The Dark Knight Rises concluded the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy in 2012. The production was initially delayed for several reasons, one being that Nolan directed Inception in-between the two “Dark Knight” movies. But the main reason was likely the unfortunate fate of one of the major actors in that movie.
Part of the aftermath of Heath Ledger’s death after filming The Dark Knight is that it tossed the original plan for a third Christopher Nolan Batman movie into chaos. They originally planned to bring the joker back to the third entry in the trilogy. Writer David S. Goyer and actor Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent/Two-Face) both confirmed this in interviews. Ledger also planned on returning, stating that he enjoyed working on The Dark Knight. Out of respect for his legendary performance, they decided early on not to recast him. This made Nolan hesitant to make a third film in the Dark Knight trilogy, and it also forced a complete reworking of the story.
They started moving towards an adaptation of Knightfall, which marked the first comic appearance of Bane in 1994. The studio executives wished for The Riddler to be the main villain instead, and even encouraged casting Leonardo DiCaprio in the role. Rumors also circled around that Jonny Depp would play The Riddler. However, Nolan wanted a vastly different antagonist from previous incarnations, and committed to Bane early on. He wanted a villain with a physical presence. He described the difference between The Joker and Bane as such – the Joker is an example of “diabolical, chaotic anarchy and has a devilish sense of humour,” while Bane is “a classic movie monster … with a terrific brain.”
They announced that they figured out the story they wanted in early 2010, and started working on it shortly after finishing Inception. Goyer left the project in pre-production to work on Man Of Steel instead, so Jonathan Nolan (Christopher’s younger brother) took over primary writing duties.
Most surviving characters saw their cast members return. Christian Bale returns in the title role, and expressed feeling bittersweet about leaving the franchise, saying it was like “saying goodbye to an old friend.” Michael Caine returns as Alfred, although in a smaller role this time round as the relationship between Bruce and Alfred is strained in the events of the film. Gary Oldman portrays Commissioner Gordon again, who’s wartime police tactics have cleaned up the city quite a bit, to the point where he’s starting to get slightly bored in his role. Morgan Freeman is back as Lucious Fox, who is still keeping around potential Batman tech despite how Wayne Enterprises is struggling after they cancelled a major energy project.
The four main new characters are Bane, Catwoman, John Blake (a young idealistic cop who senses that trouble is coming before anyone else) and Miranda Tate (saying her real identity would spoil a couple plot elements). Tom Hardy plays Bane, an extremist mercenary who wants to continue Ra’s al Ghul’s plan to destroy Gotham City. He wanted to play a menacing version of the character, and gained 30 pounds of muscle for the role. Anne Hathaway plays Catwoman. She apparently auditioned without knowing what role she’d be playing, and described the role as the most physically demanding role she ever played. She admitted that although she considered herself fit, she had to dramatically increase her efforts at the gym to keep up with the physical demands, while also undergoing martial arts training. She also looked to the late actress Hedy Lamarr, the initial inspiration for the Catwoman character, to help inspire her performance. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays John Blake. Not much to say about his performance here – it’s good, but I wouldn’t say it is special. As for the Miranda Tate character, she’s played by Marion Cotillard, and she’s alright, but isn’t given enough to do in the movie.
Eckhart expressed interest in returning in the movie, but later stated that Nolan verified that Two-Face died at the end of The Dark Knight.
28 minutes of The Dark Knight was filmed using IMAX cameras, being the first major film to use the IMAX format. The Dark Knight Rises features over an hour of IMAX footage. They initially wanted the entire project to use IMAX cameras, but because the IMAX cameras at the time made considerable amounts of noise, they couldn’t be used for dialogue scenes. Even with the action scenes, all of the dialogue had to be dubbed over. During post-production, Nolan also bypassed digital intermediates, which manipulated the film less and allowed for higher resolution. Most of the filming took place in Pittsburgh. The scene in a football stadium used over 11,000 extras. Los Angeles and New Jersey also acted as major film locations, along with a couple external shots in London and Glasgow.
Although the prison, known as “the pit” in the movie was entirely designed on set in Cardington, England, the Turda salt mine in Romania was explored as an option.
Hans Zimmer once again returned to compose the soundtrack. He reused several themes from the first two movies, but wanted to create something completely different for Bane’s theme. In November of 2011, he crowdsourced the internet for audio recordings for a chant to be used in the film. “The chant became a very complicated thing because I wanted hundreds of thousands of voices, and it’s not so easy to get hundreds of thousands of voices.” They did this partly to allow fans to get involved in the film process. The result is a very effective theme that worked brilliantly both in the movie’s more intense moments, and in the trailer.
The Dark Knight Rises became the second of four movies in 2012 to earn over $1 billion, becoming the third highest grossing movie of 2012 (behind The Avengers and Skyfall, and just beating The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), and at the time, the 7th highest grossing movie in history. It also set the opening weekend IMAX record with $23.8 million, which would last until Age of Ultron beat it 3 years later.
For the most part, The Dark Knight Rises did very well with critics, with an approval rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 8/10. The Daily Telegraph gave it a perfect 10 out of 10 score, and The Los Angeles Times called it “more than an exceptional superhero movie, it is masterful filmmaking by any standard.” Roger Ebert gave the movie 3 out of 4 stars, saying “the film begins slowly with a murky plot and too many new characters, but builds to a sensational climax.” The movie’s reception was much more mixed among fans however, with polarizing user reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, some of which led to threats aimed towards those who posted negative reviews.
The movie was accused of being politically motivated. Salon accused the movie of perpetuating a conservative agenda, and criticizing the Occupy Wall Street movement. Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh accused the movie of being biased against 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, due to Bane’s name being similar to Bain Capital, a company that Romney used to run. Nolan denied any political motivations or intentions in the movie, and commented specifically on Limgaugh’s complaints as “bizarre”, pointing out the character had existed since 1993 in the comics. Yeah … I’m not seeing any intentional political allegory here either.
As for myself, well … this is actually only the third time I’ve seen this movie, and the first time I’ve watched it since the year of its release. There are elements of this movie that I very much like. There are elements that are brilliant. But as a whole, it’s kind of a messy disappointment.
First off, the good. The movie features several very good action scenes. The film’s climax is truly an exciting, large scale finale, with an epic soundtrack to back it up. The first scene in which Batman fights Bane is a low-key duel, but it’s a very tense scene that takes its time to not only show how formidable an opponent Bane is, but even hints that he’s merely toying with Batman at first. Catwoman’s character is well developed, and Hathaway does a good job at portraying a morally ambiguous character who steals for a living, but also wants to start fresh with a clean record and isn’t completely devoid of morality. That said, having just watched through all of the Batman movies in a couple of months, I definitely prefer Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance in Batman Returns. The disagreements between Gordon and his Batman obsessed second in command, Peter Foley, makes for an interesting dynamic, even if it feels a bit tacked on.
That said, this movie is overly complex and makes some very questionable character decisions. There are a few too many new characters for what is supposed to be the conclusion of a trilogy, a problem this movie shares with The Rise of Skywalker, even if Rise of Skywalker is worse in that department. You’ve got the characters I’ve already mentioned, in addition to a nuclear scientist. There’s a corrupt businessman trying to take over Wayne Enterprises through illegitimate means. There’s a young woman who’s a friend to Catwoman, but kind of disappears once Bane’s plans kick off. There’s a priest who leads an orphanage, and a couple named kids who either used to live there, or still live there. There’s a CIA operative, several new board members at Wayne Enterprises, and … this movie’s cast a bit of a mess, and the movie would have benefited from trimming a lot of fat.
This movie’s worst offences in character decisions revolve around Bruce Wayne himself. In the aftermath of The Dark Knight, in which his love interest was killed, he quits his role of Batman and becomes a recluse for 8 years. Considering his parents being killed is what motivated him to become Batman in the first place, and he and Rachel never actually got together, it feels like a weak reason for him to become a recluse. If anything, it should motivate his crime fighting efforts even more, potentially bringing him to become reckless and bring him to the edge of using more extreme tactics. The climax in The Dark Knight even hinted at this. This would also be a better explanation for the rift between Bruce and Alfred than if he decided to return when a new threat emerges.
The writing problems with Bruce in this movie aren’t limited to his characterization. Despite showing no signs of wear and tear in The Dark Knight, and only acting as Batman for roughly 8 months, Bruce’s body is greatly deteriorated at the start of the movie. He’s even lost all cartilage in one of his knees. Not only does this make no sense in the grand scheme of things, but after he attaches some sort of powered leg brace to his damaged leg, it makes that particular plot point completely pointless.
One major event this movie has in common with Knightfall is that Bane breaks Batman’s back, rendering him paralyzed from the waist down. In the comics, this brought Bruce out of crime fighting commission for a long period of time, and he only recovered after seeking mystical means of healing. This was also only after his replacement turned out to be way too extreme and unstable for his liking. The Dark Knight Trilogy on the other hand is meant to be a fairly realistic take on Batman, to the point where it’s entirely possible in the real world. Yet all it takes for Bruce’s back to heal is a doctor to punch his spine back into place, and then hang him up by his shoulders until he can support his weight with his legs again, mere days later.
Yeah … that’s not how back injuries work. Consider that Christopher Reeve used all sorts of experimental treatments and therapy for a decade after his accident, along with nodes to keep his muscles twitching so they’d remain strong, he still never recovered more than being able to twitch his fingers and toes, and feel hot and cold. On that note, considering Bruce is also financially broke at that point, how did he get from the pit in the middle of nowhere across the world, to Gotham City, in a matter of days? That’s never explained.
The time scale in this movie is confusing and poorly explained. The first act never explains how much time passes between the opening scene and Batman returning to the streets. It appears that it’s only a matter of days between Batman’s return and his back being broken, yet in that same time, Gordon recovers from a near mortal wound enough to fend off several attackers with fully automatic weapons within his hospital room. After he’s put into the pit with a broken back, Bane launches his plan rather quickly, by trapping most of the city’s police underground, freeing all prisoners, and making sure nobody can enter or leave the city, or else he nukes everyone. Three months pass in a matter of second of screen time, and then we learn there’s only a matter of days before Bane’s reactor blows up anyway. At this point, Batman’s back is still broken. Wouldn’t it make sense for Batman’s back to be at least partially repaired before the time skip, so you could show a montage of him building his strength back up while Gotham City is overtaken by thugs and criminals over the course of those three months?
Speaking of which, in the lead-up to the climax, Gotham City’s streets are pretty much deserted. It’s to the point where Gordon, who is being hunted by the criminals ruling the city, can still walk around the streets in full daylight without being caught. Only on occasion do Bane’s heavy vehicles drive by. You’d think the criminals would create some sort of patrol structure if they’re on the lookout for high value targets, yet they’re able to sneak around and even place trackers on each of their vehicles. For the most part, the buildings in Gotham City are in fantastic shape for what is only a couple steps short of an apocalyptic situation.
I get what they were going for with The Dark Knight Rises, and there are definitely some good moments in this movie, but the result is a very uneven mess. The movie tries to do too much with its story, but a lot of the movie’s visuals and sub-plots just don’t add up. The first two Dark Knight movies handle Bruce Wayne/Batman fairly well, yet this movie seems to completely lose track of who he is as a character. For a trilogy that’s supposed to be rooted in the realm of real world possibilities, this movie has several very unrealistic story arcs. That said, this movie handles its action scenes very well, the music is overall the best in the trilogy, and the last 5 minutes are very satisfying both from an action and an emotional standpoint.
Overall, I’d say that The Dark Knight Rises is a decent movie. It’s a fantastic Bane movie (way better than Batman & Robin’s Bane), but it’s not a good Batman movie. When this is supposed to be the conclusion of the Dark Knight trilogy, with Batman as the title character, that makes this kind of hard to recommend. Sure, a lot of people love this movie, but I can’t bring myself to. I don’t hate it either, but there’s a reason I haven’t watched this movie in about 9 years, and might not again.
Next up is 2019’s The Joker. After that, I’ll watch a couple of movies to catch up on other projects I’ve fallen behind on, and maybe I’ll make a couple of other posts. In August I’ll be doing a classic musical theme month. After that I might do some sort of other theme month after that, or maybe I’ll do a blog series on all the Pink Panther movies. I have yet to do a blog series on comedy, even though I tend to watch a fair amount of comedy films, so what better way to do that than talking about a classic comedy series with a very confusing history.