Well, I’m back. Some three weeks after it made its big debut, my wife and I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight Returns. And how to describe the experience? I feel I must come at this chronologically because otherwise, I might blow this review. So please bear with me and be warned that some spoilers follow…
The First Few Scenes:
As the movie began, we got some low-key expository scenes where they recapped all that happened with the last movie. Harvey Dent is dead, his memory is being honored years later, and the big lie that saved Gothamites from the Joker’s madness has been carefully maintained. And despite Commissioner Gordon’s success at nearly eradicating organized crime in Gotham – under the Dent Act – the mayor is quietly entertaining plans to get rid of him.
Meanwhile, we learn that Bruce Wayne has effectively drooped out of the public eye and become a bit of a recluse, a la Howard Hughes. However, this changes when a cat burglar is nearly caught stealing his mother’s pearl necklace while trying to obtain his prints. In addition, her kidnapping of a Senator leads to a manhunt which takes police into the sewers and face to face with a mercenary terrorist by the name of Bane.
This man recently kidnapped a nuclear physicist overseas and made his way to Gotham, apparently at the behest of someone who’s paid for his services. After a brief but nearly fatal encounter between him and Jim Gordon, Wayne is approached by one of his detectives, a young man named John Blake, tells him Batman needs to come back. He resists these demands, but finds he cannot when the nefarious Bane unleashes his plan and the true scope and nature of it become clear.
Suffice it to say, all these things occur within the first 30 minutes and I felt that every scene suffered from the same basic problem. They felt rushed, expository, and kind of like they were just getting the obligatory stuff out of the way. However, as soon as those passed and the plot began to truly unfold, things improved immeasurably. In a way, the action of the movie told its own story and had a degree of depth that these earlier scenes lacked, and they carried on through to the end of movie.
As I mentioned last time, this movie was connected to the first in terms of plot. I shan’t go into too much detail since many people still need to see it. But suffice it to say, Bane’s motivations go well beyond being a mere mercenary. While his skills in that regard are legendary, his purpose in returning to Gotham go to the very heart of the first movie’s plot, resurrecting the League of Shadows and the aims of Ra’s al Ghul.
But of course there are twists and subplots along the way. For instance, the man who brought Bane to Gotham turns out to be one of Wayne Enterprises own, a man who thinks a little controlled chaos will destabilize the company and ensure his nefarious rise to power. Against that, there is a project to fund the development of clean energy which Wayne invested half his fortune in but then abandoned, mainly because some scientist found a way to weaponize it. Recall the bit about how Bane kidnapped a nuclear scientist? Uh-oh!
On top of all that, the movie makes some pretty strong points about revolutionary justice and the fact that people can so easily be misguided by self-styled “liberators” into becoming their own worst enemies. At many points throughout the movie, allegorical similarities are made to revolutions in France, Russia, and elsewhere where the mob is incited by the bad guys and themselves become a force of malevolence and revolutionary justice that transforms their world into a place of terror and oppression.
And here, quite brilliantly, connections are made to the second movie and the many lies that were told in order to protect the people of Gotham from the terrible truth. Here too we see another fitting theme, which was the flip-side to what was argued in movie two, about how sometimes the truth isn’t enough. Even if a lie may be more convenient, sooner or later, it comes back to haunt you, and those who lied to protect you end up having to answer for a lot. And the worst thing of that is, those who may have been trying to protect you lose your trust at a crucial moment.
The Third Act:
Unlike the The Dark Knight, this movie didn’t suffer from third act problems. This was something I was on the lookout for after last time and I really wanted to see them succeed, which they did in spades! Yes, things were a little slow to get started, but by the time the climax was happening, things blended together quite seamlessly. Like TDK, there were three strands happening at once, but this time around, they worked with each other, not against. It pains me that I can’t give any details to say why they worked so well together. But trust me, this time around, the climax was done right!
And yes, this is definitely the biggest of the three movies in terms of plot and consequences. In movie one, the League of Shadows hoped to tear Gotham apart by driving it mad. In movie two, the Joker hopes to turn it against itself by inducing mass anarchy. But in this one, Bane and his followers want to do annihilate it, body and soul. For them, there are no compromises, no quarter asked and none given.
It pains me even more that I can’t mention the twists that come at the very end. There are two, to be sure, and I really would like to know what others thought of them. once again, can’t mention them by name. But for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, I will say there are some treats which you have to wait til the end to see. For those who have seen it, then you already know what I’m talking about! What did you think of them and do you think they were alluding to another possible sequel?
Overall, this movie boasts a plot that was clearly inspired (at least in part) by The Dark Knight Returns. A number of fans anticipated this and it was good to see that they went with it after all. Not only were the same themes there – Batman coming out of retirement, forced to deal with age and deteriorating health, and going up against a foe in his prime – there was even some subtle shout outs to the comic itself.
The one which really stands out is the scene where two police officers are chasing after some perps, and Batman zooms in on his bike. The older cop says to the rookie, “You’re in for a show!” and spends the next few minutes trying to tell him just stay out of his way. Right out of the comic! And of course, the fact that Batman actually loses in his first confrontation with Bane and has to recoup and recover, forcing himself to overcome his own demons and complacency to defeat him, that too was something from the The Dark Knight Returns.
But as I said last time, the character of Bane originally comes from the animated series. Though he was little more than a massive, steroid-juiced freak in that version, here they gave him a much more nuanced and believable persona. While he is a gigantic, muscle bound villain, Bane’s real power comes from the sort of imposing, badass, evil nature that Tom Hardy is famous for.
As Alfred was sure to point out, Bane is a man who was forged in the worst conditions imaginable. Being born into misery and darkness, he has no fear of it, and is prepared to deal it in spades to anyone who gets in his way or incurs his displeasure. Whenever that occurs, everything you need to see comes through in the eyes and the baleful glares he gives, which is what makes the fact that they kept his face hidden all the more poignant.
In this respect, he and Batman are highly similar. Having both grown up with their fair share of pain and anguish, they both enlisted with the League of Shadows hoping to find their way. But whereas Bruce eventually betrayed the League for reasons of conscience, Bane was excommunicated for having none whatsoever. Much like Batman and the Joker, we see a sort of “two sides of the same coin” thing happening.
And while I would never want to get into direct comparisons, Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane was fantastic and truly badass! Granted, he didn’t have the same low voice that he did in the commercials, more of a Connery-esque accent minus the slurred S’s. But this only added to his imposing nature. He speaks like a oddly upbeat British person, but his imposing size, scary eyes, and sheer badassery round that out quite nicely. When he speaks, you know to be afraid, even if he’s not using an evil voice.
Overall, I’d say he was no better than Heath, but certainly comparable. Whereas the Joker was a sheer force of crazy malevolence, Bane is an unstoppable juggernaut, forged from suffering to become an instrument of terror. How do you compare two titanic forces like that? It’s like comparing apples to oranges. So no real conclusions there, just equally awesome portrayals!
And of course Catwoman was very well played by Anne Hathaway. True to form, she begins as a villain who is working with the forces of evil, but with her own agenda in mind. In time, she comes to see the bad guys for what they are and realizes that she is better served fighting alongside Batman rather than against him. And she did it all believably, faithfully, and managed to pull off some fight choreography that was pretty impressive. In fact, hers was even more impressive than Bales, though he did have to convey an aging Batman and couldn’t exactly steal the show!
Alas, the big question… was this movie better than The Dark Knight? Hard to say. On the one hand, it managed to avoid the same problems the last movie had, which was the feeling that things had climaxed before the ending, leading to pacing problems towards the end where there seemed to be a mad rush to wrap things up and the audience was left breathless and kind of confused.
At the same time, they had an awkward opening which the second movie didn’t have. There, Nolan and the writers did a good job weaving action and exposition together to let us know what had happened since the last movie. This time around, they seemed to be rushing through all the introductions in order to get to the action. It’s hard to say which is more important, introduction or conclusion, since both are crucial to how the overall plot is going to be perceived. And ultimately, both movies manage to succeed in spite of these problems.
Second, the villains were well paired. Bane and the Joker were both masterfully portrayed and captured my imagination and literally got me on the edge of my seat. They were the kind of bad guys you didn’t exactly root for, but which made you think being bad could be cool! As for the lesser villains, Dark Knight and Rises differed considerably. Harvey Dent, being a third act introductee, was pretty rushed and never really got to be more than a crazed shadow of his hero self. Catwoman, on the other hand, got a pretty good development through it all, going from being a cynical, “look out for number one” kind of girl to actually caring what happens to Gotham.
So really… I can’t say at this point. Given time, I might be able to say one was better than the other conclusively, but right now, it feels like a neck in neck race. So I think I’ll just call it as dead even. Movies two and three were equally good, and whatever your individual preference, you’re cant go wrong!