Here is my spoiler-free review of The Dark Knight Rises. After the jump, you'll find my nerdy, spoiler-filled thoughts about The Dark Knight Rises. You should consider everything below the following DKR trailer to be spoiler-intensive, including the comments to this post.
1. Now that I've read approximately ten million reviews of The Dark Knight Rises, I'd like to talk about the Occupy themes running through the movie. I've read a lot of critics who've said DKR takes a conservative stance on Occupy, demonizing the movement. I think that's a bit much, honestly. Bane is obviously employing the language of Occupy to frame his actions as a revolution, but he doesn't believe in, or really care about, Occupy's goals. It's incendiary language that plays on one of the biggest arguments in America today. He's trying to tear Gotham apart, so he uses the language of revolution to obfuscate his real goals. As to Catwoman's Occupy rants, I think she's a little more genuine about it, but I think she's also justifying her actions by framing her thievery as class warfare. I imagine Bane is playing into her little fantasy that way, by stroking her ego and allowing her to imagine herself as some sort of class warrior. The movie doesn't ultimately make a statement about Occupy one way or another, and I think that's just fine.
2. There was too much going on in the movie. Batman picked himself up from total ruin twice in less than three hours, and even for a movie that promises a rising Batman in the title, that's a bit much to take. And covering the entire No Man's Land arc from the comics in half DKR's running time was too ambitious by half. But on the whole, I'm glad to see Nolan being ambitious, here. I'd much rather see him overstuff one Batman movie than try to milk another installment in the series out of this.
3. I couldn't stand Knightfall or No Man's Land when they were published. The 90s Batman comics comprised of overextended story arcs tried way too hard to justify Batman's existence and overthink the character. (It was because of Knightfall that everyone started talking about Batman as bearer of "the mantle of the bat," like it was some sort of lordship or something. Now every Marvel or DC creator talks about their superhero as having a mantle that can be passed from one person to another, and it's all so fucking self-important and awful. There is no mantle of the Blue Beetle. Aquaman isn't a fucking mantle. Get over yourself.) Nolan did great work with these two arcs, turning them into something at least palatable. Those who used to complain that Nolan didn't care about the comics have to be eating crow right now. He's taken two modern arcs from the comics and turned them into the closing film of his trilogy. There can now be no doubt that Nolan has respect for the source material.
4. Bane himself isn't a bad character. I like the idea of Evil Doc Savage as Batman's enemy, although I hate that his addiction to Venom—or, in the movies, his weird anesthetic that is somehow entirely created and distributed through the mask on his face—is too much of an overt weakness. You go and create a character who's supposed to be the perfect foe, and then you stick a bunch of awkward tubes on him that, when cut, cause him to turn into a simpering child? It would be like making Superman fly around with kryptonite in a glass case hanging from his neck. Tom Hardy was good, but the character got short shrift. The scene at the end where he was suddenly revealed to care for Talia Al Ghul felt like too little, too late, and we never got to see him formulate any of his plans, or think on his feet, so he felt like a giant prop for much of the film.
5. I love the John Blake character, and I love the idea of him becoming Batman. I loved that shot of Joseph Gordon-Levitt swinging, swashbuckler-style, into the Batcave. I think his Batman would be a little lighter-hearted than Bruce Wayne's Batman, and I think he would probably be more effective because of it. And I especially love that Nolan is leaving Blake's adventures, or even what he looks like in the suit, entirely up the imagination of the viewers. I think that's an exceptionally nice touch, because it creates a sense of hope and wonder, and creating a sense of hope and wonder is what the movie was ultimately all about. The Robin reveal was cheesy and unearned, but it got a big laugh at the screening I attended, and there's nothing wrong with going for the big, pleasurable laugh every now and again.
6. Talia Al Ghul was just as much of a cipher as her father was in Batman Begins. Talia/Miranda Tate was by far the weakest character in the movie. The problem is, she's the entire reason for the plot. That's what makes DKR feel a little top-heavy, once all is said and done: It's a revenge plot for the death of a father whose original plan didn't make all that much sense in the first place.
7. People complaining about how DKR wouldn't work in real life need to just stop going to the movies, I think. A movie isn't supposed to emulate real life. A movie is a closed system, a fictional world. As far as realism goes, a movie's only obligation is to make sense within its own bounds. So, yes, I do believe that Gotham City could be held hostage for five months, given that in the first movie, the entire Narrows section of Gotham City was declared "lost" after it was given over to criminals and chaos and fear gas. This makes sense inside the movie universe we're given. There's a precedent for whole chunks of geography being basically written off. I believe that the world inside the Dark Knight trilogy would accept Gotham's separation from the rest of the world.
8. I do have to wonder what Nolan would have done had Heath Ledger lived. Rumors indicated that the Joker's trial would have figured into this movie. I wonder if that's why DKR relies so strongly on Batman Begins, because out of respect for Ledger, Nolan felt that huge swaths of The Dark Knight was out of bounds. I admire the fact that Nolan doesn't do many interviews, and that he hates DVD commentary tracks. I like it when directors and artists make their work the statement, rather than making endless statements about the work. But I would love to hear what his ideas were for the third movie in the Dark Knight trilogy before Ledger's death, because that's a movie that can never be made, and I'd enjoy the pleasure of imagining how it would have turned out.
9. But the thing I admire most about DKR is the fact that Warner Brothers let Nolan create an ending to his Batman story. In these movies, Bruce Wayne goes through an arc with a beginning, middle, and end. In the end, he is transformed. He's not the same person. You can't do that with comics, which are serial in nature. Frank Miller came close with The Dark Knight Returns, but his ending didn't feel quite as complete or final as Nolan's ending. (In fact, Miller couldn't leave his ending alone, and The Dark Knight Strikes Again is a sad testament to that fact.) I love the idea of Bruce Wayne finally getting to relax and accept the death of his parents, because Bruce Wayne as a man-child who can never give up his battle with chaos and death is kind of sad, if you think about it. You want him to be happy. You feel like he's earned the right to be happy. And Nolan gives us that moment. (Although I do think it would have been incredible if Nolan just used Michael Caine's face to get across the image of a happy and at-peace Bruce Wayne to us, without a shot of a smiling Christian Bale. If we just saw Alfred seeing Bruce, I think that might have been a more powerful sequence on which to end the film.) In a summer where a five-year-old Spider-Man movie franchise is already getting rebooted, it's such a thrill to see a movie with a real, complete, and satisfying ending. And it allows Christian Bale to have his moment, too. Playing Batman in a Batman movie is almost a thankless task, because you're always sharing the screen with an actor playing a more interesting villain. But Bale sold his character all the way through, and took him from beginning to end without any major missteps. (Okay, except the Bat-voice, but the Bat-voice was necessary; when you're one of the most recognizable figures in Gotham, you have to do something to manipulate your voice, and grating your voice into a kid's idea of a tough guy is the easiest way to do that.) His metamorphosis in this trilogy is really quite an accomplishment.
10. I can't wait to watch DKR again, and to one day watch all three movies in a row. I think as a trilogy, they rank up there at the top of genre movie-making. Even though DKR is weaker than The Dark Knight, there's a precedent for the second film in a trilogy being the strongest entry. Just look at The Empire Strikes Back. Our appreciation of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy will only grow as time passes.