As should be very obvious from the title, this piece contains spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises. You have been warned.
We’ve had some fun the past few days dissecting The Dark Knight Rises, debating what actually happened in the film’s closing minutes and offering up answers to the movie’s assorted mysteries.
We were being constructive, trying to start a healthy dialogue regarding Christopher Nolan’s finale to his beloved Batman trilogy. But the comments sections of these columns quickly became a breeding ground of contention and accusation. Those who fail to embrace Nolan’s film wholeheartedly and treat it as the Mona Lisa of modern cinema are chastised by hostile commenters. “If you hated the movie that much why were you even at the theater for a comic book movie in the first place?” one reader wrote. “Isn't some film festival come out last week or something to keep you entertained?”
As we often pointed out in response, just because we highlighted things that gave us pause in the movie doesn’t mean we didn’t like it. But that wasn’t enough. Commentors who had more than a little fight in them wanted to attack anyone who dared speak out against The Dark Knight Rises.
To paraphrase Batman from The Dark Knight, those commenters are going to love me.
For 90% of its run, Rises is an adequate Batman movie. It goes through its motions as it ties up loose ends Nolan has left dangling since Batman Begins. The assault on Gotham attempted by Ra’s al Ghul is back in play. Hathaway’s an entertaining (if wholly unnecessary) addition as Selina Kyle – Bale has more chemistry with Morgan Freeman than he does with Hathaway, so the movie’s flaccid attempt at a romantic subplot ends up being as thin as the ice Gotham’s prisoners are ordered to cross. Nolan’s third Batman film feels like a studio-mandated assignment rather than a passion project. How could it not? The man poured everything he had into The Dark Knight. He had little new to say in Rises.
In short, it was an average sequel … until the end. Suddenly, Nolan attempted an ending so hackneyed and sloppy, I could hardly believe the director behind such flawlessly structured and perfectly plotted films as Memento and The Prestige would sign off on this travesty. Somewhere, Brett Ratner is wiping shrimp juice on his belly and whispering, “This is the guy all those Internet geeks worship?”
And based on the rushed ending to Rises, Ratner’s right. So many things go wrong as Rises stumbles to its finale, I hardly know where to begin. It all feels false. Batman mentioning a near-35-year-old memory to Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) instead of simply saying, “I’m Bruce Wayne?” False. The woman clumsily telling John Blake that she prefers his longer name, “Robin?” So false. Catwoman stealing a kiss as the painfully clichéd ticking-time-bomb clock nears zero? What the hell is this, a 1970s-ers James Bond movie?!
All of these pale when compared to Nolan’s greatest sin, and that’s the gutless, last-second twist claiming Bruce Wayne somehow escaped an atomic blast, swam back to shore, reunited with Kyle, and made sure he was at the same café Alfred mentioned – in one of the film’s MANY forced chunks of useless exposition – to show that he’s alive and well. Blech. As a close friend said on Twitter, this is akin to Nolan showing his audience the Inception top falling over. No room for ambiguity. No point in discussion. Time to spoon-feed a happy ending to the masses.
Here’s my biggest problem with this ending: The trilogy neither earns it, nor does it ever aspire to let Bruce off the hook for the decisions that he has made. Part of me believed Nolan revealed his eventual end game when Harvey Dent talked about protagonists needing to die a hero. And with the director’s constant reassurance that he and Bale were done, why not kill off Wayne? Nolan even shoots the footage of Gordon-Levitt swinging into the Bat Cave to assume the mantle of the Caped Crusader. Wayne didn’t need to live. In fact, he absolutely had to die. Our own Eric Eisenberg wrote a fantastic column explaining why. Instead, by backtracking, and trying to explain how Wayne could have lived, Nolan crams in awkward exposition about the auto pilot (clunky), has Alfred’s café dream come true (amateur), and makes sure we know Blake isn’t just a noble cop ready to fight crime as Batman … he’s also Robin (shameless).
Nolan’s films – even the ones that swing for the fences but come up short – could always be described as meticulous. The ending of The Dark Knight Rises is uncharacteristically messy. There are more misguided choices made in the closing minutes of this sequel than in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight combined. The conclusion of the finale doesn’t exactly ruin all that the trilogy accomplished … but it comes awful close.