I’m not big on criticism without solution.
As such, I’d like to give you my reaction to The Dark Knight Rises, and propose how it could’ve been done better, which still keeping the basic thrust of what the movie was about.
I loved The Dark Knight – it’s one of my favorite movies of all-time, and makes me like Batman Begins even more in retrospect. With those feelings in place, I felt there was no way I could come out of The Dark Knight Rises disappointed.
I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t love it, and it wasn’t a total misfire at all, hence a little angst over the whole thing.
SPOILER SPACE, and then I’ll explain my main problems, and how they could be fixed.
MORE SPOILER SPACE.
DO YOU LIKE SPOILER SPACE.
OH NO HERE COME ALL THE SECRETS OF THE MOVIE.
My big dents with this film are in triplicate:
1) Bane’s role as the bad-ass villain gets undercut at the end, as he’s revealed as just a henchman of Talia Al Ghul.
2) The passage of time is screwy. While Gotham City is supposed to have been under siege and cut off from the world for five months, take away the one verbal reference to that time frame having passed, and one’s guess as to how long this had been going on could’ve been anywhere from a week to a month.
I don’t think I’d ever guess five months, considering all the cops living in the sewers for half a year looked like they’d been down there for about an hour.
When Gordon was like, “This bomb goes off in 18 hours!!” I was like, “Huh, what?”
3) We get no sense of the scope of this major American city literally being cut off from the rest of the country, either internally or externally. The President gets one little TV address, we see some vague General figure talk about that bridge, there are a couple cuts of FEMA packages, but other than that, there’s nothing.
In The Dark Knight, we see how the Joker’s mayhem affects the general populace in a number of ways, including major media coverage. Here, where the crisis is heightened a thousand-fold, we get very little of anything.
That’s really it. There’s other stuff that I’m going to fix below, but I realize that some of these elements are largely the result of this being “Christopher Nolan’s Batman”, and to me, the character is flexible enough to allow for different interpretations in this way.
(Still, the main one of these is pretty bad, in that Batman would never quit just because his girlfriend died. His whole reason for existing is because his parents died – Rachel’s death should only reinforce his intentions.)
Anyway, my biggest fix is splitting the thing into two movies. I read somewhere that the original cut of this film is four hours, so maybe that passage-of-time problem is fixed therein. (I tend to think so, but also think the below would be a better narrative structure.)
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES BEGINS
The story picks up four years after the end of The Dark Knight. Batman has continued to operate, helping to clean up the streets and system, even as Gordon and the cops hunt him down relentlessly.
(I like this element, as it stretches the total operating time of Batman out a bit more, and reinforces the idea of him as a legend of Gotham. As it is in this trilogy, Batman’s total time of operation is what – a year? Maybe a little more?)
The martyrdom of Harvey Dent hangs over all of this, and is weighing on Gordon. He often considers revealing the truth, but doesn’t. Introduce John Blake in here as a counter to Gordon and a new confidante of Bruce Wayne, much as he is already.
During the past year, Talia Al Ghul (as herself) has entered Bruce’s life and gained his trust. She presents him with technology for the clean nuclear energy system – her gift to Gotham City and to Bruce Wayne, as atonement for her father’s sins. Bruce funds the project, bringing new hope to Gotham, which works nicely alongside the vastly decreasing crime rates. Bruce and Talia become romantic and do sex.
Gotham’s new peace (the cops are down to hunting petty cat burglars, i.e. intro Selina Kyle) and Bruce’s new romance distracts Batman from the army being built underneath the city by Bane. This, despite Selina’s teases and warnings to Batman/Bruce.
Bruce considers that he’s not needed anymore and at Alfred’s prodding, tells Talia his secrets and that he’s retiring the Batman. She promptly stabs him in the back as hell is unleashed on Gotham by Bane’s army. (Stock market, general mayhem, etc.)
Bane does the whole thing at the football game and reveals the bomb. Batman and him do their fight, Talia reveals Bane as her twin brother, and Bruce’s back gets broken.
Movie ends with Gotham’s access/bridges blown up, Bane and Talia in charge, the city with 6 months to live, and a broken Bruce Wayne tossed into that desert prison pit.
1) The whole “clean energy program” seemed really random to me as-is. The way I’m doing it makes the construction of it part of the bad guys’ overall plan, and also means Bruce – the world’s greatest detective – was tricked into creating the thing that would destroy Gotham. It makes his adversary and his downfall that much more substantial.
2) Making Bane and Talia brother and sister – and equal partners in the scheme – eliminates the neutering of Bane. Everything that’s established about them in the pit prison more or less still works under this scenario, as well.
3) This isn’t that far from the movie as it exists. There’s a lot that can be kept.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES SOME MORE
This picks up two months later, and deals with a city cut off by the US government, ragtag groups of cops trying to protect and help people to little success, general mayhem and chaos, and the city broken into gang-like territories by various villains and groups.
(The reason I suspect the four hour cut addresses this some of this stuff is the scene where Catwoman saves that kid who stole an apple – she says something like, “You guys know better than to do that in my territory.”)
During this time, John Blake is acting as an amateur pseudo-Batman vigilante, maybe even having found some of Bruce’s gadgets. (I liked his arc and ending, but this would’ve set it up a little better.)
You know what happens now – Bruce heals, makes his way back, takes back the city territory by territory, all while rallying the people and being a great symbol, etc. You get your great “the Batman is back” moments, he can still fake his death at the end, Blake can officially take over, etc.
THE END GOODBYE.
Basically, I think the whole schtick about Gotham city becoming a No Man’s Land – this actually happened in a long storyline in the comics – was a great unexplored element of Dark Knight Rises that also would’ve allowed for better pacing and the tying of a lot more together.
Fully embracing it – even if it meant two films – would have wrought a more satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, without betraying anything that Nolan wanted to do.