Why The Dark Knight Rises Remains an Imperfect Ending to Nolan’s Batman Saga

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When The Dark Knight Rises was released in July 2012, it was met with extraordinary hype and even more extraordinary reception. Aside from earning nearly $1.1 billion dollars worldwide to become the highest-grossing Batman film ever (which it still is), it captivated virtually everyone who saw it. Far from being a creative disappointment, it was widely deemed as equal to — if not better than — its prodigiously celebrated predecessor: 2008’s The Dark Knight.

Much like the slowly shattering ice that opens the film, though, the cracks soon started showing as the months and years passed by. Viewers began meticulously picking apart Christopher Nolan’s epic finale to determine that nearly every element (from its pacing, length, and plot to its sound design, acting, and dialogue) felt uncharacteristically subpar, even unsatisfying in spots.

Sure, a few leaps in logic — such as Bruce Wayne miraculously arriving back in Gotham after escaping his underground prison, GCPD officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) happening to know that Wayne is Batman, and Bane’s lair being beneath Wayne Tower’s armory without Wayne or Lucius Fox knowing — can probably be excused for the sake of their emotional and narrative beats.

However, there are more fundamental issues with The Dark Knight Rises that, especially with a full decade of hindsight, drastically keep it from achieving true greatness. At times, it’s both the best and the worst of the trilogy, and while it’s an excellent film overall, it could’ve been a masterpiece.

The most multifaceted and glaring problems come with Tom Hardy’s Bane, who, admittedly, offers a far superior rendition than Jeep Swenson did in 1997’s Batman & Robin. Nevertheless, his genuinely fascinating and frightening presence as a populist anarchist/revolutionist (who tests Batman and Gotham on physical and intellectual levels) is undermined by several key shortcomings.

Chiefly, his voice is hard to take seriously. Granted, it’s intentionally incongruous to his appearance, and Hardy famously based it on a real person (Romani boxer Bartley Gorman). Also, let’s not forget that the initial screenings of the extended prologue, placed before theatrical showings of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol around the end of December 2011, saw viewers complaining that Bane’s voice was unintelligible, prompting Nolan to fix it by April 2012.

Even with the director’s corrections for the theatrical release, however, Bane frequently sounds cartoonish rather than chilling. (That said, there are multiple moments where it totally works, too, such as during his disturbing “When Gotham is ashes” speech to Wayne in the prison.)

“I said Chris, we can either go down a sort of arch Darth Vader route, straight just neutral tone villain voice, or we could try this… But we could get laughed out of the part of it, it might be something that we regret, but it’s your choice ultimately,” Hardy revealed to CinemaBlend last year.

Heath Ledger’s Joker — who was set to reprise his role prior to Ledger’s passing, and who was then going to be replaced by the Ridder — was usually impersonated with sincerity rather than satire. In contrast, Hardy’s Bane was typically mocked across social media, YouTube, and elsewhere.

Whether lovingly or not, countless people have posted sneering parodies to the internet, with BloodBlitz Comedy’s “ BaneCat” series serving up arguably the most cleverly undercutting ridicule. To this day, such silly yet accurate lampoons diminish the terror and authority that Nolan and Hardy were aiming for.

Beyond that, Bane’s reign of terror and sociopolitical strategy — which, intentionally or not, evoked and/or foreshadowed Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the French Revolution, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Tea Party, and the Proud Boys — are certainly enthralling in terms of affective storytelling and visual spectacle.

Yet, as Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir suggested when the movie came out, “the… plot is unnecessarily complicated and loaded with MacGuffins.” Perhaps extremely close viewings could make complete sense of Bane’s multiple agendas, which include but aren’t limited to several side quests (bankrupting Wayne, freeing Blackgate Penitentiary prisoners, exposing the Harvey Dent cover-up, and converting a reactor core into a bomb) prior to his main objective (issuing martial law across Gotham before destroying it).

Even then, though, it’ll always be at least a bit convoluted and hard to follow, and that’s before you dig into some murkier motivations and plot conveniences regarding other characters.

Plus, it’s hard to tell what exactly Nolan and company are trying to say with The Dark Knight Rises from a political/economic perspective. As The Hollywood Reporter noted in July 2012, “both [the] left and right are making claims and accusations about the ideological messages sent in the trilogy,” because “how people will read into it will depend on their politics.”

Nolan has largely maintained that the movie is apolitical, telling Rolling Stone in 2012 that he’s merely showing “the cracks of society” and “the conflicts that somebody would try to wedge open. We’re going to get wildly different interpretations of what the film is supporting and not supporting, but it’s not doing any of those things. It’s just telling a story.”

Likewise, he explained to Film Comment:

All of these different interpretations are possible. What was surprising to me is how many pundits would write about their political interpretation of the film and not understand that any one political interpretation necessarily involved ignoring huge chunks of the film. . . . It would be absurd to try to make a politically specific film about this subject matter, where you’re actually trying to pull the shackles off everyday life and go to a more frightening place where anything is possible. You’re off the conventional political spectrum, so it’s very subject to interpretation and misinterpretation.

Thus, The Dark Knight Rises is a cautionary tale about how any form of extreme populism can turn into fascism and terrorism. While that’s a powerful, relevant, and engaging framework — and Bane’s use of a kangaroo court is terrifying, even if it leads to another wasted cameo from Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow — it muddies the movie’s portrayals and outcomes.

The importance of that central theme is also undermined by Bane’s downfall in two major ways. As WhatCulture’s Alex Hawksworth-Brookes contended in 2013, the twist that Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is actually Talia al Ghul “instantly negate[s] Bane’s impact” because “all the credit for the masterplan . . . is taken away from Bane, making him little more than a thug who has been acting, not out of greed or revolutionary zeal, but out of love for his commander.”

Essentially, he’s reduced to a bodyguard/subordinate for the sake of having one of the most obvious and underwhelming plot twists in superhero cinematic history. Had Tate’s big swivel been more impactful and startling — with a stronger build-up from beginning to end — it could’ve worked well.

As is, it falls flat, and so does Bane’s arc upon completion, especially since he’s easily killed off by Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman – not Batman – a minute later. Granted, Kyle is established as a sympathetic and supportive character (she’s a thief who helps Batman out of affection and a need to clean her criminal record), and Hathaway is very good in the role, but since Batman is Gotham’s main hero and Bane’s main rival, it should’ve been him who finally bested the masked insurgent.

On that note, Tate’s deceitful role as Wayne’s new love interest doesn’t work, either. Not only is there little — if any — chemistry between them, but their love scene seems downright illogical and artificial because Wayne just spent eight years as a hermit due to losing Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight. Yes, Alfred encouraged him to move on, and it’s certainly possible that he’d recover from such grief and find someone new (as he eventually does with Kyle), but not that quickly.

The ending is a tad contrived as well, at least in execution. Some fans might have felt that things wrap up too neatly while the film sets up blatant sequel bait (by having Blake discover the Batcave). But Nolan and Gordon-Levitt have aptly pointed out that Wayne retiring with Kyle so that Blake can adopt the Batman mantle fulfills Batman Begins’ notion that — to quote Nolan — “Batman was not important as a man, he’s more than that. He’s a symbol, and the symbol lives on.”

At the same time, however, the reveal that Blake’s first name is Robin feels tacked on for fan service. It can’t help but make your eyes roll, as does the closing scene in which Alfred sees Wayne and Kyle at the French café.

Whether real or imagined, it’s too convenient and definitive (especially given Alfred’s earlier monologue tells the audience exactly where Wayne will wind up anyway). Had we just seen Alfred look across his table — at the audience — and smile without showing what he sees, we would’ve been left with a subtler but more satisfying conclusion.

Lastly, given the undeniable talents of all involved, there’s a shocking amount of poor acting and dialogue. For instance, Aidan Gillen is too fidgety and histrionic during the prologue, just as Cotillard’s death scene is outright cringy. Both are highly capable talents, so their performances here are quite odd. Similarly, when Kyle eventually shoots Bane, joking to Batman that when it comes to not using guns, “I’m not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do,” totally falls flat.

Even so, it’s not as bad as the single corniest line in the whole picture, which comes when Bane says to Batman, “So, you came back to die with your city,” only for Batman to reply: “No, I came back to stop you,” before the pair engage in a transparently staged fight.

It’s scattered moments like these — alongside several others — that degrade Nolan and company’s cumulatively superb accomplishment.

The Dark Knight Rises is a gratifying close to the trilogy and one of the greatest comic book films ever made. Regrettably, though, flaws like the ones mentioned above, despite not outweighing the movie’s strengths, keep it from perfection. Regardless of if Nolan was hesitant to do it or if he and his team planned to create a trilogy all along, they did, so the movie’s uncharacteristic sloppiness (in comparison to what came before) is disheartening and frustrating.

Ultimately, The Dark Knight Rises is a scorching achievement… whose fire could’ve risen so much higher.

The Dark Knight Rises is streaming now on HBO Max.

Why The Dark Knight Rises Remains an Imperfect Ending to Nolan’s Batman Saga
Jordan Blum

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