Finally. I thought I’d never finish this thing.
I don’t think the movie’s perfect — I certainly don’t think it’s as good as The Dark Knight — but it is, ultimately, a very satisfying end to a trilogy.
Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne is a recluse, Batman is no more, Harvey Dent is still dead but at least has his own holiday, and a shit ton of bad guys are behind bars. Unfortunately for Gotham, Bane (Tom Hardy) has come to get this party started up.
1. Let’s start with our villains (or anti-villains):
So, let’s be clear: no one’s beating Michelle Pfeiffer as Best Catwoman of All Time. Which is fine because Anne Hathaway didn’t try to do that: she’s her own Catwoman here, and she’s completely awesome: manipulative, intelligent, beautiful, dangerous. Often badass heroines in movies aren’t handled very well: they’re bitchy instead of strong, or they’re sexy but not actually competent. Hathaway handles the balance really well, though, and I’d credit her (and not Nolan) for how great Catwoman is. The role isn’t written horribly or anything — she’s got some decent lines — but there’s nothing inherently awesome about the part. It’s really up to Hathaway to bring Selina Kyle to life, and she does.
Best moment? Selina pretends to be terrified and starts screaming at the top of her lungs when the police bust in. That was hilarious. That was the moment she sold me on Catwoman.
Oh, Bane. Bane, on the other hand, is a lot more complicated.
My problems with Bane’s voice are two-fold.
A. The Accent
Everyone says that Bane sounds like Sean Connery, but I didn’t actually hear that. I did have an idea about what he was trying for, but I can’t talk about that above the spoiler section. Also, according to IMDb, I was wrong anyway. Either way, though, the accent feels . . . unnecessary, thrown in.
Still, to Tom Hardy’s credit, I do like a lot of his line deliveries despite the accent. He does manage to come off as menacing in a number of scenes . . . when I’m not constantly being distracted, that is, by the second problem . . .
B: The Mask
Now, I’ve talked to a few people about The Dark Knight Rises, and so far I seem to be the only one to have this particular problem, so bear that in mind. But. You know how sometimes you’re watching an old movie on TV (or, for that matter, a video on youtube) and the sound goes all wonky and suddenly the words don’t match the lips anymore? That’s kind of how I felt watching Bane. The voice was so clearly dubbed — his words were practically echoing around the screen — and they often didn’t seem to match the little bit of the face that you could see, and it made me constantly aware that the voice wasn’t actually coming from him. I don’t know that it would have bothered me as much if his whole face had been hidden behind a mask . . . you know, like Darth Vader or something . . . but something about watching his eyes, like, occasionally widen a fraction with this booming, dubbed dialogue . . . I don’t know, I just felt the disconnect really jarring.
2. Also, for your consideration, this is me doing my extremely low-budget Bane impression:
How many times does he stand like this during the movie? Eight? It was a little ridiculous.
3. Christian Bale continues to be the best live action Batman, despite The Voice. Actually, The Voice has clearly been toned down a bit for the third film, and thank God. I know there are arguments for it, but I still maintain that if my reaction to a superhero’s voice is to giggle, it’s just not working.
Christian Bale also sells pain particularly well — I love it when actors aren’t afraid to break Stoic Face, especially in situations where Stoic Face is absolutely ridiculous — and there are a few great scenes with him and Michael Caine where there Tears and Feelings. I got choked up once or twice, those bastards.
4. Another new element: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
I am strongly of the opinion that adding Joseph Gordon-Levitt to your film can never hurt your movie. It certainly doesn’t here. On paper, I’m not convinced that John Blake is anything that special, but on screen Gordon-Levitt makes him pop. There’s one scene in particular — and boy, will we be talking about that scene in the Spoiler Section — where I only buy the completely ludicrous material because he sells it so damn well. The fact that I accept that scene at all is a huge testament to Gordon-Levitt’s talent.
5. I’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises twice now, and I liked it even better on the second viewing. That being said, there are a few bits of the film that I think are problematic. To be fair, most of my issues are fairly minor. For instance . . .
A. Bruce’s Injury
When we see Bruce again for the first time, he is walking around with a cane (that he does or doesn’t seem to need all that badly, depending on the given scene — when he’s dancing with Selina Kyle, for instance, he seems to be doing just dandy without it). But how did he injure himself? One guest at a party says it was an accident, but that’s never confirmed or described in any kind of detail. It could just be age and cumulative damage — being Batman will probably tear the body up — but when we left Batman in The Dark Knight, his leg seemed fine, and that was his last night as the Caped Crusader.
Like I said, it’s a fairly small thing, but it did bother me because there is a big discussion in the movie if Bruce Wayne is still physically capable of being Batman eight years later, and I think a line or two of exposition about the leg would not have been a bad idea.
B. The Passage of Time
Again, fairly minor, but there’s a significant passage of time during the film that’s mostly depicted by the sudden appearance of snow. I mean, it’s not awful, but considering that there’s a pretty important deadline attached to these events, I would have liked to have felt the passage of the five months better. As is, it’s a bit jarring.
I have other problems I want to discuss, but those all include spoilers so they will have to wait. For now, let’s talk about Nolan’s aesthetic.
6. Christopher Nolan seems to be particularly fond of very neat movies. Not neat like awesome (although they mostly are) but neat like tidy, orderly, structured. Almost everything that happens in one of his films is set up a couple of times, which often gives the endings of these films an almost inevitable feeling, like there was no other possibility but the one he led you to. This is neither a compliment nor a complaint (although it could be either or both, depending on the context), just something I’ve noticed in his work that I find interesting.
7. Finally, here are some quotes before I get to the real, spoilerific meat of this review:
“When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die.” – Bane
“So, that’s what that feels like.” – Batman
“The shadows betray you because they belong to me.” – Bane
“About the whole no guns thing . . . I don’t feel as strongly about it as you do.” – Catwoman
“You’ll just have to imagine the fire.” – Bane
“Do you feel in control?” – Bane
“I’ve paid you a small fortune.” – Daggett
“And this gives you power over me?” – Bane
“You don’t get to judge me just because you were born in the master bedroom of Wayne Manor — ” – Selina Kyle
“Actually, I was born in the Regency Room.” – Bruce Wayne
If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading this review and go see the movie. Everyone else?
So, we have a lot of ground to cover. Sit back. Relax. This may be a sprawling nightmare of recap.
Okay, so it’s Harvey Dent Day. (I can’t even type that without smiling.) The cops are all slapping themselves on the back because organized crime is virtually nil, thanks to the Dent Act, which gave the police force some teeth. Also, it allowed them to deny parole to a bunch of people. Remember that because it’s sort of important.
The only cop who’s not exactly feeling the mood is Jim Gordon because in these movies Jim Gordon has always been something of a melancholic bastard.
Also, Gordon’s been lying for eight years and his wife has left him and blah blah blah. He’s written a speech to tell the citizens of Gotham the Truth, but he decides not to at the last minute and tucks the speech back into his jacket. That’s important too.
About the same time: Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne meet when she steals his mom’s pearls and, more importantly, his fingerprint. (But let’s not ignore those pearls entirely. After all, it’s the only thing Mrs. Wayne is really known for. I bet if you did a poll across the world, more people would be able to identify what type of necklace Mrs. Wayne wore than her first name. Do you know her first name? Don’t Google, you little cheater.)
Anyway, so Selina proves that she’s
awesome amoral by attacking Cripple Bruce. She easily escapes. It turns out that she’s selling the fingerprint to Bane’s people for some made-up technology called Clean Slate, which does pretty much exactly what you think it does. Bane’s people betray her because that’s what bad guys do; also, they tell her that Clean Slate doesn’t really exist. That’s not actually true, though. Bruce Wayne has control of Clean Slate, and later uses it to get Catwoman on his side.
Meanwhile, Bruce is having big money problems. He ran his fortune into the ground on this big environmental plan to provide clean energy that supposedly flopped, although it turns out that the device basically works just fine; it just happens to be only two steps shy of becoming a nuclear bomb. Whoops.
Bane makes Bruce’s money problems considerably more significant when he robs a stock exchange and bankrupts Bruce. To keep Evil Little Shit Daggett from getting his hands on the energy device, Bruce turns his company over to Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). Miranda is shown where the device is and how to flood it. That’s important too. I should just start highlighting significant plot points to remember.
Miranda also happens to be Bruce’s other love interest. One minute, they’re business partners, and the next they’re having sex in front of his giant fireplace because nothing turns Miranda on, apparently, like a little rain and a guy who’s just gone bankrupt. I was fully prepared to be annoyed about this — I mean, honestly, they haven’t even been hinting at a romantic attraction between these two — but her motivations were much clearer by the end of the film, so I was eventually won over.
It’s a good thing that Bruce has a night with Miranda, though, because otherwise his life is pretty much shit right now. Bankruptcy isn’t fun by any means, but what’s worse is that Alfred has left him. See, Alfred doesn’t approve of Bruce getting back in the superhero game because he thinks Bruce is going to get himself killed.
There’s a really good scene between the two of them right before Alfred leaves where he begs Bruce to find some other way to help Gotham, but Bruce, of course, won’t listen. My sister and I were arguing about this scene, actually, because she felt that there was no way that Alfred would ever actually leave Bruce. I, on the other hand, think that leaving was Alfred’s last bid to save Bruce, that it was the only power he really had over him. It’s a move for self-preservation as well — it’s too hard, sometimes, to watch someone self-destruct. I think Alfred felt like he was out of options. And I just really like the scene a lot — Michael Caine and Christian Bale are phenomenal in it. First moment I got a little misty-eyed.
After Alfred runs off, Selina Kyle agrees to take Batman to Bane, but it ends up being a trap. Bane kicks Batman’s ass all around the sewers and breaks his back. I was so impressed that this actually happened — and mid-movie, no less. I figured they’d allude to it, but I didn’t know if they’d actually go through with the spine-crunching. Good on them.
Bane takes Batman to the hell-on-earth prison from whence he came. It’s basically a giant ass hole in the ground with a pretty view of blue skies, and apparently, there are no guards. If you can climb out of the prison, you’re a free man, but no one can actually do it. (Except for the one kid who did — but we’ll get back to that in a moment.) This prison keeps giving you hope and then keeps taking it away from you — which is, shockingly, analogous to what Bane plans to do to Gotham.
So, here is Bane’s overcomplicated plan: he turns Bruce’s nifty energy source project into a nuclear bomb and tells Gotham that he’s given the trigger to some random citizen. The citizen will detonate the bomb if anyone tries to leave the city or if anyone from outside the city tries to interfere. Bane isn’t looking to be King, though — he wants to give Gotham a revolution, to strip the rich and corrupt of their power and give it back to the people. (Mayor Nestor Carbonell is killed at the football game. Poor Nestor and his fabulous natural eyeliner. I was amazed he made it past The Dark Knight, though.)
And the cops can’t do much to help because the vast majority of them are trapped underneath the ground, save John Blake, Jim Gordon (who’s been shot), and Arrogant/Cowardly Turned Last Minute Redemptive and thus Dead Meat Officer Matthew Modine.
However, unbeknownst to Gotham (but knownst to us), the bomb will go off in five months anyway, whether the people in the city behave or not. So I get it — Bane will give Gotham hope just before he crushes them — but there’s a part of me that really wishes this was just a revolution and not all a big deception. I’m not sure why. I guess it’s just more interesting — and maybe a bit simpler. Going through all of this when you’re just going to blow up the city anyway — I don’t know; it strikes me as a rather fantastic waste of time.
But getting back to the story: Bruce, quite naturally, wants to escape his own prison, but first he has to fix his own broken back. While that’s happening, we learn a little about the legend of the one person who actually has escaped: a child who was born in the prison. The child turns out to be Ra’s al Ghul’s offspring, and Liam Neeson comes back for a nice little hallucination cameo. Also, Bruce automatically assumes that the child is Bane, and really, I should have known better. I should have, because I damn well know that al Ghul’s kid is Talia . . . but I think I was so disgusted by the prospect of Bane al Ghul that my ire overcame my common sense.
Because when Bruce says that Bane is Ra’s Jr., I about had a seizure in my seat. It’s not really a canon thing — my only problem in that regard was the change in Bane’s ethnicity, and being honest, my disappointment was tempered by the casting of Tom Hardy because I’m shameless — but it’s just such a stupid bit of cliched nonsense. Of COURSE Bane is the only child of Ra’s al Ghul, I thought. Of COURSE he is.
(And remember when I said Tom Hardy didn’t sound like Sean Connery to me? Well, he didn’t really sound like Liam Neeson, either, or at least he wasn’t using the same accent, but there were a few words that had a similar cadence to me, that had me thinking of Neeson before we even heard about the possibility of Daddy al Ghul. Since I thought that was an intentional choice, it seemed actually quite clever, but apparently my brain was making all that up because, according to IMDb, Hardy based the voice on some Irish boxer or something.)
Anyway. While Bruce languishes away in his prison, the remaining cops above ground try to organize some kind of resistance. Oh! I haven’t talked about John Blake yet. This is the problem with movies like this — recapping them in order is a pain in the ass.
Okay, rewind to much earlier in the film: Jim Gordon gets shot.
Officer John Blake goes to Bruce Wayne and tells him about Gordon. Wayne’s like, why you telling me? Blake’s like, cause, dude, you’re the Batman. I know. And how does Officer Blake know all about Bruce Wayne’s deep, dark secret? Through shitty writing.
Well. Actually, to be fair, the first part isn’t shitty. This is Blake explaining how he’s an orphan.
“Not a lot of people know what it feels like to be angry in your bones. I mean, they understand . . . foster parents . . . everybody understands . . . for awhile. Then they want the angry little kid to do something he knows he can’t do, move on. So after awhile they stop understanding. They send the angry kid to a boys home. I figured it out too late. You gotta learn to hide the anger, practice smiling in the mirror. It’s like putting on a mask.”
See that, that’s all great. I actually love that. But then we go further. Because when Bruce Wayne visits their boys home one day — and, okay, “Bruce Wayne, billionaire orphan? We used to make up stories about you, man” is pretty awesome too — Little John Blake sees the anger in Bruce’s own eyes and just figures it out.
And I’m sorry; I’m sorry, but this is such bullshit. They could have had John Blake discover that Bruce was Batman in a hundred different ways — one of the easiest might have been to simply notice that Bruce apparently became a recluse about the same time that Batman disappeared, like, smooth, Bruce — but they had to make Blake look in the guy’s eyes and just KNOW? Ugh. That is so lazy. Recognizing a shared pain is one thing, but discovering a superhero’s secret identity through the angst he sees in the windows to the soul is quite something else. I hate this so, so much.
The only thing that makes this scene manageable is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is so damn good in it. Despite my squirming and eye-rolling at this total narrative nonsense, Gordon-Levitt makes it work because he sells that rippling undercurrent of fury so well. (If you want to see him do more of that, go watch Manic. It’s not a perfect film — the shaky cam grates on my nerves after a while — but Gordon-Levitt’s excellent in it. In one scene, he’s just sitting there, and rage literally seems to be pouring off of him.)
Anyway, so fast-forward again. Bane gets hold of Gordon’s secret speech about Harvey Dent and reads it to Gotham. Blake is mighty pissed at Gordon about the cover-up. Not big on corruption, that one. Bane also busts open the jail, freeing a whole bunch of scary inmates including Catwoman and, presumably, Scarecrow.
Every movie should have Cillian Murphy in it, even if he’s just a cameo. I was so delighted when he came on screen, sentencing people to exile or death. Of course, people who choose exile have to try and make it across the frozen lake, which they never can, so it’s pretty much the same thing. When Jim Gordon gets captured, he chooses death over exile. Cillian Murphy, smirking, sentences him with “death . . . by exile.” LOVE.
(Also, fun fact: this is the first Christopher Nolan movie where Cillian Murphy has not had a bag over his head at some point or another.)
Back to Hell on Earth: after Bruce’s back heals up, he tries to escape the prison. He makes it on his third try when he foregoes the safety of a rope. (Fortune favors the bold and all that.) Thankfully, Bruce makes it back to Gotham just in time to save Gordon as he walks out on the ice. In ludicrously convenient timing, he also saves John Blake before Blake can get shot to shit by some flunkies. He doesn’t come in time to save John Blake’s partner, but no one really cares about him because he’s not introduced until the movie’s halfway over and, actually, I’m not even sure if the character gets a name. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed except that I recognize the actor, Reggie Lee, from Prison Break of all things. (Also from Prison Break: Wade Williams, who played a prison guard here, a prison guard turned convict there, and Black Mask in Batman: Under the Red Hood. I love weird connections like that.)
Bruce also enlists Selina Kyle’s help to stop Bane, despite the fact that she led him into a trap last time. Selina points this out to him. Bruce is like, yeah, that was disappointing, but whatevs, I believe in you. It’s a funny scene, and they have excellent chemistry to make it work, but I still can’t help but flail around in incredulity at Bruce’s poor decision making skills. This woman nearly led you to your death. She did lead you to a broken back and a horrifying prison out in the middle of nowhere. So . . . let’s exchange friendship bracelets? Bruce, you confuse me.
Well, regardless. Batman frees all the cops from the underground. They fight Bane’s people in the streets. Batman and Bane square off again, and Batman gets the upper hand until Miranda Tate shows her true colors by stabbing him in the side. See, Marion Cotillard’s not really Miranda; she’s Talia al Ghul. Like I said, it’s truly embarrassing that I didn’t know this ahead of time, but we all have our off days. I was incredibly grateful, though, because Miranda being the bad guy solved a few problems for me: Bane being al Ghul’s child for one thing, and Miranda jumping Bruce out of nowhere for another. It also makes this whole elaborate plan to destroy Gotham and thus fulfill her father’s mission slightly more doable . . . but I still feel like it’s kind of overcomplicated. Of course, that’s the League of Shadows M.O., right? Why make things sensible?
Talia tells Batman that it’s the slow knife that cuts the deepest, right as she tries to detonate the bomb, but the cops have managed to block the signal for another eleven minutes. (Hey, any CW students: deadline!) Bruce tells her that maybe the knife is too slow. Heh. Bruce for the win.
Talia tells Bane to keep Batman alive so that he can see Gotham burn right before he dies. Then she leaves. Bane (smartly) decides to ignore this plan and tells Batman that he’ll just have to imagine the fire, which is quite possibly my favorite line ever. Of course, it’s almost swallowed by Selina Kyle roaring back on screen and killing the shit out of Bane. Go Selina. Bye, Tom Hardy.
While all this is happening, John Blake is trying to evacuate two buses of orphaned kids who more or less represent all of the innocence in Gotham. The guards on the bridge won’t listen to him, though, and eventually blow the bridge in half so that no one can escape. JGL gives a spectacular little tantrum, which I particularly love because Blake is described as a hothead two or three times, and it’s nice to see moments where all that anger he’s supposed to be hiding comes out to the surface. Have I mentioned that I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt yet?
We then go back to Bruce and Talia and the car chase scene. The good guys are trying to get the bomb back to reactor, where Lucius Fox can disarm it. Talia does not want that to happen, of course. Unfortunately for her, she isn’t as good at car chases as she is at stabbing people. She rather spectacularly crashes her truck and dies. Before she bites the big one, though, she floods the reactor so that the good guys can’t bring the bomb back there. About this:
A. I like how the flooding was nicely set up way back in the beginning of the film. Like I said before, if it’s one thing Nolan understands, it’s structure. Everything is balanced just so in his movies, particularly this one. It does have the potential to make his movies a bit predictable, though. (Although, obviously, this one wasn’t for me.)
B. Lucius Fox’s “Oh dear” at the prospect of drowning is hilarious. Also, I’m glad he makes it out alive. Also, I’m kind of amazed he makes it out alive. When The Dark Knight came out, Mek and I figured that either he or Rachel would bite it, and thankfully, Rachel did. But we didn’t figure Fox’s chances in Part III were great. I’m glad we were wrong.
C. I suspect that Talia dies in a car accident because they just couldn’t have Batman kill a woman. However, I don’t really mind, if only because it’s nice to see that a car accident that would clearly kill somebody actually does kill somebody. You know, not everything can just be walked off.
So, Batman’s only option is to fly the nuclear bomb out of Gotham. Unfortunately, his Bat Plane or whatever it’s called doesn’t have autopilot. (This was set up too, and again, it should have been an obvious set-up — a clear variant of having to detonate the explosives manually — but I don’t know. Maybe all my critical film-watching skills were just shot to hell with my brain making Batman squee noises.) Batman flies away, and in the distance we see the bomb explode. And now . . . it’s a nuclear bomb, right, so there ought to be some kind of fallout from that, yeah? At the very least, we have a lot of poisoned fish nearby, right? Whatever, I don’t really care that much.
Finally, the denouement:
1. Batman is finally recognized as a hero. Thanks, Gotham, for getting your shit together once he’s dead.
2. Alfred comes home for Bruce’s funeral. Alfred cries. I fight valiantly not to break into tears and embarrass myself. I can’t help it. Old Man Tears get me almost every time.
3. Alfred goes to his cafe in Paris, or wherever it was he used to go, back when Bruce was legally dead (er, for the first time). He always hoped to see Bruce there with his family, even though they wouldn’t say anything to each other. (If you’re thinking this sounds an awful lot like what Ben Affleck wanted in Good Will Hunting, well, I’m right there with you. Also, why is it so important that they don’t talk to each other? I mean, I get the whole point, that Alfred’s just relieved that Master Bruce is alive and happy, but does that really preclude them from saying a very quick howdy? I don’t possibly see how.)
Anyway, Alfred goes to the cafe and sees that Bruce is very much alive, after all. (He had fixed the autopilot. It could have been cheap but wasn’t, since we were told early on that he was capable of doing it.) Bruce is with Selina Kyle, which we cheer for because they’re awesome together, even if I assume they would still have massive, massive trust issues.
4. John Blake quits the force because he can’t deal with the corruption and whatnot. He inherits the Bat Cave. This is awesome. In fact, this is so awesome that it makes me wonder what a fourth movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Batman would be like because the idea of this righteous, hothead, young cop as the Dark Knight is really interesting, and I would see that movie in a hot second. Of course, I don’t think it’s actually going to happen, not with these people, anyway. Nolan’s been pretty vocal that this is his last Batman film, and I’m not sure I see JGL doing it without him. Still, I’d be excited if it were a real thing.
Considerably less awesome, however, and in fact my least favorite thing about the entire movie:
Before Blake finds the Bat Cave, he has to pick up . . . something. I don’t know. It’s something Bruce left for him, I think, so that he could get into the Cave. I can’t remember; it’s late. The point is, the woman can’t find Blake’s name in the database anywhere. Blake’s like, oh yeah, try my birth name. And I’m like Score! It’s going to be Tim Drake, right? It has to be Tim Drake. Cause see, in the comics, Tim Drake is one of the Robins . . . the third, I think . . . and he happens to be the one who figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman. (For a real reason, not because he saw it in Bruce’s fucking eyes, but whatever.) And hell, Blake basically rhymes with Drake anyway, and it just seemed like such a cool little thing for fans, right?
But no. Instead the woman says Blake should use his first name. She likes Robin.
And ugh. UGH.
This is so fucking clunky and dumb. I don’t care if it’s a tiny moment; it’s a tiny unnecessary moment of complete and utter fail. Blake’s legal name didn’t have to be Tim Drake — I just thought it was a cool idea — but to make it Robin? Robin? I’m pretty sure I groaned out loud in theater when I saw this. I may have buried my face in my hands. Christopher Nolan might as well have just popped up on screen and said, “Get it? GET IT?” I kind of wanted to cry. Also, this is surprisingly the one thing Nolan didn’t bother to set up — like, there’s no scene earlier in the movie where Blake is having trouble accessing something because of legal name issues or whatever. It makes me wonder if this tiny scene was a last minute add-on that they debated even having in the movie.
I really wished they hadn’t.
Very strong end to a trilogy, which can’t be understated. So many trilogies crash and burn at the end. This one ties the three movies together nicely — but it’s not entirely flawless, either.
Greedy capitalists suck.
Surviving is not the same thing as living. Seize happiness while you can. Martyrdom is not all it’s cracked up to be. Pretend martyrdom, on the other hand, is fantastic.
Be more trustworthy. A person tricks you and leaves you to die? That’s totally the person you want to shag with in Paris. That is absolutely the best person to give your dead mother’s pearls too.