After The Dark Knight (2008) came out, the question on everyone’s mind was, “How on God’s green earth can Christopher Noland (director, writer) top this?” Whether or not you enjoyed the second film in the Batman trilogy, no one could deny its edge, novelty, or power. Did Noland raise the bar too high for the third film? Well, the answer is a resounding yes. It pains me to say it, but The Dark Knight Rises falls way below its predecessor in storytelling and character development.
The Dark Knight Rises will forever be associated with last month's tragic events in Colorado, and audiences may never see The Joker in the same light again. Does this make The Dark Knight an evil film, as some are inclined to think? Of course not. The Dark Knight was one of the best films of the past decade, and James Holmes merely attempted to stain a God-honoring work.We are at war with terror, abroad and at home. Metal detectors and security checks play their part, but by no means will they win the war for us, because terrorists will always find a way. Our greatest weapon is prayer. Pray for the families of the victims. Pray for God to use this tragedy. And yes, pray for James Holmes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Batman Begins (2005), the first film of the trilogy, showed us the origin of Gotham's dark hero when Raz Al Ghul, leader of The League of Shadows, a ninja organization responsible for the destruction of history's most corrupt cities, trained Bruce Wayne in the art of “justice.” Bruce rejected their cause and escaped home to show Gotham the error of its ways in his own way. But Raz followed Bruce to Gotham to purge the city of its corruption by making society destroy itself.
The Dark Knight took place soon afterward, introducing us to the phenomenally portrayed Joker and his scheme to corrupt the hearts of Gotham's people by whittling away their spirit until they became as senselessly evil as The Joker himself. The key to The Joker's plan was District Attorney Harvey Dent who, after The Joker succeeded, became Two-Face. But Batman took the fall for Dent's crimes in order to save the DA’s reputation.
If fans cheered for the first movie, they raved at the second one. No one saw this version of The Joker coming, and Wayne/Batman made a great symbol of Christ in his humanity vs. deity. Bruce (humanity) did not have the power to redeem Gotham, but Batman (Christ as deity) could by taking on the sins of Gotham's once purest, now corrupted, creation, Harvey Dent. By carrying this cross, Batman was able to keep evil behind bars and give Gotham hope that it could defeat corruption.
The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years later. Gotham’s streets have never been cleaner. Batman (Christian Bale) is still in hiding after taking the blame for the death of Dent and his victims. But when the cynical master thief Selina (Anne Hathaway) steals Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints for Bane (Tom Hardy), this monstrous villain seizes Wayne’s resources and holds Gotham City under martial law with the threat of a nuclear bomb, drawing Batman from the ashes into battle once again.
Noland scores by introducing us to Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), aka Robin, sparing us the cheese of the hokey circus backstory from past Batman films. Though we’re only given enough to tickle our taste buds, his character holds the same realism as past characters in the series.
Where The Dark Knight Rises fails is clarity—and one of the most unclear things is Bane, along with nearly everything he says. Some words seem close to English, but he mostly sounds like a British robot with a broken voice chip. And he talks way too much for an authentic super-villain. What makes villains like Darth Vader and Agent Smith from The Matrix so intimidating is that they don’t say much. Their silence makes them appear all the more evil, and when they do speak, the audience hangs on every word. Those super-villains, in fact, generated some of the most memorable lines in their movies: “The force is with you, young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet.” “I'm going to enjoy watching you die, Mr. Anderson.” But with Bane’s flappy trap, I doubt many viewers will remember any of his lines by this time next year.
On top of this Bane-sized disappointment, the story has more holes than a paper snowflake. Bane and his partner in crime Talia Al Ghul (Marion Cotillard) have no motive for blowing up Gotham other than because that’s what Daddy would have wanted. But with eight years of peace, Gotham has proven it can be redeemed, so corruption is no longer a valid reason. This intriguing theme stops dead with the most clichéd threat in contemporary film, a nuke.
The holes in The Dark Knight Rises provoke questions that reveal other holes. Let’s say Gotham is home to millions of people. So there are a couple thousand common thugs released by Bane who are now acting as some kind of twisted militia. That means you have 3,000 bad guys against millions of citizens, many of whom own guns. Where is the uprising? With Bane roaming the streets and with all the time he spends in the open, what keeps anyone from putting a bullet in his head?
If you look up The Dark Knight Rises on Internet Movie Database or Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that readers have rated the film anywhere from 8 to 9 stars out of 10. I suspect it is out of respect for the first two films and Noland’s usually stellar work. Even before Batman, Noland was a masterful storyteller with Inception and Memento. I find it hard to believe his heart was in The Dark Knight Rises, and if this is how he’d treat the series from now on, I'm glad it's over.
Trevor Main has a B.A. in fiction writing from Columbia College, Chicago, and is working on his master’s degree in communication at Dallas Theological Seminary. His ministry experience with Youth With a Mission has taken him across Europe, Africa, and Asia.