While The Dark Knight Rises feels satisfying as you watch, it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Logically tenuous and structurally dubious, the film suffers from a surfeit of characters and plot. Worst of all, the film just feels pointless, a film that didn’t need to exist and one that adds little to what came before.
The Dark Knight effectively concluded Nolan’s Batman story having established the character of Batman and the relationship between Batman and Gotham’s political establishment, law enforcement agencies and the criminal underworld. It’s a shame that Rises doesn’t follow on by giving us a look at Batman’s night-to-night crime-fighting, instead jumping forward several years to when he’s a retired shell of a man, injured from too many fights and with a broken spirit. What happened between the end of The Dark Knight and the beginning of Rises? Who knows?
It’s the invigorating arrival of cat-burglar Selina Kyle that brings Bruce Wayne back into the world, but, while I can’t fault Anne Hathaway’s performance, this is more or less her character’s only purpose and it’s a role that could have been filled by Marion Cotillard with a bit of a script tweak. The rest of the time Kyle’s presence just raises questions, not least of which is why she was wandering around dressed like…well, like Catwoman half the time. There’s some weak justification for her impractical heels but not for her strolling around in a leather catsuit; ultimately she’s just there for the sake of it and her character arc is insultingly basic. A better addition to the Nolanverse is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, an everyman cop with an everyman name who gets caught in the middle and helps provide a human perspective on events.
I enjoyed what they did with Bane; the body of a brute, the mind of a Chilean revolutionary, an obedient cult of followers and a really lovely coat that made me wish that you could buy it in the shops and that I had the body to really work with it. As things stand, even if I could own that coat I’d just look like Bane’s stunted teenage son who’s only wearing it because his dad was worried about him catching a chill.
What I liked most about the character was that he seemed to be a genuine counterpoint to both Batman and Bruce Wayne. A character that wanted to liberate Gotham from the rich and powerful and give control to the people would not only have been topical but would have contrasted well against the League of Shadows with their intent to destroy Gotham, the Joker with his intent on causing chaos and Batman’s intent to largely preserve the status quo.
So what I liked least about Bane was that by the end of the film everything he’s said and done is undermined. He’s not a revolutionary. He’s not the people’s champion trying to break the system down. He’s not an anti-hero. He’s a stooge.
This twist does the film no favours. Suddenly Bane’s plot becomes absurdly complex and pointless: why go to the trouble of sealing off Gotham, holding it and the people hostage, setting up a criminal-led system of authority and pontificating over the rights and wrongs of it all if the end game is to destroy the city? If you just want to rub Wayne’s nose in it then obliterating Gotham and its people in nuclear fire is pretty much the worst thing you can do, right? It’s not made that much worse by firstly having a few months of criminal disorder; if anything it’d probably make people mind the destruction a bit less. Sure, it’s a shame that Gotham burnt to the ground, but it’d really let itself go lately.
I’ve been pretty negative. Unlike, say, X-Men 3: The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t terrible; it’s visceral and exciting and serious and, up to the point where he’s neutered by a plot twist, Bane is a terrific antagonist. The film is as artfully directed and composed as any other Nolan work, and delivers a punchy conclusion to Nolan and Bale’s run. But, it’s also not Nolan’s smartest film, with a story easily undermined by contrivance, design and casual thought. Couple this with the deserved success of the brighter, boisterous Marvel franchises and Rises manages to feel dated and forgettable, and the open-end of the film didn’t leave me wanting more.