Batman: The Dark Knight Rises (SPOILERS after the break)
I have now been to see Batman: The Dark Empire Strikes Back, and I will say right off the bat that I liked it. It’s a good movie. I might even go so far as to say it’s a very good movie. If you haven’t watched it, you probably should. If you like that kind of thing.
Now I know the question you are all wondering. Is it better than Batcat? No, of course not. You should worry more about the possible than the impossible.
Other questions you might be asking: Is it better than The Dark Knight? I would say no. Your mileage may vary, but personally I don’t feel it reached the same peak, much less surpassed it.
Is it better than The Avengers? Definitely not. I suppose there could be some personal preference in here as well, but I would argue that even objectively The Avengers is a better movie than Batman: Bane’s Deception Among Thieves.
Is it better than The Amazing Spider-man? Haha, hell yes. I’m not sure anyone is actually wondering this, and I kinda included it as a joke, but let me answer anyway. Even though I actually liked The Amazing Spider-man, I have to admit that it wasn’t really a very good movie, and Batman: Fellowship of the Bane is most surely a good movie.
Let’s do a quick non-spoiler overview in case we still have any non-watchers with us. The action is cool, the battle scenes are good (though some of the hand-to-hand combat scenes could be done better), the characters are alright, the actors are great, Batman has cool toys, the plot is good, Catwoman (though she’s never actually called that) is kinda awesome, it does have some structuring issues, Bane works well though he never quite reaches great (I might be too harsh since I can’t help comparing him to the Joker) and this is probably the Batman movie with the least actual Batman in it. And it also never really felt too long for me, even though it was at like 2 hours and 45 minutes. It felt like it actually used the time well (with maybe a few exceptions), and the ending did actually make me tear up a little.
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and dissect this thing.
Let’s dig into the plot of Batman Solid: Cat Eater first, yes? Be warned, this will be a long one.
The opening serves as our introduction to Bane (Tom Hardy, though apparently voiced by Sean Connery), as a CIA op goes tits up when Bane sneaks onto their plane and kidnaps a nuclear physicist, then crashes the plane, making sure to leave the right amount of bodies behind. I think it served its purpose well and showed both Bane’s aptitude at planning and the power he holds over his men. I know enough about comic Bane to know he was actually quite clever so long as he wasn’t pumping himself full of those chemicals, so I thought that was a nice touch.
Then we move to Gotham where Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is holding a speech for the anniversary of Harvey Dent’s death, and we’re shown the important plot point speech he’s written detailing the truth of what happened that night, and although he decides against reading it out right there and then, it does hint that the guilt of the lies are piling up against his conscience. Then it’s revealed that after the last movie Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) stopped being Batman, and this movie takes place 8 years after that, so that’s 8 years where he’s not been Batman and basically has just sulked on his own in a wing of his manor that’s closed to the public and he won’t accept any visitors. So I would say the Joker won. He broke the Bat, and he also broke Wayne.
Then Selina Kyle (Anna Hathaway), aka Catwoman in the non-Nolan-verse, robs his safe and piques his interest. Also Commissioner Gordon has a run-in with Bane and his men where Bane acquires the truth speech and Gordon gets shot while escaping. This forces Wayne to try to piece the Batman (and himself) back together and go back into action, something that’s rather difficult for him. Spurring him on is a young police officer named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who gives him a bit of a reality check when he comes to tell him about Gordon’s injuries, and reveals that he has figured out that Wayne is Batman because he recognised the same pain and mask that he had trained himself to adopt and honestly it felt a little more contrived than impressive. It did make some sense though, I’ll give it that.
Then Bane sets about breaking down Bruce Wayne. With the help of the cowardly Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn, set up as Bruce’s main rival on the Wayne Enterprises board of directors, but I just felt he was pathetic and petulant from start to end) he breaks into the stock exchange and bankrupts Wayne with the help of a lot of bad trades authorised by his thumb-print that Selina lifted from his house during the robbery. Batman confronts Bane in combat and is broken physically (with Bane doing the move that is really his only claim to fame). Then he tries to break Wayne mentally as well by placing him in a prison where Bane is supposedly the only one to ever escape and rigs up a TV so Bruce can lie there broken and watch Gotham be broken as well. I felt this all worked pretty well in setting up Bane as a credible and competent threat.
Then we get to see the extent of Bane’s plan as he uses the scientist he kidnapped in the beginning to turn a Wayne Enterprises fusion reactor into a neutron bomb, setting it to blow in about 5 months, before trapping all of the police underground, blowing up all but one of the bridges and announcing himself and his intentions for open camera at an American Football match. He claims to have given the detonator to a random citizen who will set it off if anyone tries to leave or the outside world tries to interfere, though he omits the part about it being set to blow eventually anyway, to give the people (and Batman) hope, because he is of the mind that hope just makes despair all the worse. A clever plan, though I do wonder what the end-game was here, as Bane seemed perfectly content to remain until the bomb went off. Was that really the only thing he cared about? Had he set someone up to carry on his work elsewhere? Or was destroying Gotham really the only thing he cared about? The only “den of corruption” he felt needed cleansing? To hell with the rest? This is sadly also the point where the movie starts unravelling a bit, though never so bad you really notice while watching.
Wayne starts piecing himself back together again, spurred on by very simple encouragements and “revelations” from his cell-neighbours, along the lines of “if you don’t fear death, how will you fight to the best of your ability and beyond?”. Not exactly awe-inspiring stuff. And there’s talk of the child that escaped, which Batman assumes to be Bane. Not that much happens in the movie for a while now, it seems mostly content to sit there and go “oo oo, watch how bad things have gotten” for a while, though it does feature a re-appearance of Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) as a warped judge, jury and executioner for anyone upper-class or working against Bane in Gotham. Catwoman discovers that the storm she had been looking forward to maybe wasn’t as grand as she had imagined, Gordon and Blake stumble around and basically watch helpless at everything happening, while Bane’s men use Batman’s own arsenal to hold the city in a steel grip. This mainly comes off as a ham-handed way of saying “Omg, without Batman, Gotham is fucked!” and it kinda drags on almost a bit too long.
Then things get going again once Wayne figures out that maybe a little fear is good and escapes from the prison in what I suppose is meant to be an “omg awesome!” moment, but felt more like an “oh finally!” moment. Five months have now passed, and Batman arrives back in Gotham with just one day left till the bomb goes off, and just after all the good guys have started their plans. He frees the trapped cops, lights up his symbol on a bridge (Bane sees it and goes “impossible” in what felt like the least convincing line anyone had done in the whole movie), and starts a war, sending Gordon off with a wave blocker to stop the bomb from receiving the detonation signal. Gordon gets it in place in the nick of time, of course.
There’s a large battle between the freed cops and Bane’s men, while Batman yet again confronts Bane himself. This time things go in his favour of Batman and he kicks Bane into the building he was guarding, and tries to scream the identity of the trigger-person out of him. Then comes a shock reveal that I still can’t believe I didn’t saw coming (I was too caught up in watching I suppose) that the Wayne Enterprises board member and apparent friend (and lover) Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) was actually Talia al Ghul, Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter. More on that later. When she finds out the bomb isn’t responding to the detonator (I still don’t get the end-game here), she goes out to secure the truck, since it will blow up in 11 mins anyway, and leaves Batman to Bane. Bane tries to finish Batman off, but Catwoman saves the day. Then they try to get the bomb reconnected to the reactor, but Talia has flooded the room, so Batman has to sacrifice himself by flying the bomb out over the ocean and letting it blow up, saying he can’t eject because the flier has no autopilot.
It goes boom, everyone is saved, there’s a touching funeral, then it’s revealed that Batman was just bluffing, and faked his death so he and Selina could go to Italy, while he left the instructions on how to find the Batcave to John Blake and fixed Gordon’s bat signal. I still don’t know quite how to feel about this ending, which suggests it wasn’t that great. And the reveal that Blake’s real name was Robin felt kinda dumb. Or ham-handed, at least. I wonder if maybe it would have been better if they’d left the series at the end of The Dark Knight.
Now let’s have a look at the characters themselves.
Bruce Wayne/Batman starts the movie as a broken man. He tries to piece himself together again, but is cut short as Bane takes his money away and breaks his back. Then in the prison they re-align his vertebrae, and in under 5 months he pulls himself back together and makes a full recovery. I guess the injury wasn’t that serious, or we’re just supposed to believe that since he’s the Batman this is plausible. As Batman he doesn’t really show up much, in fact I think this Batman movie has the least Batman of them all. He shows up more as Bruce Wayne, but he feels more delegated to the role of a side/supporting character than the main character. Bale does a good job as usual, but it’s hard to overcome the issue that Batman tends to be the least interesting character in anything he’s in. He’s more a plot device. That punches things.
Catwoman (Selina Kyle) seems like a more likely candidate for main character, as she has a pretty solid character arc. She starts out as a thief with few scruples, who sometimes wishes she could have a normal life, but knows that with the electronic trails of today that would be basically impossible. She does seem to take enjoyment in her thievery though, a pride in her work perhaps, and sees herself as a bit of a modern-day Robin Hood, only with more of the “take from the rich” and less of “give to the poor”, except herself. She hopes for the big society to be torn down, but when it actually happens she realises it’s not that grand an event after all. She decides to stay and help, and then quite inexplicably becomes a love interest at the very end, even though the movie seemed to have been avoiding that route up till that point. And what of Wayne’s decision-making here? “Oh noes, nice Miranda is actually an evil Talia, I guess I have to love Selina instead now”? It’s not exactly bad, just a bit sudden. I do like that she’s portrayed as a very capable person, who never gets kidnapped or really needs to be rescued.
Alfred (Michael Caine) doesn’t really have that much of a role in the movie, apart from trying to discourage Wayne from being Batman, telling a few sad stories, and that twist where he decides to leave in order to get Bruce to think things through. It doesn’t actually work, so it ended up feeling pretty pointless. It felt more like Nolan just wanted to get him out of the way to further “break” Wayne.
John Blake seems to be the true star of the movie. As he starts out he’s an idealistic cop with a high opinion of Batman, and who has figured out that Batman is Bruce Wayne, though he’s keeping it to himself. He’s an orphan, like Bruce, and his father was shot, like Bruce’s, so he recognises the same pain in him. He saves Gordon’s life twice (though it arguably didn’t need saving the second time), helps lead the resistance during Bane’s rule and Batman’s absence, and even inherits the Batcave at the end after his efforts to save the orphans by getting them out of the city is stopped by panicking policemen guarding the bridge to stop anyone setting off the bomb. He gets fed up with being shackled to the law as Gordon put it, and quits the force. He gets a lot of growth, and if Nolan is wrangled into making another movie, it would be cool if it was with Robin as the new Batman. The whole reveal that his “real name” was Robin felt kinda lame though.
Commissioner Jim Gordon delivers a stellar performance as usual, though he does get confined to a hospital bed for half the movie, and only serves a minimal role in the other half, basically being there to supply Bane with the truth about Harvey Dent, and giving people speeches about right, wrong and responsibility. Well okay, he does serve as a binding force for the resistance movement, and puts the signal-canceling thingy on the fusion core.
Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) also returns with more toys for Batman, most prominently the Bat flier which is used pretty much whenever Batman shows up in the movie. He does a good job as always, being Morgan Freeman and all, and has to be the one to activate the fusion reactor so it can be turned into a bomb. I have to assume he takes control of the company after the movie ends.
Miranda Tate seems to be an ally for most of the movie until she is revealed to be Talia al Ghul at the very end (I still can’t believe I didn’t see that one coming). She is very interested in making a better future, though her methods are not quite what they first seem. Okay, it’s awfully convenient that Wayne Ent just so happen to have made a fusion reactor that could be turned into a bomb, so I’m not sure what her plan would have been if not for that one. She seems to be set up as a love interest for Bruce, and they have a very intimate night together in front of a fireplace where she suggests they could just go away and leave everything behind. I have to wonder… was she sincere about that? Or was she just trying to increase Bruce’s trust level? Or was she just horny and exploiting a vulnerable man? She ends up driving the truck with the reactor core in it to make sure it goes off, and dies in the driver seat after being forced off the road.
Bane is built up to be a credible threat, and they do a good job. The whole posh voice inside a monstrous mask thing is kinda neat, even though it sounds an awful lot like Sean Connery. He is big, strong and more than a little smart. He also turns out to be good at wrapping himself in mystery, playing the decoy while also being a prominent leader within the League of Shadows himself. It is said that Ra’s ex-communicated him for being too extreme, though it turns out it was because it reminded Ra’s too much of the prison his love went to. It is never fully clear whether he grew up in the prison as well, or if it was just Talia, but I’m going to assume he was put there as an adult. A clever bit of trickery and deception there, Nolan, exploiting what we expect from knowing the comics to throw us onto a false lead. Bane’s end felt very unceremonious. He is about to kill Batman with a shotgun to the face, when he’s suddenly blasted through a wall by Selina on the Batcycle. They don’t even bother to make sure he’s dead (or not dead, knowing Batman).
There is also the issue that I really don’t see the end-game of their plan. Sure, Gotham is a rotten den of scum and villainy, where the inhabitants seem more likely to turn on eachother than help eachother out in times of crisis, and nuking it might be doing the world a favour, but why stick around for the blast themselves? They say they want to fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s legacy, but Gotham is hardly the only bad place on the planet, nor the worst. If they were truly invested in improving the world through extreme methods of weed-killing, they’d have to keep going in other places of the world, which kinda means they have to keep on living. If they only destroy Gotham, they achieve revenge on Bruce Wayne. That’s pretty much it. Sure, the League of Shadows is greater than Bane and Talia, but two leaders throwing themselves away like that for a single city? Had there at least been a hint that they had an escape plan that just got botched. I sure hope they have a lot of smart, charismatic and strong people in reserve.
By Tor’s beard, this thing is getting long. Okay, a few minor things before I wrap this up.
The Bat flier looked a little weird, but it was pretty neat. And definitely one of the more fantastical elements of the movie. It proved to save the day several times. Like a Deus Ex Batina?
The Batcycle kinda bothered me with those spinning wheels. I kept expecting the guns on the front wheel to get broken, yet they never were and it kinda kept nagging at me.
Liam Neeson appearing in Bruce’s cell was a cool element. It was probably just a pain-induced hallucination, considering Nolan’s resistance towards the mystical, but it would have been kinda cool if it was an actual apparition of Ra’s al Ghul feeding Wayne misinformation along with tidbits of the truth.
While this has seemed like an overly negative critique of the movie, and while this dissection might not have improved my opinion of the film, it hasn’t really damaged it either. I enjoyed Bruce Wayne and the Last Crusade, and I stand by my opinion that it’s a good film. I can’t imagine anyone actually read to the end of this, but if you did, any thoughts you want to share or points you want to contend?