After attending a marathon trilogy showing of the three latest Batman movies, my brother Kirk’s summary of The Dark Knight Rises was “okay but disappointing.” Kirk and I share the same taste in films, and we had a long discussion about what went wrong with this film and franchise, which we have followed since before we met Adam West at a car show when I was 4 and Kirk was 2. Here are some opinions, which are mine but are molded by my discussion with Kirk.
Like the James Bond movies, The Dark Knight Rises has certain strong points intrinsic to the character. Compelling visuals, cool gadgets, slick cars, colorful villains, and intense action are all as expected. The stadium terrorism scene is particularly gripping. Catwoman’s character shows potential.
The problems in the movie replicate some flaws in the last movie, made more glaring by the lack of a Heath Ledger to dilute them. Mediocre writing and poor editing combine to hamstring a great character and dazzling special effects. Undeterred by widespread complaints about The Dark Knight running too long at 152 minutes, Christopher Nolan and David Goyer have now brought us a 164-minute movie.
This would be more acceptable with a better plot and pacing, but instead the highlights of the film are broken up by long digressions into anti-heroic angst and excessive subplots. Displaying a cynical masochism that has plagued comic-book scripting since the 1990s, the beginning of the film drags as it wallows in portraying Bruce Wayne as the poor billionaire’s Howard Hughes, insane, eccentric, and unheroic. The writers’ compulsion to tear down the hero culminates with Bane “breaking” Batman, a storyline I have always found about as appealing as watching my favorite sports team lose the big game.
The film’s forced attempt at a sensational ending, stupidly leaked to the media before the opening weekend, caps off an ill-conceived and illogical plot. The last movie, apparently feeling a need to imitate Spider-Man, wrapped up by suddenly turning Batman into a fugitive for no particular reason at the end of the movie, departing from the thrust of the plot and from the character’s seven-decade history of working with law enforcement. This movie throws in a similar twist at the end, which I won’t spoil here, apart from saying it’s another attempt to generate cheap publicity with the lame device of feigning to kill off a major character everyone knows isn’t going to be killed off. For the money Nolan and Goyer are being paid to portray DC’s most commercially-significant character, they should have the creativity to come up with something more compelling than reheating the leftovers of the “let’s have readers vote on whether or not to kill of Robin” storyline.
Despite these gripes, I’d recommend the film for Batman fans. But it’s the weakest offering of the trilogy, and a disservice to a great character who deserves better. My advice to DC and Warner Brothers: get a writer who understands character and plot development, don’t let the kids drive the Batmobile.