image

The Twists That Miss

The film's third act is built around a series of three twists, one that occurs as part of the action and two that function as post-climax "gotchas." Only the final one (Bruce faked his/Batman's death and is really still alive) actually works, though it's undercut by the presence of Catwoman, which we'll get to in just a moment. The other two, for differing reasons, are textbook examples of how (and why) not to execute a plot twist.

Twist #1: Bane isn't our ultimate villain or the mythic figure who escaped The Pit, or the previously unknown child of Ra's Al Ghul. Instead, it's Marion Cotillard's Miranda Tate - real name Talia Al Ghul - who is all of those things, and Bane is just some guy who helped her out back in the day and got beaten into a gas-mask-requiring freak for his trouble.

Granted, this does have the effect of changing some of our preconceptions about Bane. But beyond that, what does it actually do plot wise other than add another superficial "whoa!" revelation to the final sequence's cacophony of fast-moving distractions? It doesn't really change the plot at all, since Batman and Gotham are still being targeted for elaborate revenge by the heir of Ra's Al Ghul for the exact same reasons, the heir is just a different person. And let's not get started on how little weight her "I'm evil!" surprise actually carries, given how slight the character is and how little of her supposed romance with Bruce Wayne is actually onscreen.

Twist #2: After being Batman's sometime protégé (and Gordon's full-fledged sidekick) for the duration of the story, Joseph Gordon Levitt's John Blake picks up a mystery package left for him (we subsequently discover) by Bruce Wayne. It's not under "John Blake," though, so he helpfully suggests they check under his full name. Which name was missing? Robin. Ha.

Alright, setting aside my own personal annoyance that this bit is the closest that the second most important figure in the entire Batman mythos will ever get to appearing in this now concluded trilogy of Batman movies, it's a cute if overly fanfic-esque reference. The problem is it that it comes in as a joke right at the moment we're still supposed to be either sad or elated depending on how quickly your brain retrieved that detail about Alfred's "Happy Ending Café Fantasy" from earlier in the movie - the absolute worst place to put a joke.

Show, Don't Tell

This is the problem at the core of all the other problems and the main reason the film just didn't hold up as well as its predecessor from my perspective. With rare exception, the right way to convey information to the audience is never to simply have a character explain it verbally. Yet in Rises, this is how we get most of our information. Not just story and exposition either, it's also constantly used to inform us of character or relationship traits that are important to the narrative but not evident onscreen.

For example, Bruce Wayne is supposed to be "out of step" as Batman at first. We don't know that because of his actual performance, where he seems exactly the same as we left him, we know that because Alfred tells us (and therefore it must be true). Batman keeps insisting that there's more to Selina Kyle than being a cat burglar, and while he's right, you'd be hard pressed to find the moment where he figured that out. Speaking of figuring things out, John Blake is a hell of a detective - he figured out who Bruce Wayne was Batman! How? He met him as a kid and could just "tell." Do we get to see much of this keen insight in action? Of course not, but he tells us all about it.

At one point, Batman even has to explain a story point to himself! While recuperating in Bane's prison, Bruce is visited by the specter of Ra's Al Ghul. This is a nice fake-out (it's a hallucination) meant to mess with the minds of fans who know that the comics' version of Ra's is immortal, but it leads to a baffling logic leap: The hallucination reveals that Bane is (supposedly) Ra's Al Ghul's son, which is important info for an upcoming twist. But Bruce figures this out based on what, exactly? The Sherlock Holmes "so smart he seems psychic" thing only works if you show how they came to such a surprising conclusion.

The most egregious example by far, though, is the first big fight between Batman and Bane. The crux of the sequence is that, to Batman's horror, his opponent is gradually revealed to be immune to all of his special weapons and strategies. It's a great idea for framing a sequence: "I'll use my ninja gas bombs... Aw, crap! That's right, we both knew the same ninjas!" "I'll turn the lights off ... Aw, crap! This guy was in an underground prison for most of his life, I just got told that!"

So how does the film choose to visualize these mounting revelations? It doesn't. They just keep punching each other, while Bane explains out loud what Batman just did and why it isn't working. Though, in fairness to Bane, maybe he's just trying to cover up his surprise that "maybe I should punch that thing on his face" hasn't yet occurred to Batman.

None of these things, I stress, makes the film bad in my eyes, but it does contribute to an overall sense of something missing when I look back over it. It's entirely possible that this is a "tough act to follow" scenario, apart from the "how did X know to be at Y in the span of Z?" geography issues that plague every action film, The Dark Knight was relatively free of these kind of basic structural issues (IMO, the post-Joker encounter with Two-Face only feels like "another ending" if you go in assuming that every bad guy automatically gets their own movie or act). It's also possible that the film just never found the balance between telling its own story and resolving the stories of two previous installments.

Whatever the case may ultimately be, these are my observations of what kept me from falling entirely in love with the film. Maybe they're also yours, or maybe these problems didn't exist for you. In any case, this is why it's important that we don't stop looking at movies, games etc. after the first viewing (or re-viewing, for that matter).

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

RELATED CONTENT
Comments on