(the following contains spoilers which you really should read if you are planning to see the film, as you shouldn’t see the film)
The alleged delights of being a contrarian are often illusory when the broad mass of humanity goes against your view. Film critics I respect, such as Roger Ebert and Phillip French, have lauded Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. Most public reaction I have encountered has been positive likewise.
However, there are a number of rather large flaws in the last installment of the franchise which I find it impossible to ignore. I was going to go on about the incredibly clunky dialogue, the rushed and hollow action, the lack of anyone to match Heath Ledger’s charisma, the loathesome apologia for fascism that runs underneath the movie’s skin. But you know what? All it needs is a basic summary of plot.
(This is the point that, if you are really determined to see the film, you stop reading now. Seriously. No good will come of you continuing to read)
A russian scientist is abducted from a plane by the mercenary Bane, an enormous muscled psychopath who has a big breathing apparatus on his face, and talks like Vincent Price channelling Darth Vader in a wind tunnel. This is an extremely well done scene, and is notable for being the last point I really thought Chris Nolan knew what he was doing.
The Bruce Wayne foundation holds a charity ball. Commissioner Jim Gordon is about to give a speech about how Harvey Dent (in honour of whom, a law has been passed that has incarcerated Gotham’s recidivist community, and sent crime to historical lows) wasn’t actually a shining light, but a raving psychopath. But then doesn’t. And puts it in his pocket instead.
Catwoman breaks into Bruce Wayne’s house and steals his grandmother’s pearls and his fingerprints. Bruce – who hitherto was a recluse with a gammy leg doing a Howard Hughes impression – gets intrigued by this and goes searching after her, rather than, say, reporting her to the police because she’s stolen his grandmother’s pearl and his fingerprints. Turns out she is working for a crooked industrialist, who wants control of Wayne Enterprises (The industrialist is working with Bane, because that’s the kinda guys you hang out with in industry, enormous muscled psychopaths with a big breathing apparatus on their face that talk like Vincent Price channelling Darth Vader in a wind tunnel).
He meets her at a charity ball. She warns him that his rich friends are facing a storm. She leaves with a Senator. Bruce meets a French woman who wants his nuclear fusion project, that he shelved when a Russian Scientist published plans to weaponise it on the internet. “oh, you can share it now, the scientist is dead, zut alors, he died in the opening credits sequence”, she says.
In a sequence of events, Jim Gordon chases after those with the fingerprints, and ends up in the sewers, where he is assaulted by Bane, who steals the speech that Jim has in his pocket. Jim escapes by rolling into some water.
Cops find Jim all soggy and take him to hospital. Nobody believes Jim when he says there is an army in the sewers. Because when the Chief Commissioner of police comes out of the sewers saying “there’s an army of criminals in the sewers and they attacked me”, you would, of course, ignore him. Of course you would. He’s only the most respected policeman in the city and has never had fantasies about an army full of criminals assembling in the sewers before. Of course you’d ignore him.
Bruce visits Wayne Enterprises to talk to Lucius Fox. Lucius shows him a room full of weapons that Wayne Enterprises has developed but that he keeps hidden from everyone because he doesn’t trust the police and army. Bruce says he’s keeping the endless source of energy that is nuclear fusion away from the public because he doesn’t trust them. Neither turns to the other at any point in this conversation and says “hang on, god fucking complex or what?”.
Bane attacks the stock exchange. Bruce, as Batman, chases. Bane has put a program in place that makes it look like Bruce has gambled all of Wayne Enterprises’ money on futures that are worthless. Bane escapes. Batman is left holding a product placed I-pad.
Bruce argues with Alfred, and they have a conversation that goes like this:
Bruce Wayne: Exposition, Exposition
Alfred: Exposition, State the bleeding obvious
Bruce Wayne: Exposition, plan of action that involves risk
Alfred: Elongated anecdote that illustrates fear for Bruce
Bruce Wayne: Low growling angst ridden moan
Alfred: Pained look of worry for Bruce
and then Alfred storms off, because he won’t watch Bruce kill himself. He does his wobbly lip, shaky voice, big rheumy sad eyes full of tears like a depressed bloodhound from The Italian Job thing before he goes.
Bruce loses control of Wayne enterprises because the board is really angry he’s gambled away all the money on futures that are worthless, even though he hasn’t, and even though whatever program Bane put into the computers, it must be patently obvious that these transactions happened, y’know, at the same time Bane was attacking the stock exchange, and even though even the most worthless futures would have to be worth something, unless they were, y’know, spread bets on Chris Nolan and his brother winning the Oscar for best original script.
In a surprise move, he outmaneuvres the crooked industrialist, and places the frenchwoman on the board. “Mais Oui!” she says. The frenchwoman goes to Batman’s house and they have tasteful sex. The crooked industrialist goes to shout at Bane because he isn’t in charge of Wayne Enterprises, but is first caught by Catwoman looking for a secret disk that can erase all trace her from the world’s computers. He tells her it’s a myth. Bane comes in. She escapes. Bane breaks the industrialists neck. Batman helps Catwoman escape.
Catwoman helps Batman go down into the sewers to find Bane, but she double crosses him and leads him to Bane. They have a really rubbish fist fight. Bane wins. Bane breaks Batman’s back, and after showing him that he somehow has access to Lucius Fox’s secret room full of weapons, you know, the room only Lucius and Bruce know about, places him in a prison somewhere like Turkey or whatever.
It’s a hell-hole. To pile insult on top of injury, they stick him in a room with an aged Tom Conti. Aged Tom Conti, who presumably has forgotten romancing Julie Walters, bores us all at inordinate length with the tale of the only person ever to escape the prison. He never uses a masculine or femine pronoun to describe said child, but certain other tales he tells regarding Bane leads Bruce to assume Bane was the child. They fix Bruce’s back, because that’s what you do as prisoners in the most hellish prison known to man. Rather than, say, knifing him, buggering him to death and stealing his clothes.
The police finally believe Jim Gordon, and send the entire police force down to the sewer. Even though there’s a big American football match on and, one would assume, the normal levels of traffic that a major city has to police. Bane blows the tunnels trapping everyone in the sewers (he’s used the crooked industrialists workers to plant bombs all around the city doing this. Because that’s what construction guys do, generally, side with insane psychopathic terrorists. You know, like all the New York construction workers who sided with Bin Laden….).
Then he goes to the ball game and blows up the pitch. He walks on to the remainders of it with the Russian scientist and tells everyone that he has trapped the police force, and what’s more, he has turned Bruce’s nuclear fusion reactor into a big bomb and the russian is the only person who can disarm it. He then breaks the Russian’s neck. He tells the world not to interfere with Gotham whilst he works his wicked way. He tells the people of Gotham they are free of the law. Oh, and by the way? Harvey Dent was a psychopath, not a nice guy. Look, I have Jim’s speech here.
Unhindered by the law, the apparently law abiding, crime free, seemingly prosperous Gothamites go on a rampage, which takes up all of 30 seconds of screen time, attacking the rich. Bane recruits a private army from the criminals locked up under the Dent law. He arms them with the weapons stolen from Lucius.
Meanwhile, the handsome but dull cop who has spent the entire movie being right two minutes behind events is working with Commissioner Gordon and others to try and free the sewer-trapped cops.
Gothamn is anarchy. This is illustrated by a short sequence where Cillian Fox hands out post-revolutionary justice, and another where Catwoman saves a small child from being beaten up for stealing an apple. Because, you see, once the police have been removed, everyone who isn’t rich or a policeman is, basically, part of an angry, ungovernable mob just itching to side with a psychopathic terrorist who has blown up their local football team, despite there not being any mention of poverty for the preceeding however many minutes of the film, and despite crime being at an all time low.
IT’S TRUE! AND IT’S A BIT LIKE OCCUPY WALL STREET! SOMEHOW! LOOK HOW TOPICAL IT IS!
Bruce trains himself into fitness over the course of time (months appear to have passed, it is now winter in Gotham, and he’s been recovering from a broken back and having the shit kicked out of him by doing chin curls and getting fit on prison gruel – third world prisons are just the place to get back into tip top fighting condition when you are an ageing billionaire vigilante past his best years) and then escapes from a big hole in the roof (after trying twice and failing. The secret was to do it without a rope, you see).
Commissioner Gordon gets captured whilst trying to get most all of the police force back from the sewers. He gets sent out onto the river’s ice to fall in and die. Batman rescues him. He’s somehow got back from Turkey or wherever it was in record time, and got into Gotham despite it being cut off from the outside world, and appeared just in time to rescue Jim on the ice).
Batman frees the cops in the sewer. The cops in the sewer attack Bane and his army, looking remarkably spruce for people who have been trapped in a sewer for fucking months (the dull cop has been giving them food, apparently. Given there’s allegedly 3000 of them, and one of him, and they are trapped in different parts of the sewer, that’s quite a big job. And given that food appears to be scarce or rationed because the revolutionary government of Bane has cut Gotham off from the outside world, he’s doing well to get his hands on it, but hey, he’s the dull cop, so that’s alright). Bane’s army, despite being armed to the teeth with at the very least semi automatic weapons, decide to engage in a fistfight with 3000 angry cops and lose (even though we’ve been told there are 8000 of them, and 3000 cops).
Batman helps. Batman attacks Bane. Batman wins this time because he’s only just worked out through talking to Tom Conti for fricking months that maybe punching Bane in the enormous and highly visible breathing apparatus on his face may be a winning tactic in a fist fight. Just as Batman goes into his custom interrogation technique (slamming Bane against things and shouting “where is it?” about the nuclear bomb, he is really a poster boy for subtlety, this guy), the Frenchwoman appears and stabs him in the back, revealing she’s the daughter of the badman from the first movie. It turns out the frenchwoman was the child who escaped from the prison! Pesky Tom Conti! Can’t he use masculine or feminine pronouns when telling an overlong tale? That was just asking for trouble.
She tries to make the bomb go off via radio control but in a really tedious action sequence, Jim Gordon has already stopped her by putting some sort of blocker on it. The bomb is going to go off anyway, sorry, I forgot to tell you that, because the core is degrading or something. Yeah, that was it. She runs off to try and get the bomb and Bruce is about to be killed by Bane when Catwoman (oh yeah, Catwoman helped Bruce somehow, and Bruce gave her that magical program thingy she wanted from the crooked industrialist, because obviously crime is bad and wrong and criminals deserve to be beaten to a pulp by a vigilante billionaire *unless they are Anne Hathaway in lycra*. I mean, it’s a good job Catwoman wasn’t a pug ugly bloke, or Bruce would have kicked shit out of him, slammed him into things shouting “where is it/he/Waldo?” and the like, and she wouldn’t have been round to save his arse) shoots Bane in the head. Batman, who has a lifelong aversion to guns of all kinds is perfectly fine with this.
Bruce and Catwoman go after Frenchwoman, who has gone after the bomb. There’s a really dull re-hash of the truck chase/attack scene in the second film which leads to the frenchwoman dying but the bomb being too far away from the reactor (oh yeah, to disarm it, they had to get to the reactor), and despite the bomb being radio controlled, and degrading, it has a big timer on the front that handily tells them they only have minutes left (because, y’know, nuclear fusion reactors that have been turned into bombs generally degrade to the very second), so Bruce gets into his plane, and flies off, tugging the bomb along with him, the bomb goes off over the sea, order is restored, dull policeman becomes Robin, Jim Gordon unveils a somewhat fascistic statue of Batman, and Alfred sees Bruce and Catwoman having coffee in Florence, because Bruce had put the plane on auto-pilot, see?
Oh. Sorry. Did I mention that there’s a bus load of orphans in danger as well? Sorry. Anyway, they get saved, and go to live in Wayne Manor.
Essentially, when you take the trimmings away, all 3 Batman movies are notable for one thing – the villain’s plot is basically the same plan every time (“Oh ho, you think your society is good or noble or just? I will cause existential dread and make you realise the thin skin between you and barbarism, a thin skin only held in place by the actions of a Billionaire Vigilante who beats up the poor“), and first Batman tries to thwart them, is defeated, it looks like the villain is going to win, but what’s that Robin? Batman has turned up fortuitously at the last moment to save the day? Hurrah!
This could be glossed over for the first film, as it was a reboot and added a certain life and vigour to the series, and added much vaunted “realism”. The second movie featured an exceptional performance by Ledger as the Joker, and more of the “realism”. By the time we get to film 3, however, Nolan’s “realism” is as realistic as the dream sequences in “Inception”. He rushes through the action sequences, which could have been the film’s saving grace (even the promising ones such as the Football stadium explosion) to get to next action sequence which is just as rushed, or to give us acres of tedious speechifying in a vernacular that no human being would ever use. And all in service for a quite reprehensible political message which at very best is Burkean fear of the mob, and at worse is a proto-fascist call for a strong leader.
If you intend to jump the shark, I would suggest stocking up on bat-shark-repellent first. Adam West is your man for that. He’s got loads.