comics, but she wasn’t needed.

  • aaron

    I agree this movie was a major let down. Believe Nolan was rushed way to hard and fast and the story and epic characters suffered because of it. I’ve been telling ppl that this isn’t a Batman movie. This should have a Jason Stathum movie. W/O out getting extremely Nerdy there was an eight year gap between where Bruce did nothing. Batman would have never stopped fighting crime. Even if it was peddy theft that was the point of Batman. Even though the Dent act was in place how many ppl in Gotham died from arm robbery….and you think Bruce is gonna sit there and let that happen for 8 years….no!

  • Shaun

    Sadly, I was really disappointed with TDKR too (and the first two Nolan Bat-films are two of my favorite movies ever). But, honestly, to still call Donner’s Superman “the gold standard” of the genre almost 35 years later? After not only Batman Begins (still my favorite superhero/comic film of them all) and The Dark Knight but also the first Iron Man, and The Avengers? Let alone X-Men 2? Wow. Just wow. Hell, let’s not forget The Incredibles either!

    I liked Donner’s Superman as a kid, but time has not been kind to that film (or any of the Superman films, really). Cheesy villain who was nothing like the comic character and certainly not a worth threat to Supes (and Otis… Honestly?). Let’s not even get into that long, dull, bland early part of the movie spent on Krypton or the slow, almost as dull time spent in Smallville either.

    Did I mention Supes turning time backward by making Earth spin in the opposite direction?

    Really, the one thing the Superman films had going for them was Chris Reeve. He was wonderful, and he’s still the only reason to watch any of those films today. Sadly, Superman Returns felt the need to be some weird quasi-sequel/blatant ripoff of Superman and (the even worse) Superman II, and that film of course didn’t have Reeve so that’s piece of junk too.

    Here’s to hoping next year’s Man of Steel will finally be the truly epic, cosmic Superman film I’ve always wanted to see. Then again, after seeing TDKR last night and being thoroughly underwhelmed I’m concerned that maybe Nolan’s losing it. And Zack Snyder was never a good director to begin with.

  • Christopher

    “Imagine if it had been Bruce Wayne resenting Gotham? Isn’t that more realistic? Isn’t it more tragic? Isn’t Gotham, rightly or wrongly, the city that bred the kind of criminal that senselessly murdered his parents? A fascinating opportunity to explore depths of the privileged son’s character is completely missed here in favor of paint-by-numbers, superficial redemption.”

    Someone thinks they could have written a better story. Yet he is only a movie critic. Hmmmm….

    Look dude.. The motive of the league of shadows is to destroy Gotham like they destroyed Rome and every other super civilization throughout time that eventually became a poison to all of society. This is where Batman comes in to say no. He starts to believe, like his dead parents believed, that Gotham CAN be saved. That the cruel criminal underbelly is not representative of the people. That the corrupt politicians are not representative of the people. You can’t just make him hate Gotham. It’s not like Batman.

    Stop trying to re-write the story it makes you look bad.

  • Bill

    Your review sucks and the fact you argue with every person who disagrees with you totally repeals all of your credibility as a movie critic. Condescending indeed.

    • If only I could get away with writing “This movie sucks” and leave it at that… but some of us actually go to the trouble of explaining why…

  • I really dont think I take what your saying serious because you brought up Donner’s Superman with this film. If you been sleeping under a rock, Batmans orgins has been explained in Batman Begins, keep up! So no need to explain that. As far as story lines, there are only so many ways you can tell a story. You see the news? Im sure every night in America there is a story about someone getting killed and each time we watch because it has a different meaning or effect or the response the persons give. So with that said, let that be. Also since then there have been several super hero movies better than 1978 Superman. X-Men 2/X-Men Orgins, Ironman, Batman Begin/The Dark Knight, Spiderman 1 & 2. So again I don’t know if your the right person to give an opinion on this movie. I’ve seen it an it’s was a solid super hero movie

    • Neither was I talking about rehashing Batman’s origins nor was I saying that there hasn’t been a good superhero movie since Superman. My reason for bringing up Donner’s film had nothing to do with a desire to see Batman’s origin story in this film. I was puzzled why they wasted a third of such a long film trying to use Bane’s origin story to get an emotional response out of the audience the easy way.

      Superman was one of the first superhero films that wasn’t a B-movie, had excellent acting, an engaging story and a strong human angle. All the other films you mention are descended from its style. The question I’m really asking, without spelling it out because I presumed my readers would have inferred it (otherwise it would be insulting to their intelligence), is why Nolan wasn’t able to replicate the humanity of Superman without going back to the format of chapter one origin stories that are by nature more interesting.

      There remain a lot of ways to tell a story. Watch David Mamet’s Spartan. The world hasn’t run out of ideas yet, even if Christopher Nolan did.

  • Nathan

    I find it hard to believe that you can bash the film for not being more about Bruce Wayne when it takes almost 80 minutes for him to be seen as Batman. And even when he is seen as the first time as Batman the whole reason was to show that Bruce obviously wasn’t ready to re-don the cowl of Batman…that he was doing it for the wrong reasons. This has always been a central theme in the Batman films and comic books…Bruce Wayne / Batman’s struggle with why Batman is needed and the reasons why he fights. Also, your comment on wanting Wayne/Batman to “resent” and turn his back on Gotham clearly shows that you don’t understand a lot about Batman’s true character. The whole reason Batman is around is so that he can be the one person that never truly turns his back on Gotham. He is called “The Dark Knight” for a reason. Even though he can’t completely follow the code of chivalry he has his own code, something that no knight would ever throw away. Having Wayne/Batman resent or turn his back on Gotham would have been disastrous. In a sense he kind of does so for the 8 years he remains away and you see what that does to Gotham pretty early on. In a way Wayne even comes to struggle with adding another tenant to his code: truth. Not only does Gordon and Wayne have to deal with the ramifications of telling lies, but Alfred does too. You also missed John Blake’s reason for being in the film entirely. In this respect I think Wayne’s character shows the most growth when he realizes that while Gotham may still need Batman…they don’t need him as Batman. As contrived as you think the trick at the ending was it shows Gotham city that Batman was willing to die for them (a very Christian concept, but still what Gotham needed: Hope). Even the fact that Wayne is alive at the end of the film shows character growth. He went from a man that wanted Bane to hill him to someone who had the courage and strength to move on with his life, again, a core component to theme of the third film.

    In the end you got what you wanted. You got to be one of the few to write the “bad” review for a movie that a lot of people are going to like, and you got the added attention for doing so, even mine. Too bad this is the way you choose to get noticed.

    • We see Bruce Wayne on the screen. Yes. I’ve noted this. But what we see is a physically broken and apathetic Bruce Wayne, not a bitter one who might even empathize with Bane and Catwoman…

      We don’t see enough of Bruce Wayne’s internal conflict… there is none. He’s still pro-Gotham. That doesn’t make any sense to me from a character development standpoint. A boy watches his parents senselessly murdered, then tries to see the good in the city that gave rise to the kind of criminals who did that. But the city keeps crumbling and crumbling. At some point, a real human being would begin to have their embers of hope start to flicker out. Some would become downright bitter.

      Another comment noted that’s not who Batman is. Well then maybe Batman’s a boring, unrealistic character. But Christopher Nolan had no problems rewriting some of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s character history to make for a more interesting story in the first two installments… so why go so dark and then stop shy of a fascinating internal struggle that would have greyed the lines between good and bad? Hollywood does that because it thinks audiences are too stupid to deal with more complex themes. I don’t.

      In the end you got what you wanted. You got to be one of the few to write the “bad” review for a movie that a lot of people are going to like, and you got the added attention for doing so, even mine. Too bad this is the way you choose to get noticed.

      I saw the film at a press screening early in the week. Most of Warner Bros. press screenings for this movie were coordinated and the embargo on reviews had only just been lifted… So I did not have any impression of whether the bulk of critics and/or audiences would like or dislike it. I wrote my review after that screening and delayed publication until Thursday.

      • Nathan

        You are clearly taking all of this out on the wrong person. You seem to bash Nolan for not radically changing the core of Batman’s character. Something that Nolan can’t do. Batman is still a DC character and ultimately they have the final say in what direction a movie director takes their intellectual property. If DC wants Batman to ultimately have a definitive line between good and bad then that is how it’s going to be. You want the movie to live in more of a grey area and then you compare it to a film (Superman) where the line between good and evil couldn’t be more defined.

        While I can see your point about Hollywood thinking its audiences are too stupid for more complex themes I also think it is crazy for reviewers to try and hold certain types of films up to some “gold standard” that may or may not be what the filmmakers were trying to express. Sometimes I think that reviewers think that audiences are too stupid to know what kind of a movie they bought a ticket for. I knew going into the theater that this wasn’t going to be some Oscar bound film like Godfather II…I kind of got that from the trailers and don’t really need someone to point it out to me. Even the defense of saying that “every movie should strive to be Oscar worthy” is kind of ridiculous. It’s a comic book superhero movie that has a well established character. Why try to make it something that it isn’t?

        • Regarding Nolan: He was given a notable amount of flexibility by the studio (and a hell of a lot of money to make a film that goes almost 80 minutes beyond the typical running length which studios are willing to bankroll). The property actually belongs to Warner Bros. which, as I noted in my review, has owned DC since the 1969 acquisition of its parent. The studio gives input into certain matters through “notes”… directives passed down from studio executives to the producers. These might consist of casting choices and major plot points but not necessarily the finer details of Bruce Wayne’s character development. And the series was rebooted with the intent of being darker… which lends itself to needing more complexity and conflict in a character. In this trilogy, Wayne is not really as complex as Nolan wants us to think he is… and as other readers have pointed out, Nolan has a tendency to try to sell the appearance of intellectual depth on other films that are unwieldy, action set pieces rather than thought pieces (Inception is a great example).

          This is why I felt that Officer Blake was tacked on… Sure, it seems like he was there to convince Wayne that Gotham is still worth saving. But we didn’t need him for that. There’s a more obvious reason he’s there. Peppered throughout every scene he’s in are constant and ham-fisted lines about Batman being bigger than one person. It was well known that Nolan wasn’t going to do another film beyond this one. If it were up to him, there’d be no reason to build Blake as as a successor (even inserting a line that’s meant to make us twinkle and flutter when he picks up his duffel bag)… but Warner Bros. has a bigger stake than Nolan in leaving that door open.

          On the second point you made, I understand and appreciate it. I could have used a more parallel example than Superman… and here I will. While imperfect in many places, the tone of Unbreakable (before M. Night Shyamalan went off the deep end) is closer to what I think would have worked here. There’s a deleted scene in which David Dunn (Bruce Willis) collapses in the shower. There’s a person with abilities who doesn’t feel any sense of liberation or ambition, and is reluctant to take on the responsibility he sees as more of a burden. In one brief shot we get all of this… and I have no idea why it was deleted from the film. But I brought up Superman more for the nuance of its key characterizations—Lois and Clark—and how Christopher Reeve’s performance made Clark more interesting than Superman. That’s how I feel about Bruce Wayne. But I don’t think Nolan does enough with him.

          I usually take films in context of what they’re trying to be. I’m not comparing Nolan’s work to Godard, Truffaut, Brecht, or any number of other directors who tackle much more esoteric fare (which isn’t necessarily higher or lower in stature; simply different in purpose). However, what you’re discussing is secondary to my principal problem: The fact that everything that is entertaining about the film is, as reader Stephanie pointed out, co-opted from familiar situations and thrown atop a framework to give the film an emotional reaction that the story doesn’t otherwise deserve were it not for those heavy-handed, borrowed images and themes.

          That’s why I would make this film something it isn’t: Praiseworthy on its own terms.

          • Nathan

            You brought a deleted scene to a theatrical release fight! (Sorry, I had to say it, I couldn’t resist.)

            I still can’t read the review without wondering what Nolan ever did to you. It just seems to me like you focus on Nolan when you should obviously be throwing some love Bale’s way. Your *ahem* deleted scene seems to stand out so much to you based on the acting performance by Willis rather than the dialogue or writing. It is true that a scene like that has to be written first for the actor to be able to play it, but when scenes have no dialogue it’s all up to the actor to make it memorable (which obviously happened with Willis). I think you have it right when you say that Wayne could have had a little more depth, but I don’t see how you can put the majority of that blame on just Nolan, Bale needs some of the grunt as well.

            I also fail to see all the hate for these co-opted situations. Despite the story reason that the whole event was planned by Talia and was probably an homage to her father’s failed attempt to destroy Gotham there are plenty of other far more literary reasons for Nolan to add similarities. You have mentioned Campbell before in a review so I know that you are familiar with The Return phase of the Hero’s Journey. What is The Dark Knight Rises but the culmination of that return. The film starts with Wayne not being able to return to normal life, whether it be by exile or by still trying to don the cowl of Batman when he obviously should not. The Magic Flight is a little on the nose in this film, but I liked the nod. One of the biggest nods to Campbell is the Rescue From Without. This is another thing that makes a character like Blake, or Kyle vital to the film. Wayne’s stay in the prison was more to heal his soul than his body. (Being a paraplegic I let all plot holes slide concerning vertebra injury’s. The real life Wayne never walks again, but films are not real life for a reason.) His trip through the prison only helps him to Cross the Return Threshold with a new found sense of who he is and why Batman is needed one last time. To an extent the film’s ending was Wayne’s way of becoming The Master of Two Worlds. Batman remained the symbol he wanted it to be, and he can now do his best to live whatever life he has left, his Freedom to Live as neither Wayne nor Batman was his own. Whether you think that is a cop out or not his want, just like Kyle’s, for a clean slate is definitely a bold move…his boon safely passed on to his new protege. The whole point of the Hero’s Journey is to bring things full circle. Instead of bashing Nolan for not being able to come up with anything new, think of fact that each time Wayne has had to contend with the League of Shadows they have used his own technology, the one thing that could even be considered a “superpower” for Batman, against him. At the end of the film Batman was fighting himself just as hard as he was fighting Bane and Talia. You bash Nolan for revisiting Batman’s origin story yet you seem to forget that in a sense that is all Wayne does is revisit his origin story. His fight has always been to overcome what happened to him all those years ago. Wayne overcomes it the only way he knows how, by facing it again. It won’t ever change the way you look at the film, but maybe it can offset some of the bias.

  • Jason Iv

    I bet there was a deep breathe before hitting the submit for this review! =)

    I enjoyed reading your take on the film, to offer me some perspective on what I couldn’t put my finger on in my own thoughts about the film.

    I really liked the movie, not enough to surpass the 1st and 2nd ones, but as you said, I think without the Joker, he opted for something a little more hastily, and felt he needed an origins story although it wasn’t necessary. I do think Nolan was given the ability to add more depth to this movie then just making something campy, full of cheesy one liners, (Thor)(I was surprised to see them in this movie frankly) visual effects bonanza (Transformers series).

    I think you are spot on with the Officer Blake character, and as I think about it more, the disconnect emotionally of Bruce Wayne with Gotham. I didn’t really relate the islanding of Gotham with 9/11, and the ending (sans the open door to a new trilogy) was a satisfying end to the story being told, ‘move on with your life’

    /end ramble ha! I’m still running through the film in my head. GL with the haters =)

    • I’m never concerned about commentary. I know that I’ll get bashed on some reviews no matter what my views are. One of my writers (Boo Allen) is a colleague of Christy Lemire, the AP critic who received death threats over panning The Dark Knight Rises. Eric D. Snider also received e-mail threats. I haven’t received any threats, and I welcome just about all commentary, even vitriol directed at me personally as long as they put some effort into defending their vitriol rather than simply saying, “You suck.” So far no one’s been truly out of hand, even if somewhat animated.

  • BaneCapital

    First off, I didn’t feel the September 11th vibe felt cheap at all. It was hardly ‘tugging at our heartstrings,’ it was a full-on, realistic portrayal of a city under siege. It was a rather bold statement on how complacency can allow evil to grow up right underneath your feet. As for the nationwide response to the fighter jets, my sentiment was that this was the exact response that would occur in this type of situation.

    It’s not hackneyed to portray the destruction of Gotham from start to finish. It’s frickin’ brilliant. For Hackneyed, you’ll have to go to the line that I wondered, right after it was delivered, how long Noland had waited to put into a script. “Get the President on the line.” Even that, I think was Nolan’s smirking revenge. The layout of the plan and it’s execution was surprisingly eloquent.

    Watching the movie was easily one of the most intense of my 30+ years of movie-going. The allusions to 9/11 are apt, and it did stir some of those emotions from 11 years ago, but isn’t that what good art is supposed to do, by definition? This movie definitely did it.

    Bane’s intentions, like the Joker before him, and the Scarecrow before them, were to unleash what they believed to be humanity’s true face. Each of these evil men, and Ra’s Al Ghul included, felt that humanity would turn on one another in their darkest hour, and that nothing could stop that change. I’d say that’s more than a smidgeon of social commentary. The whole trilogy has been the classic Good vs Evil battle, but shown on a personal and realistic level. It’s also done a pretty good job of looking at the governmental structure on a city level, although it’s no Wire.

    I was initially grating on Selena Kyle, but ended up really liking her arc. The only message to the OWS crowd was be careful what you wish for because that anarchy you so crave may look a bit like this (queue the last hour+ of the movie). They drove that idea home with Selena and her…(couldn’t have been her girlfriend, considering. Or maybe it was. Lucky lucky.)

    The Alfred/Bruce stuff: I have to say I didn’t see what you are alluding to as obvious. I never really expected to see a flashback to Alfred burning down the forest to catch the guy who just wanted to watch the world burn. I thought it was really touching, a bit heartbreaking, and ultimately awesome for both of them.

    If I had to guess, I would say that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is probably all Nolan. He’s the counterbalance to the rest of the darkness that the movie is entombed in. And he’s also the element of hope. So the question you should be asking is, knowing Nolan, is he just holding that hope up there so he can torture us most effectively, by ripping it away?

    As to your last questions about Wayne. He spent the last eight years having a crisis of conscience over Rachael’s death in the previous movie. He blamed himself more for that than he ever did for his parents’ deaths. He drew the line he would never cross back in the first movie when, at the end of his training, Ra’s Al Ghul demanded he cut off the criminal’s head. Knowing refusal would mean death, he started a fight and got out of there, saving Al Ghul in the process.

    Why should we care that Bane resents Gotham? Because it’s not mere resentment he harbors. He has a serious, well thought-out plan of action to take control of every asset he desires to, and the means and the will to do it. He wasn’t merely a dramatic stroke. He was the catalyst for all the drama to come. The Scarecrow managed to force Gotham to cordon off a section of itself and give it up as lost. The Joker brought fear to the entire city and corrupted its future, embodied in Harvey Dent. Bane is the next logical step.

    • BaneCapital

      Also, you’re forgetting the recycling of the Ferry Boat them from TDK. That’s the main theme running through trilogy: the true face of humanity. I actually kind of expected to see Tiny Lister come walking out of the jail, shaking his head.

    • These are well-stated points. I appreciate when readers take the time to articulate it so. While I hadn’t looked at it the same way, I don’t necessarily disagree with what you’ve written (I did say the 9/11 imagery was effective, but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel to earn the emotional response rather than earning it). Where I think I agree most is on the observations regarding Selina Kyle and OWS.

      The only point I’m unclear about is your comments on Bane. He does have a plan of action but what precipitated it? An edict from Ra’s Al Ghul? The person who condemned him for loving his daughter? Ok, let’s presume he owes Al Ghul. But why is Gotham the big thorn in Bane’s side, out of all the cities that The League has brought down? What personal investment has he in it? Bruce Wayne has so much more reason to detest what Gotham has become than Bane does, and they never really explore that as much as they should. I don’t mean they ought to spend more frames of celluloid doing it. That’s exposition. I mean depth of character development.

      That said, you’ve got several other good observations including the corny depiction of military generals. That line of dialogue seemed rather out of place for the tone that Nolan’s entire trilogy has thus far tried to maintain. It reminded me far too much of the cartoonish mercenary general in Avatar.

      Good vs. Evil battles are much more interesting when lines are blurred and, when taken to their logical conclusion, become a struggle of good vs. evil within the self. Batman’s ideology is inspired by eastern mythology… Then why not explore the Buddha parable of conquering the illusion of self? Or did Warners think that was too deep for a broad audience?

      P.S. Nice incorporation of The Wire for comparison. Nolan clearly was inspired by Heat (hence the casting of William Fichtner in The Dark Knight), but he isn’t as skilled as Michael Mann at assembling a tight narrative about men who find life making decisions for them, or action taking place in disconnected cities lacking central identity.

      • BaneCapital

        I didn’t want to go too spoiler heavy, but if people are reading this, they’ve probably seen it. Bane was driven by his loyalty to Al Ghul’s daughter (Cotillard) and the whole speech about the League of Shadows served to reinforce that. The loyalty of the League was shown in the opening sequence where Bane tells his henchman that a body would be expected that belonged to one of them, and the henchman stays and dies in the crash willingly (in striking contrast to the Joker’s having them pick each other of in his emblematically chaotic way).

        Al Ghul WAS the League, and as his daughter, Talia wanted to carry out his plan. As Al Ghul stated time and again, Gotham had had it’s chance. The League (fictionally) was responsible for everything from Rome to Dresden to quite possibly even 9/11. Al Ghul deemed that Gotham be destroyed (via the Scarecrow) and did it turning Wayne’s own technology (the microwave emitter that vaporized the water supply) against him. Bane was mirroring that in honor of the Al Ghuls. That he was kicked out by Ra’s and brought back in by Talia only serves to prove his loyalty that much more.

        The real villain of the piece was Talia, and the real villains of the trilogy were the Al Ghul’s. Joker didn’t really fit, but wouldn’t it be interesting if he was a special pet product of Crane’s. That would tie all of them together in a nice, neat bow.

      • BaneCapital

        Sorry didn’t finish replying to the rest. Bruce is the ultimate dichotomy, though his lines never blur. The blurring of lines in this is pretty subtle, so it can be argued that it seems clear cut, but it’s much like Stephen King’s The Stand where once a line so large is drawn, you have to pick a side, and any other petty grievances are put aside.

        There were people that willingly went over to Bane, in addition to the prisoners he released, that probably weren’t bad people prior to his attack. And again, I’d argue that the conquering of oneself is what the final shot in the cafe is about. In every Batman movie I’ve seen (and that’s pretty much the extent of my familiarity with the character other than wiki here and there), the duality of Bruce Wayne is mentioned. It’s part of him that tears him up. But it’s also his coping mechanism. At the end, the world truly thinks he’s dead, Selena has a clean slate, I’d say Bruce overcame self pretty well, considering we first met him in a Taiwanese (?) jail getting in fights.

      • BaneCapital

        And if you really want a good perspective on the movie, I’d highly suggest a rewatch of the first two, and follow it up with the third. It’s a really cohesive, enjoyable yarn.

        • I have the first two in my library. Batman Begins was very well constructed. The individual scenes in The Dark Knight were well-assembled, but they were edited in a fashion that made one scene’s dialogue (if you pay close attention) completely unrelated to the next. The third film has a problem with being simply so big it’s unmanageable. Nolan tries to work in so much that we never stay with the simple, tight story about Bruce Wayne’s personal journey. Eventually we come back to it, but only after having diverted, clunkily, in so many directions. I’m pretty comfortable with my perspective considering that Christy Lemire wrote a tighter review than I did, still came to the same conclusion, and still got about 300+ comments bashing her for it. I, too, like to get my franchise “fix” that I’ll watch movies I know are terrible just to see the characters I like have one more go-around. But I don’t write for fanboys… I just occasionally cover films in which some people are heavily emotionally invested. The bulk of the time my views aren’t much different from critics and audiences.

          All of Nolan’s films have this problem of being loaded with images, messages and plots so heavy-handed and needlessly complex that they give the illusion of having more intellectual weight than they really do. I want to see him take a different approach, not because I think Batman is Oscar material, but because I know Nolan is capable of more. He could conceivably do what David Mamet did with Spartan, an excellent film by a director who doesn’t waste our time with expository dialogue but instead tells the plot with images and establishes the characters with dialogue—using each component of scene (sight, sound, motion, color) to tell several layers of story at once without insulting the audience’s intelligence. Nolan’s like a kid who can’t keep a secret when he introduces well known actors in roles that seem irrelevant, but keeps hammering you with the obvious in expository dialogue… Why even bother? Intentionally withholding identities (that are too painfully obvious not to notice) isn’t just insulting to the audience, but it relieves the director and writers of the responsibility of having to tell a good story. People generally leave the theater with the last impression they had, so a twist is an easy way to take an otherwise tedious narrative and give it one last kick so audiences will walk out thinking, Wow!”

          My love for science fiction and fantasy began in 1977 with Star Wars, 1978 with Superman and 1979 with Star Trek. I was barely four years old. I’ve seen so many of these films and probably around 250-300 films a year since high school. When you watch that many films you start wondering why they all seem to boil down to six or seven basic plots and the same tropes recycled ad nauseam. It’s not out of snobbery, or a desire to stand out…. It’s just a desire to see something different and unique because at the 10,000 foot view it all starts to look the same.

          • Ryan

            The problem is that you have studied films too much. You notice the formula and the plot devices and they annoy you. Bruce’s journey is focused here, more than in the second film. The second film is overwhelmed with Ledger’s performance. In the second film, I remember the joker. In the third film, I remember Bruce’s struggle with his loss and the failures he overcomes. I care about Bruce in this movie, and in the others I do not. The first film is the weakest, an annoying and weak performance by Cillian Murphy and I couldn’t care less about Ras al Ghul. I compare the other films to the first and I am relatively disappointed.

            The second film is less about Bruce Wayne and more about Batman and his polar opposite the Joker. Which inevitable makes the joker a more interesting character due to the lack of human qualities the Batman has.

            The third film focuses on the effects of carrying the cowl’s burden and that his failure can have real effects. Although there is much convinces and deus ex machina in this film, I was not disgusted with it and it led to satisfaction and facilitation to the plot.

            It was a great film, and it left me even more satisfied that the second. It gave me what the second didn’t have and to not consider this in a vacuum is a msitake.

          • The second time, all I noticed were even more gaping holes and expository dialogue. There’s a rule in good writing: Show, don’t tell. But Nolan tells, and tells, and tells in excruciating detail… even before or after he’s going to show you anyway! This doesn’t bother you at all?

            Isn’t it also convenient how, in a city of 12 million people, every character is always exactly where they need to be geographically for the plot to advance? Bruce Wayne’s car gets stolen. It’s a good thing Officer Blake just happens to be there, out of all the other places he could have been that day. It’s amazing how Catwoman shows up at the right building just in the nick of time to shoot Bane (who went out like Boba Fett right after a big fight sequence). How does everyone manage to find each other at such breakneck speed? The one exception is that it seems to take about six hours from the time Jim Gordon is sentenced by Crane until he’s exiled just outside on the frozen river. I turned to my wife and whispered, “I think they did this purely because the next shot (the fire on the bridge) wouldn’t look as cool.” Everything is in service to the action, and it seems as though the entire story were written backward, so that characters would always magically appear in the right place at the right time no matter where they had just been in this sprawling, gigantic city.

            That’s just horrible writing, and you deserve more for your money… even if you don’t believe you do.

          • Stephanie

            If you watch movies on repeat, you’ve studied them in and out. If you’ve watched really good films, you have a basis for comparison.

            This was a really ambitious series, and I applaud Nolan for treating it as myth, but he seems conflicted about telling a myth versus making something topical. And I just don’t think he’s as clever as he thinks he is. He can’t direct action and he’s not a great writer. George Lucas syndrome. That doesn’t mean he’s not visionary. I think Nolan is really a “big picture” kind of guy.

            But, I’m really disappointed. I’d like to leave the topicality at the door when it comes to superheroes. It’s just a bad move that dates a film. With the first two movies, Nolan is talking about characters as ideas in way that resonate throughout history. He knows what Scarecrow, Joker, Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman represent, despite being flawed in the execution. With this film, it just loses all sense of that and drifts, and is somewhat empty, or even feels that it is opposed to the myth he sought to honor.

  • JohnSmith

    If you want to explore psychological realism, read a book or watch one of Kieslowski’s films. This is an action movie – you should have figured that out that Batman is the main character – it is not artistic piece which is primarily designed to focus on exploring the psychological depths of the character Bruce Wayne. It’s not a movie designed to explore the depth of social problems, digging deeply and questioning why terrorism occurs or why there is class conflict. Dark Knight Rising isn’t supposed to be a movie that digs into one single subject, that seeks to explore nuance after nuance after nuance. Some people, like you it seems, declare that all movies must dig deeply; in doing so, they fail to realize how movies might otherwise succeed.

    This movie succeeds because it combines strong cinematography with a twisting and turning plot that keeps an audience on their toes like few other motion pictures mange; while it does so, it explores the personal journey of Batman, alludes to philosophical problems, and talks about social issues which have always been present in human history and which are ever present today. Think about what this movie could have been – two bad guys go and do nasty things in the city, they have a plan, batman does not expect the plan, they enact the plan, batman figures out the plan, and batman defeats the bad guys. That’s your typical superhero movie. This movie does not need to include terrorism, does not need to explore the fact that Batman is just a rich white privileged individual (a right-wing superhero), does not need to include an entire city held hostage (in a complex but relatively plausible scenario), does not need to explore the difficulties of being orphaned or of taking on a vigilante job into perpetuity, does not need to show the moral ambiguities of doing the right thing, does not need to talk about moving on in life after one experiences loss, does not need to have Alfred risk his relationship with Wayne to try and protect Wayne’s life, does not need to show Bruce Wayne getting destroyed piece by piece by piece, does not need to contrast the opulence of the upper classes with the injustices that could be perpetrated by the lower classes should they become too resentful, does not need to allude to the fact that the financial systems prop up the entireeconomy, does not need to allude to the fact that sometimes governments can be unethical, dishonest, or unjust, does not need to demonstrate that the battle of right vs wrong is not just a physical battle but a spiritual one, does not need to explore Wayne’s personality by showing that he has reactor placed in an area which can easily be flooded, does not need to emphasize the need for hope in face of darkness, does not need to make Catwoman a feminist superhero who stands tall with Batman in a way very few females manage in a male superhero movie, does not need to explore importance of the desire to live. But it does all these things, and it combines all these elements successfully. Can you do the same? How many others can do the same (with the same cinematographic talent)? How many superhero movies have such masterful use of plot, that shows success, failure, success, failure, success, failure, failure, success, failure in such a spinning dizzying cycle? How many movies have such an intense villian such as Bane? There is line connecting all these element. It is the question: what does it mean to do good? The movie answers this question in all sorts of different ways.

    Terrorism has been a part of cinema since long before 9-11; if you read the comics, you would realize that the villains in Batman constantly perpetuate terrorism. Nolan is perfectly legitimate in using the terrorism theme, especially since that terrorism continues to be a very real threat in our everyday American lives; in conflict ridden parts of the world, terrorism is a constant part of life. The two F22s flying along the skyline seem to allude more to the futility of government action in the face of Bane’s revolution than to 9-11. In any case, 9-11 did happen. There is nothing wrong in alluding to it. It makes audience think – what if? What if many parts of our city blow up – how would life be different? Who would we be? How would it feel? Is terrorism a threat? The terrorism also demonstrates Bane’s character as an intense intelligent super-villan. The rich-poor contrast asks the questions – the rich may be opulent, greedy, and insensitive, but does that mean that others should antagonize them without end? Is it possible to do injustice to rich people? Bruce Wayne was born to wealth but must like the Miranda Tate, who was born to nothing, climb out of the pit; he must be reborn that way. Why? Growing up rich means that you tend lack certain necessarily perspectives and life experiences, but should that condemn you, or can you be hero even if you were born to wealth? In the face of tea party vs occupy wall-street, Noaln’s portrayal of class conflict adds relevant items into the discussion.

    This movie develops the human story of Bruce Wayne better than the Dark Knight. In the Dark Knight, you have someone who pines after a woman and wants to give up being Batman. It’s only until the end that there are any other dimensions to Wayne’s story. In this movie, we see more struggles. We see a struggle with loss, a struggle with not caring for death, a struggle with not knowing what to do with one’s life, a struggle with living up to people’s expectations, a struggle with being attacked personally as Bruce Wayne instead of Batman, a conflict with Alfred, a love drama with two women. It all wraps together well. Yes there’s noticeable Deus Ex Machina, but compared to other action dramas, there’s relatively few. After noticing all the movie’s strengths, one should find incentive to suspend disbelief. Also, Bane does not resent Gotham; there never says he does. He would just rather see Gotham burn.

    This is movie made by a fox not a hedgehog. It’s a movie that spreads itself (to create a sublime picture) more than it digs. That however does not mean it is a bad movie.

    • Ryan

      This is the proper explanation to the film. It does flesh out the journey of Bruce and although Bane is overwhelming, Bruce’s journey has failure that is overcome and the character grows in the process. This is the first film that makes me care for Bruce and like him for what he has to go through and the strength in which he deals with his failures.

  • katran

    Excellent review!

    I found this film totally empty and even offensive. There is not a single subversive bone in it’s bloated body. Batman – necessarily an outlaw- has been appropriated by the US of A for it’s own us-and-them policy. The villain comes illegally to Gotham and literally works in underground operation for it’s fall. Is he an illegal immigrant? Why am I thinking like this? Because it is the film which is bringing up these subjects!

    Batman, here, is not outside the system but a part of it. There is not even a single line against the authorities/government. Modine’s character comes close when he tells Goedon that the government is with the villains but Gordon cuts him short by telling him that they can’t help it as ‘Bane has their balls in a vice”. There is so much of confusion, even in the maker’s minds that they don’t know where they stand. Not only thematically but also what kind of film they are actually making. What I was not expecting, at all was the amount of casual jingoism in the film. For me this as Military Industry Complex as Transformers (if a tad more sophisticated). In The Dark Knight, the balance was just right as ‘Americanism’ was kept at a safe distance. This one seems to rub your face in the fact that Gotham is, in fact, America. There are torn flags, stadiums, National Anthems etc. You can’t cram your film with (half-baked) political allegories and pretend that this is just a ‘superhero’ film. It is epic and entertaining on one level but very disturbing, for all the wrong reasons, on another.

    • The use of the national anthem, and the little boy’s lilting voice accompanied by the slow motion cinematography, was pandering to armchair patriotism at its worst. At some point I wanted Bane to click the detonator mid-stanza just to turn the cliché-ridden scene on its head.

      You bring up a great point. Though buried somewhere in my notes, I forgot to mention the scene on the plane in which the CIA agent employs extreme interrogation techniques to coerce information out of his prisoners. Oh, what a subtle commentary on the PATRIOT, err Dent, Act!

      • katran

        Exactly! I wouldn’t have minded this film if it was only pompous and pretentious (though it is both).

        What you describe in your review is the direction this should should have logically gone if the Nolan was more risk-taking (or logical?). Instead, he peppers this with dangerously half-assed political references. This film is almost like the other extreme of Schumacher films.

        Also, thanks and kudos for the patience of replying to all the reviews. Have you read the discussion here:

        • I usually don’t read discussions on other sites but I glanced at the article itself and there were some interesting points. I might come back to it this weekend and finish the article. Thanks for the link!

  • BrianW


    Congratulations for being the the only person who gave a thoughtful negative review on Dark Knight Rises and didn’t just do it to troll, or get attention. Also, congrats for responding in the comments like a civilized human being, rather than resorting to hurling petty insults.

    When Dark Knight came out in 2008, I was absolutely floored. I talked about the movie for weeks. Four years later I see Dark Knight Rises and when the credits roll, I am empty and have no reaction at all. Something was…off. I was worried from the start that it would be like Spiderman 3 with the shoehorning in of too many characters. Anne Hathaway, who is a capable actress, was just put in the film for eye candy, as evidenced by unnecessary cleavage shots and such. She adds as much depth to the character as she can with the script, but I think it would have been more compelling and inspiring to have Batman’s only allies be John Blake, Commissioner Gordon, and Lucius Fox. It fits better with the premise of Batman being just a regular guy also, we don’t need another superhero in here. Don’t get me started on the unnecessary Miranda Tate character either…Yeah I know that Marion Cotillard has an Oscar, that doesn’t mean I want to watch Ben Kingsley in The Love Guru (an extreme example, but you get the point).

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the best actors of our young generation but the only “acting” he does is yelling at a guy who blew up the bridge and scowling at Gary Oldman when he finds out about Harvey Dent stuff. I blame the script.

    The extra characters, the general feeling that action was taking precedence over storytelling, the constant grandiose dialogue, the hammy attempt at topicality with the 9/11 and the Great Recession references, the time padding with the whole prison thing, the preposterous Bane voice ( which I think they did it that way to be original, so it wouldn’t be like Darth Vader but still…), the back healing in 3 weeks plothole, or how damn obnoxious it was when he jumped into bed with a woman like a day after he found out Rachel wanted to be with Dent. I think I could have forgiven it all, were it not for one thing:

    That damned copout ending. It nearly ruins the whole experience. If you are going to have him live, don’t act like he died, and then show his funeral, only to then show him a few minutes later like “gotcha, still alive.” That is soap-opera caliber writing. I know this was the studio. The blame is not on Nolan here. It was a cheap move to keep a possible opening for a fourth film just in case. The scene of Alfred grieving at Bruce’s grave next to the resting place of his parents was the most emotional moment in the Batman trilogy. My eyes welled up a bit. I actually thought for a moment, they would kill Batman, which is the correct ending in Nolan’s Batman Universe. It would have been powerful, and we damn sure would have remembered it. You would think that after the avalanche of dollars that has fallen upon the studio, they would let Nolan, one of the more creative directors, have a little creative control at the Apex of his brilliant career, but no. If they didn’t let Nolan do what he wanted, they’re sure as hell not gonna allow it for anyone else.

    Don’t get me wrong, the film has plenty of great moments. It is indeed entertaining, but it’s still a cataclysmic disappointment. If not for the expectations, I don’t think it would have been so bad. But it was like going to a blind date expecting Kate Upton, but you get there and its Janeane Garofalo. Either way, I need a while to process what I’ve seen. Hopefully, I’ll see it in a rosier light in retrospect. Cheers.

    • Yeah I know that Marion Cotillard has an Oscar, that doesn’t mean I want to watch Ben Kingsley in The Love Guru…

      This may be my favorite comment of all time.

  • I saw the film in a trilogy and left feeling it was, like one of conmenters said, a bit off. The second time I watched it I didn’t have that problem, I even felt it was better than TDK.

    The first time I watched it, I was expecting TDK. I was anticipating every scene, getting ahead of myself. But a movie that is about directness and honesty shining through the cracks of an old lie cannot be like a movie about two-faced opposites and lies.

    Nolan makes the connection by having Bane build an army that is seething under a Gotham city surface happily living a lie. The truth is soon to surface in a violent way. The Dent Act didn’t put those prisoners away, Dent did in TDKR. The Dent Act merely denied them parole. If Gotham learned Dent was Two Face, the city wouldn’t descend into chaos because “oh noes, my hero is no hero after all! Gasp!” But because those criminals would’ve had legal recourse to walk.

    TDK, unlike what most ppl think, was not about chaos – it was about the two-faced nature of people. It was a story told thematically and even visually, check out the scene with Rachel and Dent in the warehouses. So, too, is the theme of TDKR told. The way Batman fights is even different, and the camera stays on him to capture every punch. Brutal and direct. The only logical way to proceed from a film about snitches, liars, betrayers and the literally two-faced is to make a film that shows the lies rising up from underneath the surface to destroy everything those lies represented, which is the undeserved prosperity of the civilians who would have pushed that button in TDK had they had the courage to take a life. This is Bruce Wayne’s redemption story, and he had to find fear again to find the strength to be Batman, but it is more Robin’s origin story