Bigger is not necessarily better. Like a juice-head chugging protein shakes and injecting steroids into his butt, Christopher Nolan’s films have been puffing themselves up. The muscles get larger and larger but the subtlety and nuance disappear.
I’m starting to revise my opinion of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I’m no longer sure that The Dark Knight is the best film in the series - I’m starting to think that Batman Begins was the apex. Of course Begins has horrible fight choreography and Katie Holmes is woefully miscast, but it also has warmth, heart and excitement, qualities that the other films only sporadically recapture.
Nothing in the second or third films can match the intensity and sheer coolness of the demon Batman flying over Gotham, and nothing in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises has the emotional weight of Bruce Wayne recalling memories of his father. The two sequels, in comparison, are rather hollow affairs.
Just take the big twist in The Dark Knight Rises, that Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend Miranda Tate is secretly Ra's al Ghul's daughter. She seems to be on Bruce Wayne’s side and then with ten minutes to go she does a 180, stabs Batman and then promptly dies. It’s like the Two Face story thread in The Dark Knight, but [deploy Jeremy Clarkson voice], on speed!
There’s nothing satisfying about the execution of this. It was so late in the game that I immediately rolled my eyes. Maybe if I were smarter or if I’d read the comics, I would have seen the twist coming and see all the subtle nuances and betrayals, but I had no idea and therefore it felt like it was too little, too late.
And the twist also kills the Bane character. For most of the film he’s this double hard bastard with a prissy voice and then all of a sudden he’s acting all subservient to a little French girl. He doesn’t seem so tough anymore. And they could have at least developed the relationship between Tate and Bane. We get a flashback showing that Bane helped her when she was a child, but other than that there’s very little between them. If they’d spilled the twist sooner, there might have been room for development. I mean, what do a couple of nutters like Bane and Tate get up to in the bedroom? Seeing as he’s a burly bastard, you’d think Bane would be in charge, but I bet that Tate gives him a good pegging in private.
And I disliked the Tate twist because it killed my metaphorical boner (sorry mum, forget you read that)! Throughout the whole of the film Batman’s been getting the shit beaten out of him and now he’s absolutely hammering Bane. I was almost bouncing up and down in my chair like a demented one-year-old. And then Batman does his really cool, gravelly screaming. Yes! Yes!! YES!!! Finally Batman has his balls back!!
Oh, but now he’s been stabbed... [metaphorical boner deflating]
And what a disappointing way for Bane to get finished off. Does Batman rip off his face mask and pummel him to death? Does he get thrown off a high building? No, Catwoman turns up on the Batpod and shoots him. It’s so quick that it’s almost off screen. You’ve built up this almost invincible villain and he’s killed as an aside. Yep, not really satisfying.
Elsewhere though you have a pretty solid movie. It’s nice to see that Bruce Wayne isn’t an invincible superhero and that the years have taken their toll - he has to hobble around on a cane and he’s grown a beard to communicate his inner grief. Most superheroes become tiresome because they’re so resilient - here Batman feels like Rocky, a plucky underdog who really should know better.
And so the first fight between Bane and Batman is much like the first fight between Rocky and Mr T. in Rocky 3. Batman tries his best but he’s completely impotent. He’s lost his eye of the tiger - he’s grown soft; weak. And then in a direct reference to the comics, Batman gets his back snapped. It’s an excellent way of raising the stakes - you really do find it hard to imagine a way that Batman’s going to defeat Bane.
Which makes the finale and Bane’s quick and easy dispatch all the more disappointing. Batman/Bruce Wayne spent all that time in a dark prison and he put his life at risk to climb out of a hole just so that Catwoman could turn up at the last second and shoot Bane? There’s no satisfaction to be gleaned from that.
And it’s especially galling because Bane is actually a pretty interesting villain. Like the Joker, he’s an anarchist, but he plays the role of a revolutionary hero. He’d have you believe that he’s here to liberate Gotham from the tyranny of capitalism. We see rich people being forcibly evicted from their homes and if you have any kind of resentment towards the establishment, you can see how easy it would be to be swept up by such evil. Why should I struggle when there are the few that have so much and help so little? Wouldn’t it be nice to level the playing field. Well, Bane does that quite literally...
And so the siege of Gotham and the phoney show trials are excellently done. Again, it’s about raising the stakes.
But yet again, Christopher Nolan drops the ball. The revolutionary forces and a large horde of cops do battle in the streets of Gotham. Considering that Bane’s force has tanks and machine guns, how would you decide to take them on? Through guerrilla warfare? Or would you all just walk down the middle of the street and allow them to open fire on you? Moronically, the cops decide to do the latter, giving rise to the utterly ridiculous visual of two bands of combatants charging each other down a single street with automatic firearms - Gangs of New York this isn’t.
The end of the movie tries to convince us that Batman died trying to save Gotham, but I’m sure that most people didn’t believe it. A nuclear explosion isn’t going to destroy the Bat! But the film does actually succeed in having a fairly moving conclusion. The film does its darndest to sell the death and who can resist a sobbing Michael Caine? The man is such an ugly crier that you can’t help but be moved to tears yourself. And some footage from previous films helps to sell the feeling - the scenes from Batman Begins, as always, being the most evocative. And even though it’s not a big surprise to see that Bruce Wayne did indeed survive the explosion at the end, it’s satisfying to see a peaceful, content Bruce Wayne enjoying a drink in the sunshine. After many beatings, he certainly deserves it.
But where to place the trilogy as a whole? It’s certainly not some sacred cow. The films are littered with faults and annoyances. But the good certainly overcomes the bad and it can hold its head high. It’s a trilogy where the quality is consistently strong - there isn’t one film that’s significantly weaker than the rest. And it’s nice that the story comes full circle with the League of Shadows (although the last minute Miranda Tate revelation still bothers me). So there’s certainly a continuity there. But anyone who wants to hold this up in the pantheon and declare it as the best movie trilogy ever is seriously deluded. These aren’t untouchable masterpieces of cinema - they’re just good entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with that.