The Dark Knight Rises

A surprisingly limp conclusion to Christopher Nolan's celebrated Batman trilogy.


Groping for shape and substance in the long shadow of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises is an unexpected disappointment. Nolan, a director of rare intelligence and logistical skill who's completely at home in the blockbuster idiom, stages some exciting scenes here (especially an earth-ripping attack on a packed football stadium); but most of the requisite battles and automotive chases feel recycled—we've seen them before, and better-organized, in TDK. It's a peculiarly dispiriting film.

Crucially, and predictably, TDKR offers nothing on the order of Heath Ledger's electrifying performance in the previous movie. Ledger's Joker was a singular creation by a gifted actor, and it powered that great picture past its occasional lapses. Here, the designated villain is Bane, a muscle-bound mountain of ambiguously motivated evil, played by another fine actor, Tom Hardy. Bane's most visible super-skill is underwhelming—he's a really good fist-fighter. And with his shaved head and his mask, he recalls not only the hulking Humungus of the 1981 Road Warrior, but any number of cheesy professional wrestlers. The mask itself is a serious problem. A techno-appliance said to infuse the character with a steady supply of pain-killing something-or-other, it covers the lower half of Hardy's face, robbing him of any possibility of facial expression and drowning his voice in a Vader-esque rumble that renders some of his line-readings incomprehensible. Even the Bane super-costume is wanting: in place of the Joker's rancid nattiness, we have here a big lug in a sheepskin jacket.

The story, approximately derived from the Batman comic sequence Knightfall, is an over-crowded jumble, set eight years after the events of the previous movie. Batman, in disgrace after taking the fall for the death of two-faced DA Harvey Dent, has disappeared from the scene; and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale again), the do-gooding billionaire beneath the bat-cowl, has become a recluse, hobbling around his mansion in a bathrobe and beard. (He's still in a deep mope over his long-dead love object, Rachel Dawes.) Although the movie opens with a spectacular mid-air plane hijacking that wouldn't be out of place in a latter-day Bond film, the introductory scenes that follow it are slow to coalesce.

The admirable Gary Oldman is back as Police Commissioner Gordon, but he spends a considerable part of the picture out of commission. Morgan Freeman once more lends his avuncular presence as Bruce Wayne's armorer, Lucius Fox, but to less intrinsic purpose. And while the reliably excellent Michael Caine, returning as Wayne's loyal Butler, Alfred, imparts a rich, sorrowful warmth to his character (and has one especially moving scene), before long you begin to wish he were doing so in a movie more worthy of it. It's good that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on hand, playing a police detective named Blake, who has a surprising connection to Bruce Wayne. He lends the picture some youthful spine, although he's overmatched by its enervating sprawl.

It's left to Anne Hathaway to give the brightest performance in a picture that's otherwise dark and glum throughout. She plays Selina Kyle, a slinky cat burglar, complete with catsuit and lethal high heels (she's never referred to as Catwoman, but we get the idea). Selina has connections of her own to some nasty thugs in the Bane orbit, but also a romantic thing for Bruce Wayne. Her conflicted nature enables some useful plot complications as the story progresses, and while she's around quite a bit—skillfully gunning a borrowed Bat-pod, kicking a lot of thug butt, getting off a few zingy lines—you kind of wish, whenever the movie slumps, that there were even more of her.

The film is thick with politics of an obliviously nonsensical sort. In an attempt to lend the tale contemporary resonance, the script (by director Nolan and his brother, Jonathan) positions Bane as a self-declared revolutionary, come to liberate Gotham from its oppression by the city's wealthy upper crust (the One Percent, if it need be said). But Bane is so clearly a vicious nihilist—he empties the municipal prison, arms the freed inmates, sets up kangaroo courts—that it's not at all clear why the inexplicably angry populace (they're living in a city scrubbed crime-free after the death of Harvey Dent—what is their problem?) would so ecstatically rally to him. Members of the real-world Occupy movement may bristle at being thus depicted, even at second hand, as witless sheep. 

As Bane and his goons wreak mounting havoc on Gotham, we know that only one man can stop them. But where is Batman? Unfortunately, in a major miscalculation, the caped hero is nowhere in evidence for much of the middle section of the film—Bruce Wayne having been consigned by Bane to a faraway prison (in India, it looks like). In this gloomy hellhole, we witness a number of silly things. There's a medical miracle of breathtaking preposterousness, and a long, tedious series of escape attempts whose main effect is to help stretch the movie's bloated runtime to nearly three hours.

I don't think it spoils anything to reveal that Batman ultimately makes it back to Gotham, and that he and Bane have a really big fistfight. The picture ends in a very dark way—and yet, with a giggle-triggering reveal, it also clearly sets up a sequel. Since Nolan has firmly indicated that he won't be doing a fourth installment of this saga, you have to wonder what luckless director might be brought onboard to pick up the Bat shards he's left behind.

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, is now available. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.

NEXT: A.M. Links: At Least 12 Dead in Batman Shooting, Our Golfing President, Gary Johnson at 13 Percent in New Mexico

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    1. -100,000

      1. Come on. Nothing is funnier than mass murder.

        1. Not even Dane Cook?

          1. Especially not Dane Cook.

        2. 12 people isn’t mass murder.

          1. I think 50 people is mass attempted murder.

  1. If Adam West isn’t playing Batman and Cesar Romero as The Joker I don’t give a rat’s ass.

    1. You’re old.

    2. Speaking of ass.

      1. Thanks for sharing, Mary

      2. Finally a post with some substance!

    3. Actually I did like Jack Nicholson as The Joker as well. He was the real star of that movie.

      1. You’re old.

      2. It’s a pity that film sucked, though.

    4. I loved it when he did the Batusi.

    5. Batman TOS was flawless in its casting.

      Sure West was phenomenal, but Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, Madge Blake, Alan Napier, Stafford Repp Neil Hamilton were the right people at the right time.

      The guy who stole the show was Victor Buono as King Tut.

      Here’s the cast:…..edits#cast

      1. I got the entire series on (bootleg) dvd, from EBay. I was surprised at how awesome it was.

    6. I have to agree. The later movies really try way to hard for “dark and moody” film noir. Taking an action hero that seriously is a bad idea.

      1. Uh, you may not like them, but they made a couple billion dollars and are basically unanimously critically acclaimed (well as acclaimed as a big budget action movie can be), so I don’t think see how you can say they were a bad idea.

        1. Well, the campy TV series is still something of a legend, too. I don’t think popularity and artistic merit are mutually inclusive 😉

          I think that action heroes are more along the lines of escapist fantasy rather than turgid sociopolitical commentary (don’t get me started on The Watchmen!) and trying to explore heavy messages with a guy in an SM inspired rubber costume just doesn’t work with me.

          1. No, I definitely don’t think that popularity and artistic merit are mutually inclusive, that’s why I separated them.

            But really there are three reasons to make a movie: to make money, to make a piece of art, to make a statement (political, social or what have you).

            TDK series nearly inarguably hits the first two (I mean you’re more than entitled to your opinion to think that they’re crap, but I don’t think the studios/filmmakers (other than Kevin Smith maybe) give a crap about what you (or I) think!).

            Now me, I don’t think they even attempted to make a statement with BB or TDK, I haven’t seen the third, so they might have changed their minds, but that’s not usually Nolan’s MO. Of course people are going to shoehorn their political views in there, because they’re popular and highly discussed, but that doesn’t mean that’s why they were made.

            Hell people have made careers out ascribing political stances to crap like Rabbit, Run and The Great Gatsby. But that doesn’t mean that’s why they were written.

            1. I guess it comes down to a matter of personal taste, ultimately. Perhaps I did have some other films in mind because TDK was fairly empty of weighty themes.

          2. I think that action heroes are more along the lines of escapist fantasy rather than turgid sociopolitical commentary (don’t get me started on The Watchmen!)

            Let me guess; you’re dumb.

            1. I just read it as someone who thought comic books stopped printing in 1978.

            2. HM, that cheap shot is so beneath you 😉

              1. Alan Moore is the one true God, and I am his Prophet. Infidel.

  2. Wait, it depicts the Occupiers as ruthless thugs? Excellent!

    1. Oh, and looking around the country during the past few months of OccupyPalooza, it isn’t too hard to buy that people who mindlessly joing a movement that makes entirely nosense in world in which everything is basically hunky-dorey for the bottom 99%.

  3. Lots of pearl clutchers on the Facebook posting of this article.

    1. Are they upset about the Knightfall reference? Because the only thing TDKR and Knightfall have in common is that they both have Batman and Bane in them.

      1. The only comic story I can be sure that Nolan has referenced is Year One, which he referenced in large portions in Batman Begins. I couldn’t tell anything in The Dark Knight.

        As far as The Dark Knight Rises is concerned, it seems to be inspired in at least a little bit by The Dark Knight Returns, in that Batman is forced from retirement in a dystopic future to find a mindless horde of Obamazombies…Oops, I mean Occupies…I MEAN CRIMINALS!

      2. They’re upset that it was posted to begin with. Apparently reason’s Facebook fans are a bunch of pussified soccer moms who think the world should shut down any time something bad happens.

        1. Whoa, really? They’re just mad that the review was posted because of the shooting thing?

          Jesus. Where is my nuclear armed orbiting space craft.

          1. When the Gillespie meme was posted with “Fuck” in the picture, there were many a cancelled facebook subscription.

            That crew wouldn’t last a minute around here.

            1. Why do they even bother trying is what kills me. Have they been on a different internet than me for the past 15 years or something?

        2. Well there are no comments at all on the google+ post.

          1. Because no one uses Google-plus

      3. To be fair, it looks like Nolan incorporated the Arkham Asylum breakout from Knightfall too, but he made it Blackgate prison instead. That might have to do with the fact that Nolan’s movies haven’t really introduced as many super-villains as Arkham would be expected to hold, and the generic criminal presence satisfied Nolan’s sensibilities for breaking down the Bat. Or maybe I’m full of shit and guessing.

        I loved the Knightfall and Knight’s End series of the Batman comics. The first comic I ever bought was Batman #500 (last of the Knightfall series), and then I worked my way back through the issues to get to Vengeance of Bane. I still own them all, but they’re not worth near what I thought they would be over 15 years later.

  4. Sorry Kurt but you could not be more wrong. It’s unfortunate that you did not enjoy what is without a doubt one of Chris Nolan’s best films and the best entry in his Dark Knight Trilogy. It’s extremely rare for the 3rd entry of a series to be the best one, and I did not think it would be possible for The Dark Knight to be outdone, but that is exactly what happened.

    And the parallels to the Occupy Movement are way off base. Not just because the script was written 2 years before the Occupy Movement existed, but also because the Nolan’s were taking inspiration from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”. I watched this movie and saw zero parallels to the Occupy Movement, but I saw lots of parallels to Charles Dickens’ novel and the French Revolution.

    1. So you’re an occutard and a fanboi? Nice.

    2. But, but, but…

      The one percenters weren’t the villains, the sainted OWS were.

      Must hate movie.

    3. Not just because the script was written 2 years before the Occupy Movement existed

      Mindless, violent populist movements don’t change much over the centuries, whether they’re the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, or the Occupiers.

      1. You’re giving the Occupiers too much “credit” there, methinks. They’re non on par with the other two. They’re not a movie of the week, not even a fucking T-shirt.

    4. woh-woh-woh..easy now. Let’s not start calling Kurt Loder names and threaten to murder him using quotes from the Batman movies.

      He’s OUR resident film critic. If you want to go through him…well, you’ll have to go through Dave Weigl first.

      1. I’d gladly go through Lucy Steigerwald if you catch my drift.

    5. I thought this was parody.

      Then I realized it wasn’t.

      Which made it, therefore, funny. Thanks for the lulz, Serious One.

    6. Zero parallels to the OWS movement? When Catwoman basically comes right out and says there’s a storm coming, because the one percent have been living too high on the hog for too long?

  5. he recalls not only the hulking Humungus of the 1981 Road Warrior

    I LOOM!

    1. Hey while you’re on that loom, can you do something about these holes in my socks, Ayatollah of Rock-n-rolla?

      1. I’ll have my fingerless servant do the work.

  6. You are without a doubt the worst film critic in the land. You thought that soulless Men in Black III was fun and The Dark Knight Rises was limp? GTFO!

    1. You thought that soulless Men in Black III was fun

      He’s got you there, Loder.

      1. Meh. MIB or Batman movies same action crap really.

    2. Yeah, Loder may have terrible taste (he also thought that The Final Cut was the best Pink Floyd album), but he has some decent insights occaisionally.

      And I’m pretty sure he nailed Tabitha Soren back when she was hot, so I’ll give him a pass on his idiot TDKR and MIB3 opinions.

    3. T. Durden? You can always count on finding a fanboi somewhere on some chatboard discussion about movies to be named T. Durden.

  7. ” Members of the real-world Occupy movement may bristle at being thus depicted, even at second hand, as witless sheep. ”

    Not sure why they would be mad. They ARE witless sheep.

  8. (especially an earth-ripping attack on a packed football stadium)

    See, now I have to judge Kurt’s entire review. The upper decks of the stadium weren’t even 15% full, and it was supposed to be a professional game against the rival team. I didn’t think Gotham was that bad at football… It’s not like Gotham is a metaphor for Jacksonville or something.

    1. Btw, was that Hines Ward? The Gotham uniforms did have a Steelers feel to them.

      1. It was Hines Ward, and Ben Roethlisberger was there as well. (Also one or two of the Steelers’ linemen I think, but didn’t remember names). You could see them a bit better when the national anthem was being sung.

      2. Pittsburgh was standing in as Gotham City for this movie.

      3. Too bad Ward is leaving the Steelers. I love to watch pros who obviously love what they do. Not a big Dave Matthews but his drummer has the same thing, smiling blissfully while absolutely killing it.

    2. metaphor for Jacksonville

      Well the Jag’s owner and coach both have pretty super-villainy names…

    3. It was filmed at Heinz Field in July and the extras were required to wear winter coats (as it was supposed to be a playoff game). So yeah, they weren’t nearly able to fill the stadium.

  9. it’s not at all clear why the inexplicably angry populace … would so ecstatically rally to him.

    Did I fall asleep at some point last night or did this part just not happen?

    1. Yeah I questioned that a bit as well. There was some general rallying (Selina’s friend, for example), but for the most part it seemed like the people raging were the 1,000 prisoners let out of Blackgate and the people Bane brought in with him. The majority of citizens were shut inside their homes.

      1. And Selina’s friend wasn’t exactly an upstanding citizen.

    2. Loder overslept the day of the review and put together some thoughts based on the trailers and tv spots?

      1. No, Loder just doesn’t get things…

        to give the brightest performance in a picture that’s otherwise dark and glum throughout

        What the fuck? It’s Batman of the 21st century. The id?e fixe, the entire concept of Batman is that it’s supposed to be relentlessly “dark and glum throughout”. The term “Dark Knight” should have tipped Loder off. What did he expect: a Busby Berkeley number?

  10. So what you’re saying is it wasn’t as awesome as Magic Mike?!

  11. Thought it was a decent film, but not as good as the 2nd. Seemed like Nolan was trying too hard with this one. Definitely felt longish while in the theater.

    I also liked the Joker in the second one being depicted as having no goal other than chaos.

    Here, this one just continues a storyline. Bane seems smaller as he’s out to reach a specific goal, while doing much bigger things (b/c, as I felt, this was the third movie and everything has to be bigger!)

    It was ok, but I don’t think a match for the 2nd film, which was truly great.

    1. I forgot to mention, lots of predictable scenes in this third installment.

      1. There were 3 different scenes that I predicted, but I still enjoyed it. I actually thought it felt incredibly quick.

  12. Ehh, TDK was ok, but IMO wasn’t nearly what it was made out to be. And I really wasn’t that impressed by Heath Ledger as the joker either.

    1. I really liked TDK, but I also thought that Ledger was way overrated.

      1. How so? Are you just being contrarian?

  13. Co worker asked me why this guy wasn’t shot by police.

    My response: He was armed.

    I’m here all week.

    1. Listen, a gun only holds so many bullets and when there are a dozen family dogs and one crazed killer around you have to make a choice.

  14. But Bane is so clearly a vicious nihilist?he empties the municipal prison, arms the freed inmates, sets up kangaroo courts?that it’s not at all clear why the inexplicably angry populace (they’re living in a city scrubbed crime-free after the death of Harvey Dent?what is their problem?) would so ecstatically rally to him. Members of the real-world Occupy movement may bristle at being thus depicted, even at second hand, as witless sheep.

    It’s called taking things to their logical conclusion.

  15. Right on the money, Kurt. I’m amazed I was disappointed (I saw the midnight show,) and I’m amazed other people think it’s good. It’s almost depressing how bad it actually was, considering how excited I was to see it. I found it unambiguously borderline terrible, like “Godfather 3” bad.

    1. “..unambiguously borderline..”

      Heh, I still get what you’re saying.

  16. I disagree with Mr. Loder. I believe The Dark Knight was easily the best of the three, but I thought this film provided a great conclusion to the series. Often when it comes to trilogies, the second movie is the best, while the third ones takes the franchise off the rails (e.g., Spider Man, Superman. Nolan managed to avoid that here.

  17. I’ll say too that while Tom Hardy is probably a better actor than Heath Ledger was, his Bane still doesn’t hold a candle to Ledger’s Joker, who to me is arguably the best movie villain ever.

    1. The problem for Hardy is that he had a huge mask over his face all the time, and his voice was heavily modulated.

  18. I’m a Tim Burton Batman fanboy. It gets lonely.

    1. You are not alone, but I still think these films are superior to the 89 one and batman returns.

      those two nailed an atmosphere that allowed burton to make a lot of tripe for a long time afterwards just off the shine of the batman films.

      i saw the midnight showing and was disappointed. i still think it was good, but was a letdown. bane was not super interesting. ledger was not the only reason the joker was great in tdk. the writing, the overall plot, and ledgers performance meshed so well.
      bane was boring, the raz al ghul twist at the end was not very well done, and it feels like all the good guys disappear for the middle of the movie, except JGL, who was mostly there just to be the goodguy everyman.

      anne hathaway impressed, i did not expect to like her in this.

      and there was some hamfisted ows dialogue blather in there. not a ton, but it was in there and pretty clumsy.

      the sentencing trials seemed more reminiscent of the french revolution than ows, however.

  19. The best analysis of TDKR I’ve seen is from the reviewer at io9 who commented that while it isn’t as strong a film as TDK, it is an excellent finale to the Nolan Batman films in that it pulls together and “completes” a lot of the themes and ideas that have been running through the previous films.

    As an aside, having now seen the movie myself, I’m very surprised that I haven’t seen any reviewers mention that Bane’s rule over the city seems to be modeled in part on the Paris Commune of 1871.

  20. Kurt, I’m 100% with you on this review. I did like the ending because I was starved to like anything about this movie. 🙁

  21. After reading reviews like this one, I was surprised at how much I loved the movie. Nolan must have set such unrealistic expectations after the 2nd movie that anything less than perfection would not be good enough.

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