Before I start: be warned, this will contain spoilers!!! Lots of them. So if you don’t like knowing parts of a movie before you see it, save this to read after you’ve already been to the cinema.
Overall, I found this movie to be a disappointing end to a trilogy that had so many high points. There were some good — even some great — moments within the film, but when you stack it all up at the end? There were some major things lacking from what had all the makings of a great, gritty action flick. Following on the heels of “The Dark Knight”, the third installment seems particularly bland, as we go in knowing that Nolan can do better than this.
I’ll begin with the obvious criticisms: the factual errors. Obviously nobody bothered to look up how fusion reactors theoretically would function, since the reactor in the film was completely unrealistic. Removing the “control rods” (used as a safety feature in fission reactors, not fusion ones) supposedly made the reactor unstable. It wouldn’t. Control rods are there to scram (shut down) the reactor in an emergency; most of the time, they’re just sitting there, doing nothing. They’re like an emergency braking system: once dropped into the reactor core, they absorb free neutrons without fissioning and thus stop the reaction, but if they’re not employed, the reaction just keeps on occurring. As long as the cooling systems are functioning, the reaction won’t cause the core to heat up and enter “melt down”.
And, of course, that’s only in a fission reactor.
The other problem, of course, is in their explanation of the “time bomb” that the reactor becomes. Supposing that removing the control rods did make the reactor unstable, it would be impossible to predict exactly when critical mass would be achieved and an explosion would occur. In the film, there’s a timer with a countdown (to the second, even). But for all that it would be unpredictable? It certainly wouldn’t take months and months for it to happen. A reactor going critical is a fast-paced thing. It would likely only take minutes, not months, for things to go completely beyond control.
Then we have to look at the size of the thing. I realize that this is imaginary technology, but seriously, a fusion reactor the size of an exercise ball? This is beyond unrealistic. Modern nuclear reactors (the fission kind) fill giant warehouses. A fusion reactor containing enough fuel to begin a sustainable reaction? That thing would have to be HUGE. Think CERN LHC huge, guys. There’s no way they’re fitting this thing on the back of a truck and driving around the city with it.
I could go on, but I think that you get the idea. This film could really have used a proper science consultant. And probably a medical consultant as well — I’m sorry, but Batman’s back is broken, and they swing him from the ceiling and kick him in the back to fix it? Doctor, I’m questioning your methods. And then Bruce is back on his feet again, climbing walls and jumping chasms, within what, a couple of weeks? Whatever happened to the crippling knee injury he’s lived with for the last eight years? Did that just miraculously go away? Are you telling me that a prison medical butcher who swung you from a rope to fix your back was also able to do better knee surgery than all the most expensive doctors in Gotham? At least give the audience a little bit of credit. The railroad plot requires that Batman get better and make it back — we get it. But could you maybe give a teensy bit of effort, while you ask us to suspend our disbelief?
Anyways. On to the next thing.
Bane. Bane was going to be a tough villain to sell effectively, no matter how you look at it. The combination of genius intellect and violent thuggery that the character represents provides numerous challenges to writer, director and actor, who must find ways of reconciling the seeming inconsistencies of Bane’s character. Many incarnations of Bane have failed at this — the most obvious being the “Batman & Robin” version of the 90s, which reduced the character to a voiceless, brainless minion. Tom Hardy’s imagining of the character does better than this, but he’s unimaginably hampered by the directorial/writing choices that have been set against him, with the result being a lackluster performance that just doesn’t resonate on any level.
For starters, they’ve stripped away a large portion of Bane’s backstory in this version. Whatever happened to “venom”, the experimental drug which is both the source of Bane’s strength and his greatest weakness (due to his body’s dependence upon and addiction to the drug)? The mask Bane wears in this version delivers anaesthetic drugs to dull the effects of the crippling pain left by a prison beating … not quite as much punch in that, really, and it makes it very hard to believe Talia’s claims that there was nothing to be done to reverse the process. She’s a frickin’ billionaire, and she can’t pay for some better pain management strategies for her favored boytoy?
Then, of course, there’s the very fact that Bane even is anybody’s boytoy. Bane is not a minion, he’s a criminal mastermind in his own right. The character was effectively neutered by shackling him to another (and, frankly, much weaker) villain. His passive acceptance of his role as a cog in Talia’s ill-conceived scheme (a scheme which unnecessarily includes both of their deaths) grates against his presentation as a ruthless-but-farsighted gang leader. And his reasons for following Talia are never fully explained … yes, he protected her in prison when she was a child, but why? What made him different from the other inmates, the ones who murdered (and presumably raped, although it’s never explicitly said) Talia’s mother? An opportunity to give this character some depth was squandered, here.
Of course, even if Bane had explained his motives at any point, it’s unlikely that the audience would have caught it. The digital processing on his voice was so poorly conceived, so overpowering and out of place, that most of what Bane tried to say came out garbled and only half-intelligible. Placed against the Joker’s brilliantly delivered one-liners, Ra’s al Ghul’s quiet, philosophical insanity, and Catwoman’s brilliant way of saying very simple things (I’ll come to that later in my review), Bane seems barely capable of stringing a sentence together. Most of his lines are short, shouted, and monosyllabic, just so that he can be heard — and when he does try to say more, it’s only half-understood anyways. The heavily digitized, high-toned voice seems disconnected from the physical presence of Bane on-screen — it’s as though his lines are happening in voice-over, being spoken by someone who doesn’t quite understand them. Hardy and others have defended Bane’s unintelligible dialogue in interviews, but having watched the movie myself? I can’t get behind their viewpoint that you don’t need to hear one of the movie’s major characters.
The overall sound design of the movie was actually something with which I had some difficulty. The background score was often distracting at moments when it should have been heightening the dramatic tension, and many of the sound effects and vocals seemed much too processed and clean — for example, in the scene where Bane and several of his gangsters are escaping the police on motorcycles, with hostages clinging to the backs of the vehicles, one hostage can be very clearly heard to exclaim “please, let me go, please”. Three times in succession. In exactly the same tone. It might actually be the exact same vocal clip, looped (I’d have to watch the movie again, to be sure). But even if it’s not … they’re on motorcycles, in the middle of a high-speed chase, with gunshots and squealing tires and screaming people. Why is this clip so clear, so defined? It doesn’t blend with the rest of the soundscape, and it’s distracting. There were numerous times through the film that I was pulled out of the action by sound clips like this, and it was annoying.
On the topic of things that pulled me out of the action, there is the thing that I found perhaps most unlikable about the film: the Hollywood cliches. Now, comic book movies are expected to be somewhat melodramatic. A bit of foreshadowing, pathetic fallacy, unreasonable coincidences, deus ex machina … it’s all par for the course when we’re talking about this subject matter. But there’s a fine line to be walked between “hint of foreshadowing” and “bashing you over the head with the obvious”, and with this film? Nolan danced a flamboyant jig on that line before striking out straight into the wastelands of “too damned overdone”. When Bruce was climbing out of the pit for the second time, I turned to my moviegoing companion and said “he won’t make it; he has to try 3 times” (and was, disappointingly, proven right); when Blake said “I know you’re him”, I immediately thought “aaaand here’s the next one to take up the cowl” (although admittedly, I wasn’t sure if he’d be Robin or some Batman Beyond thing). Every obstacle that was faced (the pit, the reactor chamber being flooded, the police getting trapped in the tunnels, Catwoman’s various betrayals and moral dilemmas) was introduced in such a way that an audience just knows, “well, this is going to come up again”. They even got Talia monologuing at one point! Have they not seen “The Incredibles”?
We all know that when you start detailing your evil plan to the hero while you gloat about your victory, you’re just setting up your own defeat. C’mon, now. This isn’t a Bond flick.
And seriously (really big spoiler alert here), he’s not dead at the end???? What the fuck, Christopher Nolan. What. The. Fuck. You couldn’t just let him die a hero’s death? You had to have him ride off into the sunset and get the girl and live out Alfred’s fantasy? Life doesn’t work that way. You can’t create a gritty reboot of a series without killing off a few people.
With all of that said, I should point out again: I didn’t hate the film.
A large part of why I didn’t hate the film was, of course, Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Selina Kyle (Catwoman). Going in, I wasn’t sure if she was the right casting for the role (I mean really, the girl from “The Princess Diaries” as a femme fatale? Would it work?) — and I was very much pleased to be proven wrong in my doubts. Hathaway brings a sweetness (I won’t say “innocence”, since Selina Kyle is certainly no innocent) to the character that hasn’t really been there since Julie Newmar played her in the 60s. That sexy little “oops” she delivers when caught by Bruce in the manor’s safe? The matter-of-fact way in which she states things (standing in sharp contrast to the melodramatic deliveries given by many of the male leads)? The relationship with Holly (beautifully vague — love it!) … all of it lends her a great depth. Even the way that she moves and breathes seems properly Catwoman-esque. And while I’m usually not a fan of women’s costumes in action movies (for all the usual feminist reasons), I do like the costume — it’s suitably sexy, without being gratuitous (it shows very little skin, and is really quite a functional garment, despite the heavy Dominatrix look), and I like the fact that traditional female comic book costume is poked fun at when another character asks about her high heels, and she promptly kicks him with them (the heels are serrated steel, by the way, and deal some pretty nasty puncture wounds). These are not “fuck me” heels, they are “fuck you” heels, and I (as a wearer of ridiculously high heels myself) love that. The character was, of course, undermined by the film’s tired Hollywood tropes — coming back to save the hero, just like she said she wouldn’t, and then that awful little scene at the end with her and Bruce in the cafe — but overall she manages to stand as a realistic, sympathetic, and strong female role, which was certainly quite a challenge. I’d expected them to go the tired old “prostitute with a heart of gold” route, and seeing her as a flawed and realistic human being was lovely.
So, yeah. Certainly not a movie to add to my list of all-time favourites, and definitely a bit of a disappointment, but “The Dark Knight Rises” was still a fun watch. Worth seeing with friends, though, so that you can laugh at the melodrama and cliches together. Maybe make a drinking game out of it — any time Bane is unintelligible, take a sip. Any time they use too-obvious foreshadowing, take a shot. Unrealistic medical stuff? Finish your drink. And I’m totally not taking responsibility for whatever alcohol poisoning this is likely to induce.