The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Posted on May 7, 2014

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Unlike Man of Steel, this is not an origin story. This is the third piece of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

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Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gothan City commemorates the death of prosecutor Harvey Dent (in The Dark Knight) annually. His death allowed the city to pass sweeping anti-crime legislation and crack down on organized crime.

Batman and Commissioner Gordon know that Harvey Dent became a criminal before he died, and they kept that from the city. Batman accepted blame for Harvey’s death, and has been hunted ever since.

Bruce Wayne has holed up in the re-built Wayne Manor (destroyed in Batman Begins by Ra’s Al Ghul). When this movie begins, a mysterious woman (Anne Hathaway, as Selina Kyle/Catwoman) robs Bruce Wayne. She steals his fingerprints, and his mother’s pearls. Intrigued, he pursues her, and discovers that the League of Shadows has returned to finish the destruction of Gotham that Ra’s failed to complete.

Short Version

I thought the emotional story arcs were a fitting ending to Nolan’s trilogy, but the story of this movie was just too big for one film to tell.

 

Longer Version

Before I shine a glaring light on the plot holes in this movie, let me start by saying that I like this trilogy well enough to own it on DVD. This trilogy proves that it’s possible to make a gritty, grounded, Batman movie and make money.

Which, you know, after Joel Schumacher, we didn’t believe.

Now, on to the story issues.

Character

There is a big plot point revolving around clean fusion power. Bruce Wayne sank most of Wayne Industries’ funds into building a revolutionary clean fusion plant, and then refusing to turn it on. Apparently there were concerns that it the core could be weaponized – yet Wayne couldn’t be bothered to take the thing apart.

So a guy smart enough and tough enough to be Batman just left the components of a neutron bomb under Gotham without any worry that a terrorist group might kidnap somebody trained to actually assemble the components. And apparently this happened because he was smitten with Miranda (Marion Cotillard).

Marion Cotillard in The Dark Knight Rises

Seriously? This guy did a detailed background check on some rando chick who robs his mansion one night (believe me when I say, with all my heart, that Anne Hathaway is the best Catwoman since Julie Newmar). He’s invested billions of family money, enough to make himself go broke, and he doesn’t find out that the woman promoting the power plant/bomb is really Talia Al Ghul, Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter and current leader of the League of Shadows?

It just seemed like Bruce Wayne has been living on a diet of dumb-burgers and stupidity colas since retiring from public life, and considering how smart Batman is supposed to be, that was disappointing.

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Context

The lack of response from the wider world to the threat on Gotham City was disappointing. I realize you can only show so much in a movie, but…

  • A lot of the world’s gold is stored in the Federal Exchange in Gotham/New York City.
  • A lot of the world’s banking and trading happens in Gotham.
  • It’s no longer one of the world’s largest shipping ports, but it is very close to several of the largest ports on the East Coast.
  • It is a huge tourist attraction, bringing in citizens of countries from around the world.

And yet, the world is strangely silent. One US special forces team slips into the city and is completely ineffective.

The President (William Devane) has some brief screen time, but not enough to resolve the fundamental conflict. On the one hand, the US does not negotiate with terrorists (I know that plenty of scandals over the years prove that false, but it is our stated policy). On the other hand, no government official wants to take action that jeopardizes an entire city.

Yet, that fear has no effect on the local cops, who blow up a bridge rather than save a busload of orphans. We know, from The Dark Knight, that cell phones and cell phone cameras exist in this Gotham City. Yet it never occurs to these guys that the world is watching them damn that busload of orphans.

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Why was the bridge even standing? Bane (Tom Hardy) and the explosives the League planted all around Gotham should have blown all the bridges and tunnels. That would have kept the people the League wants to punish in the city, and minimized any intrusions from the outside. Of course, it would also make it obvious that the League was going to destroy Gotham no matter what, rendering negotiations moot. Still, it would seem like a commonsense measure.

As much as I enjoyed the wrap-ups at the end of the movie, I wanted to see a whole bunch of cowards lose their jobs over abandoning the kids to die. In fact, the movie would have been better if Bane hid the escape from Talia, revealing the same basic decency he showed when he saved her as a child, and the cops or local citizens stood up to their commander and saved the kids. Then Bane could blow the bridge to cover it all up if he wanted to.

Conflict

The movie takes a break at some point, while Bane travels around the world with Batman/Bruce Wayne, and leaves him, severely wounded, in the prison that formed both Talia and Bane. This break slows down the movie right at the point where it needs to move fast enough to hide all the cracks and flaws.

It seemed stupid because Bane stopped taking over Gotham to run this errand. It seemed stupid because Bane took the time to reveal what really happened to Gotham’s white knight, Harvey Dent, but didn’t take the time to reveal the identity of Gotham’s dark knight, Batman.

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Forget about sending any of the rest of the League of Shadows to deliver the crippled Bruce Wayne to the prison. That would have made more sense.

Instead, consider this: Bane ran construction and maintenance for Gotham City for months. His people built explosives into concrete pillars and arches all through Gotham’s subterranean service tunnels, subways, and so forth. Yet, somehow, fully intending to take the city prisoner and turn its wealthiest 1% into criminals, Bane never bothered to build an oubliette, a well-like prison, to house them. What if the city turned against him? What if the people stood together (as they did in The Dark Knight)? Nope, Bane and the League have no Plan B.

That’s just stupid. It would have saved Bane dividing his attention between Gotham and Bruce Wayne. It would have saved all of us the scenes of the wealthy forced out onto the ice of Gotham River. The existing set could have been redecorated for the purpose, and the sentencing of the wealthy could have been combined with Bruce Wayne’s exile. Done.

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Now, I know Talia Al-Ghul was really running the occupation of Gotham City. Bane could walk away and “take care of” Bruce Wayne. However, the movie hadn’t revealed Miranda’s true identity to us at this point. It just seemed like stupidity.

Another part of the issue is that the movie is not good about marking the passage of time. One of the only hints we get is when Robin Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) talks with a bunch of US special operators sent into the city, and they talk about how many weeks the Gotham cops have spent hiding in the tunnels beneath Gotham City.

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That’s a problem. Gotham/New York imports energy, fresh water, and food. It exports a lot of garbage. Granted, Gotham society is basically eating itself, sending people out to die. So maybe there’s less need for food, water, and energy, and maybe fewer and fewer people are generating garbage. Still, they’ve got a fleet of Tumblers and heavy trucks running around, one with the bomb in it and the other as decoys. How are they fueling those things?

The whole city-as-hostage thing is not well thought out or portrayed, and it begins just as the movie starts to drag. So just when the writers and director need us to be distracted, we have time on our hands to question things.

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The League of Shadows, which has been built up to be a huge bunch of badass bad guys since the first movie, is full of fail. First, they want Gotham City to destroy itself. That failed because of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Then they came to the city to destroy it themselves, and Batman defeated them. Then they come a third time, this time to get the selfish, wealthy, elite to see the error of their ways. How does letting Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) sit in judgment accomplish that? Gotham City’s poor should have torn him to shreds for what he did to them as Scarecrow (in Batman Begins).

In fact, if Ra’s Al Ghul was willing to blow up the city, why take Gotham City hostage at all? Why not just set off the neutron bomb and be done with it?

Okay, granted, that would be a much shorter movie, but it would make the League of Shadows seem a lot more dangerous.

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Conclusion

No movie is without plot holes. We can pick any of them apart. The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end to the trilogy. Batman, a hero I’ve loved since I was a kid, finally got the movies he deserves.

I just think it’s another case of a story too big to adequately cover in one movie.

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Posted in: Movies