Thar be spoilers in these here parts. Me hearties. Big ‘uns.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Oh, Bane. What is the point of you?
Strong, check. Mask which is an inversion of Batman’s, check. Mask that obsures your mouth making you regularly impossible to understand, check. Revolutionary, check. Starts a ‘we are the one percent’ revolution by killing masses of sportspeople and normal commuters, check. Actual confrontations with our hero amount to brutal but ultimately dull fist-fights, check. Completely ignored at end of movie because it turns out you didn’t even have the backstory we thought you did, check.
Seriously? The twist is that you’re less interesting that I previously thought you were? That’s… disappointing.
A lot of people have really loved The Dark Knight Rises, and I do not begrudge them that. I am deeply jealous of them, and it’s getting worse every day someone else tells me how awesome it was. But I don’t see what the fuss is. Has the general shittiness of third-movies-in-trilogies lowered our expectations this far?
One of my favourite things about The Dark Knight was that it at least avoided Batman Begins’ stupid microwave macguffin-ish plot device. Imagine my disappointment when so very early in Rises, we’re introduced to the bomb that’s going to be the centrepiece of the entire plot. How exciting. A bomb. Colour me thrilled. And then the otherwise enthralling Selina Kyle goes and tells me “There’s a storm coming”. Argh.
Later, someone will say “Why do we fall, Bruce?”, because apparently we just didn’t hear that line enough times in Batman Begins. Then we’ll be treated to the return of the pretentiously-named “League of Shadows”, an organisation that I have a hard time taking seriously. I’m sure there are people out there who appreciated these elements as thematic tie-ins and didn’t feel like we were dredging all the crap from the first film that I had thought–hoped–we’d left buried. I want to be them.
That’s not to say that The Dark Knight didn’t have its issues. I’m not sure I completely bought the 'two ferries with bombs’ scenario, but I was enjoying the film to go along with it. Rises doubles down on this sort of convenient over-simplification of reality. To really get into this film, you’ll have to believe that a Police Department would send every single officer underground to search for a bunch of people in the sewers. All of them. Yes.
It’s fair to say, then, that the film was gently nudging me in a non-appreciative direction. But there were moments of excellence. Christian Bale remains a brilliant Bruce Wayne, and a decent Batman when he’s not reaching for his asthma pump. His scenes with Selina were especially good: one of the joys of the Batman concept is Bruce’s awkward “So, I’ve got this friend who dresses up like a bat who needs your help” moments, and these ones were done neatly. And the dance where Bruce is the only one in the room not wearing a mask was particularly amusing. It’s unfortunate that Bruce’s story sort of gets messy when he’s forced to ‘rise’ twice, meaning that almost all the time that Batman has spent actually working through a story while being Batman turns out to have taken place in The Dark Knight.[^1]
Speaking of Selina, it’s no stretch to say that Anne Hathaway is my favourite Catwoman ever. And I know a man can’t say that without people referring to how good she looks in a catsuit, but I mean it in a genuine acting-appreciating way (primarily, if not exclusively). And, for that matter, in a script-writing way. I like an anti-hero who actually gets to save the day and not die for his or her sins at the end.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is as good as ever, too… unfortunately, he was so good, and the movie was so very 'Bruce is in trouble’, that for a second I thought they were actually going to have the balls to switch leading men halfway through. It’s unfair to judge the film on my dashed expectations. So I won’t. But they were dashed.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon got to be an action hero at the expense of actually doing anything interesting. Okay, interesting choice. I’d be grumpy if I couldn’t just kick back and watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy whenever I wanted to.
And then there’s the end. There’s two kinds of people in the world, it seems. People who saw ambiguity in the final scenes, and people who’ll look blankly at you if you suggest that there was ambiguity in the final scenes. I confess I’m in the latter group; when it was first suggested to me, I was amused but thought it was just the crazy thought of an isolated person. I’ve now read much discussion of it online: some in quite a bit of detail. My considered opinion is that if Batman’s clever enough to have repaired the auto-pilot, then he’s clever enough to remember to turn it on. The idea of Batman slapping his head in disbelief, remembering that hey, he didn’t have to kill himself to get rid of the bomb, just as the freaking thing explodes, is somewhat unbelievable to me given his general air of competency. And on a cinematic level, I found it a rather ham-fisted attempt at ambiguity. It’d be a heck of a lot neater as a 'choose your own adventure’ if they’d dropped the auto-pilot explanation. Or, for that matter, just never ever mentioned auto-pilot in the first place.[^2]
I have no wish to spoil the movie for people who can be moved when a man climbs out of a pit that was only just introduced specifically so he could climb out of it. But it annoyed me too many times to enthrall me, in the end. It’s fine, it’s fun, it looks fantastic, there’s some really cool vehicles doing some really cool things, but dammit, if you’re all going to go on about a movie this much, it should be fucking brilliant.