July 23, 2012
I waited three days before writing this review mostly because I knew I was going to fanboy all over it. I’ve waited for this movie for over three years. I wanted to see what Nolan would do with the story since the end of Batman Begins. When the first film was announced, I wanted the Dark Knight to get redemption from Batman and Robin and, to a lesser extent, Batman Forever.
Ladies and gentlemen, I was not only satisfied with the finale of the Dark Knight Trilogy, but utterly blown away by it.
The first half of this review will contain zero to minimal spoilers, or at least spoilers that should be obvious to anyone who saw the trailers or is familiar with Batman lore. The second half, which will be CLEARLY marked, will contain MASSIVE spoilers, so keep going until the end at your own risk.
SPOILER FREE REVIEW
The story begins eight years after The Dark Knight. Bruce is broken, both physically and mentally, following the ordeal with the Joker and Two-Face. He’s been retired for years, but Gotham has seemingly gotten by without him. Because of the events in the second film, the Gotham Police Department has been reformed and crime has dropped to historic lows. However, when a mercenary called Bane arrives in Gotham, all bets are off. He’s as trained as Bruce, as unpredictable as the Joker, and more dangerous than Ra’s al Ghul.
And that’s just the first fifteen minutes.
The movie did a lot of very good things with both story and characters. Bruce, for example, is showing the real emotional and physical toll of crime fighting for years. His leg is busted and he’s retired due to the events at the end of The Dark Knight. His reluctance to return in this movie shows that Batman may be the peak of human training, but he’s still human. His desire to become a symbol has succeeded and Gotham is safe (at least until Bane arrives), but in the end, Batman must succumb to Bruce Wayne’s own human frailty, both physical and emotional.
At first, the movie felt like it was moving way too fast, but then I looked at it through the point of view of traditional narrative structure. The entire Dark Knight Saga can be seen as one massive story, so in this third act, we can do away with traditional structure. It’s definitely a movie that needs the first two in order to make sense since every bit of backstory is based on those films.
But how does it stack next to The Dark Knight, a movie few think can be topped as far as superhero movies are concerned?
Bane is no Joker, but that doesn’t make him any less interesting. He’s scary. He’s the intelligent, manipulative, BRUTALLY effective warrior from the comics, not the mindless ape from Batman and Robin. While he’s a bit difficult to understand with his mask, he’s not unintelligible and it’s easy to pick up his patterns. I don’t see Tom Hardy winning an Oscar, but I don’t see him NOT taking a place among the great villains in movies. When he speaks or appears, he steals the scene, and his humor, while dry, is very creepy.
Story-wise, the movie moves quickly. It takes bits and pieces from Batman lore, such as the iconic storylines Knightfall and No Man’s Land. One review I read already said the second half of the film doesn’t do the first justice, but I think the author missed the point. The movie is split almost entirely in two due to a single event around the halfway mark that should be obvious to those familiar with the Knightfall story. From that point until the end, the movie moves in a very dark, and very epic, direction. The review in The Atlantic complained that instead of going for the realistic noir approach of The Dark Knight, Nolan went for the epic comic-book feel of the first film.
I think this had to be done.
Like I said, this is the third act. This is where everything comes to a head, and despite Alfred’s insistence that Bruce had to find another way aside from being Batman, he was wrong. The city needed his example many years ago, and right now, he’s the only one who can save them from Bane’s master plan. These films are a deconstruction of the superhero myth. They break down what it would take to be a superhero, then they built the myth back up. The Incredibles did something similar, and the big payoff for the audience in this case is that yes, Batman can be real, and yes, he’s a symbol that’s larger than life.
Make no mistake, though. This movie is the last for Nolan and Bale. This is the end. There will be no fourth Nolan Batman movie. As such, the movie has the massive task of ending Bruce Wayne’s story and Batman himself, and without giving anything away, I firmly believe Nolan pulled it off with grace and a sense of believability. Others have tried to write how Bruce Wayne would end his career as Batman. One of the most famous, The Dark Knight Returns by fallen hero Frank Miller, showed an aging Bruce Wayne taking up the mantle one final time before finally succumbing to age, but not before he fought Superman to a standstill.
Other versions, such as the one from the DC Animated Universe, showed Bruce also retiring when his body simply couldn’t take it. He eventually passed the Batman mantle to another and served as a mentor for many years.
Nolan doesn’t really go that route, but it’s a wonderful ending to Bruce Wayne’s life as Batman. The movie is, in its entirety, amazing. There was ONE little moment where I chuckled at an inappropriate moment, but I’m sure my mouth was hanging open the entire time. I would see this movie on loop for a week if given the chance.
Solid work all-around.
SPOLIERS AFTER THE IMAGE! STOP READING IF YOU REALLY DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
The complaints I’ve heard so far has been with the second half of the movie. It’s too bright and Batman runs off with Selena Kyle and abandons Gotham. Also, we have the ridiculous accusations from both sides that Bane is either a stand-in for Romney and the Bain Capital fiasco or a condemnation of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
First off, the movie HAS to be bright. Think about it. Bruce has lost his fortune. His secret is compromised. For all intents and purposes, his life is over, but he can still give Bane one final fight. Batman can’t operate in the darkness after the League of Shadows cuts Gotham off from the rest of the world. He can’t just be a symbol. He must be a symbol and a man, someone who leads by example, and sure enough, there he is at the end, fighting in broad daylight with rescued police officers to reclaim the city. Fittingly, the final battle takes place at dawn, during a new day, and as the movie showed in the beginning, Gotham itself is entering a new day.
Batman won. His crusade overcame fear, anarchy, and iron-fisted order to create something better.
As for Bruce running off with Selena, this one’s trickier. How much longer can he remain as Batman? The doctor told him it would be dangerous, and he’s already suffered broken vertebrae and his leg is busted. He can want to do this all day long, but his body just can’t take more. This is perhaps the most realistic aspect of the movie for me. Bruce realized, like the beginning of The Dark Knight, that he would eventually have to step aside. While Harvey Dent was a massive failure in that regard, when the city as a whole came together, they did what one man could not do. With the Wayne fortune gone, Bruce really has nothing but burned bridges behind him. Faking his death after saving the city from the nuclear bomb allowed him to move on. Bruce Wayne and Batman are dead. No one will look for him, and he could leave confident the city would survive with its new protector: Robin John Blake.
As for the accusations of what Bane is supposed to represent, this one is not as clear-cut.
Some on the Right are mad because he’s supposed to represent Bain Capital. I already said why this was such an idiotic theory. However, the speeches about Gotham reclaiming its wealth from the rich and Selena’s speech to Bruce about how the wealthiest people can’t live that way for too long make it sound as though the villains are supposed to stand in for the Occupy Movement.
That is also extremely stupid for a number of reasons.
Bane is “liberating” the city by taking out the police, much like Republicans have stripped police departments across the country of resources and manpower. His idea of freedom is to get rid of every social program and structure and just let people fend for themselves. The regular people are at the grip of courts run by the most powerful. Military hardware is being used against those who would oppose them, much like anti-riot hardware such as sonic weapons were used against Occupy. The final fight sees police fighting armed thugs. The police, in this case, are the people. They are the ones who have been powerless. If anything, Bane represents the establishment, status quo. This is even more explicit when you remember that Bane is working to fulfill Talia al Ghul’s plan of getting rid of Gotham because of its immorality, a line often parroted by right-wing fundamentalists.
So, no, Bane does not represent Romney’s former company, but he does represent a lot of the things the people on the Right do. It’s not a perfect analogy since the tactics he employs are superficially similar to what Occupy did, but the results and rationale are vastly different.
That’s my interpretation at least.
The movie rocked. I’d see it again. Now to wait and see if the next DC hero, Superman, gets a similar resurgence. The first teaser already looks wonderful, shot realistically, and has two versions: one with Pa Kent narrating and one with Jor-El.