The middle bit of any story is supposed to be the most difficult to get right. However, take a look at movie trilogies and it seems the third film, the “ending”, is often the tricky bit, as everything that needs to be said has usually been covered in the first two films. The third film, perhaps low on ideas, may pilfer from the first two. To a certain extent, it’s okay to do that. Endings can be at their best when harking back to their beginning.
If not done quite right, the third film in a trilogy feels like it’s just trading on past glories rather than offering anything new or genuinely insightful. Two examples of trilogies with weaker third parts are The Godfather series, and episodes 4 to 6 of Star Wars. I think The Dark Knight Rises can safely be added to this list.
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not about Batman rising early in the evening from his luxury four poster Bat-bed, eating a bowl of Coco-Pops at the Bat-Breakfast Table, drinking a Bat-Cup of Bat-Coffee, then cleaning his teeth with the Bat-Brush, whilst ruminating on the nature of revenge, his own psychosis, and how dressing in triple-weave kevlar gives him a bit of a semi.
It’s actually about his fall from grace that happened at the end of the second film, and how he rises back to prominence. Not just once, but twice.
Myth versus reality
It’s eight years after The Dark Knight, and Bruce Wayne is a recluse, unshaven, hobbling on a walking stick, in self imposed exile from his crime fighting life as Batman. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is an influence here, and when Bruce feels compelled to don the bat suit again, for a short time there’s the same feeling of wanting to punch the air at his triumphant return, and revel in the impact he’ll make on a new generation who may only remember the myth rather than the reality. An example of this is a cool moment where a naive young police officer is quickly humbled when he tries to tazer Batman, the response being an over the shoulder look from the Caped Crusader, as if to say, “Really?”
Batman’s return is short-lived after his first bruising encounter with new villain, Bane. Special mention must go to Tom Hardy’s modified voice, filtered through a mask that covers the bottom half of his face. It would’ve been easy for Christopher Nolan (or Tom Hardy) to make the more obvious choice, and just make Bane’s voice deep and one-note, the kind of “evil” rumble we’ve all heard a million times before.
The rumbling bass is still there, but a high pitched twang at strange, unexpected moments, make the voice creepy, the speech of a man barely holding his psychosis in check. The voice can be funny as well. But married to the sheer bulk of Tom Hardy, no sooner has a slightly nervous snigger left your lips, a shiver of dread is running down your spine.
Batman’s spine on the other hand ends up with a bit more than dread running down it. It’s at this point that the film starts to go downhill.
The worst type of Bond villain
The story slows to a crawl. There’s less Batman onscreen and Nolan tries to circumvent the slow pace with more time given to the villain and other side characters, some of them brand new to the trilogy. Instead, it makes for a skittish pace, lacking in focus. There’s no real sense that Bruce has bounced back from anything particularly life threatening, or even learnt much from his experience before confronting Bane again.
The Dark Knight Rises struggles to recover, despite some impressively staged action. Bane has, by this point, become less interesting. In the comics he’s supposed to be a master tactician, but he sometimes displays all the traits of the worst type of Bond villain, going to extraordinary lengths to defeat one guy when a single bullet would probably do the job. It’s no surprise really: Christopher Nolan is a Bond nut, and this is possibly his most Bond-esque movie yet. The opening scene even pays homage to the beginning of Licence to Kill.
Expectations, after The Dark Knight, were pretty high. There’s a fair bit to like. Bane and Batman going toe-to-toe in their first meeting, and Anne Hathawayplaying a more complicated, less sexually aggressive Catwoman than the Michelle Pfeiffer version (although Hathaway is still pretty damn sexy) are highlights.
But it’s hard to escape the feeling that more could have been done. Even though Nolan ties things in with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and there’s some great scenes, and some great characters, they somehow don’t add up to make a great film. Still, Nolan’s rebooting of Batman has been impressive overall, and the final film isn’t so bad that it ruins the ones that come before it. It’s just a little bit disappointing, a victim of that tricky last part of a trilogy, and it’s own soggy centre.
A case of The Dark Night Rises being more The Dark Knight Wakes Up Hits Snooze And Rolls Over For An Extra Five Minutes.