Don't get me wrong, some of my very favourite movies are nothing more than mindless sequences of nonsensical action. My point with Dark Knight is that each individual scene makes a lot of noise but isn't actually much good. In my eyes Rises failed on the micro and macro level; neither the individual scenes nor the big picture are actually much good. Let me try to explain. What makes a good comic book movie? Typically comic book movies are about action, story, and characters - nothing special there. So lets break Rises down and look at each element.
First of all, action. This is probably the most important thing for your typical big-budget superhero movie, and the action in Rises was poor. Yes, there's some massive "spectacle" shots that are very well done. You've probably seen them in the trailer; the plane and the stadium? Of course they didn't mean very much to me because I had already seen them many times - and I try to avoid trailers for movies I intend to watch (I managed to go into Prometheus and Brave without seeing or reading anything about them, and that took several bouts of closing my eyes and covering my ears during the trailers in theatres). But beyond those two scenes there's nothing.
There's a motorcycle chase that's never anything more than shots of individual vehicles moving in straight lines with no indication of where they are in relation to each other, then a sudden nonsensical end. There's a scene with the police chasing Batman which really was nothing more than police driving behind him down one street and stopping when he drove into an alley - absolutely pathetic as far as action scenes go. There's a bit with bat-cycles and bat-tanks and bat-planes chasing each other, but it didn't make much sense to me that the motorcycle could take out tanks but the plane couldn't - and for some reason the tanks never even tried to shoot the motorcycle.
The fight scenes between Batman and Bane were positively shameful. These are supposed to be two highly skilled and experienced fighters trained by the finest Eastern martial artists, but they never threw a single kick. Every move was telegraphed; every punch drawn back past the ear then thrown forwards with a painful grunt. I'm no boxer, but even I know that when you throw a punch, your fist moves straight forwards, not back. Pulling your fist back not only gives your opponent plenty of time to see the blow and defend himself, it actually creates an opening for a swift fighter to slide his fist into your jaw. Besides, I don't think that it will actually increase the power of the blow much since most of the strength of the blow comes from the waist and hips - at least that's my understanding. Seriously, the fights were disgusting.
There was plenty of hustle and bustle, people yelling and shooting and running back and forth, but it was always like watching ants fight - just a lot of commotion seen from the distance. I've seen massive battles in movies like Braveheart and Gladiator that were very impressive, I might even say breathtaking. I don't really know why those worked better than the ones in Rises, perhaps it's because those scenes were peppered with close-ups of combat that were quite brutal. Regardless, the crowd scenes and battles in Rises felt like little more than filler for me.
The previous two Batman movies had very strong stories. The first one focussed on why Batman chose to wear a costume: to inspire fear, to become a legend. That is, in essence, the Batman story, and Batman Begins immersed itself in it, choosing the Scarecrow as a villain to help bring the idea to the fore. There's plenty more that can be told about the character, and the second movie chose to show Batman daring to hope for an end to his battle and a real life to follow, and to that end used Two-Face to parallel Batman's own dual existence.
This one I just don't get. Yes, I know the theme is that he "rises", but it just doesn't work. I thought that the movie did a poor job of establishing a low for Batman to rise from, and as a result his "rising" was more like a rushed Rocky III style comeback. I can't say much more without giving spoilers, so I'll just take the easy way out and say that it didn't work at all for me, even though the first two movies did.
The problem that the movie faced when it comes to giving us deep characters is that it's a sequel. I believe that continuing to focus on the protagonist as a human being rather than just a focus for the action becomes more difficult as any series gets longer. How do talk about his emotion, doubts, fears, hopes, and dreams over and over again without it getting repetitive or stale? I think the way to do it is to show how he reacts to different situations, so that his character is continually tested. At least that's the main way I've seen it done successfully in the past.
One problem of course is that most of the situations that super-heroes face boil down to the same decision: lay down or keep swinging? Another issue, one faced by movies as they have large time frames between iterations, is that the connection we established with the characters in the previous movie might be forgotten, or at least faded, by the time we sit down to watch the current one. This means you have to find a way to re-establish a connection without spending too much time going over old ground. Not an easy task I imagine.
The Dark Knight suffered less from the first problem as it was the second movie in the series, we hadn't got tired of watching Batman facing the same decisions. Additionally he had some other tough choices to make. Who should he save? Should he go as far as to actually kill? It also overcame the second problem by giving him something to look forwards to; a chance at a normal life. That's actually something that a man like Batman can't normally afford to do, making it a powerful emotional element, helping us to connect to him again.
Having said that, in The Dark Knight I felt that the Joker actually overshadowed Batman somewhat. This might just be a personal thing, but by the time Rises came out I didn't feel much for Batman (at least not the movie Batman, arguably the comics version is a different person), and I didn't feel that it did much to make me care about him again. I might even go so far as to say that the opposite was true; Batman made so many mistakes that I would not expect of him that I was turned off.
Now we've run into a real problem that the movie faces: the expectations of people who are familiar with Batman from other media, namely the comics. Without getting into the subject, in the comics Batman has to be near perfect in order to be relevant in a world filled with super-powered beings. He is pretty much considered to be as physically and mentally accomplished as a human can be without having superpowers. Obviously the movies don't hold to that; Batman is human, fallible. That's not wrong, and it's not fair of us to be upset with the movie for portraying Batman as a human being.
But there's another element to Batman in the comics that I believe the movie should have remembered. Superman is the Man of Steel, Batman is the World's Greatest Detective. That's not some meaningless title occasionally given to him, that's almost his official designation. He actually debuted in "Detective Comics" before earning his own comic. In Rises, he is an idiot. His idea of detective work is following a tracking device. He is tricked, manipulated, and out-manoeuvred at every turn. The only thing that allowed him to triumph at the end was his technological advantage - it really did mainly come down to his gadgets - and that practically every other character in the film put their lives on the line to help him. That is not the Batman I know, or at least not the one that I want to see.
Regardless of comic book expectations, Batman himself failed to impress me. The other characters did most of the work, and what little he achieved was purely thanks to the fancy gadgets he gets from Lucius Fox. If he wasn't Batman, if this wasn't a Batman movie and the protagonist was an original character, I still wouldn't have liked him as he never did anything worthy of being the hero of a city, and he never did anything to endear himself to us.
Besides this, the other characters are all wrong as well. Bane, the primary antagonist, essentially has no motivation for what he's doing, and it kind of shows. Plus his voice is just annoying and hard to understand. Catwoman in the comics does what she wants, when she wants, because she wants to do it. And she smiles as she does it. In Rises, Catwoman is a just another reluctant hero. She never smiles, never does anything because she wants to, but always because she "has" to. I didn't see the previous Catwoman movie with Halle Berry, but in the trailers at least she was acting like Catwoman; strutting and teasing. Another major character, who I won't name, had nothing at all to do with their comic book counterpart. At all. Not their name, not their history, not their role in the story, nothing.
The plot is very forced, there's just too many things that are too contrived or not believable. I have a number of specific complaints that I shall mention in the spoilers section. The special effects at least are perfect; in that there's a lot of them but you'll never notice it because everything looks completely real. It's just a shame they are never used to do anything particularly interesting - with the very notable exception of the opening plane scene, which was amazing.
While I'm not a particularly good judge of acting, there's a lot of great actors in the Batman movies. All the old hands were good but their roles were brief - even Christian Bale barely seemed to get the chance to really act. We didn't see Tom Hardy's face or hear his voice (and Bane is played as a very unemotional character) so it's almost as if he isn't in the movie. Anne Hatheway just struck me as the wrong choice for catwoman; she doesn't look or act like her in my eyes. Joseph Gordon-Levitt at least was given the chance to act a little; I would say he was the best new cast member - it's just a shame his role is more or less pointless.
I had some trouble deciding on a final score, but I'm afraid I'm giving it a 6/10. I believe that most people who do not have a particular investment in the character and who are not particularly discerning when it comes to action can enjoy it if they treat it as a mindless popcorn movie (huh, that's a lot of disclaimers), but there's just too much wrong with it in my eyes.
I had a lot of specific issues with the film. I'm listing them here, and I'm not blacking out the text as there's a quite lot of it and I don't want to make it too hard to read. Some of these are very minor points that could of course be explained if we start making up what happened off-screen, but the point is it wasn't explained and it all added up to a lot of questions and things that didn't make sense.
I mentioned above that a character does not match their comic book counterpart at all. I'm talking about Robin. The fact is that he isn't Robin, not in this movie anyway. The character does not have Robin's history or name, and he doesn't look or act like Robin, therefore he is not Robin. The revelation that his name is Robin is just part of establishing the ending, but it doesn't really mean anything to the movie and as such is purely superfluous and arguably poor writing.
Oh, and Robin - when he was a young boy no less - took one look at Bruce Wayne and "just knew" he was Batman? Seriously, that's what you're going with? Ugh. Supposedly he recognised the "hidden anger" of someone who'd lost his parents. Well, yes, Bruce Wayne has lost his parents, that's a known fact, so what? How does that make him Batman? Seriously, just all round pathetic writing. Actually, Batman does a really bad job of hiding his identity this time around. He clearly and without hesitation reveals to Catwoman that Bruce Wayne is connected to Batman, for example.
The film is called "The Dark Knight Rises". So why does he fall, and how does he rise? Apparently he fell because he wasn't afraid, then he rose again because he was. He learned the power of being afraid? How does that work? I'm sorry Mr. Nolan, I don't get what you're trying to say. Fear is a destructive force; an emotion that weakens and paralyses us. You might try to draw a parallel with the idea that a cornered animal is at it's most dangerous; but the reason why that's the case is simply because it has no-where to go and so has no choice but to fight, when normally it would chose to avoid confrontation. In generally, when it comes to human beings achieving great things, fear holds us back rather than propelling us forwards. Besides, he didn't look particularly afraid when he came back and (allegedly) saved the day.
And how does he learn fear? By being told by some old guy that it's better if he is afraid? Or was it that jump without the rope, that was supposed to be the first time he was afraid? And are you really telling me that in all the years of people trying to escape from that prison, no-one is ever scared when they take that jump? That people don't train for years to jump farther? That they can't think up some way to cross the final few inches and reach the ledge? Maybe hammer at the rock face with a bit of metal so that they eventually form handholds and work their way across? We are talking about years of mostly unsupervised living (how the hell did that prison operate anyway?). That little girl made it, and everyone else in that prison has at least an extra two feet of reach for grabbing on to that ledge, it can't really be that impossible. Besides, the whole thing was undermined by the fact that the ledge clearly had enough room for a bit of a run-up, yet everyone tiptoed to the edge then jumped from a standing start.
Talia Al-Ghoul was one of the few interesting elements of the story - or at least her big reveal did come as a genuine surprise. In retrospect I feel as if I should have seen it coming, seeing as she's one of the most important characters in modern Batman mythos and the movie spent some time speaking about Ras-Al-Ghoul's legacy, but then everything looks obvious in hindsight. That's actually what makes it such a good surprise: it fits very well with the story so that when it is revealed it feels important rather than gratuitous, and yet it was not foreshadowed or hinted at (at least not that I noticed).
Having said that, I had an issue with Bruce's relationship with her before he knew who she was. As far as I can tell the first time he meets her he speaks to her for two minutes during which time he accidentally insults her (and she acts insulted rather than laughing it off); the second time he begs her to take control of his company, shows her secrets very few other people know about, then sleeps with her. This is a man who isolated himself from the world for eight years; I wouldn't expect trust to come easily to him yet he trusts everything to someone he just met (hell, two people if you count how much faith he puts in Catwoman despite the fact that his only experience with her is in being robbed twice then betrayed and sent to his death, never mind her having a rap sheet longer than the Encyclopaedia Britannica). Then when she starts coming on to him, he isn't even suspicious? He doesn't suffer any hesitation at all? Really? It's not like women hitting on him is something new that he's never experienced and so has no idea how to handle or resist. I suppose that he's supposed to be in a low place in his life, but most of the time he didn't really act it; if anything he seemed happy to be facing challenges as Batman again, and he seemed to be handling the loss of his company quite confidently.
While we're on the subject of Talia, let's talk about her plan. It was all about revenge and completing the goal of Ras Al-Ghoul. That meant, apparently, getting revenge against Batman and destroying Gotham. But it seems she wanted Batman to see Gotham destroyed, and by his own creation. That's all very well and good, but I'm not really sure where "sleeping with the man you hate because he killed your father" came in to the plan. It wasn't necessary for any part of her plan; she already knew where the reactor was at that point, in fact she more or less owned it by then. The only explanation I can come up with would be that it was to hurt him even more when she revealed who she really was; the problem with that is that as far as I can tell she never actually intended to reveal that little nugget of information. I mean, the reactor was hours, minutes even, away from going critical and she was still playing the role of the innocent victim. At what point was she planning on letting him know, and how? Surely if she wanted to tell him she would have done it in person just before, or perhaps immediately after, he was shipped off to the prison?
She's very patient too. She waited for years after the death of her father to even start to make her move. It's my understanding from the movie's timeline that the plan took over three years to implement. Even after kidnapping the scientist who could turn the reactor into a bomb, they still waited 6 months before starting to implement the plan? I didn't understand why, maybe they were still planting explosives in the sewers? Regardless, I'm impressed by her restraint. Then, after putting Batman in a prison cell and forcing him to watch Gotham fall apart, she spends another 5 months just waiting for the reactor to explode when she could have triggered it at any time? Why? To prove that Gotham is corrupt, to hurt him by giving the people of Gotham hope? Either way, surely a week or two should be enough to get the point across? I get that she wanted him to suffer, but 5 months is a very long at time to just sit around in poor conditions, pretending to be someone you're not, just so you can imagine that someone you hate is suffering somewhere very far away. Besides, why wait around in the city anyway? Why not wait by Batman's side, watching him suffer, then enjoying killing him when it's all over? Why was killing herself ever part of the plan?
By the way, I didn't get how they were planning to kill Batman after the bomb went off and killed all of them. Or were they not planning to kill him? And did they really refuse to believe there was even the possibility of escape? They couldn't at least post someone in the prison, or even just outside of it, to keep watch over him? The doctor said it was Bane's prison now, there's no reason he couldn't at least leave instructions that Batman was not to be allowed to escape. It's even worse than the "James Bond Villain Deathtrap" thing (you know, where the villain takes the time and effort to tie Bond to an elaborate deathtrap and then doesn't even stick around to watch him die, just assuming everything will be fine?). It's quite contrived when you think about it.
I still don't get why Bane is there at all. He loves Talia apparently, despite the age difference. But he should hate Ras since he kicked him out of their little social club, so I don't see that he should have a personaly vendetta against Batman, meanwhile he knows full well that the plan is basically a long protracted act of suicide for both himself and his beloved Talia, so shouldn't he at least be hesitant to carry it out? Considering he's the the main visible villain for the whole movie, his motives are particularly weak and... second hand. I suppose it's just disappointing more than anything else.
Bane's mask "kept the pain away". What? Did it administer pain killers or something? Why would it need to look so weird to do that? Did he start to feel pain when Batman dislodged one of the pipes? Surely painkillers don't wear off that quickly? In fact, how can he need a constant supply? Doesn't it make more sense just to need a little every few hours? I suppose it could make sense if he's been taking painkillers for over ten years or so, he might have developed a resistance and so he needs crazy amounts now, but it was all presented as an afterthought, at best it was a weak justification for the mask.
Another thing; why were all those people so loyal to Bane? What did he promise them, how did he recruit them? I guess they were people who were unhappy with the severe inequality of wealth in the world, but that doesn't explain why they follow him, living in the sewers, committing crimes, even killing. If they were "regular people" pushed to fighting back against the system, surely some of them would have been at least a little reluctant to hold an entire city at gunpoint through the use of nuclear weapons? And if they were all criminals to begin with, well, it makes even less sense for them to follow Bane in the first place since they didn't benefit very much? I really just don't get where they came from.
When Batman was getting his behind handed to him in his first fight with Bane, why didn't he something intelligent? Surely he has some sort of taser or knockout gas in his utility belt, right? At the very least he could have used his grappling ropes (he does have those in this movie doesn't he?) to get some elevation and open up some distance. Actually, we know he has some kind of sedative bat-darts because we see him use them when Gordon is walking on the ice. You could argue that those were in his other costume, but that's a bit silly, surely he has something analogous in his main suit? After all, he knew he was going after Bane that night. Hell, didn't he use some sort of blades in his gauntlets against Ras Al-Ghoul in the first movie? And don't point at those silly little puffs of smoke he threw at Bane, or that EMP device because those are a different class of gadget. Besides, they were silly; you know he was trained by the same people who trained you, why did you think turning out the lights would work? Moron.
Bane didn't even seem to feel Batman's attacks the first time, then after Batman had his back broken he came back and started hitting harder? This from a man who apparently had been a cripple for the last 8 years? Yes, I get that he spent a little time training while in jail, but before he could train properly he spent months not moving BECAUSE HIS BACK WAS BROKEN. Besides, you can't tell me he was getting three square meals a day in there; by the time he got out he should have been malnourished at the least. Hell, I still can't understand how his back was miraculously cured in what they claimed was one of the worst places on earth - his leg too for that matter. I suppose though that the real question isn't why he was able to beat Bane the second time; it's why in the world did he think he would be able to the first time, when he was so out of shape after having given up for 8 years? Actually, no, he still shouldn't have been able to beat him the second time. Nolan really should have worked in something more that a simple boxing match for the second fight; Batman should have won using his wits, not just by hitting the guy in the face - after all, it didn't work the first time, surely Batman should have learnt his lesson? Again, Batman doesn't actually do anything intelligent in this movie.
Lets mention the "clean slate". A piece of software that, what, hacks every (government?) database on the internet and erases every piece of information about the given individual? Do I really need to discuss how unlikely it is that such a thing could even exist, never mind the idea that even Bruce Wayne (who's company hadn't been profitable for years at that point as it had been investing everything in alternative energy) could afford to buy what amounts to the most powerful weapon of the digital age being used as a flyswatter? OK, how about this: even if such a thing did exist, surely it would be obsolete in a few years as digital security continues to grow and change? It was just so out of place. But then everything about Catwoman was in this movie.
Why would Batman build a nuclear device inside his precious city? A reactor that a scientist who had never seen it before was able to convert into a remote controlled bomb in under a minute without using any tools at all? A reactor that, if not plugged in, decays until it explodes with a "10 mile blast" (I assume that's diameter, not radius)? I don't remember if it was supposed to be a fission or fusion reactor but either way I'm having trouble with the idea that it never occurred to Batman that it could be dangerous, as soon as some guy in another country claims it could be he shuts the whole project down. While we're at it, the reactor had a timer on the outside that showed TO THE MINUTE when it would reach critical mass and explode? Or was that to the second? That's very predictable instability. Oh yeah, and as far as I can tell the only security that the plant had was that the button that opens the door was hidden under the desk. In a small crappy office on a construction site. Seriously, Lucius walks in and presses a single button and that's it, there's the reactor, completely unprotected.
How is it that the bat-cycle (which is about 95% tyres) has the hardware to blow up a tank, but the bat-plane (which is much bigger and newer and more technologically advanced) does not?
Why did batman even have so many bat-tanks? By my estimates he had about 4 or 5? And why did they have heavy artillery? He doesn't even carry a gun, not even a knife, who was he planning on shooting with those heavy cannons? And most importantly, didn't he have some kind of security system to stop random people from using them? Surely Bane didn't have the technological know-how to overcome advanced security systems? I'm not even sure how he found the tanks in the first place! I suppose you could argue the kidnapped scientist did it, but he's a nuclear physicist, not a security expert or electronics engineer, and more importantly we never saw him doing so - if he was supposed to have disabled any security they should have shown him doing it, it's not like they didn't have time. I suppose it's not worth asking why Batman didn't have enough security to know what was going on right under his tanks, since he didn't have enough security to stop a cat burgler from getting his fingerprints and his mother's necklace. And his car, the moron.
Did Catwoman get his prints from the safe key-pad? Cos we saw her hand over prints of four fingers and a thumb, and who the hell uses his pinky and thumb to enter a code into a keypad? Fine, fine, I guess she dusted the whole safe, but that wasn't the impression I had when watching the movie.
How did Bane and Talia actually plan for ALL the police to get trapped in the tunnels? Only a complete retard would commit all the police in the city to a single task. And why did they bother keeping them alive, passing down food and supplies and everything, when they were planning to kill everyone in the city anyway? Oh, while we're on the subject, the bit where the police march on Bane was just stupid. A bunch of people armed with pistols and shotguns slowly marching towards a group armed with assault rifles and tanks? They couldn't come up with a better plan of attack? Then Batman swoops down in his little plane, shoots one tank with a single shot that breaks it's turret, then... flies off, parks it, dismounts, comes back on foot and starts hitting people with his fists? I get that the most important thing was to distract Bane so he didn't trigger the bomb (which doesn't hold much water since he's probably more likely to trigger the bomb when attacked, especially if his side starts losing, than when he thinks everything is fine and doesn't know that the bomb is at risk of being stolen), but they still wanted to win, right? By the way, almost everyone on both sides was armed - everyone except Batman and Bane. How did they not get shot? Did they wait until everyone was out of ammo before joining the fight? Kinda cowardly don't you think?
Batman was stuck in a jail cell on the other side of the planet for five months while the bomb slowly ticked down, yet somehow saving the entire city came down to the final few seconds? Really? You don't think that's a little too contrived? Five months and he couldn't have arrived a day earlier, or a day later? Or a few minutes earlier, or later? It's not like he actually knew exactly how much time he had left, did he? And if he did, why did he cut it so close? It's just too contrived.
Speaking of the bomb, I don't believe it should have been necessary to actually attach the jammer to the bomb to stop it from detonating, sure just having it close should be enough to prevent the signal from getting through? Personally I think Batman should have focussed on the getting the bomb instead of going after Bane, but I guess that's just hindsight talking. A bigger issue is that Batman stood around kissing Catwoman with less than two minutes left on the timer of a bomb with a "10 mile blast". Even assuming that the timer really is accurately able to judge when the nuclear decay of the unstable core would actually trigger an explosion, it's still irresponsible of him to waste time chatting and smooching when the lives of millions are at stake - was he really sure he'd be able to carry that heavy thing (radiation shielding is made of LEAD - which is not light!) with his small hover vehicle to a safe distance in time?
According to my calculations, if he started with about 1:30 on the timer and had to get it around 6 miles away from the city to be safe, even assuming he was on the very edge of the city and not, say, a mile or two in, and that he just needed to fly straight out from his current position and not circle around or something to make open seas, he would still need an average speed of about 240 miles an hour to make it. Not normally impossible for a flying vehicle, but again; a light hover vehicle that was never meant for lifting heavy burdens carrying a large metal construct that no doubt had lead shielding. Lets just say, if I was in his position, I would have jumped in that plane and taken off, no standing around locking lips and revealing my secret identity and what not.
By the way, why did he fake his own death? He didn't tell them he had fixed the autopilot even though he took the time for some last words, so obviously he intended to let them think he was dead, but at the same time revealed his secret identity... just what has his plan? And when did he fix the autopilot? As far as I can tell he had about a day at most (well, more like one evening, if that) to try and fix something he's never seen before when the guy who built the whole damn plane couldn't fix it (yes I know Lucius says he didn't have time, but he had enough time to build an entirely new and highly advanced vehicle including the control systems, if he couldn't get the autopilot working before he got bored I don't see how someone else would). Especially when he has so much else on his mind, like finding Catwoman and stopping Bane. Remember, Lucius is the tech genius here, not Bruce.
I mentioned that everyone else does all the work in this movie. Lets take a look: who beat Bane in the end? Catwoman. Who freed the cops? Catwoman. Who stopped the bomb from exploding? Gordon. Who organised the resistance? Gordon, with help from Robin. Who carried the bomb away from Gotham before it exploded? Lucius Fox - no, it wasn't Batman, he wasn't even in the damned plane, so the credit goes to the guy who made the plane: Lucius. You know what? Let's also give him the credit for beating bane, freeing the cops, and running down the bomb, since that was all done with the bat-bike he built; Catwoman didn't do anything particularly special while driving it. Hell, he probably built the jammer that stopped the bomb from exploding too.
What did Batman do? Built a bomb, handed it over to Talia, then climbed out of a pit. Oh, and he shot some guys with darts. While we're at it, what did Robin do? Helped organise a resistance, failed to free the trapped police, drove a bus, then failed to explain to the military that the bomb was going to explode anyway and thus failed to actually drive the bus to safety. This basically means he failed to do anything of any consequence, with the single exception of helping to organise a few people, for the entire movie. You could cut his role down to a total of five minutes and it wouldn't change the movie at all in any way. You could even cut him entirely from the movie with almost no change at all. Disappointing.