The Dark Knight Rises cumbersomely falls from the rapturous heights its predecessor attained. ‘Batman Begins’ was a symbol of identity. ‘The Dark Knight’ was a symbol of hope. The Dark Knight Rises is a symbol of liberation. To release one’s self from the shackles of our own imprisonment. Providing deliverance to the civilians of Gotham City, oppressed by both the disappearance of Batman and Bane’s arrival, a physically intimidating terrorist. Gotham is thriving from the exploitations of a lie. A fabrication. The Dent Act. Eradicating organised crime and sentencing those criminals to life imprisonment within the walls of Blackgate Penitentiary. Batman, as the caped crusader, may not be wanted anymore. Yet he lives on, manifesting his iconography into the souls who witnessed his arresting power.
Nolan’s conclusive act in his rebooted trilogy serves as a reflection on America’s political, economical and social structures. However, it’s just not a very good mirror. It’s cracked. Damaged by the success of its legendary predecessor that meshed realism with superhero shenanigans perfectly.
Right, where to begin? The Dark Knight Rises is over two and a half hours long. There is so much plot stuffed into that runtime, that the feature itself becomes plot and only plot. Essentially, it’s all plot. Nearly every single line of dialogue from the Nolans’ screenplay alludes to a plot mechanic, sub-plot, plot structure, or foreshadowed plot point, resulting in minimal characterisation throughout. For example, after the events of ‘The Dark Knight’, Bruce Wayne becomes a recluse in his own lavish mansion. For eight years, he did nothing. Selina Kyle prowls the corridors one night, stealing pearls from a seemingly “uncrackable safe”, and all of a sudden he shifts back into the Batsuit ready to take on Bane. The only genuine development between that transition is when Alfred endearingly confronts Master Wayne about burning Rachel’s letter. That’s it.
In fact, throughout the entire feature, that precise scene is the only authentic moment where two characters interacted without having to further the plot. Another example? “Hotshot” John Blake becomes conveniently promoted to detective, just because Gordon believes he represents the idealism that the Commissioner once held, and somehow deduces Wayne’s secret identity. Why? Well, it’s so that Wayne returns as Batman, Blake investigates Bane’s implausibly merciless plan and to build up Blake’s real identity right at the end of the film. There are no organic conversations between these two righteous individuals, inevitably forcing them to be mere objects for a narrative derived from a multitude of plots. This vacuous aura that envelops Gotham and its residents consequently produces an incredibly inconsistent pace.
The initial plane siege over Uzbekistan, powered by Zimmer’s monumental score, exemplified Nolan’s insistence for practical effects and categorically commenced the blockbuster with excitement. Bane’s introduction was memorable, with CIA agents building him up to be the most imposing terrorist ever, and cemented a visceral style for the character. Then, for the next hour, nothing happens. Plot thickening agents for Tate’s fusion reactor project, corporate rival Daggett whom is funding Bane and his mercenaries, attacking Gotham Stock Exchange to bankrupt Wayne Enterprises.
That’s not even a third of the sub-plots! Fast forward to a brawl between Batman and Bane, acting as a test of physical strength, and the adrenaline ramps up again. Only to then rapidly diminish minutes later when Wayne is thrown into an underground prison and must endure Gotham’s reckoning as Bane traps the entire police force within tunnels after exploding half of the island. Well, you get the idea. All these plots, all these strands of franchise building/closing, are haphazardly edited together by Smith. One scene includes Batman, then cuts to Kyle, then Bane, then Daggett, then Fox, then Tate, then Blake, then Gordon and then back to Batman. Nolan, simply put, cannot juggle all of these characters and plots coherently. Some, admittedly, are more interesting than others.
Then we get to the conclusive act, which turns an unbalanced yet tonally somber feature into an absolute mess. Terribly executed character reveals, a complete loss of real-time, the worst death sequence to ever grace our screens and resolving a hundred million sub-plots in the space of twenty minutes. The snowy second brawl between Batman and Bane was clunky, with a fighting style that was obviously choreographed instead of inhibiting natural fluidity. The inadequacy of certain early demises essentially destroyed the thin character development that preceded, again, likening individuals to plot devices. And the essential buildup to anarchy never really resolved itself.
The harshness of my critiquing is at the forefront due to the excellence this trilogy has previously provided. Make no mistake, there are meritorious attributes to The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy’s body-language exuded a menacing demeanour. Bale, as Wayne, builds himself up stoically and with subtle complexions. Hathaway certainly looked the part as Catwoman, exercising her typically nice persona with a “bad girl” attitude. Zimmer’s score, as always, delivers in the bass department, turning the most menial scenes into epic tapestries. Pfister’s cinematography, especially the IMAX sequences, were beautifully shot and saturated colours enhanced the suppressed environment of Gotham.
Objectively speaking, The Dark Knight Rises is a technically astute blockbuster. Narratively though? Not in the slightest. It’s a mess. Borderline boring. A case of too many ingredients unable to simmer in a broth of explosive potential. Nolan completes his renowned trilogy in a dissatisfying conclusion that, unfortunately, many will not admit to being mediocre. Marking this feature as Nolan’s weakest film to date, in what is a stellar filmography.