To me, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises was a major disappointment. Sure, it grossed over one billion dollars at the box office and provided the second biggest action spectacle of 2012 behind Marvel’s first Avengers film. However, it didn’t really live up to the bar set by The Dark Knight – one of the scant few superhero movies that’s ever managed to walk away from awards season with anything other than a nod for special effects.
In fact, it didn’t even come close. Where Batman Begins and The Dark Knight boldly brought Nolan’s vision of the caped crusader to life, Rises failed to end the trilogy on a high note. It abandoned the series’ earlier focus on telling thematically-driven stories grounded in realism for an overly-convoluted superhero movie like any other.
The Dark Knight Rises forsakes the series prior concerns with fear, anarchy and justice – reducing the challenge Batman faces as one of primarily physical strength. The first two films in Nolan’s trilogy work as standalone stories but The Dark Knight Rises hinges upon its place as the final one.
Years have come and gone since the film’s release but it’s always fun to playing “devil’s filmmaker” and imagine what a more successful iteration of the film might look like – especially in the wake of Ben Affleck’s debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
A Tale of Two Batmans
Bloated runtime (all too common to comic-book movies) is one of the more direct criticisms you can aim at The Dark Knight Rises. The film throws half a dozen new characters at audiences from the get-go, most of whom feel forgettable and disposable alongside the returning cast members. The others spin their wheels and fail to really come into their own until past the two-hour-mark.
The solution here is simple – split the film into two parts.
Although Hollywood has often been a little hasty (and greedy) when it comes to splitting franchise films into two installments, The Dark Knight Rises is arguably a film that would have benefited from such a structure. The three-month time skip that precludes the film’s finale would be the ideal spot for the first part to end – creating dramatic tension and allowing the story’s final act to feel less rushed. The film’s thematic scope would also benefit, with each half given more room to properly examine and explore its ideas in the same way that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight did.
Gotham has always been the center of Bruce Wayne’s story but The Dark Knight Rises is constantly taking the plot elsewhere. Sure, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight had their own globetrotting asides but the heart and soul of those films is in Gotham, not in some vague Middle-Eastern pit. Same goes for their villains.
With the exception of the Joker, the other villains of Nolan’s trilogy all have a direct link to Gotham. Scarecrow, Two-Face and the criminal underworld are native to Gotham, while R’as Al Ghul’s efforts to destroy the city are pretty central to his own narrative. In comparison, Bane feels like a cheap villain manufactured for action-figure’s sake.
The sewers are introduced early-on as Bane’s base-of-operations but the film abandons them too quickly for the imagery to latch onto Hardy’s performance. The idea that they represent a ‘darkness’ or part of Gotham that doesn’t belong to Batman is a compelling one but it’s one that the film never acts upon aside from that one throwaway line.
I propose removing the prologue in Africa and perhaps replacing it with Gordon’s own misadventure. The emotional stakes of starting the film off here make a lot more sense than they do in Africa. It could also offer Nolan the chance to not reveal his hand too early as to how much of a threat Bain represents to Batman – lending their confrontation more impact.
The Man Himself
Speaking of Tom Hardy, Bane’s role in The Dark Knight Rises is much more vague and less evocative than that of Bruce Wayne’s previous antagonists. I think the key to making him a more interesting villain lies in making him a better rival for Gotham’s affection. The notion of a figure who seeks to supplant Batman as Gotham’s hero is a lot more interesting than (yet another) one who seeks to dominate him.
Though the film’s latter half does concern itself with Bane co-opting this struggle and using the power of the mob to take control of Gotham, it doesn’t really sell Bane as a figure that anyone would actually want to follow – save out of fear. The mask is a nice start but I think there’s a lot of interesting ideas that Nolan could explore by not just making Bane an appendage to the series’ existing mythology but a mysterious persona in his own right. The film touches on ideas like class struggle through the Robin and Selina’s plotlines but could be so much more effective if Bane’s own backstory tied him to the economic plight of Gotham.
There’s a lot to be said for a good mystery. The identity of the man underneath the mask could have been another compelling angle to explore with the character of Bane, not to mention a great reversal of superhero tropes. A key theme of Nolan’s films is escalation and it’d be fascinating to see Bane realised as an extension of this. It’s easy to imagine a version of Rises that paints him as a malignant cancer whose growth below the streets of Gotham is fueled, at least in part, by Batman’s crackdown on crime.
Lack of thematic spine
The Dark Knight Rises relies too much on being the third chapter of the trilogy, foregoing the powerful themes and ideas expressed in Nolan’s previous films to become just another superhero movie. In an ideal world I’d have loved to see Nolan’s completed series be one that gave three windows into the life of one of the world’s most celebrated characters – less of a trilogy and more of a triptych. In lieu of The Dark Knight Rises’ preoccupation with pain, anger and supposed-critique of socialism and class warfare, I’d like to propose a different set of ideas for Nolan to dissect.
Framing the film around an older Batman worked well in Batman v Superman and it would have been fascinating to see Nolan tackle this angle. Perhaps Bruce’s efforts to support the police department during his post-Rachel depression see him struggle against a more militaristic police force when he again dons the cowl? Batman may be a symbol, but Bruce is a man and can’t live forever.
This is obviously where John Blake / Robin comes in. It would have been fascinating to see a second half of The Dark Knight Rises where Blake takes the lead, and an aging Bruce is forced to let go of the symbol he’s created. We’d get to see a Bruce struggle to let of go a desire for vengeance against Bane and the physical costs that being the Batman has wrought, while also exploring the idea that his legacy will live on through Blake.
What do you think? How would you go about ‘fixing’ The Dark Knight Rises?